We cannot overstate the importance of knowing our purpose. There is no doubt our lives will go awry and even go to waste if we neglect to learn the purpose for our existence and the purpose for our salvation. And central to understanding our purpose is understanding why God placed us on this earth. This is why the old catechism begins with the question of purpose: “What is the chief end of man?” This is the question that has provided fodder for theologians and philosophers since time immemorial.
Many believe the purpose of life is pleasure. Since we do not know what lies beyond, they say, we owe it to ourselves to satiate our thirst for pleasure with whatever appeals to mind or body. Perhaps this is what the old sage calls for in Ecclesiastes: “I commend joy, for man has nothing better under the sun but to eat and drink and be joyful, for this will go with him in his toil through the days of his life that God has given him under the sun” (8:15). A man dying of thirst will wring out a moist cloth to gain the very last drop of water. In the same way, many live for pleasure and die trying to wring out every last pleasure before they depart into an unknown eternity. Others fall on the opposite extreme, lauding austerity in place of pleasure, monasticism in place of hedonism, less instead of more.
There is a better answer that directs us to greater pleasure. The catechism’s first answer summarizes the wisdom of the Bible and calls us to something far more satisfying: Our purpose is to glorify God and enjoy him forever. Godliness is the path to pleasure, for by godliness we glorify God, and in glorifying God, we enjoy God. There is no greater pleasure than close fellowship with our Creator and, therefore, no higher purpose than godliness. As we come to the close of this series on “8 Rules for Growing in Godliness,” we see that our final instruction is one that encapsulates them all: Purpose to be godly.
The Power of Purpose
The old priest Zechariah was given a remarkable privilege—the privilege of an unexpected son who would serve as the forerunner to the Messiah. This son would be the voice crying, “In the wilderness prepare the way of the LORD; make straight in the desert a highway for our God” (Isaiah 40:3). This son would be the one to baptize Jesus so that Jesus, as our substitute, could fulfill all righteousness (Matthew 3:15). And at John’s birth, Zechariah suddenly found himself prophesying of this coming Messiah and the purpose he would accomplish in and through the people he would save: “That we, being delivered from the hand of our enemies, might serve [God] without fear, in holiness and righteousness before him all our days” (Luke 1:74-75).
We who are delivered from the world to be followers of Christ have the privilege and responsibility to serve God in holiness and righteousness, to be set apart for service to God by our conformity to God. This is why God plants within each of his people a deep loathing for sin and a great longing for godliness. The prayer of David should often be heard coming from our lips: “Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in your sight, O LORD, my rock and my redeemer” (Psalm 19:14). We, too, should pray that all of us—our heart, our mouth, our inner man, and outer man—are marked by God and consecrated to God.
When we put our faith in Jesus Christ, we are immediately justified, declared righteous in the sight of God. Simultaneously, we receive the guarantee that we will eventually be glorified, that we will some day be perfected in the presence of God. But between the two lies the task of growing in conformity to Jesus Christ. Between justification and glorification—each accomplished in a moment—lies sanctification, which is accomplished in a lifetime. This is a lifetime of relying on the Spirit, taking hold of his promises and power, and joining with him in this great task.
This world is our training ground, in which we respond to justification and ready ourselves for glorification. We do this by putting off what we were and becoming what we are. We see this task pictured vividly in Jesus’s friend Lazarus. Lazarus had been in the tomb for four days when suddenly Jesus cried, “Lazarus, come out!” Miraculously, Lazarus heard and awoke and breathed and rose. He came shuffling out of that dark tomb, eyes blinking in the glaring light of day. “The man who had died came out, his hands and feet bound with linen strips, and his face wrapped with a cloth. Jesus said to them, ‘Unbind him, and let him go’” (John 11:44).
Lazarus emerged from his tomb wrapped in the clothes of a dead man. But having returned to life, it was only fitting that his garments of death be removed, so that he could be clothed in garments suited to a living man. It would be absurd and inappropriate to go through life wearing the clothes of death. And this is the task God gives us as Christians, to “put off your old self, which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful desires, and to be renewed in the spirit of your minds, and to put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness” (Ephesians 4:22-24). This life is a dressing room, in which we dress our souls for eternity.
The Need for Determination
To attire ourselves for eternity, we must approach godliness with tenacity. We must be deliberate in our approach and determined in our pursuit. The driver who takes his foot off the gas pedal will first coast, then slow, then stop. Coming to a halt becomes inevitable the moment the engine returns to idle. In much the same way, the Christian who loses his determination to be godly will find his sanctification first slowing, then stopping. Godliness always requires effort.
This is why, time and again, we have returned to Philippians 2:12 and its instruction that we “work out” our salvation. This is why Peter traces a steady, purposeful progression in the Christian life: “Make every effort to supplement your faith with virtue, and virtue with knowledge, and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with steadfastness, and steadfastness with godliness, and godliness with brotherly affection, and brotherly affection with love. For if these qualities are yours and are increasing, they keep you from being ineffective or unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ” (2 Peter 1:5-8). Effort and increase, this is godly living, for “without holiness no one will see the Lord” (Hebrews 12:14 NIV). Without effort and increase, we will only ever be ungodly and ineffective.
To be Christians who are growing in conformity to Jesus Christ first requires us to know the sheer importance of godliness and then to approach it with purpose, confidence, tenacity, determination. We must not allow ourselves to be waylaid, interrupted, or distracted. We must be single-minded in putting off all that smacks of the old man and his ways and resolute in putting on all that is associated with the new.
Those who accumulate worldly treasures while neglecting godliness have inverted and frustrated the very purpose for which they were created. They may have gained the whole world, but in the end they will lose their souls. “But godliness with contentment is great gain,” and those who pursue godliness have set out upon the greatest task of all (1 Timothy 6:6). These are the ones who succeed in finding and achieving the highest purpose. These are the ones who will gain the immense privilege of glorifying God and enjoying him forever.
The “8 Rules for Growing in Godliness” are drawn from the work of Thomas Watson. Here are the words that inspired this article: “Possess yourself with this maxim, that godliness is the end of your creation; God never sent men into the world, only to eat and drink and put on fine clothes, but that they ‘might serve him in righteousness and holiness.’ Luke i. 75. God made the world only as an attiring-room to dress our souls in; he sent us hither upon the grand errand of godliness: should nothing but the body, the brutish part, be looked after? This were basely to degenerate, yea, to invert and frustrate the very end of our being.”