Every life has two bookends—the day we’re born and the day we die.
We enter this world weak and helpless, but each of us is born with tremendous potential. Our parents likely watched us and wondered: What will our baby do with his or her life? What kind of person will he or she become?
Ironically, we often end our lives much like we began—weak and helpless. As death nears, we typically ponder our past. What did I do with my life? What kind of person was I?
And, by the time life ends, most of us have brooded over the underlying, age-old question: What is the ultimate meaning of human life? Why was I even born?
What is the meaning of life?
It’s a demanding question, and many dismiss it as simply unanswerable. Those who more seriously attempt to explore the meaning for life often settle on experiences, such as finding a fulfilling personal calling, accomplishing something emotionally satisfying, loving and being loved, or maybe just being a “good person.” But those stop short of anything beyond this life.
While nothing’s wrong with those thoughts, in our moments of deepest reflection, especially when facing our own mortality, do those answers really satisfy?
Is death truly the final bookend of life? Or does a greater purpose for human life exist, one that transcends this short, physical life? If so, what is it?
Those are the biggest questions of life.
Theories about the meaning of life
One of the more subtle effects of the theory of evolution and the philosophy of atheism is that fewer and fewer people consider whether we were created and designed with an ultimate purpose. After all, evolutionary theory eliminates, and atheistic philosophy rejects, the idea that any higher being ordained a meaning for our existence!
If life resulted from a random bolt of lightning hitting primordial slime and setting off a series of gradual mutations from simple to complex over time, does it have a purpose? If humanity rose to be the globe’s prime inhabitant only through natural selection based on survival of the fittest, can anyone conclude his or her life has a transcendent purpose? If not, we can find meaning only in whatever each of us settles upon as significant.
When Buzzfeed.com polled a number of atheists, many said they had indeed devised for themselves meaning for their lives. They offered a variety of examples, such as:
- Having a positive effect on friends and family.
- Being kind, learning, sharing knowledge, relieving suffering.
- Squeezing as much happiness and fun out of life as possible.
- Focusing on the “here and now” and practicing the freedom to do as we want.
However, many conceded that even though they had created their own personal meaning, since they believe life randomly occurred, then, by definition, it has no common, overarching purpose, no grand master plan.
But are these ideas of limited, self-defined human meaning true? Or is this world and your life the result of a perfect Creator who designed and placed us on earth for a reason? Is there an answer to the biggest question of all—why were you born?
God answers, Yes! But in order to find it, we have to begin … at the beginning.
Back to the beginning to understand the purpose of life
John 1:1 reveals: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” In other words, before anything was created, God the Father and the Word (who later came to earth as Jesus Christ, verse 14) existed.
Through eternity, these two spirit beings existed together, unlimited in power and perfect in character.
Then God began to create. Romans 1:20 tells us that God’s “invisible attributes are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even His eternal power and Godhead.” By looking at the world around us, we can easily deduce that the Father and the Word are builders! Our human drive to build everything from robots to relationships simply reflects the nature of God our Creator.
The earliest recorded creations were angels—beautiful and amazing spirit beings made to serve God and the humans who would come later (Hebrews 1:13-14). But eventually one-third of them, following a fellow angel called Lucifer in the New King James Version of the Bible, rose in an ill-fated rebellion against God. By rebelling they became known as Satan (“Adversary”) and the demons (Isaiah 14:12-15; Ezekiel 28:12-15; Revelation 12:4).
Their revolt, though, did not thwart God. He had other plans, greater plans; and at some point, He moved to create what we now see.
What does it mean to be created in “the image of God”?
Being created in God’s image means that we have elements of His likeness and thinking abilities.
Genesis tells us that on the sixth day of creation God formed the first human, and within this account lies a huge key to unlocking the true meaning of human life. God said, “‘Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness; let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, over the birds of the air, and over the cattle, over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.’ So God created man in His own image; in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them” (Genesis 1:26-27).
You have probably heard these words, but have you grasped their full significance?
God created humankind in His image, in His likeness, with abilities that are like His abilities. Most important, He gave us elements of His mind—higher intelligence, creativity, artistic appreciation and emotions.
He didn’t give such characteristics to animals. Instead of choice and creativity, they have instinct—and that’s a key difference between the human kingdom (created after the God kind) and the animal kingdom (each created after its own kind).
Being created in God’s image means that we have elements of His likeness and thinking abilities, just on a much smaller and weaker level. We have His form, but not His substance. We’re mortal, flesh and blood (Genesis 2:7); He’s immortal, all-powerful spirit (John 4:24). We possess limited intellect and creativity, while God is limitless (Job 42:2; 1 Corinthians 2:11).
Can man become like God?
But God’s creation did not end at Eden! After Genesis, we continually learn more about His intent, and it’s not to create physical beings with some of His characteristics.
Why were you born? To eventually become like Him, sharing spirit life on His level of existence!
The apostle John made this eye-opening statement: “We shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is” (1 John 3:2). Imagine being like God! How can this be?
Other verses reveal that before God gives us that level of power, we must learn to think like Him (Philippians 2:5) and to live and act like Him (Matthew 5:48; 1 John 2:6).
And it has to be by our choice!
God did not create moral automatons, human robots programmed to do what is right. Instead, He gave mankind—beginning with Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden—free moral choice, embodied by two trees: the “tree of life,” representing moral goodness according to God’s standard, and the “tree of the knowledge of good and evil,” representing humans choosing for themselves what is right and wrong.
They chose to reject God (Genesis 3:6); and through that choice, the Bible tells us, sin (the breaking of God’s law) began to infect all humanity (Romans 5:12; 1 John 3:4). Sin remains the obstacle that stands between us and God’s purpose for us (Romans 6:23).
Christianity is all about overcoming this barrier to achieving our purpose. It starts with repentance and forgiveness of our past sins through Jesus Christ’s sacrifice, and is followed by baptism and receiving the gift of the Holy Spirit—God’s Spirit. This allows us to begin changing our character. Embarking on this path of change—called conversion—is our part in fulfilling God’s purpose for us.
Before God will give us His unlimited power, we must willingly surrender ourselves to Him and develop His perfect character. That means, through a lifelong process, we put off our natural ways of thinking—which tend to resist God (Romans 8:7; Colossians 3:8-9)—and “put on the new man who is renewed in knowledge according to the image of Him who created him” (Colossians 3:10).
In other words, while we’re physically created “in His image,” we must now be created in His image spiritually—developing His moral and spiritual character. That’s the highest aim for a human in this life—to reshape one’s spiritual character in His image, imprinting His way of thinking and acting into every aspect of our lives.
Transformed to be like God
Because the next step is rarely understood, hundreds of myths have arisen that try to explain the purpose of life.
God designed the human body to eventually die (Ezekiel 18:4; Hebrews 9:27)—but not forevermore. Jesus promised to return to earth and perform one of the greatest miracles of all time: bringing the dead back to life. Christians through the ages have drawn inspiration and motivation from this hope, being assured that by faithfully submitting to God and developing His character, they will be resurrected and take the last step in putting on the image of God.
In 1 Corinthians 15:42-46 the apostle Paul reveals four aspects of this transition. We will be:
- Changed from corruption (physical aging and decay) to incorruption (nonphysical life).
- Changed from dishonor (imperfection) to glory (perfection).
- Changed from weakness to power.
- Changed from a natural (physical) body to a spiritual body.
In other words, a transition from the human level to the God level! We do not, and cannot, have these four aspects of God’s image now, but verse 49 makes an astounding statement: “As we have borne the image of the man of dust, we shall also bear the image of the heavenly Man [Christ].”
What does it mean to be a child of God?
What amazing insight! God doesn’t merely want angel-like servants—He desires a family of children, like Him, with whom He will share eternity! A family of beings He can build with and relate to on an equal plane. That is the answer to the question, why were you born? But in order for God to have a real family, the family members have to be perfect, like Him.
It turns out that what God wanted—to turn physical beings into members of His family—would take time, enormous sacrifice and the willing participation of the created beings.
Think about it. If He created humans perfect, but without free choice, they could never truly be on His level. They would simply be automatons composed of spirit, programmed to be perfect. On the other hand, if He created physical beings like Himself and then gave them free choice, they would have amazing potential—yes, potential to rebel and become like Satan and the demons, but also with potential to choose to become like Him.
So God, from the beginning, designed a wonderful and remarkable plan to reproduce beings like Himself—through a process that ensures those beings will truly become perfect for eternity.
Yes, our incredible, real purpose is to be elevated to God’s level as full members of His family. He wants “sons and daughters” (2 Corinthians 6:18). He’s in the process of “bringing many sons to glory” (Hebrews 2:10).
Think about what this really means. When you have a child, that child is like you—he or she shares not just your form, but your DNA.
When we are born into God’s family, we will be children of God. We will be glorified (elevated) to the same level of existence as our Father and our Elder Brother, Jesus Christ. God’s purpose and design is that you become a partaker of “the divine nature” (2 Peter 1:4)—by analogy, that you share God’s divine DNA. That means becoming fully spirit, just like God (John 3:6).
Those who achieve this purpose will be given exciting opportunities that are beyond full comprehension now. But imagine things such as serving as “kings and priests” (Revelation 5:10) and coming to “inherit all things” (Revelation 21:7) in the Kingdom of God, in an eternal existence of productivity, building and growth!
This is God’s revelation of why you were born, and it’s so much bigger than anything any mere human can contrive for himself! This can fill your life with meaning and purpose. And, if you embrace it, it can change everything in your life!
This article only skimmed the surface of a huge topic. Because of the importance of this subject, we’ve written an entire booklet, God’s Purpose for You: Discovering Why You Were Born, explaining it in greater detail. The booklet thoroughly answers these questions:
- What is a human being?
- Why is there such a wide gap between God and man?
- How can the gap between God and man be bridged and closed?
- What does it mean to be in God’s family?
- What will God’s children do for eternity?
Article by Erik Jones