At some point in life, we all wonder why God put us on this earth. Our inborn desire for meaning drives us to ask the question, Why am I here? I first asked this when I was in college. As I was studying hard and preparing for some uncertain future, I began to wonder what it was all for. At that time, I also discovered a new passion for sharing Christ with those who did not know Him. I loved helping people understand the gospel and rejoiced when those to whom I had witnessed accepted Christ as Savior.
At the time, I began to think that my chief purpose in life was, to put it bluntly, to increase the population of heaven. My answer to the “Why am I here?” question was simple: to introduce people to Jesus Christ so they can go to heaven when they die. I based this answer not only on my passion for evangelism, but also on biblical passages such as the Great Commission (Matt. 28:19-20): “Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” (Admittedly, I didn’t pay close attention to what Jesus actually said here, which was about discipleship and not just getting souls into heaven.)
During my latter years of college, as I thought about my future, everything had value only as a context for evangelism. My work, whatever it might be, would have meaning because it would allow me to share Christ with my colleagues. My family, if I should have one someday, would allow me to bring children into the world so I could lead them to Christ and then teach them to do so for others. Even worship had value because it might encourage people to become Christians.
We, created in God’s image, are to work even as He worked and help the world become all He intended it to be.
Today, I continue to have a passion for leading people to Christ and firmly believe this is the main reason God put me on this earth. However, I have come to see He has other things in mind, too—actions that matter, and not only because they have evangelistic implications. My enriched vision of life’s purpose has been inspired by my study of Scripture, especially the opening chapters of Genesis. There, we discover who we are as God’s special creations and why He made us.
In Genesis 1, for example, God creates man and woman “in His own image” (v. 27). Unique among all of His creatures, human beings, as male and female, bear the very image of God. Though theologians debate the precise sense of “God’s image,” Genesis 1:28 makes it clear that as divine image bearers, we have work to do.
The first imperative in Scripture reads, “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth, and subdue it; and rule over [the animals].” In other words, one of the central tasks God gives human beings is to make more human beings to serve as stewards of creation. According to divine design, we are to work even as He worked and help the world become all He intended it to be. God commands us to join in His labors by filling the world and taking responsibility for it. That is Scripture’s first answer to the big question.
Genesis 2 reiterates this answer and supplies more information about the work to which God has called us. In this chapter, God creates the first man and places him in the garden of Eden “to cultivate it and keep it” (v. 15). Doing so would enable Eden to produce nourishment and beauty and help to ensure fruitfulness for future generations. Yet, God determines that the man cannot fulfill his divine purpose alone, so He creates “a helper suitable for him,” whom the man calls woman (vv. 18, 23).
Of course, God’s intentions for human beings get complicated in Genesis 3 when the man and woman disobey Him. However, even though sin makes our lives difficult and we no longer enjoy the perfection of God’s creation, we are still to do the work He planned for us from the beginning. Now, however, it comes with pain, conflict, obstacles, and plenty of sweat (vv. 16-19). Nevertheless, the tasks that God gave us to do in Genesis 1 and 2 still stand as the first biblical imperatives.
Now, let us return to the question with which we began: Why are we here? The answer from Genesis is plain: God has placed us here so that we might share in His work of caring for the earth and helping it to be fruitful. Though most of us will not fulfill this purpose literally as farmers, gardeners, or landscape architects, the implications are clear. We are here to perform tasks that contribute to the cultivation and care of the world, so that it might be all that God created it to be. When we do work that honors Him, whether as parents or principals, teachers or tailors, builders or bankers, artists or any other steward of creation, we are doing precisely what God had in mind. Yet He has even more for us to do than this and has empowered us in an astounding way to accomplish it all.
Next month, Mark D. Roberts continues his discussion of stewardship by examining ways that the Holy Spirit empowers us to carry out God’s commandments. Read Your Work, God's Work Part 2 here.