The Purpose-Driven Image of God

Just having "Purpose-Driven" in the title of this post guarantees readers!

The book with that title has sold over 25 million copies. Evangelical Christians hand out these books to their non-Christian friends, hoping that they, too, will find purpose through Christ.

Rick Warren, who I deeply admire and have learned a lot from as a pastor and ministry leader, states that the five purposes of God for humanity are these:
  • Purpose #1: You Were Planned for God's Pleasure (Worship)
  • Purpose #2: You Were Formed for God's Family (Fellowship)
  • Purpose #3: You Were Created to Become Like Christ (Discipleship)
  • Purpose #4: You Were Shaped for Serving God (Ministry)
  • Purpose #5: You Were Made for a Mission (Evangelism)
Now, these are tremendous insights into the nature of Christian discipleship, and I thank God for Warren’s success in getting this message out. But are these really God’s revealed purposes for humanity? Are these the purposes for the redeemed humanity in the community of Christianity?

When we start with where the Bible starts, with the Imago Dei, then we begin to understand the fundamental purpose of humanity, and therefore the purpose of those who are redeemed toward that purpose.

In Genesis 1:28, God says to those first humans, “Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air and over every living creature that moves on the ground.”

There is the mandate for humanity; in that verse we find our purpose. This has been called the “creation mandate” or the “cultural mandate” by theologians. It is the mandate that God gives to us humans.

As I think of the many evangelical churches doing “Forty Days of Purpose,” I wonder if we haven’t missed the point. I ask,
  • Shouldn’t the purpose of humanity be directly linked to what God mandated in the first chapter of Genesis? Shouldn't our "purpose" have something to say about our care of the earth and of the creatures living here?
  • Shouldn't our "purpose" have something to say about our doing the work of cultivating the earth and creating a culture in society?
  • Aren’t we humans, as a corporate race, meant to be the image of God together? Does the very notion of having a “purpose-driven life” feed into an individualistic, Americanized Christianity?
  • What would the cultural mandate of Genesis 1:28 look like if there had been no Fall?
  • What does the cultural mandate need to look like now in light of the Fall and of the redemption that is in Christ?
There are deep implications of the Imago Dei in humanity for our understanding of why we exist as the human race. Since humanity is created in the image of God, we are to reflect God back to him in worship and out into his creation in service, we are to represent God as we fill the earth and subdue it, as we rule over the non-human creation.

The Imago Dei sets us on the right course for living the "purpose-driven life." Your votes in the poll in the side column reveal that we are beginning to understand the importance of the Image of God, and that we are starting to move in the right direction.

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ryan said...


One question you ask here is particularly intriguing to me. Regarding the human race corporately being the Imago Dei, I think you're really onto something here.

It seems that's what God had in mind the whole time. I know that I, for instance, have been created in God's image. So, does that mean that God looks like me or vice versa?

While this is kind of a simple question, I think it has huge implications for people finding that they have a spot in God's plan (and Kingdom).

While I may or may not see someone that looks like me at my church, I can see myself as I look at a snapshot of the church.

I think we're meant to be a snapshot of God for people and we do that best when the snapshot is of all of us...


BoseKnows said...

This is one thing I have come to appreciate about the Catholic church as I have become more deeply involved with it.

Catholicism teaches, and has for a while, that human nature is inherently good - not evil. This is in stark contrast to the Calvanist Puritans to whom many protestant churches in America can trace their roots. the Catholic Church recognizes that Man was not created sinful, but rather free (Like God, able to make conscience decisions). Though the doctrine of original sin is still a big part of the tradition, they don't see man as so inherently depraved like so many other churches who tred too often down the "Romans Road" and forget about how we were created in love and for love.

That being said, I think that Warren's book acts as a great reminder of this fact. However, you do raise some important points.

To me, the Imago Dei means that humanity was created with the ability to love. Having the ability to love means that we have the ability to choose love; for what is love without the choice to love? Thus we can also choose evil, that is, "not love."

Being created in Imago Dei also means that we have the ability to create. Unlike other parts of God's creation, humans can think abstractly. We can have ideas that go beyond instinct and we can bring those thoughts into realization. It's no surprise, then, that God has given us the command to care for the world he created for us.

I strongly agree with you that stewardship of the earth is part of our purpose and mission, but I think that it must be taken to account that God's command in Genesis 1:28 comes before the Fall. That's not to say that it is repealed, necessarily, but perhaps the context of it has changed somehow. After all, it was after the Fall that Man was forced out of Eden to toil the now cursed ground.

"By the sweat of your brow you will eat your food until you return to the ground, since from it you were taken; for dust you are and to dust you shall return." -- Genesis 3:19 (NIV)

If there is a mandate for us to cultivate the earth, this curse must certainly be a part of it - or at least an obstacle to it. The rule over the earth that Man attained before the fall has become linked to a basic part of the human condition - the struggle to produce the things we need from the world that we live in. To me, it also implies that the world itself became finite just as man did.

I also agree with you that we are a corporate race, but God's covenant with mankind has seen a lot of changes - first at the Fall, then Noah, then Abraham, then Moses and the Hebrews, and now currently through Christ with his Church. Despite all mankind being made in the Image of God, it is quite clear that God has, at many times, chosen one part of mankind to bring about the reconciliation of all mankind to him - even to the point where those not chosen were destroyed. Hence our purpose in ministry and evangelism. Still, I think you're right in suggesting that Warren's book does not emphasize enough how our purpose for ministry and evangelism should be looked at from a collective perspective.

If there had been no fall, there would be no need for reconciliation and the mandate would go on with us ruling over an un-cursed world, not having to worry about toiling but living in constant communion with God and each other while God looked on with pleasure over the beautiful playground he had created for his children.

Now, however, mankind's privilege to rule the earth continues at our own peril. God has cursed the earth that we now preside over and we struggle to find a way to rule over it in a way that preserves it while meeting our immediate needs.

Ελλάδα said...

This book has changed my life & today I'm serving at my home church in the young singles small group as a greeter. Give this book a chance, It will change your life, & you will find yourself a changed person after reading this book. You'll discover not only God's 5 purposes for you your here on this earth but you will also discover your spiritual gifts as well. I highly recommend this book, please share this book with your family & friends who need the need the Lord in there life so that they will find their purpose that the Lord has for them.