As Christians, our outlook is simple: we will be like Jesus. That is our priority. It’s easy to be concerned about what we’re going to do tomorrow, where we’re going to be, who we’ll be with, and so on. All of these questions about our future are uncertain. But we may know this: that God’s eternal purpose is to conform us to the image of Jesus. And that ought to transform how we view all of life’s moments and decisions—from the mundane to the extraordinary.
At one time or another, every Christian confronts the question “What is God’s will for my life?” When it comes to the specifics, the answer will differ for each of us according to context and calling, and we must exercise wisdom as we prayerfully study God’s Word and apply it in our lives. Most Christians will never know with certainty what their next step will be—only that it must be in faith as we obey the Lord’s commands.
One thing is certain, however: whatever our unique paths through life may be, God’s purpose is to shape us into the image of His Son, Jesus Christ.
In the New Testament, there are three passages that especially point us to this reality. As we come to grips with them, we will begin to understand the purpose of our salvation and God’s plan for our lives, now and in eternity.
God’s Eternal Purpose
We know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. (Rom. 8:28–29)
This well-loved passage from the apostle Paul reveals God’s eternal purpose. God has predestined His children “to be conformed to the likeness of his Son”—to be fashioned, shaped, molded in the way in which a potter molds clay. In the economy of God from all of eternity, He has made it His business to transform “those whom he foreknew.”
If we understand this reality in verse 29, we can then make sense of the oft-abused verse that precedes it: “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him.” What is the “good” that He works for and guarantees? To conform us to the image and likeness of His Son! When we understand that, we will realize that even bad times may be for our good, for the ultimate good God is seeking is to ensure that we will become like His Son, Jesus.
Anyone who has been a maturing disciple for some time will have discovered that we make more spiritual progress along the pathway of failure and tears than along the pathway of success and laughter. Nevertheless, even maturing disciples are tempted to flee from trials that are clearly making them more like Jesus (James 1:2)—and in fleeing them, they miss their blessings. It is in the warp and woof of life, in the difficulties and in the disasters, that all of our rough parts are chipped away and we are fashioned into the image of Jesus.
When we read the Bible and look at the stories of those who have been saved, we can marvel at what God has done in their lives. Why should so great a witness as Stephen have been snuffed out so early on? Why should so faithful a man as Paul have endured all of those beatings and illnesses and shipwrecks? “Why, O Lord?” God’s answer is as profound as it is challenging: “I was making them like Jesus.”
God’s Ongoing Process
Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit. (2 Cor. 3:16–18)
This second passage from the apostle Paul reveals something about how our transformation takes place. If we know the Lord and therefore have God’s Spirit at work in us, then we “are being transformed into the same image”—a present-tense experience. In other words, the eternal purpose of God is the ongoing process of God in each of our lives.
In 2 Corinthians 3 broadly, Paul draws a contrast between the old covenant and the new.