Our Purpose in Life

Sunset by the ocean

People naturally want their lives to have a purpose. Depression often comes when someone thinks his life has no meaning or when he thinks that the things he does have no lasting significance. It is easy to feel a lack of purpose and significance when we focus on physical things.

This is what the book of Ecclesiastes is all about. The wise man began the book with these words: “Vanity of vanities! All is vanity” (Ecclesiastes 1:2). He wrote about his search for purpose and satisfaction in many things, but found none. He called wisdom “striving after wind” (Ecclesiastes 1:17). He said pleasure was “futility” and that it accomplished nothing (Ecclesiastes 2:1-2). The great possessions he had obtained were of “no profit” (Ecclesiastes 2:11) and his hard work was “vanity” (Ecclesiastes 2:23). These observations may be summed up in this statement: “So I hated life, for the work which had been done under the sun was grievous to me; because everything is futility and striving after wind” (Ecclesiastes 2:17). Many of us have likely had similar thoughts at one time or another.

As we get to the end of the book, we see that the wise man found purpose as he looked past this life. In considering the end of a man’s life, he wrote, “Then the dust will return to the earth as it was, and the spirit will return to God who gave it” (Ecclesiastes 12:7). Yes, the things of this life are futile because we will all one day be gone. But there is something after this life – our spirit will return to God. We will live on. So our purpose – the way that we can find lasting significance and meaning to our existence – is to follow after spiritual things.

At this realization, we can understand the lesson the wise man learned in his observations: “The conclusion, when all has been heard is: fear God and keep His commandments, because this applies to every person” (Ecclesiastes 12:13). The King James Versions uses the phrase, “for this is the whole duty of man.” The wise man found the meaning for life. Our purpose is to fear God and keep His commandments.

Interestingly, this was how Peter began the first sermon to the Gentiles. Speaking to Cornelius and his household, Peter said, “I most certainly understand now that God is not one to show partiality, but in every nation the man who fears Him and does what is right is welcome to Him” (Acts 10:34-35). This is important. When he said, “in every nation,” it means that it applies to us. We must fulfill this purpose to be accepted by God. So let us notice what it means to fear God and keep Him commandments.

Fear God

There are certain things involved in fearing God. First of all, in order to fear God, we must first believe in God. When Moses told Pharaoh to let the people of Israel go into the wilderness to worship God, the king responded, “Who is the Lord that I should obey His voice to let Israel go? I do not know the Lord, and besides, I will not let Israel go” (Exodus 5:2). Pharaoh did not know the Lord, meaning he did not believe in Him. In this passage, not believing in God resulted in the king’s disobedience. After the plague of hail, Moses said to Pharaoh, “I know that you do not yet fear the Lord God” (Exodus 9:30). Why did Pharaoh not fear the Lord? For the same reason he did not obey – he did not know God and did not believe in Him.

So we must first believe in the existence of God. The world around us provides sufficient proof that God does exist (Psalm 19:1; Romans 1:20). When we acknowledge God as the Creator, we must also recognize our place before Him. The psalmist wrote, “When I consider Your heavens, the work of Your fingers, the moon and the stars, which You have ordained; what is man that You take thought of him, and the son of man that You care for him?” (Psalm 8:3-4). David realized his insignificance in all of God’s creation. Interestingly, this is the reason why many feel lost and without purpose. They believe that in all there is around them, they do not matter. But David’s point was that even though we are just a small part of the world around us, God still cares for us and has made provisions for us. This is why our response must be to “fear God and keep His commandments.

Understanding the greatness of God, we fear Him because we are accountable to Him. This was what the wise man wrote in the next verse: “For God will bring every act to judgment, everything which is hidden, whether it is good or evil” (Ecclesiastes 12:14). Paul made the same point in the New Testament: “For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may be recompensed for his deeds in the body, according to what he has done, whether good or bad” (2 Corinthians 5:10).

Why should the certainty of judgment cause us to fear God? Think of how He has dealt with sin in the past. In the days of Noah, God decided to nearly wipe out the human race because of their wickedness (Genesis 6:5-7). When Korah, Dathan, and Abiram rebelled against Moses, the Lord caused the earth to open and swallow up these men and their families (Numbers 16:23-33). Afterward, when the people complained to Moses and Aaron about what had happened, God sent a plague that killed over fourteen thousand. Even with some things that may seem small to us – such as gathering sticks on the Sabbath day – God required that the offender be put to death (Numbers 15:33-36).

In these examples – and there are more we could consider – we can see God’s attitude toward sin. Of course, we are under a new law today. However, God’s attitude toward sin has not changed. The Hebrew writer pointed this out: “Anyone who has set aside the Law of Moses dies without mercy on the testimony of two or three witnesses. How much severer punishment do you think he will deserve who has trampled under foot the Son of God, and has regarded as unclean the blood of the covenant by which he was sanctified, and has insulted the Spirit of grace?” He then wrote, “It is a terrifying thing to fall into the hands of the living God” (Hebrews 10:28-29, 31).

This is why we fear God – He is willing and able to destroy us if we do not follow Him. Jesus said, “Do not fear those who kill the body but are unable to kill the soul; but rather fear Him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell” (Matthew 10:28). We recognize that God’s desire is for everyone to be saved (1 Timothy 2:4; 2 Peter 3:9), but He will only be patient for so long. Paul wrote, “But because of your stubbornness and unrepentant heart, you are storing up wrath for yourself in the day of wrath and revelation of the righteous judgment of God, who will render to each person according to his deeds” (Romans 2:5-6). If we are not prepared to meet God when the time comes for us to stand before Him, we will be destroyed. This ought to cause us to fear Him.

Keep His Commandments

Fearing God should lead us to keep His commandments. After discussing the failings of both the Jews and Gentiles, Paul “charged that both Jews and Greeks are all under sin” (Romans 3:9). He then quoted various passages from the Old Testament showing what they had done. Why did they do all these things that were contrary to the will of God? The answer is found in the last passage he quoted: “There is no fear of God before their eyes” (Romans 3:18). The people did not follow God because they did not fear Him.

When we think about our purpose here, we are expected to obey the Lord. Paul told the Ephesians, “For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them” (Ephesians 2:10). Paul told Titus that those who have been redeemed by Christ are to be “zealous for good deeds” (Titus 2:14). As much as the religious world in general wants to minimize the importance of obedience, the Bible is very clear. God expects us to obey Him.

What are the good deeds that we are to zealously practice? There are many things that people call “good deeds,” but we need to let God define what is a good work. The Scriptures have been given by the inspiration of God. This inspired word of God equips us for “every good work” (2 Timothy 3:16-17). If we want to know whether or not something is a good deed, we must look to see if God has commanded or authorized it in His word. There are many other things that we may decide to do in the name of Christ, but if they are not among the good works for which the Scriptures equip us, Jesus called them “lawlessness” (Matthew 7:22-23).

Many want to ignore obedience and just talk about faith. We are “justified by faith” (Romans 5:1), but James explained that justification does not come by “faith alone”; there are works involved as well (James 2:24). Faith and obedience are inseparable. James said, “Faith, if it has no works, is dead, being by itself” (James 2:17). He then offered the challenge, “Show me your faith without the works, and I will show you my faith by my works” (James 2:18). Even in the book of Romans, which many believe teaches the idea of salvation by faith alone, Paul showed the connection between of faith and obedience. Paul said his mission was “to bring about the obedience of faith among all the Gentiles for His name’s sake” (Romans 1:5). At the end of the book, he wrote that the gospel was revealed to bring “the obedience of faith” (Romans 16:26).

If we want to fulfill our purpose in life, be welcome to God, and be saved, we must fear God and keep His commandments (Ecclesiastes 12:13; Acts 10:35; Hebrews 5:9).

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