Huckleberry Finn, by Mark Twain, was one of my favorite books growing up. In my youth, I didn’t get much of the depth of what was imbedded in the story line, but I really did enjoy the story. As I got older and became more aware of some of the deeper thoughts in the book, I became even more intrigued. Even now, there is one passage that continues to jump out at me because it expresses so well a massive misconception that so many people have about God.
In that part of the story, Huck was confronted with what to do regarding a runaway slave who had become his very good friend. His belief was that Jim truly was the property of the slave owner, and that it was literally immoral for him to help Jim escape. He believed that if he did not do the right thing in that regard (that is, turn Jim in) God would judge him and send him to hell. On the other hand, if he did what was “right,” he would go to heaven. In his desire to do right, he actually wrote a letter to the slave owner. But after writing the letter, he really struggled with the idea of turning in his friend. In the end, he decided that he couldn’t go through with it. He tore up the letter and decided to “live with the consequences.” Here we pick up with his struggle after writing the letter.
… I took it up (the letter), and held it in my hand. I was a trembling, because I’d got to decide, forever, betwixt two things, and I knowed it. I studied a minute, sort of holding my breath, and then says to myself:
“All right, then, I’ll go to hell” – and tore it up.
It was awful thoughts, and awful words, but they was said. And I let them stay said; and never thought no more about reforming. I shoved the whole thing out of my head; and said I would take up wickedness again, which was in my line, being brung up to it, and the other warn’t. And for a starter, I would go to work and steal Jim out of slavery again; and if I could think up anything worse, I would do that, too; because as long as I was in, and in for good, I might as well go the whole hog.
To me, this is fascinating because what we see is a person making a deliberate decision to choose a temporal outcome over an eternal one. Of course, the premise of Huck’s beliefs are completely wrong on several fronts. First, he was wrong about the rightness and wrongness of slavery. Beyond that, he was wrong concerning his understanding of God and the means of Christian salvation. And, of course, the result of his wrong beliefs led him to move forward in life based on a wrong foundation leading to wrong decisions.
But what fascinates me most is not the fact of his wrong beliefs and decisions. Rather, it is that he made a deliberate decision that he thought would condemn him to hell because he believed that what he considered to be God’s will was bad (and thus God was bad).
Interestingly, what Huck Finn expressed is not merely the expression of some fictional character. In fact, it is not unusual at all for me to hear the exact same sentiment expressed as I interact with certain Atheists. They have come up with their own belief about what is right and wrong, and if God disagrees with them, then it is God who is wrong. They reason that since God’s reasoning doesn’t agree with their’s, and since his reasoning is wrong, they would rather go to hell than spend eternity with God.
As we think about this phenomenon, there are two things that dramatically come into play. The first is an understanding of purpose: what is the purpose of humanity as we live life in this world. The second has to do with the decisions we make based on what we believe about our purpose.
Every worldview, of course, has its own way of dealing with these matters. That said, as with Huck Finn, everyone who has a mistaken understanding about humanity’s purpose, will also find themselves making wrong life decisions – decisions that put themselves outside of a relationship with God, and lead other people away from him, as well. Let’s take a moment now and look a little deeper at a Christian worldview perspective on purpose and decisions.
There are times, as I generically contemplate my various experiences as a Christian, that I become very frustrated. Sometimes my frustration is with my own life. I think any of us who are honest with ourselves will identify with the heart cry of the apostle Paul in Romans 7:21-25 where he says: So I find this law at work: Although I want to do good, evil is right there with me. For in my inner being I delight in God’s law; but I see another law at work in me, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within me. What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body that is subject to death? Thanks be to God, who delivers me through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, I myself in my mind am a slave to God’s law, but in my sinful nature a slave to the law of sin.
But sometimes I also find myself frustrated at the state of the Christian community as a whole. This element of my frustration partially plays itself out among those who are active in church as I watch some people participate in church activities, but observe a lifestyle that is contrary to what the Bible teaches. An even deeper frustration grips me as I observe how the majority of people in America still claim to be Christian, yet there is no sign from that majority that their Christian faith is anything more than a social label; in fact, most of them rarely even attend church.
Of course, I would never presume to judge any particular individual. I can’t see people’s hearts, so I can’t know their motivations. However, the Bible does teach us to inspect the fruit of people’s lives, and that inspection leads us to some very obvious conclusions. The shortcomings are apparent based on what we see happening in society; in the wanton immorality and lack of integrity evident in every societal institution, in dying and declining churches, and in the lack of sharing Christ with the world.
So the question becomes, “What is the key to solving this problem?” In my view, to deal with this we have to dig down to the very foundation of our faith and begin the analysis from there. It starts in an analysis and understanding of the purpose of our existence. If there really is an objectively real purpose for our lives, then it is essential that we know what it is and be about fulfilling it. If there is no purpose, then it really doesn’t matter what we do.
So the first order of business is to determine whether or not there actually is a purpose for our lives. And, if you are a Christian, the answer is, “Absolutely YES!” The Bible is very clear that the ultimate purpose of every human life is to know a personal relationship with God and to live in that purpose. So, with this affirmative answer, we are faced with another question, “How do we live in that purpose?” To answer that question, we need to know what the Bible says about how we are to do that.
In the most personal and specific sense, that has to be answered at an individual level. God has issued a calling and gifted individuals for service, so each individual has to perceive their calling and grasp the gifting in order to answer at that level. Where confusion often comes is that many people don’t have a reference point for understanding how to apply this personally. This brings us, then, to a more general understanding of how to deal with the question. That general understanding can be grasped based on three expressions of who we are as believers: We are: 1) a child of God, 2) a disciple, and 3) a steward.
Child of God
The most important thing to understand about our purpose relates to our personal relationship with God; it is an objectively real relationship with an actual person. While this may seem like an obvious statement, and one that most Christians will readily acknowledge intellectually, sometimes what we acknowledge intellectually does not register as a personal reality. God is a real person, and if we do not interact with him as a real person in daily life – by sharing our concerns with him AND listening to his guidance – then the reality of his presence is not personal. It is essential to grasp that anyone who expects to live in God’s purpose must experience him as a personal reality in everyday life.
Another element that we must understand as we explore how to fulfill God’s purpose for our lives is to recognize that we are disciples of Christ. The truth is, most people do not grasp the most important implications of this fact. A disciple is not merely a student, as many people think. Of course, it does involve learning things about how to live for Christ, but it is much more than that. Disciples are people who voluntarily attach themselves to a master in order to learn how to “become like the master.” This involves a process of putting aside personal purpose, and taking on the purpose of the master. So, in order to become a true disciple of Christ, it is necessary to understand God’s purpose for the world, and to make his purpose our purpose. Sadly, too many Christians look at themselves as mere students, rather than disciples, and that perspective keeps them from completely fulfilling the purpose God created them for.
The third element we must grasp, if we wish to fulfill God’s purpose for our lives, is to understand our role as God’s steward. A steward is a manager that works for the owner. In the case of the natural universe, God is the owner – he owns everything. Too many Christians look at the possessions they have control over and consider them their own. But as Christians, we own nothing. Everything we have belongs to God, and he has a way he wants them to be used. The purpose of all of those things is to accomplish God’s purpose in the world. So, for instance, when you tithe, you are not giving God 10% of your earnings, you are appropriating 10% of HIS resources to a particular part of his work. When you pay your mortgage, you are not paying off your house, you are managing a portion of his resources that he wants you to use to support your family. When you go on vacation, you are not merely going to enjoy yourself, but are managing God’s resources in a way that allows you to become refreshed in order to be more effective and faithful in fulfilling your purpose in other parts of life. We could go on, but hopefully you get the idea.
It is impossible to act on what we don’t know, so grasping and living life based on the above concepts is critical. That said, it is not enough. Once we know “what” we need to do, we must actually do it.
This, then, leads us to the next element of our Christian life – the “doing” part. Everything you do in life should be an expression of a greater purpose. You were created to fulfill a particular purpose for God, and if you really believe that to be true, you will make decisions that lead you to fulfill that purpose. If you are not basing your life’s activities on God’s purpose for you, then your purpose is derived from something lower.
Too many Christians don’t ever really consider their life to have a purpose beyond their own personal desires. As a result, they decide what they want to do in life, prepare themselves to do that work, then go about living life based on the direction they chose. For a Christian, though, that is simply wrong. God’s purpose, not our own, is primary.
At this point, we need to make some important distinctions. Most Christians think of God’s calling as something that applies to only a certain small subset of people. They think of God’s calling in terms of a decision to go into vocational Christian ministry. Of course, God does call some people into that kind of leadership ministry. However, most of the calling God does to people is directed at leading them into other vocations. God’s desire is that everyone in the world have people around them who can point them to Jesus, so he calls people to be in every part of life. The Christian plumber or doctor is just as called into God’s work as is the pastor or missionary; it is just that the vocational platform is different.
This, then, brings up another issue. Just as someone called into vocational Christian ministry must decide to respond positively to the call, so must everyone else respond to their calling from God. And just as those called into vocational Christian ministry must train to do that ministry, so must other Christians train for their ministry.
So, what kind of training do vocational Christian ministers need? They need training to do the job they will work in (leading a church organization, working cross culturally, leading a music ministry, or whatever applies to the job they will enter), AND the theological training necessary to “equip the saints for the work of ministry.” And what kind of training do Christians need who work in other vocations? They need training to do the work that is their vocation, AND the theological training necessary to fulfill God’s purpose in their lives as disciples and stewards of God.
Living out a Biblical Worldview
So there we have it – a Christian worldview perspective on the Christian life. A genuine Christian life begins with an understanding of God’s purpose, and is lived out by making decisions that allow the individual to fulfill that purpose. It is not something that just applies to a particularly “dedicated” portion of the Christian community, it applies to every believer. Anything else is something less than what God wants.
© 2017 Freddy Davis