The Eternal Purpose of God
Remember the former things long past,
For I am God, and there is no other;
I am God, and there is no one like Me,
Declaring the end from the beginning,
And from ancient times things which have not been done,
Saying, ‘My purpose will be established,
And I will accomplish all My good pleasure.’
(Isaiah 46:9-10, emphasis added)
God’s eternal purpose for creating this world and mankind in it is to live forever with those who freely choose to love Him and to become like Him. The world and our constraints in it create a perfect environment where we can actually develop God’s character. His goal is to have as many people as possible join Him for an eternal future in a new heaven and earth, enjoying what can be when everyone has God’s loving, just, and holy character.
Jesus’ central message in the gospels was “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand” (Matthew 4:17, Mark 1:15). Jesus came to reveal God’s kingdom and bring it near to everyone. Religious leaders who had the responsibility of teaching about the kingdom had become so bogged down in legalism they completely missed God’s kingdom and its purpose. False teaching in our day keeps people from knowing God’s kingdom purpose in the same way. For this reason, we need the clarity of God’s eternal purpose described by Jesus as He revealed God’s kingdom.
In Matthew 13:3-23, Jesus reveals God’s eternal purpose through the parable of the sower. In the story, a farmer plants seeds in four kinds of ground: the side of the road, rocky soil, weedy soil, and good soil. The first three plantings were eaten, withered, or choked out. Only the fourth soil yielded a crop of fruit desirable to the farmer. When Jesus explains the meaning of the parable, He tells the disciples “to you it has been granted to know the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 13:11). He says the four soils are four different kinds of people, the seed is the word of God, and that the eternal outcome of people’s lives is dependent on how they receive the word and bear fruit. Thus, Jesus says that people fulfill the eternal purpose of God’s kingdom, when they freely respond to His word in this world by bearing fruit desirable to God.
Many other parables declare the same message. In the parable of the wheat and the tares (Matthew 13:24-30), Jesus portrays two groups of people. The former crop is harvested, while the latter is gathered and burned. When Jesus interprets this story to His followers in verses 36-43, He again makes the connection between our lives on earth and an eternal life in God’s kingdom. He promises that at the end of this age, “The Son of Man will send forth His angels, and they will gather out of His kingdom all stumbling blocks, and those who commit lawlessness, and will throw them into the furnace of fire; in that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. Then the righteous will shine forth as the sun in the kingdom of their Father” (v. 41-43).
In each of these stories, Jesus is revealing God’s eternal purpose—the reason He made the world as it is with His future plan for mankind. The reason is clear: to raise up a group of people who will become His children by freely choosing to listen to God’s gracious invitation and give their lives to Him. The world and everything in it serves this one purpose, this ultimate outcome God desires.
Jesus’ parables of the kingdom describe God’s eternal purpose as it has always been, not just from when Jesus began His earthly ministry. From Creation to Christ to Consummation, Scripture records God’s constant work to sow His word into the world and reap those who would accept it. From our rejection of God’s command in the garden, God has been patiently, graciously, and relentlessly reaching out to everyone, asking us to seek Him with all of our hearts. His end goal has always been to invite His children to share eternity with Him. He has always been preparing for an eternal era where everything is reconciled and those who follow Him in this life are raised to follow Him in the next.
Besides the parables about the kingdom of God, Jesus communicates the eternal purpose through his teachings about “the children of God.” In the Bible, the children of God are actually siblings, the brothers and sisters of Christ (Romans 8:16-17). They are those who are being raised for God’s eternal purpose.
How does Jesus describe the children of God? What are their characteristics? How does this inform our understanding of God’s eternal purpose?
Jesus defines the children of God by how their hearts motivate their actions. It is never by genealogy, cultural status, race, gender, or other non-behavioral factor. In fact, being a child of God is never said to be anything outside of people’s control. People are children of God because they want to be, because they purposefully respond to God’s gracious invitation to be His child.
Jesus teaches what it means to be a child of God through His dialog with the Pharisees in John 8:37-44. In this debate, the Pharisees claim Abraham as their father, while Jesus tells them they have a different father, and that their plan to kill Jesus is the evidence of their true lineage. In v. 39, Jesus says, “If you are Abraham’s children, do the deeds of Abraham. But as it is, you are seeking to kill Me, a man who has told you the truth, which I heard from God; this Abraham did not do. You are doing the deeds of your father.” Jesus is saying that if they had been Abraham’s children, they would have behaved like Abraham.
Rather than listening to Jesus’ teaching, the blind Pharisees escalate their claim in v. 41, saying, “We were not born of fornication; we have one Father: God.” Jesus’ response is the authoritative definition of a child of God: “If God were your Father, you would love Me, for I proceeded forth and have come from God, for I have not even come on My own initiative, but He sent Me.” God’s children would have recognized and loved Jesus, embracing who He claimed to be and what He came to do. Jesus’ indictment of the Pharisees completes the definition of a child: “You are of your father the devil, and you want to do the desires of your father. He was a murderer from the beginning, and does not stand in the truth because there is no truth in him” (v. 44). Because the Pharisees were planning murder, they self-identified who their parent was: the devil, who is the father of all murderers and liars.
John the Baptist’s message to the Pharisees follows Jesus’ definition of the children of God: “Therefore bear fruit in keeping with repentance, and do not begin to say to yourselves ‘We have Abraham for our father,’ for I say to you that from these stones God is able to raise up children to Abraham. … every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire” (Luke 3:8-9). Some who were convicted by John’s rebuke asked him what they should do, and John’s response supports Jesus’ assertion that God’s children are identified by their behavior: he tells them to share with those in need, and to be fair, just, and truthful (v. 10-14).
Friend of God
“And the Scripture was fulfilled which says, ‘Abraham believed God, and it was reckoned to him as righteousness,’ and he was called the friend of God.” (James 2:23, emphasis added)
Abraham, the father of faith (Romans 4:16), was given a very distinct honor: a proclamation across the ages that he was a friend of Almighty God. Like the honor of being called a child of the Creator, being called His friend suggests another level of relationship. Sometimes in earthly parent-child relationships there is a deep love between the generations, but not always a friendship. God desires His children to also be His friends.
Jesus articulated His desire to become friends with his followers in John 15. When Jesus calls us to friendship, He describes the conditions of that friendship in very similar terms to that which He used in describing a child of God. “You are My friends if you do what I command you.” (v. 14) What does Jesus command His followers? “This is My commandment, that you love one another, just as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, that one lay down his life for his friends” (v. 12-13). We are called to live sacrificial lives of love, just as Jesus demonstrated in His sacrifice for the world.
Nineteenth century pastor Charles H. Spurgeon referenced this verse in a May 8, 1887 sermon
called “The Friend of God.”1 Comparing Abraham’s friendship with God to Jesus’ command in John 15, Spurgeon says, “I think I hear you say, ‘Yes, it was indeed a high degree to which Abraham reached—so high that we cannot attain unto it. It would be idle for us to dream of being accounted friends of God.’ My Brothers and Sisters, I entreat you, think not so! We, also, may be called friends of God” (p. 1). Later, Spurgeon describes the necessary conditions of becoming God’s friend:
If we are to be the friends of God, there must be a conformity of heart, will, design and character to God. Can two walk together except they are agreed? … Will God accept as His friend one who despises holiness, who is careless in obedience, who has no interest in the purposes of Divine Love, no delight in the Gospel of Christ? Beloved, the Holy Spirit must make us like God or else we cannot be friends of God! … Unless we love what God loves and hate what God hates, we cannot be His friends (p. 6).
My friend and mentor, Dr. Timothy Barnett, describes the “saving faith” spoken of Abraham in James 2:23 and offered to everyone in Ephesians 2:8 as “good conscience friendship.” This phrase excludes weak definitions of faith that amount to some kind of mental ascension to an abstract idea that doesn’t actually change a heart or external behavior, the kind of pseudo-faith the apostle warns against in James 2:17 when he says “faith without works is dead.” Instead, “good conscience friendship” describes a faith that wholeheartedly loves God and His ways, thoughts, teachings, ideas, and plans. The friend of God lives out his wholehearted love for God and His ways.
It is certainly in God’s eternal purpose that those with whom He desires to spend eternity will be his friends. Through our lives on this earth we have the opportunity to grow to love God and His ways just as we grow to love our closest friends. God grants us the opportunity to be called His
friends by teaching us about His love, goodness, holiness, justice, grace, mercy, and truth. He invites us to join Him in His eternal purpose by embracing Him and His ways and then living lives that reflect these things. In this way, we grow to be more like Him, more in His image, and
thereby fulfill His eternal purpose for us.
Biblical Support For The Interpretive Lens
Now that we have an understanding of God’s eternal purpose, let’s consider whether it is Biblical to use God’s eternal purpose as an interpretive lens. What justification is there for the idea that we should look at other teachings using the eternal purpose of God as a measuring rod or
Romans 12:2 answers this question directly: “Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will” (NIV). As we grow in our relationship with God, we are to change our thinking, transform our way of viewing things into that which approves of God’s plans, purposes, and choices. This is what friends do: they share common values, see the world in similar ways. As God’s children and friends, we are called to learn, understand, embrace, and promote God’s pleasing and perfect will.
The beginning of The Lord’s Prayer in Matthew 6:9-10 is a prayer that we should share God’s eternal purpose: “Our Father who is in heaven, hallowed be Your name. Your kingdom come. Your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.” While this familiar and foundational prayer is recited around the world constantly, it’s easy to miss the cry to embrace God’s eternal purpose. When we pray this prayer, Jesus wants us to really mean it, to desire it from deep within our hearts. We want God’s kingdom to come, the one where God is really in charge and His people are living as God wants them to be. We long for His will to be done down here like it is in Heaven.
Many such verses call believers to think in terms of God’s kingdom purposes. Given these teachings, we are on firm ground to move forward and apply God’s eternal purpose as an interpretive lens through which we can understand every other teaching in the scriptures.
How To Use The Lens
When faced with a doctrine or a Biblical passage that can be understood in different ways, it is necessary to have a frame of reference, a foundation from which to decide the more likely interpretation. Without a solid Biblical framework, it’s easy to fall prey to unbiblical tradition, modern cultural norms, or our own selfish desires. Many inaccurate and harmful ideas that some people claim the Bible teaches could be avoided by applying God’s eternal purpose.
Interpreting through God’s eternal purpose is not intended to replace sound hermeneutical and exegetical principles. We approach the scriptures with a high view, respecting the cultural contexts, not reading into passages but mining the text for our best understanding of what the author was conveying to their audience in their original language. Given that we respect the scriptures as the word of God, holding it to be the foundation of understanding all eternal truth, we carefully seek to let it interpret itself, define its own terms, and tell us what it is saying instead of the other way around. Our understanding of God’s eternal purpose stands alongside these other principles to make it much more likely that we’ll have ears to hear, eyes to see, and hearts to understand as God desires.
As we seek to apply God’s eternal purpose, we also should consider that since God has an eternal purpose, everything He does has that purpose in view. From Creation to today, we can be certain that God has been planning and acting in the world to accomplish His purpose, and that His “purpose will be established, and [He] will accomplish all [His] good pleasure” (Isaiah 46:10).
Before we consider eschatological (end of the age) doctrines, let us first apply God’s eternal purpose to a verse that is unlikely to be controversial. Ecclesiastes 1:14 says, “I have seen all the works which have been done under the sun, and behold, all is vanity and striving after wind.” What could this mean? Do we take it literally in an absolute sense, given that it was written by the wisest man in the world? Doesn’t all mean all, even in the original language? Is he correctly evaluating literally every single action that has ever been done on earth as meaningless and worthless, like the pursuit of air?
Of course not. It doesn’t take long to remember that Abraham’s faith was considered by God to be of tremendous value. From there we can think of the faith and actions of many in the Old Testament who are described by God as righteous and of tremendous worth. In addition, we can apply our understanding that the eternal purpose of God is to cultivate a group of people who freely choose to spend eternity with Him. Given that purpose, is it likely that literally everything under the sun is vanity and striving after wind? Not at all. In fact, we know that much of what happens on this world has priceless, eternal value to God. He sees our hearts, character, values, and actions and knows whether we are His children and will share in His incredible future plans.
This knowledge can lead us to interpret Ecclesiastes in its correct context, as the writings of someone who was looking at the world through only an earthly perspective, without eternity in view. Certainly, apart from an eternal purpose, this world is ultimately meaningless. Paul confirms this in his discussion of resurrection in 1 Corinthians 15:32. “If the dead are not raised, let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die.” Thankfully, we know that God plans to grant a whole host of people the gift of eternal life through Jesus Christ in accordance with His eternal purpose.
- http://www.spurgeongems.org/vols31-33/chs1962.pdf [↩]