I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me.
The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God,
who loved me and gave himself for me. Gal. 2:20 (NIV)
On the way back from church, I asked my daughter about her small group study, and she told me that the subject was our purpose in life -- why God put us here, and what our lives were meant to be. The first thought that came to my mind was that this was such a big question, something to be sought out through the challenges of life as we mature and become complete people. It was a question that could take a lifetime to answer.
And then I paused, and recognized my error. Our purpose in life isn't found in ourselves at all.
The challenges of life have taught me one important thing, and that's that my efforts to direct the course of my life, whether they are well-intentioned in Christ's service or just plain selfish, have never brought me any closer to the man I was meant to be. My personal rules of conduct, the principles which have driven me, the goals which I pursued both for the benefit of my family and what I believed was best -- they have not helped me to realize my purpose in life. Because in each case, I was the one driving the pursuit, not God.
When Paul writes Galatians 2:20, he is directing these words to people who have been misled by the idea that Christians should be identified by the Law that God gave to Moses. Paul's response is meant to explain that Christians operate from an entirely new identity, and it is one which we have gained not by well-intentioned rituals like circumcision but by a loving God who took our place on a cross. But in his response, Paul reveals a deeper idea. One which drove the entire course of his life. And it is so extremely simple.
We no longer have a purpose to be determined from the challenges we face, the uniqueness of our personalities, the mistakes we make, or the pinnacles of personal success. Our individual purposes died on a cross, along with everything else that kept us from being who we were meant to be. What we have now is not our purpose at all, but his.
In the moment that we recognize this and truly believe it, we are set free. We find our way not only to the simple path of love and obedience, but the knowledge that we do not have to reach some hidden goal or deeper meaning to make our lives count. Our lives are significant because they are his life. They are significant in the small decisions we make to tell the truth or keep a promise that no one else can see. They are significant in the brief moments we show kindness and encouragement to others, even though we may never cross their paths again. They are significant in the ways we invest ourselves in the people we are around every day, and the consistency we model before our children and co-workers.
With the abandonment of my own plans for my life comes a peace in knowing that he is finally in control. And the certainty that he stands together with me, to walk with me on my journey with a love that is no different than the one which caused him to die for me. My plans and goals can fail, and therefore bring me anxiety. His cannot be defeated. If we can trust him, our purpose in life is not only in his hands, but it is his very life that we live out in our time here on earth. That is a life of joy, peace, and ultimate meaning, no matter what challenges we meet along the way.