Every man’s life is a quest. We all have some ultimate vision of a source of glory, a state of happiness, or a foundation of goodness that lures us forward in life with promise and expectation. For many, this vision is a picture of ‘the American dream’, a motley arrangement of success in the workplace, a comfortable home, and a happy family life. For others, the dream is more focused: to maximize achievement within a profession or to squeeze as much fun and pleasure out of life as humanly possible. There are many different ways to organize the quest. But what is common to all men, save the despairing few who are driven by uncertainty, is that we are chasing a fixed vision of happiness.
One of the challenges of Christian discipleship is to allow the gospel of Jesus Christ to reorient the basic quest of life. In order for this to happen, we must ask the question, according to the New Testament, what is life’s ultimate destination? In other words, as a man surrounded by endless paths through life, where must I go as a follower of Jesus?
Now there are two ways of defining our destination. The first is to define it as the afterlife. Following this model, we attempt to live out the entirety of our earthly existence in expectation of the day when we will pass from this world to the next. A lot of medieval and even early modern Christians found great encouragement and inspiration via this mindset. During a time when death felt as near as a neighbor’s sniffle, Christians walked on the brink of heaven and hell. Being ready for the afterlife was a powerful source of motivation for daily faithfulness.
Yet, whether we like it or not, few men today feel as if death could disrupt their life plan at any given minute. Regardless of how often or how vehemently pastors preach on the topic of human mortality, the fact is that most Christians feel insulated by technology and modern medicine from death. And if death feels distant, so does heaven. I am not commending this attitude, only describing it.
Motivationally, this creates a problem. If the quest of life is organized around the destination of heaven, men end up feeling like being a Christian is eerily similar to sitting in a waiting room. The main objective in the waiting room is to fill the time until my number is called. Rare is the person who utilizes this time to open a laptop and strike off a few tasks from his list. Most men pick up a Sports Illustrated or stare at whatever talk show is on the television.
All of this is a picture of the spiritual mindset of a lot men. Physically, we can do nothing to jump the line and arrive to heaven immediately. This leaves some Christians feeling like they are stuck on earth trying to fill the time between conversion and glorification. I need to be careful here. I am not suggesting that Christians think that there is nothing to do – temptation must be avoided and the gospel shared. The problem is that these activities are insufficient to fill the amount of time that God has given us on earth. Thus some guys end up doing the spiritual equivalent of reading Sports Illustrated and watching Dr. Phil. They fill the empty space of life with golf, travel, and fitness because there is nothing better to do in the intervals between going to church on Sunday, having a daily quiet time, and waiting for the moment when I pass from this life to the next.
Yet, in God’s wisdom, He has given us a second way to arrange the quest of life. While the book of Hebrews does much to fix the attention of Christians on a heavenly city, more often than not, the New Testament writers encourage us to imagine our final destination, not as a place, but as a state of being. For Paul, in particular, the destination of life is to be remade in the likeness of Christ. This is why Paul can say ‘to live is Christ’ (Phil. 1:21), why he repeatedly admonishes us to ‘put on Christ’ (Rom. 13:14, Col 3:10; Eph. 4:24), and why he characterizes the essence of his ministry as ‘warning everyone and teaching everyone with all wisdom, that we may present everyone mature in Christ’ (Col. 1:28). For Paul, becoming like Christ is the ultimate objective of the Christian life.
We need to pause to consider how powerful this shift of perspective is. Whereas on a Monday morning I can do nothing to advance geographically to heaven, every moment of every day I can do something to reflect Christ in and through my person. There is always sin that can be mortified, character that can be developed, righteousness that can be displayed, or love that can be shared. Thus if defining the destination of life as heaven all too easily ends in me feeling like I am in a waiting room, defining the destination as Christ imbues my whole life with the direction and impetus of a calling. Or to state things another way, if viewing the goal of life as arriving at heaven leaves most of my life plan intact, viewing the goal as conforming to Christ subverts and reorganizes the entirety of my self-wrought agenda. Every moment of every day has fresh and compelling potential. There is an infinite horizon, the likeness Christ, which propels me into the future with all the passion and focus of a knight chasing a daring quest.
So, then, what is the answer to the question, where must I go? The answer is not a happy retirement, a successful career, a handsome physique, an amiable family or a combinational of all of the above. For every earnest disciple, the answer is Christ himself. I must be remade in his likeness and everything else - my career, family, health, and resources - must be utilized and enjoyed as means toward that final end.