Please open your bibles to Acts, chapter 17. There, we will find Paul’s famous sermon at Athens. To a highly educated, intelligent, and affluent crowd, highly cultured, and even very religious, sophisticated and careful in their fashionable reverence to the many God’s of the Greek pantheon, and even open minded, not wanting to leave any out so in fact having an alter to and reverencing even the “unknown god” – he speaks up and preaches:
24 The God who made the world and everything in it, being Lord of heaven and earth, does not live in temples made by man, 25 nor is he served by human hands, as though he needed anything, since he himself gives to all mankind life and breath and everything. 26 And he made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined allotted periods and the boundaries of their dwelling place, 27 that they should seek God, and perhaps feel their way toward him and find him. Yet he is actually not far from each one of us, 28 for ” ‘In him we live and move and have our being’; as even some of your own poets have said, ” ‘For we are indeed his offspring.’Acts 17:24–28 (ESV)
Who am I? Why am I here?
Origin, purpose, destiny – the three fundamental questions of philosophy. Where did I come from, why am I here, where am I going? The reason the origin and destiny question are important is that our purpose derives from these two. If you can know where you came from and where you are going, you can know why you are here.
Is the Big Bang theory true? Evolution? Are we in fact the product of random natural processes? Descended from the apes, as my university biology professor claimed: “You might not like it, but it’s true.” Let’s say that it is true for a second.
If our origin is haphazard, we therefore have no purpose, and our destiny is irrelevant. Naturalism is inherently nihilistic (nihilism is the belief that everything is meaningless.) And this is going to affect the way you see the value of your life, and the value of other life. But of course since we are, as Paul correctly proclaimed to the Athenians, created by God with the purpose of knowing him, we have a built-in sense of meaning, purpose.
Any other ethics or purpose held by those with a naturalistic world view has to be borrowed, appropriated, cultural appropriation, from religious worldviews, in the west, specifically, the Judeo-Christian worldview.
Every human knows there is a purpose to life, that we came from somewhere and are destined for something. Even if they deny it consciously, they know it inherently. It is hard-wired. Which is why even atheists insist on ethics and morality, except the ones that are truly intellectually consistent and honest, and are thus locked up as sociopaths.
We have a built-in sense that people are valuable. A built in sense that murder and theft is wrong, and that people are worthy of dignity and respect. This comes from our design in God’s image.
And so we grasp at creating a purpose apart from God, for declaring for ourselves what is good and evil. This of course is the original sin problem. The value system currently in vogue has been labelled “expressive individualism”.
And students, high school and college, you are in the thick of this in a way that my generation was only starting to tinker with. You are dealing with this on a day to day basis with your classmates.
The basic idea is that only you can decide who you are, you define your own identity, no one else can tell you who you are. And then it is your duty to express that identity to everyone around you, and get them to notice and appreciate you. The ultimate sin in our culture is to deny someone’s self constructed identity and claim that in fact they are something else than what they decided.
The statement of faith of our culture is: You do you. Be true to yourself. Follow your heart. Find yourself. Only you can decide.
Against that the ancient statement, recorded in the Bible is “ So God created man in his own image.” (Genesis 1:27). “You are not your own.” (1 Corinthians 6:19)
For our culture today, the most controversial thing Christians believe is that each of us was created by Almighty God, who designs and reveals our identity and purpose, and to whom we owe love, worship, and obedience.
Turn with me all the way to the beginning of the book and let’s read:
In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth. The earth was without form and void, and darkness was over the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters.Genesis 1:1–2 (ESV)
Then God spent six days bringing form to the formless, and filling the void. He made light and separated it from the dark. He separated the water from the heavens, and the sea from the dry land. Then he filled the land with plants, the heavens with lights, the sky with birds, the sea with fish, and the dry land with animals, and then…
Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.”
So God created man in his own image,
in the image of God he created him;
male and female he created them.
And God blessed them. And God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it, and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth.” And God said, “Behold, I have given you every plant yielding seed that is on the face of all the earth, and every tree with seed in its fruit. You shall have them for food. And to every beast of the earth and to every bird of the heavens and to everything that creeps on the earth, everything that has the breath of life, I have given every green plant for food.” And it was so. And God saw everything that he had made, and behold, it was very good. And there was evening and there was morning, the sixth day.Genesis 1:26–31 (ESV)
And the truths that flow from this passage we summarize in the first “chapter” of our statement of faith: The Story of God and Man, like so.
The Story: Creation
In the beginning, the eternally existent, all-sufficient, and triune God created all that exists, visible and invisible. God created men and women in His own image and appointed them rulers, under His authority, of the earth. The first man and woman walked with God in the garden in perfect relationship with Him and one another. All that God created was “very good,” and the original world was void of sickness, suffering, conflict, and death. God instituted marriage and family, decreeing that a man should unite with a woman for life and so be fruitful and multiply, fill the earth, and develop it.Stonebrook Statement of Faith Part 1: Creation
This fact of creation influences every aspect of our life. It creates the very grid through which we interpret the world around us, the lens through which we view the world. We look at our lives and our situation and the events going on in the world, in fact we look at creation itself: rocks, trees, rivers, oceans, continents, microbes, bacteria, viruses, planets, stars, galaxies, men, women, children, canyons, mountains, horses, hawks, cats, rats, squirrels, and chinchillas and say “God created that, for a reason.”
You can see in your study book that we draw out 10 points of belief and practice. I’d like to highlight four points by way of summary of the 10.
- Relationship with God
- Human Dignity & Community
- Marriage & Sexuality
Relationship with God
Since God is the good, loving Creator and Sustainer of all creation and sovereign over all, we belong to Him. Therefore we must worship, love, adore; pray to; trust; and obey Him.Stonebrook Church, Story of God and Man: Life in Light of Creation, 1
Human Dignity & Community
3. Since all men and women are created in the image of God and descended from one man and one woman, we must regard all men as valuable, treat them with dignity, respect all, and treat all justly regardless of race, gender, age, position, giftedness, health, or disability.Stonebrook Church, Story of God and Man: Life in Light of Creation, 3
9. Since God is our supreme authority and since He has established human authorities to lead and organize society, we should submit to the appropriate authorities—children to parents, wives to husbands, employees to employers, church members to church leaders, and citizens to governing authorities.Stonebrook Church, Story of God and Man: Life in Light of Creation, 9
Marriage, Family, & Sexuality
6. Since God created us male and female and commanded that a man should leave his father and mother and cleave to his wife, and since He desires humans to multiply and fill the earth, one man should enter into a life-long covenant with one woman, be sexually active, bear children, and raise a family. Sexual activity outside of this God-ordained marriage covenant—such as adultery, cohabitation prior to marriage, polyamory, homosexuality, or bestiality—is a violation of God’s purpose and plan and will result in suffering and loss and the judgment of God.Stonebrook Church, Story of God and Man: Life in Light of Creation, 6
And Jesus explained during his ministry that this applies to our thought life as well. Lusting after another person, entertaining sexual thoughts, pornography, all falls outside the bounds of the marriage covenant.
Since God created humans male and female, we should celebrate masculinity and femininity, which God has designed to complement, not compete.Stonebrook Church, Story of God and Man: Life in Light of Creation, 7
Since God appointed men and women as rulers and caretakers of the earth, we are responsible to Him to treat the physical world around us as a stewardship entrusted to us. The earth belongs to our God to whom we will give an account for our stewardship. Being made in the image of God, men and women are also to work as creators and caretakers, designing, arranging, protecting, providing, developing, giving, loving. We should find purpose and fulfillment in the work of our minds and of our hands and do our work as unto the Lord.Stonebrook Church, Story of God and Man: Life in Light of Creation, 4
Sin Corrupts All This
All of these areas are meant to be a blessing to mankind. We were designed to live in this way. We find our true identity, what we were designed for, when we look to God’s definition of who we are. Note how his very first command to us was a blessing:
And God blessed them. And God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it, and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth.Genesis 1:28 (ESV)
Is this a harsh command? No! “Be like me! Be kings!” – Well okay, God, I guess if I have to…
But notice how sin ruins all of this. The curse of sin directly targets each of these four aspects. John will draw this out in more detail, but in Genesis 3 we see that the result of our rebellion is the curse. We are cut off from walking with God in the garden. We use one another for personal gain rather than love and respect and serve each other. Marriage is fraught with difficulty, childbearing is painful and dangerous, and our work produces thorns and thistles as well as fruit.
Whether because of our active sinful rebellion, or from the fallout of a sinful world that affects us, these areas are under attack. Sexuality is foremost among them in our culture.
The Bible teaches that God determines a person’s gender, which is synonymous with biological sex. A person does not have to wonder what they are, or try and make it up for themselves. What a relief!
And yes, I know our culture has completely lost its mind in this area, and as a result has not raised children well in this area, and for multiple reasons this can be a very confusing thing for some people. If you are in that spot of confused about your identity in this area please hear compassion in this statement and not condemnation.
Just as the curse has impacted every area of creation, earthquakes destroy, tornadoes obliterate, cancer burns, dementia steals… natural disaster, disease, and death all a result of our rebellion against God’s design – our bodies and minds are radically affected by this same fallout. We are raised in a culture that has untethered itself from what is plain to see, and we get confused. And no, it is not as simple as a choice. We tend to not understand the nature of choice very well. To those who struggle here, it does not feel like a choice. You just know what your mind and your body are telling you.
But there’s the point again: our minds and our bodies telling us things are not the determiner of our identity. God is.
In some senses life is indeed a journey of self-discovery, even the ancient theologians knew this. But the thing you are trying to discover is who you were created to be. Not trying to decide who you want to be.
So if you struggle in this area, read that struggle as a clue. God wants me to have to wrestle in this area in order to reach out and find him and discover something wonderful about myself and him in this arena….
And you know the best part about being created by God with a design and for a purpose is? It means that the longing we each have deep down to be part of something bigger than ourselves – is there on purpose.
We all want to be part of a story that is bigger than ourselves
It’s why we love stories so much. Think about your favorite stories for a bit. Maybe your favorite book or movie.
Don’t they describe a picture of a life of meaning? The attainment of something beautiful, something worthwhile. And the best stories always paint that picture of achieving something truly meaningful at great personal cost.
Anywhere from Little House on the Prairie: carving out a life worth living through the hardships of life on the frontier, creating a legacy that most all of us benefit from today.
We could even talk about sports here, those of us who are really into it get into the story of the development of a particular player, or particular team over time.
To my favorites: Lord of the Rings, Matrix, Harry Potter, and certain parts of the Marvel movies (Iron Man and Doctor Strange). What do these all have in common? Self-sacrifice.
False premises make crummy stories.
The premise of a world that rejects God is self-actualization. “Discover your authentic self. Live your truth. Find the power within…” – You know, most Disney movies.
You know, every now and then those movies are okay. They get the action and affects and comedy right, but the plot is always so… thin.
The difference between a fun movie (hero self actualizes), and an epic, life-changing memorable one that leaves you in tears is the hero self-sacrificing to stand up for what is good true and beautiful.
The best of these stories combine both. The hero starts out on a journey of self-actualization, and discovers a truth that the Bible shows us in the big picture.
True self actualization is self-sacrifice for the good of others.
Greater love has no man than this: that he lays down his life for another.
The Hope of the New Creation
And here is all our hope in this sin-broken world of ours. Yes every area is infected by the curse from our sin. And that means that nothing is ever completely as it should be. That can be a very confusing and disheartening thing.
For those of you here who are hurting and confused this morning. Life is not where you think it should be. Asking “why am I even here?” – remember that that question of purpose can only be answered in light of origin and destiny.
Let me remind you, all of you, of your origin:
24 The God who made the world and everything in it, being Lord of heaven and earth, does not live in temples made by man, 25 nor is he served by human hands, as though he needed anything, since he himself gives to all mankind life and breath and everything. 26 And he made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined allotted periods and the boundaries of their dwelling place…Acts 17:24–26 (ESV)
And let me remind you of your purpose:
27 that they should seek God, and perhaps feel their way toward him and find him. Yet he is actually not far from each one of us, 28 for ” ‘In him we live and move and have our being’; as even some of your own poets have said, ” ‘For we are indeed his offspring.’Acts 17:27-28 (ESV)
And let me remind you of your destiny.
For those of you who do not trust in Christ, I’m afraid it is not good news. If you have rejected your origin and your purpose, you also reject your destiny: eternal life in eternal paradise together with your loving creator and all the rest of those who love and trust in him.
The alternative: eternal torment in eternal hell, apart from your loving creator.
Those who trust in Christ, who take him at his word about their origin and purpose, who follow his good commands “be like me!” – and who seek to love and serve him by loving and serving those around them. Those who repent of their sin and believe that Christ’s payment on the cross washes away the guilt and shame of our sin, we have a magnificent hope:
Our destiny is a world finally restored to the way it was supposed to be. The curse gone: no more destruction and death from natural disaster and sickness. Sin gone: no more pride and greed and lust and jealousy and anger driving our actions.
All people and all creation finally giving our good and loving and wise creator all the praise and honor he is due. That’s going to be a good day. Set your sights on that.