The overall population on planet Earth is currently estimated at over 7 billion inhabitants, most of whom live just because they are here—without having a clear explanation for the reason of their existence, nor any definite, worthwhile purpose in life. Another rather large category have inherited or adopted various kinds of questionable explanations, imagining that they know why they are here, while, in reality, they are only poor victims of misleading ideologies which promise much but don´t deliver satisfying answers.
Unaware of the real purpose of their existence, people have the tendency to concentrate on short-term aims, trying to make their limited time here on earth as pleasant and comfortable as possible. Yet, few of them succeed even in this temporary endeavor. Most fail both to achieve fulfillment in this world and to attain to everlasting life.
According to the Bible, humanity was created perfect in every respect and had the wonderful prospect of being absolutely happy for eternity. Yet, because of sin, this initial perfection of all their components—body, intellect, and affection—began to deteriorate at an alarming rate, so it didn’t take long for the wickedness of humanity to become nearly universal until finally “it repented the Lord that he had made man on the earth, and it grieved him at his heart” ().
It was not only the outward behavior that became corrupt. In a majority of cases, the very thoughts and feelings went so far beyond every limit of decency that there was nothing left to respond to the exhortations of the Holy Spirit: “And God saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every imagination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually” (verse 5, emphasis added).
Forsaking allegiance to the Creator, humanity made friends with the enemy of souls—and, under his influence, became so corrupt until every likeness with God was wiped out and the human race began to reflect the image of the enemy. Sin was no longer “an accident” or “a mistake,” but rather it became the predominant component of the human lifestyle: “Who being past feeling have given themselves over unto lasciviousness, to work all uncleanness with greediness” (emphasis supplied).
By following the arch deceiver, human worth decreased dramatically, daily bringing the race closer to zero—a value which meant there was no more good in humanity at all, just like the antediluvian inhabitants in the times of Noah or the ancient Canaanites who were considered “ripe” for destruction.
Since the wages of sin is death (), humanity, through poor choices, were doomed to live an unfulfilled life on Earth, forever thirsting and never able to obtain lasting, long-term satisfaction. This kind of life would eventually end in a desperate, hopeless death that would bring a tragic close to a deliberately chosen life of sin and put to nought all achievements, which would no longer be of much benefit.
Hope on the horizon
God, being the very essence of love, could not sit back and watch how humanity—the crown of His earthly creation—was heading towards utter ruin, without being given a chance to escape such a doom. Therefore, in His infinite goodness and mercy, as a loving Father, He provided a way out of this desperate situation at the infinite cost of His only begotten Son’s life, granting the human race a chance to be restored to their original perfection through the plan of salvation.
This is actually what the message of Scripture is all about—the inestimably precious opportunity for salvation and restoration granted unto us through the sacrifice of our Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ.
“The central theme of the Bible, the theme about which every other in the whole book clusters, is the redemption plan, the restoration in the human soul of the image of God. . . .The burden of every book and every passage of the Bible is the unfolding of this wondrous theme—man’s uplifting—the power of God, ‘which giveth us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ’ (1).”
Through the atoning sacrifice of Christ, human beings are not only to be forgiven of the sins and trespasses of the past but are to be changed from a state of physical, intellectual, and moral decay to the similitude of God, for “if we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (emphasis supplied).
This is the ultimate opportunity of our life—and since it has been provided for us at a cost beyond computation, we bear a tremendous responsability regarding the way we deal with it. We could simply ignore it, or we could make the best use of it, thus reaching to ever higher levels of perfection through the power and guidance of God´s Spirit: “Our first duty to God and our fellow beings is in self-development. Every faculty with which the Creator has endowed us should be cultivated to the highest degree of perfection, that we may be able to do the greatest amount of good of which we are capable. In order to purify and refine our characters, we need the grace given us of Christ that will enable us to see and correct our deficiencies and improve that which is excellent in our characters.”2
This cleansing work, performed by the Holy Spirit, is not a mere surface work. Instead, it enters the very core of human nature, the essence of our being, transforming not merely a few aspects of our outward appearance and behavior, but rather it affects our entire understanding, perceptions, and feelings. As Jesus told Nicodemus in their remarkable conversation at night, in order to be genuine, this change can be nothing less than a new birth. Christ explained, “Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God” (). This new birth involves a thorough change of our character and identity, so that we end up being entirely different people, being restored to bear the similitude of God: “That ye put off concerning the former conversation the old man, which is corrupt according to the deceitful lusts; and be renewed in the spirit of your mind; and that ye put on the new man, which after God is created in righteousness and true holiness” ( emphasis supplied).
Cooperating with the heaven-born process
What aspects of life are involved in God’s plan to transform us, and how far should it go? Through the grace given by Jesus Christ, God’s children should be progressively enriched in absolutely every aspect of their existence, growing “into him in all things, which is the head, even Christ” (verse 15, emphasis supplied) “in all utterance, and in all knowledge; . . . so that [they] come behind in no gift” (emphasis supplied) and “be perfect, throughly furnished unto all good works” ( emphasis supplied).
There is no aspect of life, no field of our existence whatever, which should be excepted from this process of thorough transformation: “[3; quoted.] True education imparts this wisdom. It teaches the best use not only of one but of all our powers and acquirements. Thus it covers the whole circle of obligation—to ourselves, to the world, and to God.”
This process, also known as sanctification, will ultimately lead to the state of holiness or God-given perfection in all things, which constitutes our readiness for heaven: “God be thanked, that ye were the servants of sin, but ye have obeyed from the heart that form of doctrine which was delivered you. Being then made free from sin, ye became the servants of righteousness. . . . But now being made free from sin, and become servants to God, ye have your fruit unto holiness, and the end everlasting life” (emphasis supplied).
“True sanctification means perfect love, perfect obedience, perfect conformity to the will of God. We are to be sanctified to God through obedience to the truth. Our conscience must be purged from dead works to serve the living God. We are not yet perfect; but it is our privilege to cut away from the entanglements of self and sin, and advance to perfection. Great possibilities, high and holy attainments, are placed within the reach of all.”4
These holy attainments increase the value of the believer beyond any human imagination, perfecting in him or her an all-round Christian character, making that individual most desirable and loveworthy in this life, and perfectly fit for the glorious life to come:
“Higher than the highest human thought can reach is God’s ideal for His children. Godliness—godlikeness—is the goal to be reached. Before the student there is opened a path of continual progress. He has an object to achieve, a standard to attain, that includes everything good, and pure, and noble. He will advance as fast and as far as possible in every branch of true knowledge. But his efforts will be directed to objects as much higher than mere selfish and temporal interests as the heavens are higher than the earth.”5
“The religion of Christ never degrades the receiver. It never makes him coarse or rough, discourteous or self-important, passionate or hardhearted. On the contrary, it refines the taste, sanctifies the judgment, and purifies and ennobles the thoughts, bringing them into captivity to Jesus Christ.
“God’s ideal for His children is higher than the highest human thought can reach. The living God has given in His holy law a transcript of His character. . . .
“The ideal of Christian character is Christlikeness. There is opened before us a path of continual advancement. We have an object to reach, a standard to gain, which includes everything good and pure and noble and elevated. There should be continual striving and constant progress onward and upward toward perfection of character.”6
The Lord assures us, “Them that honour me I will honour” (). The history of Daniel and his three friends tested by the king and found ten times more capable than all their fellows is just one of many examples revealing that unflinching faithfulness, especially under severe trial, is often honored even in this life ( ; ).
If we were to ponder the life of other great men of faith, such as Joseph, Moses, or David, we could recognize the same pattern everywhere: God took each of them and brought them progressively unto perfection of character by showing them their weak points, leading them through trials, and helping them to overcome and grow “unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ” (). In many cases, even their social status changed dramatically, reflecting God’s recognition of their faithfulness as well as their willingness to be changed by God according to His will.
Since Jesus Christ is “the same yesterday, and to day, and for ever” (), He has a similar way of dealing with people throughout time. Today, He is just as willing to lead His faithful ones to the highest peaks of spiritual attainment as He did in the past. Yet Christ will not perform this act as an arbitrary intervention in the life of anyone. He changes a person for the better only to the extent that he or she is willing to welcome the Holy Spirit to take control to improve the life unto perfection:
“The Lord does nothing without our cooperation.” 7 God can only accept willing, joyful obedience; it is against His nature and character to try to force us into anything—not even into obedience. Therefore, every step of advancement requires our acceptance and cooperation. The Lord cannot advance in the process of changing us faster than we are ready and willing to accept.
“We are all debtors to God. He has claims upon us that we cannot meet without giving ourselves a full and willing sacrifice. He claims prompt and willing obedience, and nothing short of this will He accept.”8
Submission to the changing process is not always painless or comfortable, but it is definitely worth accepting, because it is the condition upon which we as sinners can escape our doom and be endowed with a value incomparably higher than any material value in the universe: “The God of all grace, who hath called us unto his eternal glory by Christ Jesus, after that ye have suffered a while, make you perfect, stablish, strengthen, settle you” (emphasis supplied).
A disciplined life
The apostle Paul compares the Christian life to the training of professional athletes who lead a very disciplined life, governed by all kinds of rules and restrictions in order to increase their physical performance and develop fitness to achieve some kind of attainment—a crown which will eventually wither. For this they dedicate their lives, as if living for this one single purpose. “And every man that striveth for the mastery is temperate in all things. Now they do it to obtain a corruptible crown; but we an incorruptible” ().
“It was this singlehearted purpose to win the race for eternal life that Paul longed to see revealed in the lives of the Corinthian believers. He knew that in order to reach Christ’s ideal for them, they had before them a life struggle from which there would be no release. He entreated them to strive lawfully, day by day seeking for piety and moral excellence. He pleaded with them to lay aside every weight and to press forward to the goal of perfection in Christ.” 9
The awesome power of God’s word
Those who recognize the superior value of spiritual attainments will try to promote their intellectual and spiritual development by dedicating quality time to their relationship with God. Among all, the prayerful study of the Scriptures stands out as one of the most efficient means leading to the achievement of this goal. This can bring about the utmost results, because the Word of God is the powerful means used by God to change lives:
“The creative energy that called the worlds into existence is in the word of God. This word imparts power; it begets life. Every command is a promise; accepted by the will, received into the soul, it brings with it the life of the Infinite One. It transforms the nature and re-creates the soul in the image of God.”10
“He who with sincere and teachable spirit studies God’s word, seeking to comprehend its truths, will be brought in touch with its Author; and, except by his own choice, there is no limit to the possibilities of his development.” 11
By beholding we are being changed according to the subject of our contemplation. If this is Christ, fixing our eyes upon Him and beholding Him daily with a deep interest will change our nature into His likeness: “We all, with open face beholding as in a glass the glory of the Lord, are changed into the same image from glory to glory, even as by the Spirit of the Lord” ().
By looking unto Jesus (), we will be looking forward, since each passing day will make sense for us, bringing us to a new level of development. In spite of the passing of time, which may leave some traces on our physical body, we will not get discouraged or depressed as so many do, but rather will press on cheerfully, in good courage and strong faith, not fainting—because we have the assurance that “though our outward man perish, yet the inward man is renewed day by day” ( ).
Focusing on eternity
Being confident that the Lord who has begun this good work in us “will perform it until the day of Jesus Christ” (), we have the greatest and most wonderful motivation to keep strongly in the faith once delivered unto the saints ( ) so that no one can beguile us of our reward ( ). To this end, the apostle exhorts us not to give up, “for ye have need of patience, that, after ye have done the will of God, ye might receive the promise. For yet a little while, and he that shall come will come, and will not tarry” ( ).
When the Lord comes, we shall ever be with Him (; ), yet our personal development never ends:
In the earth made new, “immortal minds will contemplate with never-failing delight the wonders of creative power, the mysteries of redeeming love. There will be no cruel, deceiving foe to tempt to forgetfulness of God. Every faculty will be developed, every capacity increased. The acquirement of knowledge will not weary the mind or exhaust the energies. There the grandest enterprises may be carried forward, the loftiest aspirations reached, the highest ambitions realized; and still there will arise new heights to surmount, new wonders to admire, new truths to comprehend, fresh objects to call forth the powers of mind and soul and body.
“All the treasures of the universe will be open to the study of God’s redeemed. . . .
“And the years of eternity, as they roll, will bring richer and still more glorious revelations of God and of Christ. As knowledge is progressive, so will love, reverence, and happiness increase. The more men learn of God, the greater will be their admiration of His character. . . .
“One pulse of harmony and gladness beats through the vast creation. From Him who created all, flow life and light and gladness, throughout the realms of illimitable space. From the minutest atom to the greatest world, all things, animate and inanimate, in their unshadowed beauty and perfect joy, declare that God is love.”12