Although I didn’t realize it at the time, in a very real sense, God gave me the answer to this question of His highest aim nearly 40 years ago, only three or four years after I became a Christian. Best I can remember, it was during the mid-1970s. It was probably during the same period when my wife Ann and I drove the stake to follow Jesus wherever, whenever, however, no matter what.
Why did we do that? Because we wanted God’s plan for our lives, not just our plan for our lives. “Why settle for less?” we asked. “After all,” we concluded, “if God’s plan isn’t better than our plan, how could He be God?”
At that point I hadn’t even thought about the question we’re addressing here, namely, “What is God’s highest aim for our spiritual growth?” Even after I began to ponder this question in the mid-1980s, it was many years before I realized that the answer is contained in what He impressed on me back in the 70s. And even now, I see it more clearly than ever.
Now before I tell you the answer God gave me nearly 40 years ago, before I was even asking, let me tell you how I would state the answer to the question today. What is God’s highest aim for my spiritual growth? To know and understand Him so intimately that, as an overflow, I see and live life His way.
It will be the rare reader for whom the proverbial light bulb goes on as he reads that last sentence for the first time. I’m fine with that. In fact, I take comfort in it, knowing how long it has taken me to really see this!
Some may stop and chew on it long enough that the light begins to glow. I pray that the rest who read this will follow closely as I unpack this sentence, and that God will give me the words to do so adequately.
I’m guessing it was the second or third time I read through the Bible after becoming a Christian that God pointed me to the answer of His highest aim. At that point, as an early-30-something climbing the corporate ladder, I was thinking about, “What is success?” I had already been impressed by Joshua 1:8 and memorized it. This is where God is speaking to Joshua, affirming him to be the successor to Moses as leader of the nation of Israel. God says:
This book of the law shall not depart from your mouth, but you shall meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do according to all that is written in it; for then you will make your way prosperous, and then you will have success. (Joshua 1:8)
This verse told me that achieving true success, i.e., success in God’s eyes, involved doing what God says, and thus knowing His Word. For me, at that point, I was thinking only in terms of obedience and knowing what The Book said. Both of these are very good, and one can go a long way just by doing them. Knowing and following God’s Word makes life go better. It works, even for the unbeliever who may not realize he is doing something God’s way. But it can still leave God “way up there” and the Christian “way down here,” slugging it out through life to know and obey all God’s rules, albeit with some help from Him.
Thankfully, God didn’t leave me there. Instead, in the course of my reading through His Word, He brought me to Jeremiah 9:23-24:
Thus says the LORD, "Let not a wise man boast of his wisdom, and let not the mighty man boast of his might, let not a rich man boast of his riches; but let him who boasts boast of this, that he understands and knows Me, that I am the LORD who exercises lovingkindness, justice and righteousness on earth; for I delight in these things," declares the LORD.
There it was! There was God’s definition of true success, the only thing worth measuring. That day I purposed to set the compass of my life on knowing and understanding Him, not just His Book. In so doing, I unwittingly set my sights on His highest aim for all of us, because to know and understand God leads to seeing and living life His way, as His life flows through us.
Knowing God intimately is synonymous with experiencing eternal life, as Jesus says in John 17:3,"This is eternal life, that they may know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom You have sent.”
Seeing and living life God’s way is the essence of being like Jesus. Think about it. What was it that made Jesus so amazing? Why did the crowds marvel that He spoke with such authority? How could He do the miracles He did? Because He only said what His Father said, and He only did what His Father did. Remember what He said:
Therefore Jesus answered and was saying to them, "Truly, truly, I say to you, the Son can do nothing of Himself, unless it is something He sees the Father doing; for whatever the Father does, these things the Son also does in like manner.” (John 5:19)
“He who sent Me is true; and the things which I heard from Him, these I speak to the world." They did not realize that He had been speaking to them about the Father. (John 8:27-28)
So Jesus said, "When you lift up the Son of Man, then you will know that I am He, and I do nothing on My own initiative, but I speak these things as the Father taught Me. And He who sent Me is with Me; He has not left Me alone, for I always do the things that are pleasing to Him." (John 8:28-29)
For the words which You gave Me I have given to them. (John 17:8)
Jesus saw and lived His life God’s way. Not His way, but His Father’s way, even though Jesus was true God, the very Son of God. He learned obedience as a Son (Hebrews 5:8). He submitted Himself totally to His Father’s will (Luke 22:42; Philippians 2:5-11). So for us, being like Jesus means seeing and living our lives God’s way.