For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. Romans 8:29
Voila! Here it is, your big life's purpose - the thing that God is working everything together to achieve.
To make you like Christ.
I realize that has a way-too spiritual sound to feel exciting at all. It's so anticlimactic, in fact, that most people don't even realize this is it. The answer to the big question. What is God's will for my life?
So let's make it more concrete. God is actually doing that, in fact. Rather than giving us another law, another set of rules, another list of to-do's, he's giving us a person, a pattern. And the person who we're supposed to become like is so far beyond awesome that it would literally be impossible to become like him. I mean, he can't die. But the whole point is, God is making us like him. So this isn't just another WWJD moment or another guilt trip (why can't you be more like Jesus?), it's actually a promise and a guarantee. This is what you will become.
Really, it's just a peek into your future.
It's your destiny. Jesus is a concrete outcome for your life. Measurable. Observable.
What do we mean in saying you will become like Jesus. I think it boils down to this. Jesus was the perfect human, the quintessential fulfillment of all God had ever hoped and dreamed a human would be. Specifically, Jesus was the perfect image of God, which is the original purpose of a person: "Let us make mankind in our image, in our likeness," God said (Gen 1:26). That's what sin gets in the way of, and that's what Jesus got right.
He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature (Heb 1:3)
He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation...in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell... (Col 1:15,19)
So what exactly is it about Jesus that God is working in us?
1. Sinlessness. This is largely what Romans 8 has already been all about. God is making us more like Jesus in his ability to obey. We're sons (like him) not slaves (like we were before), and not only because God said so, but also because God is fulfilling his word - the word "son" - in us. He said "let there be" and there was. That's the idea. Someday, we will actually match Jesus in sinless glory.
The assurance for that is, he's already started working towards that. And the evidence of his work is all your struggling against sin and the occasional sweet victories that will start to come if you are struggling in faith that he loves you.
Truly, truly, I say to you, everyone who practices sin is a slave to sin. The slave does not remain in the house forever; the son remains forever. So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed. John 8:34-36
2. Love for God. We are naturally incapable of loving God, which is why he has to make the first move - he has to love us first. When you know someone loves you, it's very natural to love them back. We gravitate towards love. On one hand our love for God is anything but natural - it's the work of the Spirit. But on the other hand - and I think this is important - now that we are alive to God's love and walking in the work of his love, it is the most natural thing in the world to love him back.
And that's just the point. God is changing reality itself so that what is "natural" is good and right and possible.
And the Lord your God will circumcise your heart and the heart of your offspring, so that you will love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul, that you may live. Deut 30:6
3. Faith in God's love. Faith interprets the things God does as good - even the hard things - because faith trusts in God's perfect, pure, and powerful love. Faith builds all assumptions and interpretations of one's life on the foundational assumption that God loves me. We have to get to a point where his love for us is no longer in question. It's the thing we're depending on most.
But love is a thing that cannot be experienced except through faith - you have to receive it, embrace it, consume it. Jesus did this, and now he's doing it in you through all the events of your life and through the interpretation of those events by his word and Spirit and body....
so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith—that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God. Ephesians 3:17-19
4. His love for others. As Jesus' own story demonstrates, loving sinners is extremely risky. It's life-threatening. To love and pursue someone who is sinful could cost you your time, your peace, your resources, your energy, your joy, and even your life. We lay down our lives in a million ways for those we love, and some of those ways seem more painful than death.
But the good news is, Jesus already did it (you were the sinner in his case) and so, in making us like him, now God is working that ability in us for other sinners. Just as a soldier (though perhaps scared) goes to war with a sense of excitement, knowing that he is fulfilling his purpose, so a son of God (though equally scared) pursues loving others with a sense of excitement, knowing that he is also fulfilling his purpose. Sons of God risk their lives in the pursuit of loving others. Not just the "love" that gets us a pat on the back, but also the "love" that brings sacrifice, humiliation, and hard work. God is working this in you. Look for it.
We know that we have passed out of death into life, because we love the brothers. Whoever does not love abides in death. Everyone who hates his brother is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life abiding in him. By this we know love, that he laid down his life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers. 1 John 3:14-16
This is your purpose in life, to become like Christ in these ways. He is the prototype for your life. The person whose life you walk in and whose image you carry. The world - work, relationships, and life in the body - is your training ground, with all its obstacles and pits and minefields. God will succeed. You will become like Christ and he will fill the new creation with many little brothers of Christ, people who know and trust and live in the love with which he has loved us.
Claim it. Take a risk in your faith. You know better than I do what that means today. Just do it. You're safe in him.