What is the Purpose Of The Church

When we think of the purpose of the church, it is common to think primarily in terms of what the church does, whether it be for the faith community, those in the world, or even for God. The New Testament communicates a lot about the functions of the church and its mission to make disciples. While what the church does or produces is a part of its purpose, if that is all that it focuses on, it opens the door to all sorts of problems.

God’s purpose for the church is not found only in what it produces, but in who it reflects. God’s purpose for His church is that it reflects Him and His glory. We see the story of reflection throughout the Bible. Let us start in the beginning and trace the purpose of God for His people in the Bible from creation all the way to the church.

Creation and God’s Glory

The story of mankind’s purpose begins in Genesis 1:27 where we read: So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.”

The purpose of human beings is rooted in our unique status of being made in God’s image. We were made to reflect the glory of God. If you struggle to understand what that means, think about how a mirror reflects your image. We are to be mirrors that reflect who our God is.

In Genesis 1:28 we also see a blessing from God that reveals a bit more about His purpose for His people: “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.” 

In God’s blessing He is explaining how his purpose for mankind will be accomplished. What does He reveal to us in His blessing? We will reflect who God is as we rule God’s creation as His representatives and as we fill the earth with a population of people who are made in His image.

It is important to understand the relationship between doing things for God and reflecting who God is. We are made in His image. Our purpose is to display who He is. We display God’s glory through the way we live. We must remember that God did not create us because He needed us to do anything for Him. His primary purpose for us was to display His glory, to reflect Him. When we start looking for meaning in the things that we do and forget the reason behind what we do, which is to display God, we get into trouble.

Israel and God’s Glory

Now let’s jump ahead from the creation account and to the nation of Israel. God created an entire nation from Abraham. The purpose of Israel as God’s chosen people was the same as what he revealed in Genesis. They were to reflect Him and His glory. In fact, we can summarize the laws and regulations that were given to Israel with one phrase, “Be holy for I am holy.”

God also revealed that Israel’s reflection of Him was to point people to the glory of Israel’s God (Deut. 4:6-7). Sadly, that is not what Israel did. Instead of worshiping God and reflecting His glory, they worshiped idols. They worshiped the creation rather than the Creator. They fixated on what they produced by worshiping false gods like Ashtoreth the goddess of fertility (be fruitful and multiply) and like Baal the god of storm and rain (subdue and have dominion) rather than living lives that reflected the glory of God as those made in His image. Israel worshiped images of what God had cursed.

Jesus Christ and God’s Glory

It is interesting to note that for the first nine chapters of Genesis, “image” is a positive concept. But from Genesis 10 (post flood) through the end of the Old Testament, the word takes on a negative connotation. It is used primarily to describe the graven images that people worshiped instead of God. However, once we enter the New Testament, “image” once again becomes a positive term. But what does image refer to in the New Testament? It refers to Christ who is the image of God (2 Corin. 4:4). “He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation.”  Colossians 1:15

Jesus Christ succeeded where Adam failed. Jesus Christ is the perfect image of God. “Whoever has seen me has seen the Father.” – Jesus Christ (John 14:9)

The Church and God’s Glory

This story of reflection does not end with Jesus. Jesus came to save people whom God predestined to be conformed to the image of his son (Romans 8:29). As Jesus followers we have been re-created in Christ. We reflect the glory of God not merely individually but corporately. We must remember that Jesus said it is our love for one another that displays to a watching world who we are and who our God is (John 13:34-35).

When the church functions as God purposed and loves one another despite differences, it is a powerful display of our merciful God. When the church corporately unites around Jesus, it reflects the wisdom, power, and glory of God far beyond what any individual can do. 

It is common in our culture to be pragmatic and fixate on tangible results. This thinking has crept into the church. Often we look to numbers (Sunday Attendance, Budget, Baptisms etc.) to determine our success. While what we produce is part of the way we display Christ, it is secondary. The church must embrace the importance of unity and recognize that loving our God and one another is primary regardless of how much good we are doing. Let us resist the urge to focus solely only what we do for our God and even on how effectively we are accomplishing His mission. Instead, let us strive to live by the Holy Spirit and let His power work in and through us to reflect the glory of our great God to the world.

Written by Sam McKeen