The Christian life is fundamentally shaped by the future. It’s a forward-looking faith, even while simultaneously being an historical faith, looking back to the time of the apostles and prophets. We need to continue along the trajectory, first begun in the garden, carried on through the prophets, locked in by Jesus, honed by the apostles, and carried forward by the Holy Spirit in us in anticipation of the new Creation. This new Creation started with Jesus. Death, the chief enemy of God, was undone and no longer holds any power to keep people locked down (Romans 6.9-11). Once Jesus returned from the dead, the fear of death was erased for those who follow him. What God did with Jesus he promises ultimately to do with us (Romans 8.23; 2 Corinthians 5.1-10).
This victory over death was never an abstract concept in the earliest churches. They believed that God was going to resurrect them from death into new physical bodies, just as he would “resurrect” the earth into new creation. They had the right idea. God works through us to heal the world. He uses us to bring new creation to bear.
Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the old heaven and the old earth had disappeared. And the sea was also gone. And I saw the holy city, the new Jerusalem, coming down from God out of heaven like a bride beautifully dressed for her husband.
I heard a loud shout from the throne, saying, ‘Look, God’s home is now among his people! He will live with them, and they will be his people. God himself will be with them. He will wipe every tear from their eyes, and there will be no more death or sorrow or crying or pain. All these things are gone forever.’
And the one sitting on the throne said, ‘Look, I am making everything new!’ And then he said to me, ‘Write this down, for what I tell you is trustworthy and true.’ And he also said, ‘It is finished! I am the Alpha and the Omega—the Beginning and the End. To all who are thirsty I will give freely from the springs of the water of life. All who are victorious will inherit all these blessings, and I will be their God, and they will be my children.’ Revelation 21.1-7
This section of scripture describes the goal, the telos—where God wants everything to end up. The Greek word telos is defined as “the end to which all things relate, the aim, or purpose.” 1 Corinthians 10.31 gives us a clear picture of God’s telos for the world. “So whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God.”
The telos is glory.
Telos can be conceptualized in two ways. One way is filling a coffee cup all the way to the brim so it spills over. The other is the Old Testament idea of raising up a bull from infancy to adulthood so it’s mature enough to be a sacrifice.
The goal of the Christian life is to be filled to overflowing with the glory of God and to be mature enough to live sacrificially in favor of what God wants and not what we want for ourselves. In either case, we fulfill our vocation as imago dei, cooperating with God to heal the world.
Somehow, over the centuries, we have misidentified the goal. Sometimes we mistakenly think the goal is going to heaven when we die. But the Christian vision of the future isn’t about us leaving earth to go to heaven; it’s about heaven interpenetrating earth in the new Creation.
Additionally, sometimes we think the goal is to be good people. But goodness is a means to an end. The end isn’t “being good.”
The end is giving God glory.
When Jesus says in Matthew 5.48 to “be perfect, even as your father in heaven is perfect,” he’s using a variation of telos, the word teleios. He’s saying we need to be goal-minded, to be consumed with the telos, just as our heavenly father is consumed with the telos.
Figure out where you’re going, and then work backwards to determine how you’re going to get there.
The goal for Christian people is new creation—a world in which everything comes from God and exists by his power and is intended for his glory (Romans 11.36).
Dr. David McDonald is the teaching pastor at Westwinds Community Church in Jackson, MI. The church, widely considered among the most innovative in America, has been featured on CNN.com and in the Wall Street Journal, the New York Times, and Time Magazine. David weaves deep theological truths with sharp social analysis and peculiar observations on pop culture. He lives in Jackson with his wife, Carmel, and their two kids. Follow him on twitter (@fossores) or online at fossores.com