The Purpose Driven Life - Part II: A Corrective

What is the centre of the Christian life? What gives us purpose and drive? What message do we have to share with the world around us? These are some of the questions that Rick Warren's incredibly popular The Purpose-Driven Life sets out to answer.

In Part I of this article I reviewed The Purpose-Driven Life and concluded that because Warren identifies our basic need as meaninglessness, his gospel offers at its core the knowledge of God's plans and purposes. The problem with this is that it does not go far enough. Our basic problem, according to God's word is rebellion against God and so our greatest need is forgiveness and transformation, not just information. The failure of The Purpose-Driven Life is that it doesn't recognise that the gospel of Jesus' work of salvation is at the centre of God's purposes for the world.

Part II of this article aims to provide a corrective. I want to convince you that the Christian life should be gospel-driven, because the gospel alone can and should control the Christian life. In order to do this I want to ask two important questions.


What is it that enables a Christian to live as a Christian? It's a question of power. By insisting that the Christian life must be 'purpose-driven', Rick Warren assumes that living according to a set of purposes (derived from Scripture) will give power to drive the Christian life. However simply knowing certain rules and living a certain way will not empower Christians. For God's power is not located within us, as if it depended upon ourselves.

From the very beginning God's purposes were accomplished by his powerful word. Throughout the Bible there is a strong relationship between the purposes of God and the word of God that accomplishes it. A classic example is found in Isaiah 55:11:

"...So is my word that goes out from my mouth: It will not return to me empty, but will accomplish what I desire and achieve the purpose for which I sent it."
In the New Testament the same active power attributed to the word of God in the Old Testament is applied to the gospel itself. (Acts 20:32; Rom 1:16; 1Cor 1:18; Col 1:5-6; 1Thes 2:13; Heb 4:6,12; Jas 1:18; 1Pet 1:23). The gospel is living and active by judging the thoughts and attitudes of its hearers. It bears fruit and grows all over the world by powerfully saving unbelievers. And for Christians who are being saved it continues to be the power of God by working in them to building them up and give them an inheritance. So it is actually the word of God in the gospel that enables our participation in the purposes of God. It is the gospel that drives the Christian life, because it alone can.

If Christians try to just run 'purpose-driven' lives, in the sense Warren uses 'purpose', they will inevitably bind themselves up in a powerless straight-jacket and rob themselves of the enabling influence of the Spirit. Without depending solely on the power of God in the gospel, 'purposefulness' will ultimately degrade into 'sinfulness'. For the purpose of every human heart is only sinful all of the time. Only the gospel can drive the Christian life, because it alone is God's power over human sin.


There is a second question needing to be raised: What controls the Christian life? If the gospel contains the 'driving-power' behind the Christian life, what turns the 'driving-wheel' in the Christian life? According to Rick Warren there is nothing more fundamental that ought to control you than 'God's purposes for your life' (p. 30).

It is definitely right to teach that Christian activity should be guided, controlled, and directed. But should it be by a list of purposes? One immediate problem with conformity like this is that it tilts the focus towards thinking in terms of 'what' we do. But it's just as important to consider 'how' we do it - even more so is 'why' we do it. The question is what should be controlling how and why we do what we do as Christians.

When Warren uses the word 'purposes', he seems to use it in a very narrow sense. He appears to mean God's end-point goals for our individual lives. This definition is far too narrow. God's purposes for us include his purposes for all things. We cannot talk about his will for our lives individually without referring to his plans to glorify himself in Christ.

It's not 'God's purposes for us' that ought to control Christians. For this is little different to being driven by God's law - which was the expression of his desires for Israel. This is why The Purpose-Driven Life is inescapably emphasising a works-driven lifestyle. But it was God's mercy in saving Israel that was to motivate them to keep God's law (Ex 20:2). Similarly, the New Testament emphasises that the gospel itself should be the controlling agent in our lives. Christian are to:

* Walk worthily of the calling we've received in the gospel (Eph 4:1) * Walk in love just as Christ loved us in the gospel (5:1-2)
* Walk as children of the light because the gospel has taken us from darkness to light (Eph 5:8)
* Work out the salvation we have in the gospel (Php 2:12-13)
* Live up to what we've already obtained in the gospel (Php 3:16)
* Walk with Christ Jesus as Lord, just as we received him as Lord (Col 2:6-7)
We always fix our eyes on God's purposes for all things as we live our lives. We cannot simply focus on a narrow list of God's end-point goals for our lives individually. The gospel must drive our worship, fellowship, discipleship, ministry and evangelism. If not, it will be all the more likely that someone modeling the purpose-driven life may not even be a Christian! They may be actively involved in 'worship services', attending the 'fellowship', participating in the 'discipleship program', using their gifts in a church 'ministry', and even enthusiastically 'evangelising' others with their story, and yet the gospel may never have taken root below their externals, bringing them to genuine repentance and faith from the heart. That's why only the gospel should drive the Christian life.


In answering the question, "What on earth am I hear for?", to a secular audience as well as Christian, The Purpose-Driven Life uses over 1,200 scriptural quotes and references. Yet it fails to even begin outlining the gospel revealed by these Scriptures. Jesus' words to the Jews comes to mind: "You diligently study the Scriptures because you think that by them you possess eternal life. These are the Scriptures that testify about me..." (John 5:39). How is it that a 300-plus page book on the subject of 'God's purpose' forgets to explain God's "eternal purpose which he accomplished in Christ Jesus our Lord" (Eph 3:11)? Could it be that the writting of this book was not gospel-driven?

This book certainly has some good things to teach us. Some of its challenge comes directly within its broader message. But the big lesson to be learnt from The Purpose-Driven Life is indirect. The moral of this story is that anything that displaces the primacy of the gospel in the Christian life is actually sub-Christian. This includes the notion of 'purpose' if it has been separated from its real meaning in the Christian life, which is the gospel of salvation from sin.

The book begins with a challenge to enter a covenant, committing to a 40-day spiritual journey of discovery. Compacts such as this are appealing to those looking for relatively quick and easy change, because they inadvertantly promise greater power: the power of new commitment; of new wisdom; of new experiences. But they fail to realise that the 'pact' of faith in Christ is the only covenant that promises any real life-transforming power. There is nothing new about it. The danger of any gimmick (and the modern Christian world is full of them) is that they take Christians away from the age old power of the gospel of Christ crucified.


It should always be clear that the gospel alone provides what is essential for sinful humanity: God's power for salvation. We should never fudge over this, because the whole Christian life is gospel-driven. Christians are still being saved by God and it's the gospel that is doing it. It alone enables us to live for God's glory. It directs us, controlling how and why we do live for God's glory, as well as the activities that this involves. So the Christian life really should be purpose-driven in the truest sense of that word, not at all meaning that we are driven by God's purposes for our own lives, but rather by God's purpose for himself as revealed in the gospel, in which we have been included.

More on this topic

The Purpose Driven Life - Part I: A Review | joe towns: christian discussion on pentecost, charisma, pentecostal and charismatic beliefs, the Bible and Jesus; including the origin and history of pentecostalism, baptism in the Holy Spirit, speaking in tongues, gifts and miracles, divine healing and word of faith, prosperity and wealth, praise and worship, guidance and hearing the voice of the Holy Spirit.