Pastor Rick Warren’s book, The Purpose-Driven Life, has sold millions of copies worldwide, and seems to be “sweeping” through the visible church, being used by many different denominations.1, 2 According to the book’s jacket cover, it is “a groundbreaking manifesto on the meaning of life.”
We did the 40 Days of Purpose Campaign in our church. Before the forty days started, people seemed excited about the opportunity to read the book and meet in small groups to discuss it.
As we went through the forty days, there were times during our group meetings when I pointed out statements in the book that weren’t in agreement with Scripture, and other times when I kept quiet. I didn’t want to dominate the discussion, or spoil it for others in the group. Yet I cannot remain silent when the truth of the Gospel is being distorted. It is our duty as Christians to “contend for the faith that was once for all entrusted to the saints” (Jude 1:3b). Paul tells the Corinthians that “We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ” (2 Corinthians 10:5), and Paul advises Timothy to “Watch your life and doctrine closely. Persevere in them, because if you do, you will save both yourself and your hearers” (1 Timothy 4:16).
The Purpose-Driven Life finished 2004 as the number one self-help book, and is currently the nation’s number one best-selling book of any kind.3 Why would a “Christian” book become a best-seller? People normally flee from the cross of Christ, not flock to it. Part of it may be due to the spiffy packaging—it looks nice. Part of it may be because you don’t necessarily know from the cover that it is a “Christian” book. Part of it is due to the large amount of free press that it has received. Also, many people are searching for the meaning of life. Now I’ll quit speculating. Part of it is because Rick Warren has “sanitized” God’s Word; he has cleaned up the parts that might offend anyone (the part about how you are by nature a sinner and deserve eternal damnation, for instance) and “augmented” other parts to make you look wonderful. What’s there not to like! (2 Timothy 4:3)
You might wonder how a book that contains over 1,000 Bible references could possibly sanitize, augment, or otherwise manipulate. The easiest way is to use a poor Bible translation.4 If that doesn’t work to support your position, you can take a verse out of context to make it appear to mean something it actually doesn’t mean.5 You can also mix and match verses6 or just use part of a verse, preferably without noting it in the footnote,7 all of which are similar to taking the verse out of context. If your position is weak, you can use a single verse over and over by using a different translation each time.8 This technique works well in a book like The Purpose-Driven Life where you have to look in the back of the book to discover what verse is being quoted. Another way is to add human wisdom that isn’t contained in the Bible, either by using your own words9 or by quoting others.10 All of the above can be found in The Purpose-Driven Life.
Part of Rick Warren’s audience is non-Christians. As such, there should be in the book a clear message of both Law and Gospel so that those who are unbelievers might come to know Jesus as their Savior, but there is no such clear message. While the Gospel can be found in the book, its message may be lost due to a focus on us and a lack of the Law. Some would argue that since the purpose of the book is to help people see God’s purposes for their lives, it doesn’t need to present Law and Gospel. But without Law and Gospel there can be no conversion (the moment we believe Jesus is our Savior and are thus saved), and without conversion, unbelievers won’t understand God’s purposes or their purposes. As it says in Romans 8:6-7:
The mind of sinful man is death, but the mind controlled by the Spirit is life and peace; the sinful mind is hostile to God. It does not submit to God's law, nor can it do so.11
Lest I make the same error, I present both the Law and the Gospel. My purpose is two-fold, first to proclaim the Gospel clearly to both believer and unbeliever, and secondly to use it as a basis for a comparison of ideas presented in the book.
First the Law. We are sinners from conception (Psalm 51:5). When God created Adam and Eve they were sinless, but because they sinned against God by eating the forbidden fruit in the Garden of Eden, all of us have inherited their guilt and corruption. No matter what we do, our sinful nature shows through. No matter how hard I try, I am impatient with my kids, I don’t appreciate my wife as much as I should, and I complain when I have to go to work. Our sin alienates us from God. On the other hand, God is holy, perfect, without sin. God hates sin. He can not and will not tolerate sin (Psalm 5:4-5). God’s punishment for sin is death (Romans 6:23). Our sin leaves us with a terrible mess that we can’t overcome, but as St. Paul says: “The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ!” (1 Corinthians 15:56-57). This leads us to the Gospel.
The Gospel is the Good News about what Jesus did for us. Jesus, who is Mighty God (Isaiah 9:6) and creator of all things (Colossians 1:16), humbled himself by becoming a man:
[Jesus], Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death—even death on a cross!
Jesus became a man so that He could be punished for our sin (2 Corinthians 5:21). He came to do what we cannot, to keep the Law for us, and suffer a crucifixion that was rightfully ours. “Consequently, just as the result of one trespass was condemnation for all men, so also the result of one act of righteousness was justification that brings life for all men” (Romans 5:18). Justification is the gracious act of God in which He, for Christ’s sake, rescinds the believer’s sentence of condemnation passed because of their sin, and finds them innocent by ascribing to them Christ’s righteousness. Romans 4:25 says “He was delivered over to death for our sins and was raised to life for our justification.”
It is by faith in Jesus’ life-giving death and resurrection that we are justified, and not by faith itself, but by trusting in the promises of the Gospel that faith apprehends. We are no longer alienated from God. Jesus blood shed on the cross washes away the sins of believers; we are righteous because Jesus’ righteousness is credited to us. God now sees us as sinless and Holy, even though we are still sinners. Since we are now holy in God’s sight, we have eternal life (John 5:24) and look forward to spending eternity with God in Heaven.
Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, Romans 5:1
So all we need to do is “receive and believe,”12 right? Wrong. While we do “receive” in the sense that at conversion the Holy Spirit enters into our heart, we cannot accept or come to God on our own, either wholly or in part:
But a natural man does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually appraised.
1 Corinthians 2:14
As it is written: "There is no one righteous, not even one; there is no one who understands, no one who seeks God.
It is only through the Holy Spirit that conversion occurs. We can’t do any of it on our own; before our conversion we are enemies of God (Romans 5:10). Through the Law the Holy Spirit works in us a knowledge of our sin, a fear of God’s punishment, and a desire for forgiveness (Galatians 3:24), and through the Gospel He works in us saving faith. Thus, our conversion and justification are accomplished through no effort, work, or merit on our part, but strictly by God’s grace:
For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith–and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God–not by works, so that no one can boast.
he saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy. He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us generously through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that, having been justified by his grace, we might become heirs having the hope of eternal life.
We don’t make a decision for Christ. We don’t choose Him, he chooses us:
You did not choose me, but I chose you...
For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight. In love he predestined us to be adopted as his sons through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will—to the praise of his glorious grace, which he has freely given us in the One he loves.
The Holy Spirit does not convert us by “magic,” He comes to us through the “means of grace” to work faith in our hearts and preserve it. The means of grace are His Word and the Sacraments—Baptism and The Lord’s Supper. While we are still unbelievers, our merciful God comes to us, and through the preaching of His Word the Holy Spirit creates faith in our heart, moving our intellect, will, and heart to trust in God and His saving work in Christ Jesus.
I cannot overemphasize the importance of God’s Word in the conversion of a sinner. It is only through the spoken or written Word, or the Word and water in Baptism (which I will discuss later), that conversion can occur.
Consequently, faith comes from hearing the message, and the message is heard through the word of Christ.
I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes: first for the Jew, then for the Gentile.
When we are converted, we become a new creation (2 Corinthians 5:17), we are reborn (1 Peter 1:23). We are free to praise and glorify God because of His gracious and loving plan of salvation that has been revealed to us through the Gospel, and we are free to tell others about Him, and we are free to do good works. The weight of the Law is lifted from us:
When you were dead in your sins and in the uncircumcision of your sinful nature, God made you alive with Christ. He forgave us all our sins, having canceled the written code, with its regulations, that was against us and that stood opposed to us; he took it away, nailing it to the cross.
We are now justified by faith. Martin Luther speaks of faith:
Faith, however, is a divine work in us. It changes us and makes us to be born anew of God (John 1); it kills the old Adam and makes altogether different men, in heart and spirit and mind and powers, and it brings with it the Holy Ghost. Oh, it is a living, busy, active, mighty thing, this faith; and so it is impossible for it not to do good works incessantly. It does not ask whether there are good works to do, but before the question rises; it has already done them, and is always at the doing of them.13
Now that we are a new creation, our attitude changes. We seek God’s will for our lives. We follow the command of Romans 12:2:
Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God's will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.
The process whereby our attitude is changed and we become more Christ-like is called sanctification, and it continues throughout our life. We are sanctified by the Holy Spirit through the means of grace.
May God himself, the God of peace, sanctify you through and through. May your whole spirit, soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.
Sanctification, as the above verse illustrates, is primarily the work of the Holy Spirit, and it is always the Holy Spirit who takes the lead to effect our sanctification ( Philippians 1:6). Unlike conversion, we do, in weakness, cooperate with the Holy Spirit in our sanctification as He leads us in the doing of good works and becoming more Christ-like (Philippians 2:12-13), but only insofar as we remain in faith through God’s grace (Galatians 3:3).
Conversion and sanctification are not a process where our old sinful nature is reformed; we are reborn. The old structure isn’t renovated, the old one is torn down and a new one replaces it; we become a new creation.
For if you live according to the sinful nature, you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the misdeeds of the body, you will live,
Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the sinful nature with its passions and desires.
In summary, the Holy Spirit uses the Law to make us aware of our sin and fear God’s wrath. But the Law cannot save, it can only convict. The Holy Spirit then acts through the means of grace to convert us, justify us, and sanctify us.
And while as Christians we are no longer under the Law (Romans 7:6), the Law is still useful to us. It is used as a curb (Romans 2:14-15), a mirror (Romans 3:20), and a guide (Psalm 119:9). As a curb, to keep our still-present sinful nature in check, as a mirror, to remind us that we are still sinners in need of a Savior, and as a guide in daily life, pointing the way to good works, which we do joyfully and willingly without coercion.14 But it is still the Gospel that motivates and produces spiritually good works, never the Law.
Now that we’ve reviewed Law and Gospel, let’s get back to the book.
Rick Warren states: "But for unity's sake we must never let differences divide us."15 His statement is not in keeping with Scripture. Paul writes to Titus while speaking about pastors: “He must hold firmly to the trustworthy message as it has been taught, so that he can encourage others by sound doctrine and refute those who oppose it" (Titus 1:9). While we should seek unity within the church, we must not compromise doctrine to do so. When doctrinal differences are ignored, the truth is ignored as well. Pastor Warren’s book The Purpose-Driven Life ignores sound doctrine by turning our focus from Christ and the cross inward towards ourselves, by minimizing the Law, by distorting the image of both ourselves and God, and by discounting the means of grace. I take no pleasure in criticizing Pastor Warren, but when God’s word is abused, that error must be exposed and refuted. “If you do not stand firm in your faith, you will not stand at all" (Isaiah 7:9b).
The Purpose-Driven Life is touted as “a 40-day spiritual journey.”16 Part of that journey includes finding out who you are, a popular catchphrase in our society. Rick Warren (RW) provides the following quotes from a paraphrased Bible called The Message to help lead the way:
It's in Christ that we find out who we are and what we are living for. Long before we first heard of Christ and got our hopes up, he had his eye on us, had designs on us for glorious living, part of the overall purpose he is working out in everything and everyone. [Emphasis added]
Ephesians 1:11-12, pages 5 & 20
Self-help is no help at all. Self-sacrifice is the way, my way, to finding yourself, your true self. [Emphasis added]
Matthew 16:25, page 19
One thing that these two quotes have in common is that they have nothing to do with “your true self.” By reviewing these verses in a more literal, word-for-word translation rather than a paraphrase, the true meaning of each verse can be discovered:17
In him [Jesus] we were also chosen, having been predestined according to the plan of him [God the Father] who works out everything in conformity with the purpose of his will, in order that we, who were the first to hope in Christ, might be for the praise of his glory.
For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me [Jesus] will find it.
This seems like a rocky start for our journey of self-discovery. These verses aren’t saying anything about my “true self.” I don’t find out who I am in Ephesians 1, the focus of the verse is God’s plan of salvation for me. It’s God demonstrating his grace through Jesus, according to the purpose of His will.
The Message has me finding my “true self” in Matthew 16:25, but the NIV translation has me losing my life for Christ—that’s a pretty big difference. Which translation is correct? To put it into context, we can look at verse 24 in the NIV: “Then Jesus said to his disciples, ‘If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.’ ” Neither verse says anything about your “true self.” The thought behind “taking up your cross” and losing your life for Jesus is that you must leave your old life behind (Luke 14:26-27), confess Jesus as Lord, and be willing to suffer and sacrifice for Jesus and for the sake of the Gospel, a task that, like the rich young man (Matthew 19:16-22), many people will not do. That’s because our real “true self,” the one born sinful, wants nothing to do with losing his or her life. Pastor Warren somehow seems to think that if we find our true self, it will jump at the chance to do God’s bidding. As we saw in the discussion on Law earlier, our true self is our sinful nature which we will never master while on earth (though it will be gone forever once we reach Heaven, by God’s grace and power); Jeremiah 17:9 says our heart is “deceitful above all things and beyond cure.” We shouldn’t want to find our true self, we should want to crucify it (Romans 6:6). What is also made clear in verse 26 is that the life you find is not your own life, but eternal life: “What good will it be for a man if he gains the whole world, yet forfeits his soul? Or what can a man give in exchange for his soul?”
Did you notice in the above two verses that in The Message verses, the emphasis is on you, while in the NIV verses the emphasis is on God? The Message verses are much more man-centered, the NIV verses are Christ-centered. This use of paraphrased translations and contextual errors to change the Bible from a Christ-centered message to a man-centered message is a continual thread running throughout The Purpose-Driven Life. It is no accident. God does not appreciate it when someone changes His Word. If you change God’s Word you are pretending to be God. God’s response can be found in Proverbs 30:6:
Do not add to his words, or he will rebuke you and prove you a liar.
God does not want us to seek our “true self,” he wants us to seek Him. If you are spending time narcissistically gazing at your reflection in a pool, that’s less time that you can use to seek and serve Him. You cannot serve two masters (Matthew 6:24). Whenever you turn from a Christ-centered theology to a man-centered theology, you are debasing what Christ did for you on the cross. When you turn from the cross, you become like the Israelites. Though God was directly before them, leading them in a pillar of cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night, they still turned away to worship idols they themselves made. When we turn away from Jesus and the cross, we make an idol of ourselves.
Continuing along on our “road trip,” The Purpose-Driven Life often “augments” our self-image by making us appear to have merit in and of ourselves, a disturbing doctrine not found in the Bible. Paraphrased versions of the Bible are used to change the picture of ourselves:
God's wisdom...goes deep into the interior of his purposes....It's not the latest message, but more like the oldestwhat God determined as the way to bring out his best in us. [emphasis added]
1 Corinthians 2:7, The Message, page 20
God decided to give us life through the word of truth so we might be the most important of all the things he made. [emphasis added]
James 1:18, New Century Version, page 24, 186
Compare the same verses in the NIV:
No, we speak of God's secret wisdom, a wisdom that has been hidden and that God destined for our glory before time began. [emphasis added]
1 Corinthians 2:7
He chose to give us birth through the word of truth, that we might be a kind of firstfruits of all he created. [emphasis added]
In the above comparisons, we can see that God isn’t bringing out the best in us or making us the most important; He’s showing us His grace and loving-kindness. He isn’t responding to us because we are meritorious, but because He loves us. God reveals His secret wisdom to us, His divine plan of salvation, so that through faith in Christ we will ultimately share in His eternal glory in Heaven (Romans 8:17). We are reborn so that we can be living sacrifices (firstfruits) for Him. In the paraphrased verses, the focus is on us; in the accurate translation, the focus is on Christ.18
On page 69 RW says:
God became so disgusted with the human race that he considered wiping it out. But there was one man who made God smile. The Bible says, “Noah was a pleasure to the Lord.” [Genesis 6:8, Living Bible] God said, “This guy brings me pleasure. He makes me smile. I’ll start over with his family.” Because Noah brought pleasure to God, you and I are alive today.
The New International Version (NIV) translation does not say that “Noah was a pleasure to the Lord,” but that “Noah found favor in the eyes of the LORD.” Another word for “favor” is “grace.” In the NIV verse, Noah doesn’t make God smile, Noah is shown grace by God. We are not alive today because Noah brought pleasure to God, we are alive today because God showed grace to Noah.
One way RW “sanitizes” our image of ourselves is by avoiding Scripture that shows us our real “true self,” the ugly sinner. An example of this sanitization occurs in Day 9, “What Makes God Smile?,” on page 76:
God is looking for people like Noah in the twenty-first century—people willing to live for the pleasure of God. The Bible says, “The Lord looks down from heaven on all mankind to see if there are any who are wise, who want to please God.”
[Psalm 14:2, Living Bible]
The problem is that RW omits what it is the Lord sees when He looks down from Heaven on all mankind. Here is verse 2, accompanied by verse 3 from the NIV:
The LORD looks down from heaven on the sons of men to see if there are any who understand, any who seek God. All have turned aside, they have together become corrupt; there is no one who does good, not even one.
Verse three puts verse two into context. We find out the truth about ourselves (at least the sinful nature side), we don’t want to seek God.
Another way the message is “sanitized” is by omitting the Law (at least the 2nd use of the Law—that shows us our sin). The Bible is a lot easier to read if we aren’t confronted by the Law—the Law makes us too uncomfortable. God’s wrath isn’t a popular subject; it doesn’t sell well. While RW does mention sin, repentance, and Hell, they aren’t frequent topics. Phrases like “God is a consuming fire” (Hebrews 12:29), “jealous God” (Deuteronomy 4:24), “eternal fire” (Matthew 18:8), and “fiery lake of burning sulfur” (Revelation 21:8) won’t show up on your Purpose-Driven Life word search. Through the usual “sleight of hand” by manipulation of various translations and omission and juggling of verses along with footnote errors, the fear of God,19 sin,20 and death21 are often “lost in translation.” As an example, he quotes the first half of John 3:36 from The Message on page 58, "Whoever accepts and trusts the Son gets in on everything, life complete and forever!,” but he skips the last half of the verse. Here is the whole verse from the NIV:
Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life, but whoever rejects the Son will not see life, for God's wrath remains on him."
We’ve now traveled a long way down the road on our spiritual journey, and we are at an impasse. The sign reads “NO OUTLET.” We’ve paid for a trip to discover who we really are, but instead have discovered who we really aren’t.
By augmenting and sanitizing, we are left with a picture of ourselves that looks more like a reflected image from the wavy mirror in the fun house at the carnival. And our picture of God is becoming distorted as well.
When you read “He thought of you first,”22 “your life has profound meaning!,”23 “he [God] will enjoy us,”24 “The glory of God is a human being fully alive!,”25 “It proves your worth,”26 “you bring pleasure to God,”27 “He longs for you to know him and spend time with him,”28 “God wants to be your best friend,”29 “God brings the best out of you,”30 "I want you to think about how all this makes you more significant,”31 “the real you, the glorious you,”32 you start believing, whether you are a believer or an unbeliever, that you are worthy and self-important. And you start believing that God is a jovial old St. Nick type of guy with a jolly laugh who has you sit on his knee and doesn’t mind a little sin.33 “Pride goes before destruction, a haughty spirit before a fall” (Proverbs 16:18).
Not even Rick Warren can sanitize our real “true self.” “ ‘Although you wash yourself with soda and use an abundance of soap, the stain of your guilt is still before me,’ declares the Sovereign LORD” (Jeremiah 2:22). “I know that nothing good lives in me, that is, in my sinful nature. For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out” (Romans 7:18).
When our attention is diverted from the accurate reflection of ourselves as sinners, and the mirror is then totally removed by omitting God’s Law, we are well around the bend and speeding towards the sign that reads “DANGER.” At this point the believer’s seatbelt has come undone, and the unbeliever is being pulled outside the safe confines of the bus and dangling by the door as the vehicle rounds the curve. “For in his own eyes he flatters himself too much to detect or hate his sin” (Psalm 36:2).
You cannot “cut corners” with Law and Gospel. The Good News (the Gospel) only becomes good news after we have first heard the Law, become sorrowful and repent. The severity of the Law should never be minimized or marginalized. Any effort to make Christianity more palatable by downplaying the Law and making the sinner look good is a road map for disaster, no matter how well-intentioned. We cannot allow our attention to be shifted from the cross onto ourselves.
As I discussed earlier, the Holy Spirit only converts and sanctifies us through means, called the means of grace, which are the Scriptures and the Sacraments. A Sacrament is defined as a sacred act instituted by God in which God Himself joins His Word of promise in the Gospel to a visible element, graciously offering us the forgiveness of sins earned for us by Christ on the cross.34
In Baptism, our sins are forgiven (Acts 2:38, 22:16), we are rescued from death, and thus salvation is given (Mark 16:16, Colossians 2:11-13), because of Jesus’ death and resurrection. The Holy Spirit works forgiveness and grants and strengthens faith by water connected to the Word of God. Baptism is not a one-time thing. While we are only Baptized once, we receive the benefits of the promises God offers in our Baptism each day. Through Baptism our old sinful nature is daily drowned through contrition and repentance, and we are again renewed (Titus 3:5, 2 Corinthians 4:16), our sins having been washed away to serve God in joy and righteousness.
In Communion, Jesus comes to us through His actual body and blood “given for you” for the forgiveness of your sins (Matthew 26:26-28), connected chiefly with the Word and also the bread and wine. In that body and blood we receive all the merit and benefits that Jesus procured for us when He was sacrificed in our place through His crucifixion.
In The Purpose-Driven Life, Rick Warren describes Baptism as nothing more than a symbol, a “visible reminder.”35 Communion is mentioned only in passing, being lumped together with Baptism and other parts of a church service.36 RW states that every part of a church service is an act of worship,37 and he defines worship as “bringing pleasure to God.”38 By calling the Sacraments nothing more than “bringing pleasure to God” he turns the Sacraments from an act of God in which God comes to us into an act of our own in which we offer something to God; he is basically turning the Sacraments on their heads, turning the Sacraments into a work. He is robbing you of the Gospel promise offered in Baptism and Communion and rejecting what Christ has done for us.
In the Sacraments God comes to us, for us. Once we have been converted, all our sins are forgiven. God sees us as holy. Yet we are still sinners. Our battle with our sinful nature continues. In the Sacraments God comes to us through Word, water, bread/body, and wine/blood and offers us forgiveness of sins to ease our troubled hearts. God comes to us through elements that we can hear, see, feel, taste, and smell. God comes to us to forgive us, save us, strengthen us, comfort us, renew us, unite us. In our lives we are often worn out, frustrated, embattled, stricken by grief, afraid, ashamed of our own behavior and sin but yet too selfish to admit it or even recognize it. It is then that we most need to repent and receive the reconciliation offered by the Sacraments, the reconciliation that again makes us right with God and renews our spirit. When Rick Warren says that “Worship is not for your benefit,”39 he is wrong. He is missing an abundant outpouring of God’s grace through the Word, Baptism, and Communion that is entirely for our benefit
The benefits of the means of grace, whether by the Word, Baptism, or Communion, can only be apprehended through faith. If you believe that Baptism and Communion are only symbols, you turn them into a man-made work and forfeit the forgiveness and salvation which they offer. Don’t let Rick Warren or anyone else rob you of any of the free grace offered through Jesus Christ our Lord.
RW “surmises” on page 34 that there are two crucial questions that God will ask us before we enter eternity. His two questions are purely hypothetical. The Bible does not explain literally everything that will take place on the day of judgment. Whether there will be questions, or what they might be, I leave to God to decide.40 I discuss RW’s two questions not to lend credence to them, but to explore how they influence his “life metaphor.”41 Let’s take a moment to discuss each of these two “crucial” questions.
The first question that God will ask us before we enter eternity, according to Rick Warren, is “What did you do with my Son, Jesus Christ?” He states that “The first question will determine where you spend eternity.” I find the question to be confusing; I’m not sure what it’s really asking. That’s pretty scary when you have to answer a question that determines whether you are headed for Heaven or Hell and you don’t understand the question. What does he mean by “What did you do with my Son?” [Emphasis added]
The proper answer, according to RW is that you accept what Jesus did for you and love and trust him. I find the answer to be a bit “enigmatic” as well; it’s not a very definitive answer. What does “what Jesus did for you” mean?
There is no need for confusion; the Bible clearly delineates the basis for our salvation. A good verse to use is Romans 10:9:
That if you confess with your mouth, "Jesus is Lord," and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.
It’s clear, it’s concise, it’s the Gospel!
Note that our eternal disposition is based on one thing and one thing only, faith.
To digress briefly, RW suggests on page 58 that you say this prayer to procure your salvation: “Jesus, I believe in you and I receive you.” Prayer is not a means of grace. You cannot be saved by a work you perform, including prayer. If you mean when you are praying his prayer “I believe that you are my Savior," then you have already been saved, because you have faith!
God will not answer the prayer of an unbeliever. It is only through faith in Jesus Christ that we can approach God (Ephesians 3:12, John 14:6). By suggesting that an unbeliever pray for their salvation, RW actually turns the unbeliever away from the cross instead of towards it.
The context in which RW asks both hypothetical questions is Romans 14:10b and 12, quoted by him from the New Living Translation:
Remember, each of us will stand personally before the judgment seat of God... Yes, each of us will have to give a personal account to God.42
The second question that God will ask us before we enter eternity, according to Rick Warren, is “ ‘What did you do with what I gave you?’ What did you do with your life—all the gifts, talents, opportunities, energy, relationships, and resources God gave you? Did you spend them on yourself, or did you use them for the purposes God made you for?”43 The answers to these questions allegedly determine “what you do in eternity.” His second question underlies the continuous topical drumbeat of reward found throughout the book.44
RW asserts that if you used what God gave you for the purposes for which God made you, you will be “reassigned to do work that we will enjoy doing,”45 “you will receive a promotion and be given greater responsibility in eternity,”46 and you will be “reassigned positions of service.”47 When we stand before God’s throne on the last day and see Him in all His glory, will our personal account to God be used to determine what we do in eternity, what our magnitude of reward will be? In a word, no.
On page 232 RW states:
The Bible says, “Each of us will have to give a personal account to God.” Think about the implications of that. One day God will compare how much time and energy we spent on ourselves compared with what we invested in serving others.48
If his statement were correct, we would all be in deep trouble. As Psalm 130:3 says, “If you, O LORD, kept a record of sins, O Lord, who could stand?” No time will be spent investigating the bad things we have done and comparing them to the good. Jesus long ago wiped away our sin by His righteousness,
"I, even I, am he who blots out your transgressions, for my own sake, and remembers your sins no more.
and cast them into the sea,
You will again have compassion on us; you will tread our sins underfoot and hurl all our iniquities into the depths of the sea.
If the second question, “What did you do with what I gave you?” were asked, the good works we have done would be used as evidence of our faith, not to gain us a better “seat” in Heaven. There will be degrees of glory in Heaven, but those rewards will be based on Christ’s merit, not our own. The good works that we do are not credited to us as righteousness, they were prepared in advance for us to do (Ephesians 2:10).
The only Bible passage RW uses to develop his concept of being reassigned in Heaven to do work that we will enjoy doing is the parable of the talents in Matthew 25:14-30.49 This “reassignment” he describes seems like a meager description of Heaven in light of 1 Corinthians 2:9,
However, as it is written: "No eye has seen, no ear has heard, no mind has conceived what God has prepared for those who love him"—
and not in keeping with overall Scripture, which talks about an other-than-salvation reward but only hints at what it will actually be.
In the parable of the talents, each servant is given talents (a monetary unit) to manage “according to his ability.”50 One servant is given five talents, one two talents, and the other one talent. The talents represent the abilities and spiritual gifts that God graciously bestows on each of us. While the two faithful servants each doubled their master’s money, they had only done what was expected of them. Since they were servants, the only reward they deserved was their hourly wage. Their master surpassed their expectation in the pay they received, rewarding each of them in exactly the same way, though one’s net profit was greater than the other’s. Their master is a picture of Christ. When we use the gifts God gives us, the good things we do are evidence of our faith, fruits of the spirit, not meritorious works on our part that deserve special recognition, yet the Heavenly glory we will receive is beyond our comprehension.
On page 45, RW says of the servant’s master: “When he returns, he evaluates each servant’s responsibility and rewards them accordingly.” The master didn’t reward them accordingly, he showed them his bounteous grace; what he gave them greatly exceeded what they deserved. RW goes on to say: “At the end of your life on earth you will be evaluated and rewarded according to how well you handled what God entrusted to you. That means everything you do, even simple daily chores, has eternal implications.” While it may be unintentional, what many people will conclude from RW’s reward concept is that what they do will directly influence their place in Heaven—cause and effect. The actions I take will merit me a higher “rank,” so the harder I work the better off I’ll be. Other quotes from The Purpose-Driven Life reveal similar implications:
The deeds of this life are the destiny of the next.51
Even the smallest service is noticed by God and will be rewarded.52
...but for Christians it [not living a life of service] will mean a loss of eternal rewards.53
These are seductive thoughts. They are alluring. Satan loves to draw us away from Christ by enticing us with something that seems reasonable or appears better. “There is a way that seems right to a man, but in the end it leads to death" (Proverbs 14:12). Our attention is being drawn from Christ and what he has done for us to ourselves and what we can do. This is a message all sinners love to hear. My sinful nature wants to be in control; I don’t want to relinquish control of my life or acknowledge God’s Lordship. When Rick Warren makes these kinds of statements he is walking a tightrope that I refuse to get on.
On page 232 RW states that if a Christian does not live a life of service, he or she will lose eternal rewards. He says “rewards,” not reward. This means I should expect that some action or actions on my part will merit some reward, more actions, another reward—this is not true whether it relates to justification, sanctification, or Heavenly reward. This type of thought falls under the definition of works-righteousness—I am made righteous by what I do; a clear rejection of what Jesus has done for me. If you believe your actions gain greater righteousness or merit or reward, you put yourself back under the law, which only leads to death.
What then shall we say? That the Gentiles, who did not pursue righteousness, have obtained it, a righteousness that is by faith; but Israel, who pursued a law of righteousness, has not attained it. Why not? Because they pursued it not by faith but as if it were by works. They stumbled over the "stumbling stone." As it is written: "See, I lay in Zion a stone that causes men to stumble and a rock that makes them fall, and the one who trusts in him will never be put to shame."
Therefore no one will be declared righteous in his sight by observing the law; rather, through the law we become conscious of sin.
But when the kindness and love of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy. He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us generously through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that, having been justified by his grace, we might become heirs having the hope of eternal life.
The second question may lead us down a road we don’t want to transit. If we do good works to seek our own reward, our good works stop becoming good works. If we get wrapped up in rewards, we can lose sight of the real goal, which is our salvation:
I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.
Rather than seek rewards based on your own actions, seek humility. Jesus said:
So you also, when you have done everything you were told to do, should say, `We are unworthy servants; we have only done our duty.'"
Does the answer to the second question then relate to what we will do in eternity, how greatly we will be rewarded, or does it provide evidence of our faith, and thus answer the first question? The riddle of RW’s second hypothetical question can be unequivocally solved using God’s Word as found in Romans 2:6-7:
God "will give to each person according to what he has done." To those who by persistence in doing good seek glory, honor and immortality, he will give eternal life.
Praise be to God!
No one could argue that writing a book that helps you fulfill God’s purposes for your life is anything other than a good idea. RW does make some good points in The Purpose-Driven Life. He attempts to make the book appealing to a wide audience, which is good, but compromises the Gospel message by doing so, which is bad.
The Gospel message is compromised by minimizing the law. Without the law, no unbeliever will recognize they need a Savior.
The Gospel message is compromised by rejecting the forgiveness of sins found in the sacraments.
The Gospel message is compromised by human wisdom rather than God’s wisdom.
The Gospel message is compromised by emphasizing endless lists of what I can do, rather than what Christ did.
The Gospel message is compromised by focusing on me.
The phrase “for Jesus sake” isn’t used in The Purpose-Driven Life, nor is the concept emphasized nearly as much as it should be. A paraphrase of “for Jesus sake” could be “because of what Jesus did for me.” An exposition of “because of what Jesus did for me” could be “because Jesus carried my sins to the cross while I was still His enemy, God sees me as holy and promises me eternal life, even though I deserve His wrath.” Many of the statements RW makes in The Purpose-Driven Life can only be rightfully made by putting the words “for Jesus sake” after them:
“Your life is worth taking the time to think about it” for Jesus sake.54
“You are a child of God, and you bring pleasure to God like nothing else he has ever created” for Jesus sake.55
“He loves you as if you were the only person on earth” for Jesus sake.56
“When we worship, God looks past our words to see the attitude of our hearts” for Jesus sake.57
“The secret of endurance is to remember that your pain is temporary but your reward will be eternal” for Jesus sake.58
“Even better, God has promised to reward your faithfulness in eternity” for Jesus sake.59
“God wants to speak to the world through you” for Jesus sake.60
Without “for Jesus sake,” I put my trust in myself (Proverbs 28:26).
Pastor Warren says my real problem is “a lack of focus and purpose,"63 something I should be able to work on and correct. My real problem is that I am a sinner. Fortunately, someone came to solve my problem, and that is where my focus lies:
Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.
Pastor Warren says "Hope comes from having a purpose."64 My hope comes from my Redeemer and the firm conviction I have that on the last day I will be resurrected to eternal life; I myself will see Jesus with my own eyes (Job 19:25-27):
Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the command of God our Savior and of Christ Jesus our hope,
1 Timothy 1:1
Pastor Warren states "There are many 'good' things you can do with your life, but God's purposes are the five essentials you must do."65 The people asked Jesus what they must do:
Then they asked him, “What must we do to do the works God requires?” Jesus answered, “The work of God is this: to believe in the one he has sent.”
While we do the believing, it is God’s work, through the Holy Spirit and His means of grace to convert us and sanctify us in saving faith through Christ Jesus our Lord. The words of John 6:28-29 are also reflected in those of 1 John 3:23:
And this is his [God’s] command: to believe in the name of his Son, Jesus Christ, and to love one another as he commanded us.
It is only through saving faith in Jesus that we can accomplish God’s purposes for our lives. Without faith in Jesus, our firm foundation, no work is a good work, no purpose a fruitful one. Jesus truly is the way, the truth, and the life (John 14:6). Our focus must steadfastly remain on Him and the work He did on the cross rather than on ourselves. Then our purposes will flow forth like streams of living water with no forethought on our own part.
In my own “spiritual journey” to try and become more Christ-like and accomplish God’s purposes in my life I find I often fail. At the end of the forty day “road trip,” I am back where I started, at the foot of the cross. The more I notice my failure, the more I am confronted by my sin and the Law. It is then that I turn back to the cross and the Gospel, where my faith is strengthened as I seek forgiveness, hope and renewal. On my journey, I haven’t really noticed that I’ve become more Christ-like, instead I become more and more aware of the fact that I am a sinner, and with ever increasing understanding and joy I appreciate what it was that Christ did for me when He hung from that cross in agony and proclaimed to the world “It is finished" (John 19:30). For Jesus sake!
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1. For clarity, all quotations from The Purpose-Driven Life are in bold. Quotations from The Purpose-Driven Life containing italics are those of Pastor Rick Warren unless otherwise noted. Rick Warren, The Purpose-Driven Life (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2002).
2. The Purpose-Driven Life has sold 22.8 million copies in three different languages, according to a USA Today article on 3-16-05.
3. According to USA Today bestseller list; as of 4-7-05.
4. An example is Colossians 3:4 from The Message translation on page 263: "When Christ ... shows up again on this earth, you'll show up, too—the real you, the glorious you. Meanwhile, be content with obscurity." Compare with the NIV translation: “When Christ, who is your life, appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.” In The Message, you are glorious; in the NIV, you are with Him in glory. The Message translation tends to glorify man at the expense of God’s grace.
5. In Day 31, one of the SHAPE chapters, a concept that has little Biblical support, RW discusses “abilities.” He quotes Romans 12:6a on page 242, 1 Corinthians 12:6 on page 243, and 1 Peter 4:10 on page 244 to support his “abilities” discussion, but none of the three verses refers to “abilities;” in each case the verse refers to spiritual gifts.
6. On page 48 RW references a quote of Philippians 3:19-20. Without noting it, he actually quotes only verses 19b-20a, thus “sanitizing” by avoiding the mention of “eternal destruction” and a picture of sinful human nature.
7. An example is his use of Exodus 34:14 out of the New Living Translation on the bottom of page 86. He omits the first half of the verse without noting it, thereby changing the context, and uses a questionable paraphrase, changing God from a “jealous” God who forbids you to worship other gods, to a “close friend” who is “passionate about his relationship with you.” Compare the verse with a literal translation Bible.
8. In Day 32, one of the SHAPE chapters, a concept that has little Biblical support, RW uses Galatians 6:4 three times from three different translations, and 2 Corinthians 10:12 two times out of two different translations.
9. An example: In promulgating the benefits of purpose-driven living on page 30 Rick Warren states "The greatest tragedy is not death, but life without purpose." The greatest tragedy is the sin of unbelief, which leads to damnation. It is a tragedy because salvation is freely offered to all people, having already been paid for by Jesus on the cross.
10. An example: In Rick Warren’s discussion on bringing glory to God on page 55, he quotes St. Irenaeus, “The glory of God is a human being fully alive!,” which glorifies humans. There is no comparison between God and man.
11. Scripture taken from the HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION®. Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984 International Bible Society. Used by permission of Zondervan. All rights reserved. The "NIV" and "New International Version" trademarks are registered in the United States Patent and Trademark Office by International Bible Society. Use of either trademark requires the permission of International Bible Society.
12. Warren, 58.
13. Martin Luther, translated by J. Theodore Mueller, Commentary on Romans (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1954), xvii.
14. King David’s words in Psalm 119:14-16, 24 are a wonderful illustration of the joyous nature of the third use of the law for the Christian.
15. Warren, 161.
16. Warren, 9.
17. I have chosen to use the New International Version translation (NIV) in my own Bible quotations. While it is not the most literal word-for-word translation available, it is slightly more readable than some other translations, while still providing a reasonably close rendering of the original text. I encourage you to compare quotations found in the book and in this paper with a more literal translation, such as the New American Standard Bible (NASB), the Revised Standard Version (RSV), or New King James Version (NKJV) to verify the meaning of the text.
18. The “word of truth” in James 1:18 is the Gospel, which points us to Jesus.
19. Compare the following verses with a more literal translation: 1 Peter 1:17 on p. 48; Psalm 147:11 on p. 64 & 71; Hebrews 12:28 on p. 100, compare verses 28 & 29; 1 Peter 2:17b on p. 123.
20. Compare the following verses with a more literal translation: Romans 6:13 on p. 77; Ephesians 4:22 which is actually 4:22b - 24 on p. 172; James 1:21b on p. 188; Hebrews 12:1 on p. 253.
21. Compare the following verses with a more literal translation: Romans 8:6 on p. 18; Philippians 3:19-20 on p. 48; Romans 6:13 on p. 77; Romans 6:17 which is actually parts of v. 16 & 18 on p. 82.
22. Warren, 22.
23. Warren, 25.
24. Warren, 39.
25. Warren, 55.
26. Warren, 63.
27. Warren, 63
28. Warren, 70.
29. Warren, 85.
30. Warren, 177.
31. Warren, 232.
32. Warren, 263.
33. Rick Warren states on page 92 that “God doesn’t expect you to be perfect... .” As discussed in the Law and Gospel section, God will not tolerate sin. He does expect you to be perfect. If you are a believer, you are justified by faith, and God sees you as perfect.
34. Baptism-Matthew 28:19; Communion-1 Corinthians 11:23-25
35. Warren, 121.
36. Warren., 65.
37. Warren, 65.
38. Warren, 64.
39. Warren, 66.
40. Those things which are not specifically revealed in Scripture are not for us to know or explore. See Deuteronomy 29:29.
41. Warren, 41.
42. Warren, 34.
43. Warren, 34.
44. Warren, 39, 44, 45, 51, 57, 119, 120, 198, 199, 201, 208, 232, 255, 262, 263, 264, 270, 319
45. Warren, 39.
46. Warren, 45.
47. Warren, 119.
48. James 4:17 says “Anyone, then, who knows the good he ought to do and doesn't do it, sins.”
49. Warren, 45.
50. In the parable, the Greek word used for “servant” actually means “slave.” It could indicate an involuntary servitude, what we would think of as a slave, or a voluntary servitude, what we would think of as a salaried servant. If it’s actual meaning is that of a true slave, the illustration of the master’s grace would be even stronger, because a slave would deserve nothing.
51. Warren, 40.
52. Warren, 264.
53. Warren, 232.
54. Warren, 12.
55. Warren, 63.
56. Warren, 75.
57. Warren, 101
58. Warren, 198.
59. Warren, 262.
60. Warren, 289.
61. Warren, 298.
62. There is only one class of Christian, those that are saved.
63. Warren, 32.
64. Warren., 31.
65. Warren, 312-313.