One of my favorite questions to ask people, especially Christians, is "What's a Christian for?"
In response, I usually get a blank, slightly confused look, as if I had asked them to give me the cube root of 3.6.
To help get them started on reasoning out the answer to this question, I usually go to a different question: What is an apple tree for?
That is a lot easier. The clouds roll away from their knitted brows, and the answer is confidently given: to produce apples.
But that answer isn't really correct.
Believe it or not, the chief purpose of an apple tree is not to produce apples, but to produce more apple trees. (You can even see that this is God's plan for apple trees, and all other fruit trees, if you read Genesis 1:9-13, where the whole emphasis is on the seeds that are in the fruit that the trees produce: reproduction.)
The fact that we like to eat the fruit that the apple tree produces does not mean that that is the actual purpose for the apple tree's existence; it is just the reason why we want the apple tree to exist.
Left to its own devices, an apple tree would produce fruit each year, even if nobody was around to enjoy it. This fruit contains the seeds of the next generation of trees. That fruit would drop to the ground, and decay over the next weeks and months, leaving the seeds lying in a nutrient-rich puddle of what used to be the fruit. Within just a few more months, the tree would be surrounded by small sprouts, each of which has the potential to turn into another apple tree.
Of course, out of all those sprouts, only a few will be in a place where there is the right combination of sunshine, porous soil and availability of water to actually grow into a tree. And, ultimately, each of those new trees would produce fruit of its own, each one of which contains seeds that have the potential to grow other new trees.
As we enjoy a fresh apple, we don't usually think of the fact that, by our consuming that fruit, we are actually interrupting the tree's true purpose. Those seeds that we casually throw in the trash along with the core will never produce an apple tree.
Understand that I am not writing here as an apologist for apple tree rights, nor forecasting the ultimate extinction of apple trees due to our focus on consumption of the delicious fruit that the trees produce. But this reality is a good place to start in understanding the purpose of Christians.
There really is a reason why, when we receive Jesus as our Savior, we don't just get zapped immediately into heaven. God leaves us here for a purpose.
Parallel to the apple tree illustration, a Christian's real purpose is to produce more Christians. And, also parallel to the apple tree, God provides fruit in a Christian's life that holds within it the seeds that can bring new spiritual life into the hearts of others: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, gentleness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.
The fact that we enjoy having these fruits in our lives — and enjoy their presence for ourselves — doesn't get rid of the fact that their purpose runs deeper than that. And, like an apple, if we focus on consuming the fruit for our own enjoyment, that fruit cannot serve as the basis for reproducing ourselves.
So next time somebody asks you, "What's a Christian for?" just smile and give them the right answer, the answer that we should all be living out each day: A Christian's purpose is to produce more Christians.