In seeking to identify the seeds of excellence, there is a popular device (the Golden Circle) that traces the beginnings of excellence back to the question Why?
Using this model, we could critique the more common alternative of beginning with the outcome (the What) and arriving at the Why, rather than beginning with the Why. The idea is that before arriving at the process (How) and the outcome (What), it is of primary importance that we solidify the Why.
In a way the concept corresponds to reality, but there is a key piece missing. This model lacks the worldview follow-through to really work.
To illustrate, in explaining the model, Simon Sinek suggests in his insightful presentation that Apple Inc. does not work from the What, but rather they work from the Why. Their greatness lies in their ability to inspire based on the Why.
But I would differ slightly from Sinek’s conclusion. I would suggest that Steve Jobs had something to do with that, and Apple’s success emanated first from who he was not from why he created the ideas and products that he did. If we focus on the Why, we are missing the priority.
Look at it this way. In the biblical worldview, we see illustrated the clear concept that identity and origin gives rise to purpose. We could say that ontology (existence) precedes teleology (design), or at least that teleology is ordered by ontology.
Here’s what I mean. Colossians 1:16 concludes with the statement that “all things were created by Him and for Him.” The fact that He created gives Him authority over what He created, and is clear evidence that He has authority over that which He created. Ontology leads to teleology.
This is why His calming the storm was such a big deal—Christ had the authority to do that, and that meant something significant about who He was (Mt 8:23-27).
And he said to them, “Why are you afraid, O you of little faith?” Then he rose and rebuked the winds and the sea, and there was a great calm. 27 And the men marveled, saying, “What sort of man is this, that even winds and sea obey him?”
Here’s another example from Galatians 2:20:
I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself up for me.
For those who have believed in Christ, their identity has changed. Who they are is now so wrapped up in Christ, that their actions should be—are designed to be—reflective of their identity.
Paul put it perfectly when he exhorted believers to “walk in a manner worthy of the calling with which you have been called” (Eph 4:1). He adds, “for you were formerly darkness, but now you are Light in the Lord; walk as children of Light” (Eph 5:8). Identity determines design and purpose.
In the famous dialogue between Nicodemus and Jesus, Nicodemus recognized that the What and the How emanated from Jesus’ identity. He wanted to verify who Jesus was. Perhaps to understand the Why, he introduced his questions with the comment, “Rabbi, we know that You have come from God as a teacher; for no one can do these signs that You do unless God is with him” (Jn 3:2).
Jesus responds to the Why question with the How: “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God” (Jn 3:2). Nicodemus’ questioning focused on the How and the What, but Jesus ultimately turned Nicodemus’ focus to the Who: the object of faith is Christ Himself.
He presented that, because He was who He was, He had a purpose to fulfill (including providing for the salvation of humanity), He had a method for accomplishing it (paying the price as a substitution for fallen humanity), and the outcome was eternal life. The first and most important piece of the entire discussion and process was the identity of Jesus Christ.
The biblical worldview is transparently focused on the idea that identity is a key starting point. God appeals to His own identity in communicating the greatness of His sovereignty, grace, love, etc. God appeals to our identity in challenging us to excellence. So, when we are seeking the proper understanding of Why we should be what we should be, we have to start with Who He is, and Who He has made us to be.
Know who He is, know who you are, and the why, how, and what will begin to make a lot more sense and be much more accessible.
He knew what He was talking about when He said, “Be still and know that I am God” (Ps 46:10).
Dr. Christopher Cone serves as Chief Academic Officer and Research Professor of Bible and Theology at Southern California Seminary. He formerly served as President of Tyndale Theological Seminary and Biblical Institute, Professor of Bible and Theology, and as a Pastor of Tyndale Bible Church. He has also held several teaching positions and is the author and general editor of several books. He blogs regularly at drcone.com.