The Cultural Mandate

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Question
How ought people today live out God's mandate to fill the earth and rule over it? Isn't the world already "full" of people?
Answer
This incredible mandate that the Lord gives to Adam and to Eve that they would bear God's image by multiplying that image in the world and then taking dominion over the earth, extending the borders of the garden throughout the whole earth, is a mandate that continues and that has been renewed and redeemed by our Lord Jesus Christ. We see in the Great Commission — this commission to go into all the nations and to preach the gospel, the good news about the kingdom of God coming through Christ's death and resurrection — but he talks there about teaching them to obey all the things that I've commanded you, and it deals with all areas of life. If we read back through the Gospel of Matthew we see that Jesus taught about money, that he taught about how to relate to the poor, how to relate to the Samaritans, people who weren't of the same race, for example. And we're reminded that this commission — sometimes called the "cultural mandate," in Genesis 1 and 2 — indicates that all of life is sacred; every dimension of life, family life, business life, our life as citizens. Indeed, Moses uses the language that God put them in the garden "to serve and to keep it." It's the same language that he will use again in Numbers 3 to talk about the Levites and how they are to care for the tabernacle. And so, the Bible knows no distinction between "sacred" and "secular." All of life comes under the reign of God. And this incredible cultural mandate is that we will create and make culture in a way that shows the Creator and how God made the world and intended for us to relate to him, each other, and to the world. Well, as we follow Jesus in every area of life, Paul picks up this language in Ephesians 4 and Colossians 3 and he talks about putting on the new self, the new humanity, and it's very Adamic language. It's referring back to the original mandate that was given to Adam and to Eve. And so, as we read through Ephesians 4 and Colossians 3, we see Paul discipling the Ephesians and the Colossians in every area of life — "Whatever you do, do it as unto the Lord and not unto men." And so, we continue to carry out that cultural mandate as we follow Jesus and make disciples in every dimension of life.

Answer by Dr. Gregory R. Perry

Prof. Greg Perry is Associate Professor of New Testament and Director of City Ministry Initiative at Covenant Theological Seminary in St. Louis, MO.