Like all things in creation, when God created man he created him for a purpose. Man wasn’t to simply lead a passive life in paradise. Rather, his purpose was and is to glorify God. To do this, man was given a job. His job was to have dominion.
And God blessed them. And God said to them,Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it, and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth.
In Genesis 1:28 God placed man under the
dominion covenant. When God makes a covenant he lays down his law. Since God created everything, including us and the earth, he owns everything. He has ultimate property rights to everything. God is The King and he deals with men as a king deals with his subjects. The good news is that he is an all wise, just and loving king. He is also very personal. He isn’t some vague force. Being that God is who he is, when he makes a covenant, there’s no such thing as neutrality. Man is either for him or against him. He is either a covenant keeper who can be assured of blessings or a covenant breaker who can expect judgement. The results may not be manifested immediately, but they will come in God’s own time. God’s covenantal principles apply to societies and groups as well as to individual men.
When God placed Adam under the dominion covenant he delegated his ownership of the world to him. He made Adam the master and caretaker of the earth under certain conditions. Adam failed to keep God’s covenant in his rebellion, thus losing his appointed place and alienating himself from God. However, by God’s sovereign grace and through Jesus Christ
the last Adam, Christians have been placed under God’s covenant of dominion.
How are God’s people supposed to exercise their dominion? The primary way is to worship God as the holy creator. God is completely independent and distinct from creation. He alone is worthy of worship. He alone has ultimate authority. God has provided laws as revealed in scripture that man must follow. To enforce God’s authority on earth he has established a hierarchy, distinctions, and institutional authorities. The major institutional authorities, under God, are family, church, and state. Each of these have their distinct roles as ordained by God. Where any of these step out of their distinctions, they become tyrannical. In general, the family is most fundamental in that it functions as man’s first church and first school. The church functions for the family as the family functions for the individual. It provides spiritual guidance, laws and discipline. The church also is to provide for the needy where a family cannot. The institutional authority of the state is for restraint. The state itself is the most limited of all of the institutions in that its only function can be summed up as the protection of private property rights. The Christian state is directly in conflict with the idea of theocracy in that theocracy asserts the supremacy of the state. Again, where the state or any institutions step outside of their ordained functions, they become totalitarian. In the fallen world, man’s power must be divided.
All of this is not to say that the Christian life and work isn’t to be enjoyable. Before the fall, Adam’s work was a joyful act of worship. Having been restored to fellowship with the Father through Christ, among countless blessings, we’ve inherited the world. God has been pleased to let us partake in advancing his kingdom and being a light to the world. By God’s grace we are able to succeed where Adam did not.