By Bryan Smith, Ph.D.
I have for many years lectured across the country on the subject of a biblical worldview. I often begin by talking about Genesis 1:28. There God states, in the form of a command, the reason He has made the human race: “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.”
I have found that these words resonate deeply with nearly every audience. One reason is that this verse boldly asserts what Christians want to affirm but increasingly feel they cannot: this world belongs to God, and He has called us to rule it in His name.
But any truth can be misunderstood, and when that happens, faith can become a false hope. So more than once, I have heard comments like these after one of my sessions: “It’s time for Christians to rise up and take this world back from the secularists!” or “God has already given us dominion over these atheists and liberals, we just need to claim it.”
Finding Our Place
Such statements are uncareful applications of Genesis 1:28 and not properly informed by the rest of Scripture. God did give dominion to the human race at the beginning of history. But we have since fallen into sin, and thus into a dominion that is twisted and troubled. It is true God has promised to restore us to a perfect dominion (cf. Gen. 3:15), but the Bible reveals that God does not accomplish this restoration all at once. He first restores the second Adam, His own Son, to a triumphant dominion. Paul revealed that this was accomplished when God raised Jesus from the dead, “far above all rule and authority and power and dominion” (Eph. 1:21).
But this is a restoration we have not yet been given. Paul emphasized this truth repeatedly throughout his ministry. Early on, he warned some of his converts that “through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God” (Acts 14:22). Toward the middle of his ministry he told believers they would share in Christ’s exaltation “provided we suffer with him” (Rom. 8:17). Then, just before his own martyrdom, Paul wrote, “If we endure, we will also reign with him” (2 Tim. 2:12).
There is a time for reigning but now is not that time. Now is the time for us to suffer, just as Jesus was called to suffer for a time. Of course, we are not to suffer for suffering’s sake. We are to suffer with a purpose similar to Jesus’ own suffering (cf. Matt. 20:28; John 18:37). We are to suffer as those who are called to bear witness to the salvation that God now offers to all people (cf. Acts 5:31-33).
What is this life of witness and suffering to look like? The Sermon on the Mount (Matt. 5-7) gives us a clue. In this sermon, Jesus explains to His followers what the current stage of redemption requires of them. There we learn that it does not require us to try to achieve cultural domination in society. It rather requires us to be light in a world of darkness. Jesus states this idea in the famous words of Matthew 5:14: “You are the light of the world.” He then explains His metaphor two verses later with these words: “that men may see your good works.”
We are called to live as lights in a dark world by living lives of good works. Christians are to work hard at contributing to human flourishing—whether those humans are Christians or not. Believers are to engage in acts of mercy. They are to treat all people as they themselves would want to be treated.
Learning from History
The early church took these ideas seriously. As Christianity spread throughout the Roman world, it rejected the vision for society generated by the worldview of Greco-Roman polytheism. Christians rejected the idea that humanity was divided into the categories of rich and poor. They saw the entire human race united in a common humanity because of the creational work of God. So they labored to solve a problem that Rome was not concerned to solve. They took the plight of the poor seriously. They demonstrated their concern by meeting the needs of those stricken by famine, by caring for those with leprosy, and by distributing food to the hungry.
The long-term results of these good works were remarkable. Because Christians showed compassion and made life better for many people, the church moved from the margins of Roman society to its center. It took generations, and there were setbacks, but the change did happen. The church gained a moral authority that would shape and direct the future of Roman culture for centuries. These early Christians forsook cultural power in order to meet the needs of the downtrodden—only to have that power handed back to them a few generations later. And with that power they altered the course of Western civilization. 
Living Well in Our Place
Christians need to return to the task of looking out for those in need. Even in our affluent society, there are needy people. It is not difficult today for the hungry to find food. But it is difficult for young people to find a good education. This is most obvious for children growing up in inner cities. Many of these children are trapped in schools that are godless and ineffective.
Let none of us misunderstand: these schools are ineffective because they are godless. These schools attempt to prepare children for productive life in society by explaining the world to children as though God did not exist. Such an education is not able to prepare students for the real world. In the real world, God does exist, and He has spoken to man in the Bible. An education that ignores these key truths will end up treating students like animals or like machines.
In the current age, we are not called to reign. Someday we will (cf. Rev. 22:5). Now, however, is the time for sacrifice. Now is the time for good works. Is it not a good work to start a Christian school or to support one? Think of the good that can be done—especially in inner-city communities—if Christians across the country would pool their resources for the purpose of Christian education. Without government funding (and without government interference), such schools can rescue thousands of children from godless education. There these children can encounter the gospel. There they can be led to Christ. There they can be taught to see all of life from a biblical worldview. There they can learn how to find peace and joy in serving Jesus wherever they go in this world.
Believers who give themselves to endeavors like these join a long train of saints who have shone their lights for the glory of God. Sometimes God honors such believers with an influence that changes the world. Sometimes, however, God calls them to deeper levels of sacrifice as they come to know Christ in the fellowship of His sufferings. Either way, these believers are blessed to know they have played their part well in God’s plan. Is there any blessing greater than that?
Dr. Bryan Smith has worked in Christian education for over twenty years. He has been a classroom teacher as well as a textbook author. Currently, he serves at BJU Press as the Bible Integration Senior Manager. In this position, he assists authors and teachers in the work of integrating faith and learning in the classroom. Bryan holds a Ph.D. in Old Testament Interpretation. He and his wife, Becky, have six children.
1. For a helpful survey of the growth of Christianity in the Roman world, see James Davison Hunter, To Change the World (Oxford University Press, 2010), 48-56.
Volume 8 Issue 2 - The Renewanation Review