Hugh Whelchel » 

When you tried to figure out what to do with your life, you probably didn’t go to the book of Genesis for direction. But the cultural mandate, found inGenesis 1:28, is God’s first job description for humankind, and it still holds true for our lives today as Christians: “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.” What does that have to do with our vocational calling—our work?

Traditionally, Christian theologians have understood Genesis 1:28as mankind’s purpose and permission for engaging the world. Doug Kelly writes in Creation and Change, “Only because mankind was created in the image of God was it appropriate to grant him the awesome responsibility of dominion over the entire created order.”

The cultural mandate not only gives us purpose in our vocation, but it’s also connected to our fulfillment in work. In his book, All God’s Children and Blue Suede Shoes, Kenneth Myers writes, “Man was fit for the cultural mandate. As the bearer of his Creator-God’s image, he could not be satisfied apart from cultural activity.”


In a way, Jesus’ Great Commission (Matt. 28:18–20) is a restatement of the cultural mandate for his church. Theologians debate how the cultural mandate and the Great Commission fit together, but it is clear that both call for a renewal of culture. These two great directives should both hold sway over a Christian’s life today.

We should all bring our faith and a desire to obey Christ into our daily work.

Theologian John Frame believes that having completed his redemptive work, Jesus rose, and we with him, to receive “all authority in heaven and on earth” (Matt. 28:18; Rom. 6). Frame suggests that as the cultural mandate sent Adam and Eve to take dominion over the whole earth in God’s name, so Christ gave the following command to his disciples: “Go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you” (Matt. 28:19–20).

Frame says the following in his book, The Doctrine of the Word of God:

Of course, it is not possible for people to subdue the earth for God until their hearts are changed by the Holy Spirit. So ‘taking dominion,’ following the Resurrection, begins with evangelism and baptism. But baptism is not the end, and evangelism is not simply bringing people to an initial profession of faith. It is making disciples and teaching them to observe comprehensively all that Jesus has commanded, with the assurance of Jesus’ continuing presence. Jesus’ commands deal not only with repentance, faith, and worship. They also concern our treatment of the poor, our sexual ethics, marriage and divorce, anger, love of enemies, fasting, anxiety, hypocrisy, and many other subjects.

When we through faith embrace Christ, we should also be led to embrace the cultural mandate. We should all bring our faith and a desire to obey Christ into our daily work.


Paul identified Jesus as the “second man” and the “last Adam,” in contrast to the “first man” and the “first Adam” (1 Cor. 15:45–49). The first Adam failed to carry out God’s mandate. Now Jesus, the last Adam, is fulfilling the original mandate which God gave to humanity.

John Fesko in his book, Last Things First: Unlocking Genesis with the Christ of Eschatology, offers that God commanded Adam and Eve to be fruitful, to multiply, to fill the earth, and to subdue it for God’s glory. Jesus, the second Adam, has taken up that task. Just as the first Adam had a bride to serve as his helper (Gen. 2:18–25), so the second Adam has chosen a bride to serve as his helper: the Church (Eph. 5:29–32).

Together with his bride, Jesus is fulfilling the original mandate by filling the earth with regenerated images of God, who in turn submit to God’s rule and subdue the earth for his glory.

Jesus, the last Adam, is fulfilling the original mandate which God gave to humanity.

To state it a little differently, the cultural mandate, which God gave to the first Adam and his bride, has now become the Great Commission, which God has given to Christ (Isa. 42:1–1249:1–26), and through Christ to the church (Matt. 28:18–20Luke 24:45–49Acts 1:813:47Rom. 15:18).

Tragically, because of sin introduced during the Fall, men and women have abused their stewardship. But Christians, because of Christ’s redemptive work in our lives, now stand in the same place as Adam and Eve before the Fall. We can now approach culture with a clearer understanding of God’s mandate. We are now called to begin again to exercise proper stewardship through our work and through our broader mission as servants of Christ.

How can you more consciously follow God’s cultural mandate in your daily work and ministry?