What the Bible offers is not a “works contract,” but a covenant of vocation. The vocation in question is that of being a genuine human being, with genuinely human tasks to perform as part of the Creator’s purpose for his world. The main task of this vocation is “image-bearing,” reflecting the Creator’s wise stewardship into the world and reflecting the praises of all creation back to its maker. Those who do so are the “royal priesthood,” the “kingdom of priests,” the people who are called to stand at the dangerous but exhilarating point where heaven and earth meet.
• N.T. Wright, The Day the Revolution Began
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In the context of the biblical story, Adam is not so much the first sinner as he is the first failed savior.
What do I mean by that?
Here is my overview on how I have come to read the message about humans and God’s creation purposes for them in the book of Genesis.
- Despite our common perception, the world we see in Genesis 1-2 is not a perfect world, devoid of sin and death.
- God created adam to be his image in the world (that is, his priestly representative). This was (and is) the human vocation.
- As his priestly representatives in the world, adam was to” “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 air and over every living thing that moves upon the earth” (Gen. 1:28). Thus, the vocation involved not only taking care of creation as God’s stewards, but also actively engaging and overcoming evil.
- To summarize: from the beginning God chose humans, those who carry his “image” in the world, to repair the world (something like the Jewish concept of tikkun olam). The original mandate for humans is that we should represent God in the world and to work with him to rule over an unruly world and overcome evil and its effects on the world.
- Adam and Eve were not the first humans, but they were the first representative humans to be called into this covenant vocation, that they might bring eternal life to the world (through the Tree of Life).
- The story of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden shows humankind’s failure to do that. They failed to exercise dominion over the creatures and subdue evil (as represented in the wiles and lies of the serpent).
- They were thus exiled from Eden, thereby losing access to the Tree of Life for themselves and all their descendants, subjecting themselves and the world to the domination of sin, evil, and death.
- This is, in microcosm, what the story of Israel and her leaders is about. Placed in God’s good land, and called to be a kingdom of priests and a light to the nations, Israel failed to keep God’s commandments and was ultimately cast into exile. Israel, like Adam, failed to live up to her vocation of bringing God’s life to the world.
- What Adam could not do, what Israel and all her patriarchs, prophets, priests, and kings could not do, Jesus did. Through his death, resurrection and ascension, he exercised dominion over the powers holding this world captive and subdued evil, restoring access to the Tree of Life for the whole world. “If, because of the one man’s trespass, death exercised dominion through that one, much more surely will those who receive the abundance of grace and the free gift of righteousness exercise dominion in life through the one man, Jesus Christ” (Romans 5:17).
- Those who are “in Christ” now receive a foretaste of this: “But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s own people, in order that you may proclaim the mighty acts of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light” (1 Peter 2:9). We read of the ultimate goal in John’s vision of the throne: “you have made them to be a kingdom and priests serving our God, and they will reign on earth” (Revelation 5:10).
Behind all consideration of our “callings” as human beings to live in this world and care for it and each other by means of doing our work well and relating to others with love and regard, there is a “big picture” vocation from the story of creation that only Jesus the Messiah and Lord was able to accomplish and win back for us.
Like the first humans, we are called again to live in God’s blessing and life because Jesus exercised dominion over the powers of this world and subdued evil through his death and resurrection. Our “big picture” vocation has been restored. In Christ we once more enter into God’s creation mandate as we announce its restoration to the world. Jesus has made it possible for humans to live in this world as fully formed human beings and to repair the world. This is the life-giving good news we announce: Jesus’ victory and restoration of our vocation.
It will not be perfectly experienced until the restoration of all things, the new creation. But through Jesus-shaped lives, we begin to taste of the age to come.
Jesus’s followers themselves were to be given a new kind of task. The Great Jailer had been overpowered; now someone had to go and unlock the prison doors. Forgiveness of sins had been accomplished, robbing the idols of their power; someone had to go and announce the amnesty to “sinners” far and wide. And this had to be done by means of the new sort of power: the cross-resurrection-Spirit kind of power. The power of suffering love.
• N.T. Wright