" />

The First Things: The Creation Ordinances

Series: Genesis: The Foundations of the Faith

Sermon by J. Ligon Duncan on May 24, 1998

Genesis 1:24-31

Download Audio

If you have your Bibles I'd invite you to turn with me to Genesis chapter 1 and verse 26. Last week we focused on the fact that man is created in the image of God. What we tried to do was briefly define what that means. We use that phrase a lot. We talk about being in the image of God and yet sometimes we have a little fuzzy conception of what it means to be in the image of God. So we tried to put some content to that language that we use a lot. And we said basically five things. We said that the fact that God made man in His image means first of all that man is distinct from the animal creation. We’re not just a higher animal, we're not just the highest animal or the most evolved or developed animal. We are not the human animal. We are distinct from the animal creation and that's seen in the phrase that's used to describe us. The animals are described as made after their kind. Whereas we are described as made after His image. And so there is the distinction between the animal creation and mankind.

We also said that mankind is in doubt with the capacity to rule. God said, "Let us make man in our own image and let him rule." It is part of the image of God and the expression of that image that we would have responsibility and capacity to rule. Furthermore, we said that to bear the image of God is to bear certain of God's attributes, not His incommunicable attributes like omniscience, knowing everything, and omnipotence, being all powerful, but certain of His attributes: His rationality, His personality, His morality. We are created reflecting God's attributes in those areas.

We also said that being in the image of God meant that man's life is sacred. We saw that especially from Genesis, chapter 9, where God tells Noah that if man unlawfully sheds man's blood, by man shall his blood be shed for in the image of God He made man. In other words, capital crimes, murder are to be punished by the taking of life, by capital punishments, because of the image of God in man. So sacred is the life of man.

And we also saw that man is in the image of God in that he is endowed with a Spirit which is immortal. There is a spiritual aspect to his being which goes on forever. And we mentioned just one passage in that regard and I got lots of good questions about that afterwards. So let me elaborate for just one moment before we read our passage tonight. When we say that man is endowed with a spiritual and immortal aspect to his being; when we say that there is a part of man that is designed; or that man was originally designed to go on forever, where do we get that from? First of all in Genesis, and we’ll see this tonight, in Genesis 1 it's made clear that man was made for blessing. God intended to shower His special favor on man. We’re going to look at a very beautiful passage which describes that tonight.

Secondly, it's clear from Genesis 3 and it's implied in Genesis 1 and 2 that God made man for communion with Himself. He made man for fellowship with Himself. You remember even after Adam has sinned and has hidden himself in the shrubbery of the garden, he hears God walking in the Garden in the cool of the day. Now that is apparently not a unique occurrence because Adam knew he had to hide himself for that. There had apparently been concourse. There had been fellowship between God and Adam on a regular basis. He was made for communion and fellowship.

Furthermore, when it says that God made man in His image, it indicates that man had certain unique qualities which are unparalleled in God's creation.

Fourthly, we are told in Genesis 1 that God made man for dominion. He is especially to be God's viceroy in the world. He is to be God's vice ruler in this world, and of course it's indicated in Genesis 2 and in Genesis 3 that God made man with a purpose of immortality. What is the punishment for Adam's sin in the Garden? Death. Death is not spoken of as just a natural process that's going to happen to man. The punishment which God meets out for Adam's sin is that his life is going to be brought to an end, his soul and body separated. That surely implies that that was not God's original plan for man. All of those things taken together and combined indicate that there is a spiritual to man's being in which he reflects the image of God. So much for that. These ways all indicate the nature of what it is to be made in God's image, and tonight I want to concentrate on another issue raised in this passage. If you’d look with me at Genesis 1, beginning in verse 26, we’ll see it.

Genesis 1:26-31

Father, we thank You for this passage as we contemplate the original commands which You gave to us. We pray that You would restore those in our lives through the grace work of the spirit founded on the work of Jesus Christ. We would understand the truth that You teach to us here and indeed we would revel in it. Enable us to embrace it we pray. We ask it in Jesus' name, Amen.

I want to go back over the verses that we looked at last week. We focused on verses 24 to the end of the chapter last week, especially asking the question what does it mean that man is made in God's image and likeness? This week I want to look at what we call the creation ordinances. Now creation ordinances are mandates, or commands or principles that God gave to us in our original, our prefallen, our unfallen state. They are designed to promote God's glory and to practically express what it means for us to be made in God's image. And I want to focus on those tonight. But as we do, I want you to see three or four things here in verses 26 through 31.

First of all, looking back at verse 26 we see that God created man in His own image and designed him as vice-regent or vice-ruler over His creation. This verse, verse 26 reminds us that man was created in God's image and likeness and that he was designed to have dominion, to exercise rule over the rest of creation. Now by the way, man's specialness is seen in the very language of Genesis 1:26. If you will look back now in Genesis 1 at verse 3, at verse 6 and at verse 14. In each of those creative words, as God was bringing into being the world as we know it, He says what? "Let there be," "let there be," "let there be." But in Genesis 1:26 when man is created, you will see no ‘let there be’. You will see the council of the trinity announcing a conference: "Let us make man in Our own image." Man is entirely distinct from the rest of creation. His uniqueness is set forth in that phrase. Listen to the beautiful words of Horatio Bonar in his thoughts on Genesis. The great idea of the creation of man has been in the divine mind from eternity and is now to be executed. But in a way which manifests the profound interest which God took in what He was about to do. "Hither to it had been but the swift forth going of a command. Let there be. Now there is a consultation, as if God were solemnly deliberating upon the great design. Hither to it had been let there be, now it is let us make. It is not a command to the elements to bring forth what they contain. It is a work spoken of, as specially God's own. The creature to be formed must come more directly from the divine hand than any other and hence we often read elsewhere He has made us and not we ourselves." We’re made in the image of God and we are entirely unique in God's creation.

Now I want to mention that even in verse 26 you see two aspects of our being in the image of God. There is a static aspect and there is a dynamic aspect. What do I mean by that language? There is an aspect to the image that resides in just who we are and there is an aspect of the image which resides in what we do. We are made in the image of God. Our actions reflect the image of God or express the image of God. There is a personal aspect of the image, in other words, and there is a vocational aspect of the image. We are in the image of God. That's what we are personally. We are in the image of God. We express the image of God and so God says in verse 26, "Let them rule." The rule is an expression of what we are.

Now let me just say that we are in the image and we must reflect the image in our actions. There is a combination of being and doing in the image of God. We live in the awareness of God's goodness to all men. That goodness creates in and of itself an obligation to praise and thank Him. We learn from this passage of the goodness of God in making us in His image. That goodness in making us in His image ought to evoke from us thanksgiving and praise because every human being that's ever been created has been created in the image of God. That brings with it an obligation to praise and that obligation to praise is part of what makes men responsible to God if they reject Him. We all are made in the image, we all owe Him that praise for being made in the image.

Let me say one word before we move on about that being and doing thing. We talk a lot about being and doing. In our busy age, we often say to ourselves, "I need to stop all this doing and just be for a little while." Have you ever caught yourself saying that? We say it sometimes, however, as if mere cessation of activity could give us the spiritual rest, the true rest, the spiritual equilibrium, the soul balance that we need. But man as created in the image of God is made both to be and to do. Those things are not enemies, those things are not intention. What makes us say that then? I need to stop all this doing and just be. Well, sometimes we feel that way because we're simply overbusy. We have filled up our lives with all manner of trivial things and we are just too busy. And the answer to that is not that doing is bad, but that we've picked some pretty bad doing to do. So we need to cut out some of that bad doing and do some of the better doing. Okay? On the other hand, sometimes we feel that way because what we are doing in and of itself is not something that God has called us to do. We talk about burnout a lot today. Let me say this. You don't burnout from working hard, you burn out from doing something that God has not called you to do or from asking to do something for which you are not equipped. Frustration develops in that circumstance. It's not working hard. You talk to hard-working people who are in fields in which they are satisfied and they do not sense that burnout. It is only when we are asked to do that which we are not capable to do or when we attempt to do that which we are not called to do. Or when we have filled up our lives with so much trivial, we don't have time for the most important things that we experience that kind of tension between what God intends us to be and what God intends us to do. Tricia Walters has asked me if I wouldn't tackle that issue in the Women in the Church talk as we kick off next Autumn and I'm going to try and do that. But that's just a little hint of some of the ways we might go. Christ says our doing expresses our being. We are designed to express who we are in what we do. And we’ll talk about that more later. But it's apparent already here in Genesis 1:26.

I. God established certain blessings and obligations for man at the very outset of His relationship with man.
In Genesis 1:27 and 28 we see a second thing. God has established certain blessings and obligations for man at the very outset of His relationship with man. I want you to see in these words, in verses 27 and 28, that divine blessing and man's obligation, divine blessing and human obligation are both pronounced and both blessing and obligation are component parts of a covenant. Now we're going to talk about that two times from now when we look at this passage. Because what we see in Genesis 1 and 2 is in the framework of a covenant between God and man. We’ll talk about that later on. But I want you to see that already in Genesis 1:27 and 28 we see the component parts of a covenant: blessing and obligation. Furthermore, I want you to note in Genesis 1:27 that the very first words out of God's mouth to man, the very first words out of God's mouth to man were words of blessing. The first words that ever entered into the ears of human beings were words of blessing from God Almighty. Look at Genesis 1:27 and 1:28.: ‘God blessed them and God said to them, "Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth.’" The whole framework of man's creation is filled with God's goodness and favor. God was good, God showed His favor, God blessed man from the very beginning. Man did not inherently deserve to be blessed. God could have treated man as He treated the other animals if He had wanted to. Man had done nothing to earn this particular favor that God was showing him. But God showed His goodness, so the very framework in which man experienced God for the first time was a framework of blessing. The first experience that man ever had of God was of God giving him things that he had not earned or deserved.

Now we do not use the word grace here to describe what God is doing. It's very common today in some very good theological writers to want to say that God showed grace before Adam fell. And often times their motives are very good. What they are trying to say is that God was loving and good before Adam fell and He set the plan of redemption in. That's true, but grace is a word which especially refers to God's blessings bestowed on us despite the fact that we have sinned. In that sense God does not show grace prior to the fall. His goodness and His love is manifested clearly in the original creation, but He does not show grace. Grace implies that we have already rebelled against Him and grace is God's favor despite that rebellion. Adam had not rebelled, so God need not show him grace in that sense. That's a very important thought and we’ll come back to it some other time.

Now in Genesis 1 and 2, and especially in these verses that we see here, there are four great creation mandates given. First of all in Genesis 1:28, the ordinance of procreation is given. There God mandates to man that he is to be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth. Now I want to note several things about that ordinance, that mandate, that command. That is, first of all, the very first ordinance that God gave. He had already said back in verse 26, "Let them rule." But that was a statement on His part about His purposes for man, not a direct command. In a later passage, He's going to command man to rule. But so far this is the first command that the Lord has given. This ordinance of course directly relates to the last ordinance that God gives in Genesis 2 and that is the ordinance of marriage. In verses 23 and 24 of Genesis, chapter 2, the last of the ordinances is spoken of and the procreation ordinance relates to that ordinance of marriage. Now this ordinance of procreation is obviously essential for man to fulfill his obligation to subdue the earth and rule over the animals. If Adam doesn't have children, it's going to be very hard for him to subdue the entire earth and to take control of all those animals. It's necessary to have children in order that he might do that. Even with as many people as we have today, we know that in order to meet the challenges that there are for us to bring order to this world, we need children. That is why, even to this day, when a nation's population line begins to dip, the leaders of that nation get nervous, because you need people in order to bring order to this particular creation. Let me say again in connection with the marriage ordinance, this ordinance appropriation was to be expressed only within the bonds of a mutual commitment called marriage. We’ll look at that when we get to Genesis 2:24.

The second ordinance that is set forth in this passage is the ordinance of labor. Notice the words again of Genesis 1:28: "Fill the earth and subdue it and rule." The mandate is to work. The blessing is to rule. And notice that that dominion over the earth is to express itself in labor. Work is good. There is nothing wrong with work. We will labor in heaven. There will be no toil like there is now, but we will labor in heaven. The dominion, the work of man, is to be expressed in two spears. Notice, subdue the earth, rule the animals. So there is to be a subduing of the physical earth of the land, as well as a management of the animal population of the world. So in both those spheres, earth and animals, God's dominion is to be expressed in man's actions and man is to reflect that dominion. By the way, that reminds us of the inherent dignity of manual labor. In a society where we greatly value intellectual labor and professional labors, we sometimes demean and devalue manual labor. That would be a terrible mistake for us to do. Sometimes we think, "If you've really arrived, you move beyond manual labor." That is not the picture that is given to us in Genesis 1. There is inherent value in that kind of labor, in all kinds of labor. Let me also say that the labor ordinance, the ordinance that man is the work is implicit in the Sabbath ordinance that we find in Genesis 2, verse 3. The Sabbath ordinance that is given there expressly sets limits on the how much labor we can do in a given week. And so it implies that man has an obligation to work.

The other two ordinances, and we're not even going to look at those ordinances tonight, we’ll save them for another time. The other two ordinances which we've already mentioned are the Sabbath and marriage. So our four creation ordinances are procreation, labor, Sabbath and marriage. Now Adam would have been moved for a variety of motives to obey these mandates. Adam would have had a sense of duty and of obligation to do that which his creator had called him to do. Adam would have had a great love which would have motivated him. Imagine the very first words that Adam hears from God are words of blessing and so he would have been motivated by gratitude in order to obey these mandates. Let me stop and say that it's very common for Christians today to say things like this. The reason we're to do the things that God calls us to do in the Bible is not because we have to, but because we want to. Other times we will have Christians say, if you attempt to do the things that God calls you to in the word because of a sense of duty, "You’re wrong," or "You’re a legalist," or "You’re following in the way of works righteousness. You should only do them because of your gratitude to God for His grace." And we hear many famous Christian authors today arguing things just like that. That couldn't be further from the truth. Let me just share with you a very short passage which summarizes this beautifully from John Murray: "It is a strange deflection of thought that leads students of biblical ethics to set up an antithesis between the impulse arising from a sense of duty and the impulse of love and delight. The tension that often exists within us between a sense of duty and wholehearted spontaneity is attention that arises from sin and a disobedient will. In other words, sometime we know we ought to do something, but we don't want to do it. And so there's a tension between our spontaneous obedience and our doing it out of a sense of duty. But he's saying, ‘Don't therefore say that we shouldn't do it because it's a duty. We should only do it because we spontaneously want to do it.’ But that's the really more spiritual way to do it. We just spontaneously want to do it. No such tension would have invaded the heart of unfallen man and the operations of saving grace are directed to the end of removing that tension so that there may be as there was with man at the beginning, the perfect compliment of duty and pleasure of commandment and love. The biblical ethic knows no antithesis between duty performed in obedience to commandment and love as the fulfilling of the law. What was the protestation of our Lord about His work in this life? "I delight to do Thy will, O My God." That's the word of your Savior. So in the Savior there is the perfect compliment of doing His work because it was God's will, because it was God's command and because of his love for God. So in our Christian life we ought not say we do it not because we have to, but because we want to. Ideally in the Christian life those things converge. Yes, I have a duty to love my neighbor, but I am by the power of the Spirit caused to desire to love my neighbor. And I desire to do it because of God's grace and love to me. Those things shouldn't conflict in the well-balanced Christian life. They should go hand in hand.

Now we're already overtime, so let me say two other things very quickly. In verse 29 and verse 30 we see that God's goodness is shown in His providence for His creature. In verse 29 God provides food for man. In verse 30 God provides food for all the animals of the earth. And so these two verses set forth the divine providence for man and beast even in the original creation. Did you know that God had to provide for man and beast even in the original creation before the fall? Sometimes I think we think that God's providence is necessary only because we live in a fallen world. But this passage makes it clear that we still needed to be provided for even when things were perfect. Now there's a great lesson in that. As God's creatures, there is never a time when we do not need His care. His care is not just for the tough times, and that's an important spiritual application for us. All of us have a tendency to be very close to God and very reliant upon Him and very trusting in difficult times. And then to "forget about Him" when things are going smoothly. But this passage reminds us that even in a perfect world we would be dependent upon God's providential care. And so we ought to cultivate an attitude which always depends on Him and when things are going well recognize that they’re not going well just because we worked hard, but because God in His providence has blessed us. And so we cultivate an attitude of always being prayerfully dependent on the Lord.

The final thing is this. In verse 31, God pronounces the whole creation to be good. He completes His work on the sixth day, and this verse reminds us that the divine blessedness of the creation and God's delight in that creation. God delights in His creation. He looks at it, He surveys it, and He pronounces it to be good. And that, by the way, directly assaults the view that says that matter is sinful. There have been for many centuries people who have taught that matter is inherently bad or it's inherently lower in value than that which is spirit, or it's inherently incapable of being close to God. And yet this passage says that God delights in what He has made. Things aren't bad. Our use of things may be bad, but the things which God has made are wonderful. And material things aren't the problem. We are, our use of those things are the problem. Constantly in our lives we find ourselves attempting to blame our problems on things when the problem is our use of things. We even misquote Bible verses. Have you ever heard someone say, "Well, you know money is the root of all evil." That's not what the verse says. God gave us stuff to use for His glory. He even gave us mammon to use for His glory. The verse says, "The love of money is the root of all kinds of evil." The point is not that material stuff is inherently bad, but if we're fallen we have an inherent tendency to use that stuff badly. And we have to check that. This passage again reminds us of the goodness of creation. May the Lord bless us as we contemplate these foundational truths which impact every area of our lives. Let's look to Him in prayer.

Our Father, we thank you for the ordinances of creation as we continue to think of them in the weeks to come. I pray that there would be a practical application of them in our own experience, that we might trust in Your providence, that we might delight in doing Your will and that Your image would be restored in us even in the way we live. We ask these things in Jesus' name, Amen.

© First Presbyterian Church.

This transcribed message has been lightly edited and formatted for the Web site. No attempt has been made, however, to alter the basic extemporaneous delivery style, or to produce a grammatically accurate, publication-ready manuscript conforming to an established style template.

Should there be questions regarding grammar or theological content, the reader should presume any website error to be with the webmaster/transcriber/editor rather than with the original speaker. For full copyright, reproduction and permission information, please visit the First Presbyterian Church Copyright, Reproduction & Permission statement.