In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. Then He created mankind and He placed us upon this little blue ball spinning round the sun. His instructions to us were clear, “Be fruitful and multiply, fill the earth and subdue it.” It’s that word, subdue, that is key here. See, God gave mankind the earth to be our dominion. As beings made in God’s image we inherently have the desire and capacity to govern and rule, so God created a space where we would be free to do that under His auspices.
Most of us know the end result of that story. Our forebears were not content with God’s interference with their freedom and defied the one prohibition He gave. Breaking God’s law had devastating consequences as God closed off His earthly dwelling place, Eden, and left mankind out in the untamed wilderness to make our own way.
Our relationship with God was not broken, but it was strained. If you continue to read in Genesis we do not see that God has abandoned mankind, but rather that He continues to speak to us even though we have displaced Him with false gods and our own hubris. In order to fully reflect God’s image we had to be allowed full freedom of will and expression. Indeed, this is the only way for us to truly love as well, but let us save that for another post.
As “imagers” of God, a term I borrowed from Dr. Michael Heiser, our innate desire is to be like God because we inherently are like Him. However, we were designed to be fully free under the covering rule of God. Therein lies the rub. Just as Lucifer and other divine beings grasped at the throne of God in order to permanently usurp His throne, we have done the same thing and continue to do so even to this day.
Jesus, our perfect example of how to live as an imager of God on earth, shows us how to live in perfect freedom. Paul speaks to this in Ephesians 2:6 when he says that Jesus, “being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God a thing to be grasped.” Jesus, the one human being who could have upset the balance of the universe, did not seek to displace Yahweh, Father God from His throne, opting instead for a position of submission to His will and purposes and thereby uncovering His own destiny.
We cannot fulfill our purpose and destiny in life apart from submission to the Father and His Son. This is our great struggle. We desire total freedom but inherently realize that we cannot govern the cosmos for this is what total freedom would entail. As much as we would like to think we can subdue the universe, it is simply too much for our limited capabilities. We have been given an entire planet, teeming with amazing life, surely that is enough.
However, we are free to be free. God has put in place a cosmic moral code that exists independently and to which all beings are subject. God has put in place restrictions and limitations inherent to our nature. God has drawn boundary lines which we cannot cross. But within our purview, the earth, we have complete freedom. With great power comes great responsibility and this unthinkable freedom has consequences.
Consequence #1: Disorder
When Adam and Eve disobeyed God the first consequence was disorder. Following their sin we find them hiding from God in Eden. Until this moment the primordial couple existed within the divine order, protected by God’s sovereignty. Now that they sought to rule themselves and asserted their freedom beyond its limits, they were thrown into chaos and disorder.
God found them in hiding, having already realized the gravity of their choice. Since that day we have sought to restore the divine order through myriad governments and systems. In many ways the history of humanity is the story of our attempt to return to Eden. We know we need some kind of order that still allows freedom, but it has eluded us for centuries. The American form of government is, perhaps, the closest we have come to restoring a semblance of the original order of things, but we still find disorder within the American landscape.
Until Christ returns and establishes the Kingdom of God upon earth once again, we will continue to labor under systems of disorder.
Consequence #2: Death
In Romans 5:12 we see death make its entry on the earthly stage, “Just as sin entered the world through one man [Adam], and death through sin, and in this way death came to all people, because all sinned.” Exercising our full freedom of choice brought death into our existence. Prior to this time we had access to the Tree of Life in Eden which brought life from God. Now that we disobeyed God and sought to establish our race as preeminent on earth, our access to God’s provision was cut off.
Freedom allows us to do as we please, but there are always consequences to our actions. No consequence is more devastating that death because death is irrevocable. Or so we thought. Jesus came to earth as a forerunner of the coming Kingdom, and one of His primary tasks was the defeat of death. His actions here on earth, culminating with His resurrection, destroyed the power of death over our world and began a process of renewal that will end with His return and a complete remaking of our planet.
We still live with the effects of original sin because we still see death, sickness, disaster, disease, and so on upon the earth. Our freedom must be exercised within its proper limits to avoid the consequences of death today. There are even examples of death being overcome in the physical body through Christ’s resurrection power. But our responsibility as free will beings is to submit ourselves to Jesus so He may draw our proper boundary lines and we will be free within His will.
Consequence #3: Displacement
Freedom’s consequences can be terrible, but none has more dire results than the displacement of God. When we make choices contrary to God’s established moral code or His will, we are effectively displacing God and claiming His throne for ourselves. For the moment we have the capacity to do this because we are still living in the “in-between”, that period in history where Jesus has destroyed our spiritual barriers to completion but our physical barriers persist.
The Old Testament is a story of God’s unwavering love and commitment for His chosen people, Israel, in spite of Israel’s continued disloyalty to Yahweh. The New Testament is the story of God revealing Himself in human form through His Son Jesus Christ and restoring Edenic rule to earth through the individual. One day Christ will rule in the flesh and we will all be submitted to Him as His imagers on earth. Until that day we have the power to rule within our assigned sphere through Holy Spirit’s influence and guidance as revealed in the Word of God.
But when we make choices contrary to Yahweh’s established purposes and laws we are choosing to displace God as ruler and place ourselves on His throne. We must learn to understand and be content with our proper place in the universe, because our place is one of power and authority and peace and joy and love in Christ. It is a beautiful place where we can find completeness and fulfillment of being.
We have the power of free will on this earth because God established earth as our primary place of rulership and our domain. God did this so we could accurately reflect His image. God rules and governs and therefore we were meant to rule and govern. However, our freedom has consequences when misapplied as we have seen. Our role as Christians is to demonstrate a proper relationship to God so that others may see the beauty of that relationship and seek Him in their own lives.
Therefore, let us be imagers of God in all we do. Let us exercise our total freedom by choosing to live under the rule of Holy Spirit under the headship of Jesus and grace of the Father as revealed through His Word. Only then can we experience full freedom with no consequences because we will live as we were designed, in relationship with God.