Shaping Culture: It’s Your Job

There’s a concept I want to share with you: it’s called “the cultural mandate” – and here’s the big idea behind it:  It says that part of God’s design for mankind is that we would be responsible for shaping culture.

The cultural mandate is found in Genesis 1:26-28; 2:15 and is repeated in Genesis 9:1-3.

Here’s the gist of it: In speaking to Adam and Noah respectively as representatives of the human race, he commissions them with a task. It was a matter of stewardship, which involved overseeing the natural and social aspects of this world – for the purpose of human flourishing.

One author puts it this way:

This mandate involves the whole realm of human culture, from habitat to agriculture, industrialization and commerce, politics and social and moral order, academic and scientific achievement, health, education and physical care – a culture which benefits man and glorifies God.”
(G.W. Peters, A Biblical Theology of Missions)

Interestingly, this mandate from God to shape the culture was given two times: once before sin entered the world, and again after sin had entered the world. That means that this mandate is incumbent on us regardless of our spiritual state. It also means that, although the world is broken and fallen, we are still responsible for stewardship over this world – and that doesn’t apply only to natural resources, but to the shaping of the culture of our society.

Just as the Jews in exile in Babylon were told to “seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the Lord on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare” (Jeremiah 29:7), and just as Mordecai was commended for being a person who “sought the good of his people and spoke for the welfare of his whole nation” (Esther 10:3), we are called to do the same in our day and age and in the societies we live in as people who love and honor God – even as we wait for the ultimate eschatological fulfillment, when all is made as it was once intended to be by Jesus at his return.

Christians: shaping culture is YOUR job!
Yes, sin, brokenness, selfishness and evil in the world make this task much more difficult, but this mandate has still been given to us by God.

One author put it this way:

“Even fallen man has the potentiality and responsibility for faithfulness to his wife, for diligence in training of his children, for skill in the performance of his daily work, for justice in dealings with others. He has the capacity for running schools and hospitals, for tilling the ground and causing even unfertile ground to produce. He still has the capacity for governing society.”
(D. Pentecost, Issues in Missiology) 

To that, I would only add this:  If fallen man has these capacities, how much more so do those who have been redeemed and regenerated by God through Christ and has his enabling Spirit dwelling inside of them?!

This cultural mandate also doesn’t diminish in the least our “spiritual mandate” to bring the life-changing message of the Gospel to the world, which alone is able to bring eternal salvation to people. Jesus himself warned against those who “gain the whole world and yet lose their own soul” (Mark 8:36). Both mandates are important. The results of spiritual redemption will touch every part of man’s life and being and will influence culture and social aspects of life.

So for Christians, rather than retreating from culture or creating an insular counter-culture – it would seem that we have a God-given responsibility and call to shape the culture and society we live in through direct engagement. What that looks like in each of our lives is a matter which we must work out in our own situation before God.


Why You Need a Mission

Do you remember being 7 years old? Most of us can.

I have a 7 year old — and there’s a sense in which I would much rather spend time with 7 year olds than 37 year olds, because the thing about kids at that age is that they are full of life and they are so incredibly full of hope! They aren’t jaded and cynical like a lot of adults you meet.

And one of the ways you see that hope, is how every child loves stories about HEROIC quests! About ADVENTURES — about SAVING THE WORLD

World-Saving Missions — that’s what all the great stories are about! The movies, the books, the fairy tales which most excite you — that’s what they’re all about: World-Saving Missions!

And children innately love and believe in world-saving missions, and when they think about their own future and what they want to do when they grow up — they think of it in terms of MISSION!

Earlier this year, my son had his Kindergarten graduation. And during that ceremony, each of the kids talked about what they wanted to be when they grew up. And you know, not one of them said: “I’m probably just going to work in data entry! I’m hoping to sit in front of a computer all day, in an office, pushing papers… If I get lucky, I’ll get my own cubicle…” No! It was: “I want to be a doctor! I want to be a soldier! I want to be a firefighter, a police officer” — one kid said he wants to be President!

Do you see how their focus is: “I’m going to make a difference! I’m going to HELP PEOPLE! I’m going to change things! I’m going to make things RIGHT!”

These children see their future in terms of mission!

And why do you think they want to help people and save the world? Because there is JOY in that!

You see — there is a link between Joy and Mission. Mission is a requirement for joy!

And as we grow up — throughout our teenage years, and into our twenties — high school, college — we hold onto this ideal, of doing something significant to change the world and make things better! Many people I know chose their major in college because they wanted to make an impact for good in the world! They had a desire to bring healing and justice and love and peace to the world! People who study to become teachers or pastors — they didn’t do it to get rich! All the teachers I know — they went into that profession because they wanted to make an impact – to change lives!

But what happens? We see all these adults, running the rat race, but they have no joy in it… They’ve got all the stuff — the house, the cars… but they’ve got not joy. And the reason they lack joy, is because they don’t have a Mission!

In our culture, when you become an adult — you are sold this philosophy which says that idealism and dreams of saving the world are fine for kids — but now it’s time to grow up. And in the real world, all that really matters is your own personal fulfillment and comfort. And a lot of people buy into that, and they trade that mission of changing the world and making a difference, for this new goal of Personal Fulfillment.

But the problem is: When you have no higher cause than making yourself happy and comfortable, then you no longer have a mission; you no longer have anything to live for or to die for or to sacrifice for — except yourself… And when you don’t have a mission, you don’t have joy, because mission is a requirement for joy.

A lot of people are lacking joy, because they are lacking mission. You need a mission! You are BUILT for mission! And when you are living for yourself, you have no mission — and inevitably you will lack joy, because having a mission is a necessary requirement for you to have joy!

Jesus says that very thing, in John 17 — as he sends his disciples out on mission. In John 17:13, Jesus says that he wants his disciples to have the JOY that he has. And that’s why he prays in Vs 18: So, just as you (Speaking to the Father) sent me into the world, so I am sending them into the world. Jesus is saying: “Father, I want my followers to have the same JOY that I have — so, in order that they might have my JOY, I’m giving them my Mission!”

In Hebrews 12:2, we read this incredible statement: it says there that for the joy that was set before him, Jesus him endured the cross, despising the shame. Jesus endured the cross for you. He bore your sin and your shame. That’s the story of the Cross. But this verse takes us behind the scenes. To where God the Father came to the Son and said: “I’m sending you on a Mission! A mission to bring truth and life and salvation to the world that is just broken and dying under the curse of sin and death! And you’re going to go and save them! But it’s going to cost you everything! You’re going to have to take all the punishment, and all the suffering — and it’s all going to fall upon you. And it’s going to crush you! It’s going to tear you to pieces… But as a result, people are going to be saved. Lives are going to be transformed and set free – forever! You’re going to redeem them.”

And as Jesus considered that mission — consider both the cost and the pay-off of this mission — His heart was filled with one thing: JOY! It was the JOY of knowing the final outcome, which carried Him through the difficult times — that made him able to endure the cross and bear the shame. And so Jesus says: I want other people to have MY JOY — and so I’m sending them out on mission — so that they might have fullness of joy.

The reason many people lack joy in their lives is because they are living only for themselves! They have no mission, they have no higher commitment than themselves.

The irony is: The more significance you give to yourself — the less significant your life will actually be. The more you live for yourself — the less you will make a difference and have an impact in the world!

But Jesus says: “I’m giving you a mission! And if you accept this mission, God will use you to bring truth and life and salvation and redemption into the World. Yes, there will be a cost! It will cost you time and energy and resources to fulfill this calling and do this mission. It may even cost you your whole life! But it is something which is worth living for and dying for and sacrificing for — because there is nothing more important in the world, than this mission.”

You need a mission. It’s a fundamental human need. It’s a basic requirement for joy. And the Mission of God is the only mission which is legitimately worth giving everything for, because it is the only mission which actually has the potential to save the world.

[This is an excerpt from a message titled “A Mission from God”, the whole of which can be listened to here]


What is the Scope of Salvation?

One of the things I’m intrigued by in the Bible is the meaning of salvation. I have noticed in myself and others a tendency to settle for a narrower understanding of the scope of the salvation that is promised to us in Jesus than the fullness of what is found in the scriptures.

Of course this is not to distract from or undermine the central concern for our relationship with God and our need to be put right with him (justification). But when you see the scope of salvation in the Bible, beyond saving us from damnation, it is exciting!

For example, in chapter 19 of the Gospel of Luke, Zacchaeus, having spent years ripping people off, turns to Jesus and repents of his greed and sin, and also shows signs of true repentance when he gives back the money he ripped off to the people he took it from, even though it may have happened years prior – and Jesus declares: “salvation has come to this house today” (Luke 19:9). Salvation for Zacchaeus was salvation for his soul, AND deliverance from bondage to vain things AND salvation unto a new course in life as a disciple of Jesus – which inherently means taking an active role in God’s mission to bring salvation to the world.

The very name Jesus means “Savior”!  Here are some quotes on the meaning and scope of the salvation that’s found in Jesus:

Salvation itself, the salvation Christ gives to his people, is freedom from sin in all its ugly manifestations, and liberation into a new life of service, until finally we attain ‘the glorious liberty of the children of God. (J. Stott, Christian Mission in the Modern World)


In the Old Testament the word ‘salvation’ speaks of ‘shalom’, or complete wholeness of being, in every dimension of life. (A. Motyer, The Prophecy of Isaiah)


The three tenses of salvation – past, present and future – are united into an organic whole; they may be distinguished but must not be separated. The salvation that the gospel proclaims is not limited to man’s reconciliation to God. It involves the remaking of man in all the dimensions of his existence. It has to do with the recovery of the whole man according to God’s original purpose for his creation. (R. Padilla, Mission Between the Times)


The full gospel brought by Jesus Christ is both salvation from sin and salvation into the capacity to be fully human and truly free. (D. Webster)

Exciting? I think so.