Dear Church Family,
Several weeks ago, we had our first Midland Reformed Theological Conference with Dr. David VanDrunen who spoke on In the World but Not of the World: A Reformed Two Kingdoms Perspective on Christianity and Culture. You can follow the imbedded link above to find audio recordings (and now photos) from that conference. Since then, I have been reflecting on some of the key concepts from that series of lectures:
This week, I’d like to adress two of the important elements from the third lecture of the conference in which Dr. VanDrunen taught on the doctrine of the two-kingdoms from the New Testament.
1. Where the first Adam failed, the last Adam succeeds
According to Romans 5:12-19, there are two covenant heads that stand over the whole of the human race: Adam and Jesus Christ. The first Adam was a type of Him who was to come, Jesus Christ – ‘the last Adam’ (1 Corinthians 15:45). Where Adam failed to obey the Lord’s command to not eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil (Genesis 2:16-17) and to cultivate and guard the garden of Eden (Genesis 2:15), Jesus Christ perfectly fulfilled the Law of God (Matthew 5:17). As a result of Jesus’ obedience, God imputes His righteousness to those who trust in Him: “For as through the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners, even so through the obedience of the One the many will be made righteous” (Romans 5:19).
In Christ’s life, death, resurrection, and ascension, He completed the first Adam’s failed work and attained the first Adam’s failed destiny. Through Adam came death, but through Christ came the resurrection of the dead (1 Corinthians 15:21-22, 45). “Because Christ has already perfectly completed the work that God requires of human beings in this world, people today need not add any of their own works to satisfy God – they need only rest in Christ who has done it all for them.” (VanDrunen, Living in God’s Two Kingdoms, 57)
As a result of the work of Christ on our behalf – succeeding where Adam had failed – there are no requirements or demands of God’s law that we must (or can) fulfill in order to redeem ourselves. And, there is nothing that God requires or demands of us that we must (or can) fulfill in order to redeem the created world. “Because of the obedience of the last Adam, a human being has already attained the life of the world-to-come, and believers, united to Christ, already participate in its life and have a share in its rights and privileges, without any need to earn them by their own obedience. They live in this world not in order to gain the world-to-come, for they have gained the world-to-come by a free gift of grace and are now called to live godly lives as a consequence.” (VanDrunen, Living in God’s Two Kingdoms, 62).
The command to rule over the earth and subdue it (Genesis 2:28) which Adam failed to keep – sometimes referred to as the cultural or dominion mandate – is not something that is reinstated or reissued to human beings after the first coming of Christ. We are not made ‘new Adams.’ Rather at His second coming the last Adam, Jesus Christ, will ultimately complete the task originally given to the first Adam. We are not called to redeem the present world. Rather, in the day of the Lord, this present world will be burned up and destroyed, and we look forward to the promise of the new heavens and new earth in which righteousness dwells (2 Peter 3:10-13) – a righteousness that is not of our own making, but a righteousness in which Christ will reign forever and ever (Revelation 11:15).
2. Christians are aliens and strangers in this world
Instead of world-transformers or ‘new Adams,’ the New Testament calls Christians to think of themselves as resident aliens and strangers in this world: “Beloved, I urge you as aliens and strangers to abstain from fleshly lusts which wage war against the soul” (1 Peter 2:11).
As the writer of Hebrews describes what it means to live by faith in the new covenant, he gives examples from the old covenant. He holds up Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob as those who lived as aliens in the land of promise, as in a foreign land. They were looking for a city which has foundations, whose architect and builder is God. Indeed, they confessed that they were strangers and exiles on earth (Hebrews 11:8-13).
Living as aliens and strangers – as exiles on this earth – does not mean that we have nothing to do. The Church is given the Great Commission to proclaim the gospel and to make disciples of all the nations (Matthew 28:19-20). And, the Apostle Paul urges New Testament believers to excel in loving one another, and to make it our ambition to lead a quiet life, attend to our own business, and work with our hands so that we may behave properly toward outsiders and not be in any need (1 Thessalonians 4:9-12). We are to pray for the spread of the gospel and the salvation of others (2 Thessalonians 3:1), and for earthly authorities so that we may lead tranquil and quiet lives in all godliness and dignity (1 Timothy 2:1).
It is important that we keep these two things in mind: First – as the last Adam, Jesus fulfilled all that is necessary for the salvation of His people (Romans 8:1) and will fulfill all that is necessary for the redemption of the cosmos (Romans 8:20-22). There is nothing that we may add to the work of Christ with respect to our own justification or the redeeming of the present world. Second – as those who are united to Christ, we are aliens and strangers in this world because our citizenship is in heaven (Philippians 3:20). The present world is not our home. This world and the lusts of this world are passing away, but the one who does the will of God lives forever (1 John 2:17). God grants believers “all the rights of the world-to-come as an accomplished fact and then calls them to cultural labor in this world as a grateful response.” (VanDrunen, Living in God’s Two Kingdoms, 51).
From various quarters, we sometimes hear that since the coming of Christ, God has commissioned and empowered the Church or the individual Christian to take up Adam’s failed task to take dominion of the created order. In this way, some see Jesus as ‘resetting’ creation, restoring believers to the original place of Adam, and reinstating that original mandate given to Adam. This does not comport with the Scriptural evidence and diminishes our understanding of the completed work of Christ. It also fails to take into account that we are no longer in a state of innocence that Adam enjoyed before the fall. Because the ‘last Adam’ completed (and will complete) all that needs to be done, we are not called to be ‘new Adams’ but rather to rest in the finished work of Christ – for our own salvation, as well as for the redemption of this fallen world.
As we come to understand how the New Testament describes the finished work of Christ for our salvation and the future work of Christ for the redemption of the created order, we gain a greater appreciation for the powerful and all-sufficient work along with a more realistic understanding of our own creaturely weakness and insufficiency. As Dr. Carl Trueman succinctly puts it:
Surely it is time to become realistic. It is time to drop the cultural elitism that poses as significant Christian transformation of culture but only really panders to nothing more than middle class tastes and hobbies. It is time to look again at the New Testament’s teaching on the church as a sojourning people where here we have no lasting home. The psalms of lament teach us that it is only when we have realistic horizons of expectation will we be able to stand firm against what is coming. If we do not understand that now, we are going to be sorely disappointed in the near future.
The Lord be with you!
- Pastor Peter M. Dietsch