What Is Our Place In God’s Plan?

INTRODUCTION

Having made it all the way through Genesis over the past many months, we’ll spend one more week going back through the entire thing. My main aim is to answer one question, “What does Genesis tell us about our place in God’s plan?”. Or, “What does Genesis tell us about how to live our lives in a manner pleasing to God?”. We’ll see the answer to that question as we revisit six of the main themes in the book (creation, fellowship, work, sin, judgment, redemption, and fulfillment).

Before I pray, let me mention one more thing. The fact that Genesis answers (or at least begins to answer) the question, “What is our place in God’s plan?,” points to something greater still. We all have all kinds of plans of varying degrees of wisdom and with varying degrees of power to carry them out. But Genesis is ultimately about a God who has the power to perfectly create and carry out a plan for all time and space and to assign us a place in it. In other words, Genesis is really about God putting His immeasurable glory on display in the things He made. The aim of this sermon, then, is to help all of us come to know God better and live more in line with the perfect purposes for which He made us. Let’s pray that God would be pleased to use this sermon to make it so.

CREATION

The very first theme in Genesis, and the beginning of any understanding of our purpose in God’s plan, is creation. The book begins with the famous words, “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.” Grace, remember this today: all that has been made, has been made by God. Nothing that has come into existence has come through any means other than the hand of God. Or, as John 1:3 says, “All things were made through him, and without him was not anything made that was made.”

God Rules

There are two keys to understanding creation in Genesis and its significance for our place in God’s plan. First, that God made all that has been made, means that everything belongs to God. Because all things have come from God, God rightfully rules over all things. This is easy to see from the beginning of Genesis as God tells light and darkness, sky, land, and water, plants, animals, and people—all that was made—what to do and all things obey without pause. Even after the fall, Genesis is filled with examples of God sovereignly ruling over the heavens and the earth, big and small events, weather and food, ordinary people and kings, barrenness and fruitfulness, and cities and nations. God created and God rules perfectly over His creation.

God Designed

The second aspect of God’s creation that we don’t want to miss, is that God not only brought all things into existence and rules over them all, He also created all things with a specific nature and purpose. That is, things are what God designed them to be—nothing more, nothing less, and nothing different.

That God not only created, but also ordered His creation is also made clear from the very beginning. After declaring that God made the heavens and earth in v.1, in v.2 we read that “The earth was without form and void, and darkness was over the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters.” What follows is two chapters (Genesis 1 and 2) describing God’s ordering of the formless and dark void; of God assigning (or revealing) the nature and purpose to everything He made. The main point here is that things are, and are for, whatever the Creator has said they are and are for.

What Does this Say About Our Place in God’s Plan?

I hope it’s easy for you to see that in light of God as creator (ruler and designer) of all, our place in God’s plan is as ones belonging to God. He is our God. We are not our own. We are not ultimately in charge of our own lives. We are not our highest authority. It is not up to us to decide who we are or how we fit in the world in the world. God is our king and we are His subjects. Our place in God’s plan is one of total submission.

What’s more, and equally important, even if increasingly foreign today, is the fact that with God as our creator, our place in God’s plan is not only to submit to His rule, but also to His design. We are to do what God tells us to do, even as we are to be what God tells us to be. This means that it is a fool’s errand to try to “redefine” that which God has established. We are so often like the little kid who pretends to turn a close pin into a laser gun or a pile of dirt into a five-course meal. No matter how hard we try, and no matter how much we believe in our attempts, things are and always be exactly what God has declared them to be. Our place in God’s plan, then, is to conform ourselves to them—all of them, always.

Grace, combined, then, these things mean that to live a life of any genuine fulfillment, is to live a life of submission to God and conformity to His design for us. Every ounce of frustration and every tiny feeling of futility that we face is owning to a failure to conform ourselves to the world as God has made it.

MADE FOR GARDEN FELLOWSHIP

Far from a vague, theoretical charge, though, Genesis get’s specific about some aspects of our divinely-designed nature and purpose. In particular, we quickly discover that God made mankind for fellowship—first with God, and also with others. That’s the second theme we’ll consider: we were made for fellowship.

With God

God did not create mankind in a place far-removed from His presence. God created mankind to live in a garden with God! It’s a bit difficult for me to get my head around, but the first people, Adam and Eve, lived with God in the garden He made for them. They walked and talked with God in a manner similar to that which is promised (in the new heavens and earth (1 Corinthians 13:12). There was a kind of fellowship that no one on earth (except Jesus Himself) has known since Adam and Eve were driven from the Garden (more on that in a bit).

This is a review sermon, so it isn’t the place to fully unpack this, but settle on this, Grace: God made mankind to be in fellowship with our Creator. We are meant to know and be known by God. We are meant to delight in His presence and will even as we acknowledge Him as King. We’re going to move on, but I’ve prayed this week, that this one point would stay with you above all the rest: Our place in God’s plan is to be in fellowship with the God of all power, glory, dominion, beauty, splendor, goodness, wisdom, and love.

With Mankind

But just as mankind was made for fellowship with God, so too were we made for fellowship with one another. In words that are likely familiar to anyone who has ever attended a wedding, in Genesis 2:18 God declares, “It is not good that the man should be alone.” This is true for all kinds of reasons (including productivity and reproductivity), but at the heart of them all is the fact that our place in God’s plan is to be in fellowship with others.

What Does this Say About Our Place in God’s Plan?

On a very practical level, this means three specific things. First, it means that under ordinary circumstances, our place in God’s plan is to pursue marriage. The context of the Genesis 2 passage is that God intended Adam to have a wife to help him with his God-given commission to subdue and fill the earth. That is not to say that you have no place, or even a lesser place, in God’s plan if you are not married (which we’ll see more clearly in the second and third practical points), but it is to say that God designed the world such that marriage is the norm and under normal circumstances our place in God’s plan is inside of it for a unique kind of fellowship.

That leads to the second practical implication of the fact that we were made for fellowship. The mission God has given to us all (to make disciples of Jesus throughout the entire world) is only possible with the kind of covenant friendship provided in the local church. Our place in God’s plan is as active, interdependent, on-mission participants in a local body of Christ. And there is, therefore, fellowship room here for young and old, married and single, rich and poor, people who are creative, logical, social, quiet, upfront, and behind the scenes, and for people from every tribe, tongue and nation. We don’t always live these things out perfectly, but they are all a part of our place in God’s plan.

Finally, and most importantly, this means that we are made to be with God. Our place in God’s plan is to have consistent, meaningful quiet times—daily times of prayer, Bible reading, and worship—where we truly meet with God. Our place is to join in creation in continually delighting in and declaring the glory of God. Our place is to continually experience the presence and favor of God in our lives in Christ. Our place is to talk continually to God in the certain knowledge that He is near, hears our every word, and loves us deeply. Even though sin makes our fellowship with God dulled, Jesus makes our fellowship with God real and significant, even as we await the perfect renewed garden-fellowship of eternity. Genesis helps us to see that all of this is a part of our place in God’s plan.

MADE FOR GARDEN WORK

Contrary to the way many view their place in this world—begrudgingly working hard enough to get away from work on weekends and eventually, entirely in retirement—Genesis tells us that God made mankind for work, now and forever. That’s the third main theme and the third aspect of our place in God’s plan.

We see this most clearly in Genesis 1:28, “And God blessed [Adam and Eve]. And God said to them, ‘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 heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth.” And we see this most succinctly in Genesis 2:15, “The LORD God took man and put him in the garden of Eden to work it and keep it.”

Grace, our place in God’s plan is to work at ordering and filling the earth (with those who love God).

What Does this Say About Our Place in God’s Plan?

This means that hard work is a part of our place in God’s plan. Our lives are not made for leisure, but for work. Vacation isn’t the goal, productivity is. Resting is right—God built it into the rhythm of creation—but it is for work (to make us more productive and efficient). The nature and amount of our work certainly varies from person to person, and will certainly change over time, but our call to it won’t.

Grace, kids, God is always at work for glory and good and we are made to join Him in that. Work for its own sake isn’t inherently good, but working toward the things God has called us to is. It is a great gift that God has given us in creating us to spend our lives doing things of significance as we work with God in restoring the garden we were made for. Let us give ourselves, then, with God, in His strength, according to the gifts He’s given us, to fruitfulness, productivity, order, service, blessing, protection, and provision. Our place in God’s plan, according to Genesis, is to work.

With all of that, there’s something else we must not miss. The kind of physical work described in Genesis pointed to a greater, spiritual work that God has for His people. Hints of that are seen in passages like Genesis 22:17-18, where God promises blessing to the whole world through Abraham. This is a foreshadowing of Jesus words in Matthew 28 where He commissioned His followers to, “make disciples of all nations…”. All of our work done as unto the LORD is significant and meaningful (Colossians 3:23), but declaring the good news to the whole world that all can be reconciliation to God by grace, through faith, in Jesus is the highest form of work that God has called us to. Our place in God’s plan, then, is to work at delighting in God and then shouting the gospel from the rooftops.

SIN

The fourth theme of Genesis that I want to highlight for you is sin. (According to the Westminster Shorter Confession) sin is “any want of conformity unto, or transgression of, the law of God.” The first sin among mankind—the first transgression of the law of God—is found in Genesis 3. God had given Adam and Eve the entire garden for food; all of it except one tree. In Genesis 3, under the temptation of the serpent, Adam and Eve disobeyed God and ate of the forbidden fruit. They sinned against God. More tragically still, this sin was not a one-time thing. It initiated a corruption that went to their very natures. And this corruption was so toxic and thorough that it was passed on from them to their offspring.

Indeed, a short time later, one of their sons killed the other (Genesis 4). Their sin spread and destroyed to the point that “The LORD saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually” (6:5). No matter what anyone tried, this sin just kept spreading wider and deeper, such that everyone was completely corrupted by it. We simply cannot read Genesis rightly, or understand the people around us or the world we live in, apart from understanding that sin has worked its way into every facet of creation.

What Does this Say About Our Place in God’s Plan?

Well, I hope you know that being a sinner is not your place in God’s plan. It is in very real ways the forsaking of your place in God’s plan. And yet, every aspect of life in this world is effected by the sin in and around us. Therefore, if we are to live as God intends, we need to come to grips with the fact that sin makes truly finding and living in our God-given place impossible apart from Christ and difficult even in Christ. What do we do, then?

Look to Jesus. Genesis hints at this (more in a minute), but we know in full that Jesus is our only and certain hope to overcome sin and come back to our place in God’s plan. Sinner and saint, look to Jesus.

Be humble. Knowledge of sin and its effects means that we ought to be humble people. Sin means that our understanding is always limited, our motives are not always pure, and our perspective is tainted. Humble yourself.

Be gracious. Genesis helps us to see that apart from divine intervention, we are all in the same sin-boat. In the knowledge that our only hope is the grace of God—that we are as sinful, lost and rebellious as everyone else—we are gracious to others. We are patient in their sin and always looking to point them to Jesus.

Make war. Our place in God’s plan in light of sin that is in us and around us is to call sin, sin and to fight against it wherever we can. We cannot make friends or even a treaty with sin. We must be in constant war against it.

JUDGMENT

The corrupting effects of sin are bad enough, but it gets worse. Not only does sin make it harder to know and live out our place in God’s plan, it also has even more serious consequences. The fifth main theme of Genesis, and the most uncomfortable of all, is that God’s judgment is upon all, for all sin. In particular, in Genesis, God’s judgment comes in the form of death, curse, and wandering.

Death

Like every good ruler does, God made His expectations and the consequences of failing to meet them clear from the beginning. He gave Adam (Eve hadn’t been created yet) just one rule, “You may surely eat of every tree of the garden, 17 but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat…” (2:16-17). Although there was only one thing the first man was prohibited from doing, the consequences for disobedience couldn’t have been higher, “…for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die.”

As I mentioned earlier, Adam (and Eve) did eventually eat from the tree. Interestingly, however, they did not immediately drop dead as we might expect. We know now what they didn’t seem to understand then; that their disobedience brought about immediate spiritual death (everlasting enmity with God) and eventual physical death (neither of which would have been a part of humanity if Adam and Eve had obeyed God). The reality of this greatest tragedy played out, without exception, throughout Genesis—literally everyone died.

Curse

God’s judgment took the form of curse as well—particular hardships in the time between spiritual and physical death. In Genesis 3 we’re told of the curse that all men and women after Adam have been under.

“To the woman he said, ‘I will surely multiply your pain in childbearing; in pain you shall bring forth children. Your desire shall be contrary to your husband, but he shall rule over you.’ 17 And to Adam he said, ‘…cursed is the ground because of you; in pain you shall eat of it all the days of your life; 18 thorns and thistles it shall bring forth for you; and you shall eat the plants of the field. 19 By the sweat of your face you shall eat bread, till you return to the ground, for out of it you were taken; for you are dust, and to dust you shall return.’”

Again, in all of this, God’s judgment is such that the very things we were designed to do and be are made significantly harder. This too, we see played out throughout all of Genesis.

Wandering

Finally, God’s judgment came in the form of homelessness, exile, and wandering. We see this in two main places: the garden and Egypt. First, and perhaps most explicitly of all, immediately after God cursed Adam and Eve, God drove them out of the garden which He’d made for them.

“…the LORD God sent him out from the garden of Eden to work the ground from which he was taken. 24 He drove out the man, and at the east of the garden of Eden he placed the cherubim and a flaming sword that turned every way to guard the way to the tree of life” (3:23-24).

This was both a real and a symbolic act. It was real in that Adam and Eve were no longer allowed in their home. But as tragic as that was, the symbolic nature was even worse. Not only would they no longer have this home, they would no longer have any home on earth. God’s judgment on Adam and Eve was such that they and their offspring would be perpetually homeless.

And the clearest picture of God’s wandering-judgment, and one that would last for centuries, is seen in the fact that although God promised Abraham and his offspring the land of Canaan, they spent most of their time in Egypt. They were perpetual strangers. They never had a land of their own.

What Does this Say About Our Place in God’s Plan?

Living under the judgment of God, like sin, is a part of our reality, but not a God-honoring part of our place in God’s plan. Living in light of the understanding Genesis gives —living out our place in God’s plan—means constantly seeing the hardships of this life as a reminder of the sinfulness of sin. It is a reminder that this is not our home. It is a reminder that even though life is hard, every minute we spend apart from horror of the merging of spiritual and physical death (hell) is a gift. It is a reminder that our only hope is the grace of God. And it is a constant reminder of the great grace it is that Jesus took our judgment—our death and curse—upon Himself that we might be brought home to God!

PROMISED REDEMPTION

Creation, fellowship, work, sin, and judgment are anything but subtle in Genesis. On the other hand, the promise of redemption is only hinted at; albeit in a handful of ways. One such example is in 3:21. “And the Lord God made for Adam and for his wife garments of skins and clothed them” (3:21). God sacrificed an animal in order to cover the sin of Adam and Eve. This was a foreshadowing of the sacrificial system, which was itself a foreshadowing of the once-for-all sacrifice of Jesus, the true Lamb of God. Again, that type of subtle expression of God’s promised redemption is sprinkled throughout Genesis. Let’s quickly reconsider a few more of them.

Through the Offspring of Eve

The “first gospel” (as it is often called), is found in 3:15. There God says to the serpent, “I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel” (3:15). This was a promise of a continual war between sin and Satan on one side and the children of men on the other. But more importantly it was a promise that one from the line of Eve would eventually win!

Through Covenant

The least subtle and most common promise of redemption is found in God’s covenants. He made one with Noah (chapters 6 and 9) and another with Abraham. The one God made with Noah was primarily a promise not to execute a particular kind of judgment on Noah’s offspring. But for Abraham, it was a different kind of covenant altogether. It is stated and restated a number of times in Genesis, but the clearest is probably found in 17:6-8.

I will make you exceedingly fruitful, and I will make you into nations, and kings shall come from you. 7 And I will establish my covenant between me and you and your offspring after you throughout their generations for an everlasting covenant, to be God to you and to your offspring after you. 8 And I will give to you and to your offspring after you the land of your sojournings, all the land of Canaan, for an everlasting possession, and I will be their God.”

God’s main promise was to be Abraham’s God. The NT makes clear what Genesis doesn’t; namely, that as great of a promise as this was to Abraham, it was far, far greater than he could have possibly understood. It was a promise based on God’s knowledge that He would one day send the offspring of Eve, the descendent of Abraham, to make that covenant work in light of the sin and judgment that were upon mankind.

Exemplified in Abraham and Isaac

We get another clear picture of God’s redemption in the ram provided in place of Isaac (Genesis 22:13)

Accomplished by God

Genesis helps us see that the covenant redemption promised by God would be accomplished entirely by God. In spite of Abraham and his offspring’s constant covenant failures, God kept them for himself.

Received through Faith

One of the most significant statements on the redemption God promised, is found in 15:6, “[Abraham] believed the LORD, and he counted it to him as righteousness.” Once again, the NT helps us to see what Abraham only got a glimpse of, that the redemption sinful man so desperately needed, and God promised, would come not through good works, but through faith.

What Does this Say About Our Place in God’s Plan?

Collectively, this Genesis theme helps us to see that our place in God’s plan is one of trusting in God. We are to be a people who simply believe God. He has made a way for our sins to be forgiven and for us to be reconciled to Him. Our job is to place our faith in the grace of God. Having done so, it will inevitably result in acts of obedience, but we are to live in the certain knowledge that our redemption is entirely from God. Stop trying to earn God’s favor. Stop trying to make yourself right with God. Receive the forgiveness that is yours by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone. Let Him completely carry your salvation burden.

PERFECT FAITHFULNESS AND PARTIAL FULFILLMENT

Finally, as we’ve seen a number of times already, Genesis shows us the perfect faithfulness of God, even as the full fulfillment of His promises would not come until Jesus. God kept his word to Cain (not to make his life unbearable), to Noah (to preserve him and his family, and not to destroy the earth again by flood), to Abraham (to keep him safe, give him a son through Sarah, and a down payment on the land [his tomb in Canaan]), to Hagar (to give Ishmael many offspring), to Isaac (to be with him and to bless him even through famine and danger), to Joseph (to have him rule over his family and rescue many through him), and to everyone else to whom He made a promise. God was perfectly faithful. And although God did not fully fulfill every promise He made in the span of Genesis, there were down payments made on them all. Genesis shows us that without exception, God kept His Word and delivered on His promises.

What Does this Say About Our Place in God’s Plan?

Once again, our place in God’s plan is to trust fully in God’s promises and long for their full fulfillment. Where we find a promise, we’ve found something more certain than anything else in the universe. Grace, marvel at the fact that God’s promised future blessing is every bit as real as our present reality. In light of these things, we ought to search the Bible diligently for God’s promises and then build our entire lives upon them. Common sense and worldly wisdom are not able to bear our hope. God’s promises alone are.

CONCLUSION

Creation, fellowship, work, sin, judgment, redemption, and fulfillment. Each of these are key themes in Genesis and each defines a significant aspect of our place in God’s plan. As remarkable as all of these things are, however, Genesis merely reveals the beginning of each. Creation will find its fulfillment in the recreation of the new heavens and earth where we will be brought back to the garden, an even greater garden, where sin and judgment will be complete. The curse will be entirely lifted one day. More than merely being free from sin and all its effects (as great as that will be), we will have everlasting and perfect fellowship with God and all of His people. We will work with perfect joy and efficiency. Our salvation will be complete and every promise will be fully fulfilled.

Grace, Genesis is the foundation for the rest of God’s story of redemption and revelation of our place in His plan. It is where God first reveals Himself as greater than we could ever imagine, and His promises as worthy of being wholly trusted in. Understanding Genesis is an essential part of understanding God, ourselves, the world in which we live, and our place in it. Above all, though, Genesis is the beginning of the centuries-long arrow that points straight at Jesus. Subtly but repeatedly, Genesis promises and introduces us to Jesus. More significantly still, Genesis begins to establish the simple but all-consuming reality that our place in God’s plan is to find salvation and satisfaction in Jesus alone, by grace alone, through faith alone.

Praise be to God. Amen.