Finding Your Place In the World

Sifting through a box in my garage a few weeks back, I ran across a CD recording by the contemporary Christian music artist, Michael W. Smith. It had been years since I had heard any of his music, so I popped in the CD for old time sake and was instantly immersed in a recognizable piano melody and the all-too-familiar lyrics from one of his biggest hits…

…Looking for a reason 

Roamin' through the night to find 

My place in this world 

My place in this world 

Not a lot to lean on 

I need your light to help me find 

My place in this world 

My place in this world

As mixed-motived and misguided as a "find-my-place-in-the-world" sentiment and search often is, it does not take away the fact that having “a place in the world” is a supremely biblical concern. Take the creation story for instance. In Genesis 1-2, God gives Himself to the task of making a “place in the world” for creaturely habitation and flourishing. God’s separating of the light from the darkness, the expanse from the waters, and the waters from the dry land (Gen. 1:3-10) were all acts of Fatherly care and benevolence. He was crafting perfectly fit spaces and places for the birds, fish, land animals, all kinds of vegetation, and yes, even man himself.  

It’s generally observed that when creatures abide within the custom-made dwellings that God has provided for them, their health and well-being are preserved. But if, however, the boundaries given them are not honored, life is diminished and sometimes lost altogether. For instance, if your pet goldfish determines to jump out of his bowl to try life on the carpet, he will soon find that there is no life for him on the carpet to try! To cross the water boundary, his “place in the world," only ensures his demise.

The challenge for mankind is that the boundaries of our habitation are not merely physical; they are spiritual and moral as well. Different from the rest of creation, God made man in His image to represent Him and to exercise His rule on the earth. To test man’s loyalty to work within His creative place in the world, God put before him the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil in the midst of Eden and strictly charged him not to eat from it or he would die. This tree did not separate created physical space or earthly creatures. This tree was a dark line drawn between Man and His Creator, a kind of moral “No Trespassing” sign. This tree line is important to our created place in the world, for it has more to do with Lordship than physical location. Would Adam honor his creatureliness before God or would he trespass and know the pain of the loss of place?

You know the story well enough to know that man crossed the boundary of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil and saw what he wished he’d never seen. As Scripture records, “Then the eyes of both were opened, and they knew that they were naked” (Gen.3:7). More than being spiritually displaced, this moral trespassing immediately gave way to physical displacement as later in the same chapter we read, “Therefore, the Lord God sent him out from the garden of Eden…He drove out the man, and at the east of the garden of Eden, he placed the cherubim and flaming sword that turned every way to guard the way to the tree of life.” (Genesis 3:23-24).

From this moment on, we see that man is out of place with His Creator--whose image He bore--and out of place in the creation of which he was a part--a world that he was called to tend and subdue. But as pages turn in redemptive history, we find that our hope to be re-placed aright in the world comes through the replacing of us with a new and better Man. In other words, we need someone to take our place for us in the world in order for us to find our place in the world. 

This happens, of course, at the incarnation. In a beautiful redemptive twist, the Son of God leaves his place in heaven to take up our place on the earth, to live within the boundary we crossed and to pay the penalty for the boundary we crossed (John 4:34, Rom. 4:25, Philippians 2:5-11, 2 Cor. 5:21). William Still captured so well what God did to restore "our place in the world" when he wrote:

The preexistence of Christ is most plainly testified to in John 1:1, 2, 18; Phil. 2:6a; Col. 1:15; 1 John 1:1a…He is begotten, not created; the only and eternally begotten of the Father, before all worlds. With His coming, the eternal broke into time and became one with creation which had gone wrong, and which He could redeem only from within.1

This means, ultimately, that our re-placement in the world is bound up in the Person who replaced us in the world. As Paul writes, “It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives me. And the life I now live in the flesh, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself up for me.” (Gal. 2:20) We see this principle worked out even in the way in which the apostle addressed the church. When he wrote to the Ephesians, he greeted them as "saints who are in Ephesus, and faithful in Christ Jesus." They were both in Ephesus and they were in Christ--in the world and in union with the Savior. Their identity was bound up in Christ. 

We no longer have to roam through the night to find our place in the world. In Christ, the night is far spent--the dayspring is at hand. We have found our place, and He is Christ.  


1. William Still Notes on Galatians (Aberdeen: Didasko Press, 1972) p. 52



Further Resources

Thomas Boston Human Nature In Its Fourfold State

Todd Billings Union With Christ: Reframing Theology and Ministry For The Church

A.W. Pink Spiritual Union and Communion With Christ 

Iain D. Campbell "Union With The Bridegroom


Nate Shurden is the pastor/church planter of Cornerstone Presbyterian Church (PCA) in Franklin, TN. He has written numerous articles for Reformation21. You can follow him on Twitter @nateshurden or friend him on Facebook

Nate Shurden