The ‘Already’ and the ‘Not Yet’

Recently I have been reading 1 John and have been struck by some words found early in the third chapter of that epistle which suggest that it is important what we chose to give most of our attention to.

‘Beloved, we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is. And everyone who thus hopes in him purifies himself as he is pure. [1 John 3:2-3]

These really are wonderful verses.

On account of God’s great love, we are his children now. That is what we ‘already’ are.

But we are ‘not yet’ what we should be – sinless. Even so ‘dear friends’ we should not despair, for we have a hope which purifies us.

The more we look to Jesus, the more we will look like Jesus. The more we see what Jesus is like, the more like Jesus we shall be seen to be. And when we see him fully, we will be fully like him.

‘When Christ appears, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is.’ [1 John 3:2]

We are ‘already’ children of God

But we are ‘not yet’ perfect.

He appeared to take away our sins [1 John 3:5]. He did this by dying on the cross for us, paying the penalty for all our sins. But, for now, indwelling sin sadly continues to reside in each one of us. We who are his must, by the power of the Holy Spirit, keep on putting to death the deeds of the body in order that we will live. [Romans 8:13]. The struggle continues, daily, and proves that we are spiritually alive and that the Holy Spirit dwells in us.

But when he appears again, when he finally appears, he will complete the good work he has begun, and we will finally, and forever, be without sin. We really will be just like Jesus.

So until then, rather than looking only at the world situation, let us instead fix our eyes on Jesus, who is not only the author, but also the perfecter of our faith. Because it is by looking to Jesus that we are saved.

Soli deo gloria.

———————————————————

On Sunday evening we heard news of the first tentative steps that might be made towards an easing of the lockdown restrictions. But there is a long way to go. We are already, perhaps, moving slowly in the right direction but we are not yet there.

The passage in 1 John above highlights again for me the theological idea of the ‘already’ and the ‘not yet’, an idea that I have, over the years, found hugely helpful.

We live in the tension between the ages – that is we are saved, we are being saved and we will be saved – the kingdom is coming, has come and will come. We are not yet fully what we will be, not yet fully where we are heading – but we are on our way.

But, unlike the national situation in which we now find ourselves, tentatively treading the uncertain path towards a complete lifting of restrictions, the fact that we will one day obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God [Romans 8:21] is absolutely guaranteed. Indeed, so certain is it that, though we do not yet experience it, we can consider it ours already.

God works by his Spirit, through his word – he has the power to create by his command. When he speaks, reality changes. He created the universe by a word of command. ‘God said let there be light and there was light’. Jesus raised Lazarus by a word of command. ‘Lazarus, come out ‘ and the dead man came out, alive. God’s word is so powerful and his promises are so sure that, there is a sense in which, when God promises something it becomes an instant reality. The promise is ‘already’ true, even though the full realisation of that promise is still ‘not yet’.

In the Bible, this idea of ‘the already and the not yet’, is a recurring theme. It is a very helpful concept which explains how God can declare something as true even when the current experiences of those he says those things to, may seem very different. Because there is nothing more true than what God says, because God’s promises are so certain and because God creates through what he says, when God declares something to be so, there is a sense in which it is simultaneously both ‘already’ true, even when it is ‘not yet’ true. The ‘already and the not yet’.

A process then follows by which what is true by God’s decree becomes true in actuality. A couple of examples may help.

Gideon for example is quivering in the wine press when God declares him to be a mighty warrior. Now if God says you are a mighty warrior you are a mighty warrior whatever you may feel. And yet Gideon is quivering in the wine press – he’s far from a mighty warrior. There then follows a process by which we see Gideon becoming just what God told him he was at the outset. At the time of God’s decree, Gideon was both already and not yet a mighty warrior – In time he became what he already was.

Similarly God renamed Abram as Abraham saying I have made you the father of a multitude of nations. The only problem was Abraham was not at that point the father of many nations, on account of his being childless. Once again however there followed a process by which we see Abraham becoming what God had already declared him to be. Abraham became what he already was.

So why is this important for us?

Because the same is true for us.

God declares us to be a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation. And so we are – the only problem is that each and every one of us is also far from holy, we are all those who continue to sin. But if you are someone who, like me, is all too conscious of their indwelling sinfulness and oftentimes weak faith, someone who sometimes finds themselves asking ‘Can I really be a Christian?’, take heart, whilst not encouraging complacency, I would suggest that we are simply ‘not yet what we already are’!

God has declared us to be right with him. We are ‘justified’ solely because of what Jesus has done for us. And if God says you are not guilty, then you really are ‘Not guilty’. God treats us just as if we had never sinned and just as if we had always obeyed. We are righteous, acceptable before God now – because he says we are. And yet, at the same time, we are still sinners. Martin Luther was right. He had an expression ‘simul Justus et peccator’ – meaning we are both just and sinful at the same time.

Counted righteous already, we are now in the process of becoming what God already declares us to be. That is the road map that we are on. We are being sanctified. Every one of us will die as a sinner, one who sins – but if we are Christians, if our Faith is in what Christ has done for us, we will die as justified sinners, ones who, though they continue to sin, have, none the less, begun the process of sanctification – that process by which we become more like Jesus. And God will complete the good work he has begun in us – because he has promised to – and one day, on the day of Jesus Christ we will rise again with a perfect resurrection body. Then, and only then, we will fully be what God already declares us to be today.

We will have become what we already are. All restrictions will then have been lifted and, since the Son will have set us free, we will be free indeed’ [John 8:36]

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