Living The Tension Between Already And Not Yet
The Christian life is living in between this gap of ALREADY being fully a child of God, ALREADY forgiven and empowered by the Holy Spirit, ALREADY beginning our forever, eternal life as a Christ-follower AND AT THE SAME TIME NOT YET glorified, NOT YET in Heaven, NOT YET fully the man or woman that God has created us to become. On this side of eternity we are already a Christian, but not yet as we will become. We already can sense what eternity with Jesus will mean, but not yet see it perfectly. There is a tension between the reality of where we are and what we are NOW and the future reality of what we will become.
John talks about this already and not yet tension…
“Dear friends, now we are children of God, and what we will be has not yet been made known. But we know that when Christ appears, we shall be like him, for we shall see Him as He is.” 1 John 3:2
This is the tension of the Christ-follower on this side of eternity. We are ALREADY children of God. Both John and Paul make this already, right now principle clear. Yet the people we will become as glorified, saved, perfected humanity has not yet been made known. So how do we live in this tension between the already and the not yet?
We see a cycle of three verbs that should describe our living in this tension.
#1 - We ___FOCUS___ on who we are becoming.
“Not only so, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption to sonship, the redemption of our bodies.” Romans 8:23
Why should we groan inwardly? Because the current state of affairs is entirely unsatisfactory. We know what God has created to become. God has given us His Holy Spirit to make it possible for us to do what He asks. And yet we find ourselves mucking it up. We are spiritual beings filled with God’s Holy Spirit and yet, for now, we also remain in the flesh. We do have a choice to sin or not to sin, yet we find ourselves sometimes making the wrong choice. And we groan inwardly!
Notice what Paul does NOT write. Oh well. You gave it a good try. It just must not be for you. Maybe you thought God was on your side. Maybe you thought God saved you. Maybe you thought you could become a different person. Guess you were wrong. Might as well quit. Give up.
NO! That is exactly the opposite of “groan inwardly.” We groan inwardly because we do NOT give up. We do NOT quit. Rather, we focus on the man or woman that God created us to become. We focus on God’s love for us - so much so that He gave up His Son for us. If God thinks it is possible for me to become this changed and empowered human, then who am I to give up on God?
After all, God also gave us Christ’s Holy Spirit! We “… who have the first fruits of the Spirit” do not quit. We may groan but we do not lose the focus of what God is doing inside of us! Notice how very different this concept is than the idea of God simply “zapping” us into Christianity.
No! There is an effort! There is cooperation between us and God! There is striving. There is focus. (Again, just to be clear, not a striving to become a Christian, but a striving to become the man or woman in Christ that God calls us to become!)
Paul perfectly describes this groaning, this focus in Philippians 3:13-14.
“I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.” Philippians 3:13-14
We have the picture of the runner running his race with his eyes fixed on his goal. Every effort is focused on the goal. He is straining toward what is ahead. No give up! No quitting! Focus! Pressing on! Winning the prize. And not just any prize. Not a man created prize. The prize of our eternity with God! God Himself has called me. God Himself is calling you. Heavenward! Not alone. But in Christ Jesus. With Jesus’ Holy Spirit!
Before we move on from this FOCUS - STRAINING AHEAD idea, we need to address this part of the verse that talks about waiting eagerly for our adoption to sonship. What is that all about? I thought Paul already wrote up in verse 15 that we are already children of God. That indeed God’s very Holy Spirit testifies to this fact of it already being accomplished. So why now in verse 23 are we reading about waiting eagerly for our adoption?
There are two concepts here I want to address, and BOTH OF THEM require our focus now our straining ahead to what is to become. First, we have the concept of TIME - completely a creation of God, Who Himself is outside of time, yet we still live within this TIME God has created. It is entirely possible that in God’s sense of OUTSIDE TIME something has already happened as far as He is concerned and yet we have not yet experienced it. And so we sense the tension between already being children of God (to what GOD the Holy Spirit) already testifies and to still waiting eagerly for it it to come… IN TIME.
Second, there is the remainder of the verse 23, “… the redemption of our bodies.” Paul is not only writing about looking forward to our adoption to sonship but also about “the redemption of our bodies.” Isn’t it entirely possible that we are already children of God, as we discover in verse 15 and yet… at the same time… have not yet experienced the redemption of our bodies?
YES! This is exactly what we learn in 1 Corinthians 15…
“In a flash… we will be changed. For the perishable must clothe itself with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality.” 1 Cor. 15:52-53
So for now - in our perishable and mortal bodies - NOT YET imperishable and immortal, in other words not yet glorified, not yet redeemed, we are still sons and daughters of God. And as we wait eagerly we groan inwardly. We focus! Not only that but also…
#2 - We ___HOPE___ for who we are becoming.
“For in this hope we were saved. But hope that is seen is no hope at all. Who hopes for what they already have? But if we hope for what we do not yet have, we wait for it patiently.” Romans 8:24-25
We are not naturally good at hoping. At least not in our physical, fleshy humanity. We are good at wanting! Always wanting! We think we are good at having. But we are not. When we have what we think we want, we only want more. It becomes an insatiable thirst of wanting wanting wanting that is never quenched.
Hoping is entirely different. Hoping is based upon reason and experience. Even when we cannot see it. Especially when we cannot se it. This hope is described perfectly in Romans 8. We see it in the beginning of verse 24, “For in this hope…” What is “this hope?” It is what is described in the previous verse - our adoption to sonship and the redemption of our bodies.” It is hope exactly because it describes this place in time we find ourselves, between the already and the not yet. We are now already children of God - to which the Holy Spirit of God Himself testifies to us about - and not yet fully redeemed in our physical sense of having an imperishable, immortal, glorified body fully capable of living out a forever life forever pleasing God! This we still hope for! And we wait patiently for it. We strive towards it. We focus on it. But there is also a patient waiting and hoping towards what we will become someday.
What is the difference between the never ceasing wanting of the flesh and the forever patient hoping to become who God has created us to become? The Holy Spirit! Not only does He testify to our adoption in verse 15 and 16, but He also empowers us in our weakness…
“In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness.” Romans 8:26a
What we are incapable of doing in our present condition, God can and will accomplish for us with His Holy Spirit living within us. We should be living in this tension between the already and the not yet. In any other category of life, this would lead to dissatisfaction and frustration. But not so in the Christian life. We maintain focus. We maintain hope. Why? Because God Himself - in the Third Person of the Trinity - has chosen to live within us. He gives us focus. He gives us hope. He gives us strength. He “helps us in our weakness.”
How does this work exactly? Just from a practical and pragmatic standpoint, how do we maintain focus and hope and purpose when we could easily become confused, disappointed in both ourselves and in God? What do we do when we’ve blown it? How do we recover? How does God keep us as His children, when we have done everything conceivable to live the life of the prodigal son or daughter?
I’m going to give you the answer - right here and right now. But I’m going to forewarn you that you will not like my answer. It is not the easy answer you long for. This time it does not come down to do this or that or follow these easy steps and you too can live focused and hopeful.
#3 - God ___INTERCEDES___ for who we are becoming.
“We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit Himself intercedes for us through wordless groans.” Romans 8:26b
Unlike the first two points, this one does not begin with us. Rather it begins with God. “The Spirit Himself intercedes for us…” I cannot fully describe this. In some sense, it is the mystery of our Christian faith. It is one of the reason why we call this a faith. We cannot explain everything.
I can share this advice with you… it comes in the form of prayer. Do you see that at the beginning? “We do not know what we ought to pray for…” Prayer is always a pretty good beginning! We want to pray. We need to pray. But we don’t know what we ought to pray for. Nevertheless we are in a prayerful attitude. We are in a humble, prayerful state of mind.
Remember that prayer is a two-way street. We not only pray with our praises and requests to God, but we also listen fervently. Sometimes we forget that prayer is also about hearing God’s voice to us. This is especially true when we are in a troubled place in our souls. When we are in the place of doubt. When we are living in a place of failure and disappointment. When the last thing in the world that we want to do is come before God and just listen.
But it is absolutely needful… for every human who is serious about this Christ relationship! It is why we call this idea of prayer a “discipline” - something we do because we must, whether we feel like it or not. And it is why we must establish for ourselves safeguards of people and appointments that regularly bring us into God’s Presence - like a morning Quiet Time, or the regularity of attending church services, or the meeting together with other serious Christ followers who really know us and meet together with us and remind us of our commitments.
These are the times that allow for the “searching” in verse 27 -
“And He Who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for God’s people in accordance with the will of God.” Romans 8:27
Conclusion: How about you this morning? How are you navigating this Christian life between the already and the not yet? If we are honest with ourselves, most of us live our lives firmly planted with both our feet on one side rather than both.
If you are firmly planted on the not yet side, maybe you need to take a close look at the reality of your life here on Earth. Maybe you take your failures and your sins too lightly and need to spend more time in confession and repentance.
On the other hand if you are have come to the conclusion that you just really cannot live the Christian life because you blow it all the time, then you need to be reminded of the importance of your focus and your hope and the fact that God is on your side and intervening for you!
Already! Not Yet! Both a perfect description of where we are right now.