The Already But Not Yet
My wife and I attended different universities and as such we had a three-and-half-year long-distance relationship. This was before FaceTime and texting, before webcams were built into computers, and before any webcam you could buy would actually upload and transmit in high definition. But, nevertheless, we bought webcams for our laptops so that we could see each other when we had time to talk. It made us feel closer than just talking on the phone; we could kind of see each other, through pixels, and it was almost like being together. The pixilated webcam chats were just a shadow of what it was like to actually be together; it was good enough in the interim, but it really couldn’t compare to actually being together.
“These are a shadow of the things that were to come; the reality, however, is found in Christ.” (Colossians 2:17)
“The old system under the law of Moses was only a shadow, a dim preview of the good things to come, not the good things themselves….” (Hebrews 10:1)
“This means that anyone who belongs to Christ has become a new person. The old life is gone; a new life has begun!” (2 Corinthians 5:17)
These verses all point to this idea of the already but not yet. We have been made new in Christ, but our world is but a shadow of things to come—God’s kingdom has not yet come. I’ve heard this concept of the already but not yet preached about, and there are plenty of articles that discuss the idea, but my struggle is the potential of this idea to become a crutch on which to lean our failures. We are made new and are called to live by the Spirit—the question is, how diligently are we trying to live by the Spirit? When we examine this concept in Scripture, we find that this is truly a piece of encouragement, not an excuse.
“Jesus answered, ‘My Kingdom is not an earthly kingdom. If it were, my followers would fight to keep me from being handed over to the Jewish leaders. But my Kingdom is not of this world.’” (John 18:36)
The disciples and most of Jesus' followers expected his kingdom to be on earth when he was with them around 2,000 years ago, but his kingdom is not an earthly one—his kingdom has not been established here, yet. In Revelation 21, John wrote of seeing the "new heaven and the new earth." Jesus will have His kingdom here, just not yet.
“And furthermore, it is not angels who will control the future world we are talking about. For in one place the Scriptures say,
‘What are mere mortals that you should think about them, or a son of man that you should care for him? Yet for a little while you made them a little lower than the angels and crowned them with glory and honor. You gave them authority over all things.’
Now when it says ‘all things,’ it means nothing is left out. But we have not yet seen all things put under their authority. What we do see is Jesus, who for a little while was given a position ‘a little lower than the angels’; and because he suffered death for us, he is now ‘crowned with glory and honor.’ Yes, by God’s grace, Jesus tasted death for everyone.” (Hebrews 2:5-9)
As the writer of Hebrews points out, “we have not yet seen all the things under their authority.” We are living in the not yet.
“Dear friends, we are already God’s children, but he has not yet shown us what we will be like when Christ appears. But we do know that we will be like him, for we will see him as he really is.” (1 John 3:2)
It is here in 1 John 3 that we find the best example and explanation of this concept. Before we get excited and start to think, well okay, I'm not as bad as I used to be, but I can see here I won’t be perfect on Earth, so it's okay if I continue to sin because no one is perfect, that is not at all what the Bible is teaching here. Six verses later John writes,
“But when people keep on sinning, it shows that they belong to the devil, who has been sinning since the beginning. But the Son of God came to destroy the works of the devil. Those who have been born into God’s family do not make a practice of sinning, because God’s life is in them. So they can’t keep on sinning, because they are children of God. So now we can tell who are children of God and who are children of the devil. Anyone who does not live righteously and does not love other believers does not belong to God.” (1 John 3:8-10)
As if John knew people would be looking for any excuse to sin, he directly and blatantly addresses the issue of constant sin. If you are part of God’s family, you do not make a practice of sinning. If you deliberately continue to sin, John says it shows you belong to the devil, so this idea of the already but not yet is far from an excuse, but it is meant as encouragement. If a marathon runner just finished her 24th mile and someone on the sideline shouted, “only two miles to go!” that would not be an excuse for the runner to give up or run slower. It is encouragement: you're not there yet, but the end is soon. This is our encouragement to continue to live righteously: knowing that we are made new, but we are not yet what we will be like when Christ appears. Resist the excuses for your sin and rest in the encouragement that we are not there yet, but the end is soon, and what a glorious end it will be!
May the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all.