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Already But Not Yet

The phrase sounds self-contradictory. But I think it helps to capture what the Bible tells us about the forgiving rescue and kingdom of God.

Many of us would say that we already know Christ, but not yet as we will in the future. The Apostle Paul teaches us to think this way in his famous love chapter when he tells us that now we know in part, but someday we will know completely (1Cor 13:12).

According to the New Testament, those of us who have entrusted ourselves to Christ can speak with certainty about salvation in three tenses.

Past– Through faith in Christ, we have been saved from the eternal penalty of sin.

Present– To the extent that we surrender our hearts to Christ, we are being saved from the power of sin.

Future– Someday we will be saved completely from the presence of all that is contrary to the goodness of God.

The same is true of our relationship to the kingdom of God that we discussed in our last post.

There are different phases to the rule of Christ in the lives of those who have entrusted themselves to him:

Past– God has already brought us into the kingdom of Christ. Paul says in his letter to the Colossians, “For he has rescued us from the one who rules in the kingdom of darkness, and he has brought us into the Kingdom of his dear Son” (Col 1:13).

Present– God is teaching us to live under the rule and influence of his kingdom (Romans 14:17).

Future– The full spiritual and physical realization of the kingdom of God will happen only at the end of this age (Matt 25:34; Acts 1:6-7).

This is one reason I believe it is so important to see that when the Apostle Paul says in Galatians 5:21 that those who practice the sins of the flesh cannot inherit the kingdom of God, he is not focused on qualifying for a future heaven. He is making the point that if we give ourselves to the control of our own flesh rather than the Spirit of God, we will not be able to enjoy the influence and rule of Christ in our hearts, as we wait for the kingdom of God to someday be revealed in all of its fullness.

Although Paul was making our present enjoyment of the kingdom dependent on whether we keep in step with the Spirit (Gal 5:22-25), he was not threatening the people of God with a loss of their salvation when he said, “Do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived. Neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor homosexuals, nor sodomites, nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners will inherit the kingdom of God.”

Paul went on to immediately say, “And such were some of you. But you were washed, but you were sanctified, but you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus and by the Spirit of our God” (1Cor 6:9-11).

So was Paul saying that real members of the family of God cannot fall into such sin? No, he was saying just the opposite. He was writing to people who, while being in Christ, were trying to justify their slide back into the ways of their Greek and Roman culture. Paul was urging them to see that they were hurting themselves and one another, and not reflecting well on the name of Christ in the process.

I think this “already but not yet” way of thinking about our relationship to God is so important that I hope that we can keep talking about it together. If you think I’m misrepresenting the words of Paul and the New Testament please don’t hesitate to say so here.

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14 Responses to “Already But Not Yet”

  1. dep7547 says:

    What you have written seems quite accurate to me. The bible is clear that the only unforgivable sin is blasphemy against the Holy Spirit and in God’s infinite mercy, this sin is not clearly defined–lest Satan have something too powerful to tempt us with. If the Jews considered Jesus to be blasphemous because he said he was the son of God, I can only assume that blasphemy against the Holy Spirit would be calling oneself the Holy Spirit,which for fear of being labeled a lunatic, I would assume that people would refrain from saying so.

    I have also heard that this unforgivable sin means rejecting or disbelieving Jesus’ calling, which would make sense as accepting him as savior is the only requirement for salvation. Since it is impossible to know everything about God while we are flesh, it is only logical to conclude that we will not be fully ready in this life. I would, in fact, deceive myself if I thought that on the day of judgment I could have anything more to say than, “I trusted in Jesus as you have commanded. I have merely done my duty. It is up to him to present me before you now.”

    I suppose one could look at such a statement as some sort of preparation; however, I am not necessarily prepared for what he will have to say of me! I do not believe it is possible to be all ready, already.

  2. poohpity says:

    I do not think you have misrepresented the scripture…

    I think this present relationship with the Lord, is like how you relate to neighbors. Some you just wave at and say Hi. Some you sit and talk to for a few minutes and know a little about them but nothing deep. Some you get to know so well that they include you for the joys and disappointments that each go through. You really want to share in their lives and you want them to share in yours. You really want to get up close and personal, it is referred to as an intimate relationship. I believe it is the same with the Lord, some what to just sit in church then it is over. Some go to church and to a bible study and leave their knowledge of Him up to someone else. Then there are those who desire before their day starts to be in the presence of God to get to know Him and how He works intimately, they also go to church, bible studies and try to touch someone everyday with His love because they themselves have been touched.

    Those referred to last are the ones that are allowed a glimpse of His kingdom on earth as it is in heaven and crave to someday be with Him in His fullness. Hopefully we all understand that He Himself wants a very intimate relationship with us all. There is more than just a wave.

  3. pegramsdell says:

    We are not in heaven yet, we have already attained the kingdom of heaven here. We can have peace, joy,….etc, right now here on earth through the Holy Spirit.
    It is not a matter of food or drink, but peace and joy.

    When a prince goes out of his kingdom, he represents his country and has certain priviledges.
    He is protected because of who he is and he still has authority even though he is not home.

    Jesus is the prince of peace and when He ascended into heaven, he gave us His peace. “My peace I leave with you”.

    It’s like having the kingdom of heaven inside us wherever we go.

  4. CoCo Noelle says:

    I appreciate your clarification of issues pertaining to Christian living in the three tenses you mention. I have heard differing theories like: “Once saved always saved” or “Depart from me for I never knew you”, and I see merits in both arguments, but I still am not certain of either.

    I do believe Christ-followers must acknowledge and accept the dichotomy of their ability to be both sinner and saint as they press onward, and I know this is often unpalatable to both the believer and unbeliever, but so it is. We who believe are not perfect and our goal should be to remember the process as a vital means to get there. The caveat is our focus on spiritual perfectionism soon brews self-righteousness.

    If, however, we keep our eyes on Jesus, there is a method that will always bring success: His way + His timing = His will.

    My prayer today is that God lets us see the truth of the whole of who we (the good, the bad and the ugly) and that He provides a way for us to deal accordingly with what we must, so that His Glory will shine through. If, we get a little closer to perfection in that process well so be it!

  5. PWS says:

    Mart, thank you for another thought provoking topic.


    There are times that the plain sense of scripture seems to make no sense. In those cases we must look to other scripture to help us understand the truth of what the author, by the Spirit, is telling us.

    In this case however, it does seem that Paul is stating that persons exibiting certain behaviors are not going to be part of the Kingdom. This sends off red flags in our minds. Why? Because of people: People that we have known, perhaps even ourselves. We think, “But that person is a Christian. And yet I’ve seen them engage in these “black list” behaviors. Therefore, the scriptures must mean something else.” I believe that if we look at salvation with our heart rather than our mind we may find an answer to this “dilema” that Paul raises.

    Salvation? Saved from what? The answer can’t be shouted loud enough! SIN!! We are sinners, slaves to sin. The more that we understand the holiness of God, the more that we will fully appreciate what God has saved us from. It is this very truth that Paul is writing about. He is not giving a list of sins to avoid so that you will “make it into the Kingdom”. Instead, he is merely reminding his readers of sins that their culture was full of and that some of them had just come out of. Paul is not stating that believers will NEVER engage in these behaviors, but that they have been saved FROM sin and only saved people will be in the Kingdom. John echoes this sentiment when he writes in I John that true believers will not habitually sin. Christians still struggle with sin. But it IS a struggle. The key is that they will not HABITUALLY sin. David, a man after God’s own heart, struggled. But when faced with his sin, what did he do? He didn’t shrug off his sin. Instead he fell on his face and repented. This is the heart response of one who understands sin and God’s holiness.

    The good news through all of this is that we CAN BE SAVED from sin. But remember that salvation from sin is progressive. Over time, our fight with sin changes.

    One who is saved:

    1) Has been saved from the penalty of sin (PAST)
    2) Is saved from the power of sin (PRESENT)
    3) Will be saved from the presence of sin (FUTURE)

  6. desert rose says:

    The unrighteous, would be those not made right with God. Your topic would take us to I John, Chapter 1. If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves. I John was written to believers. We are going to fall into sin and it is important for us to live close to God so we can identify the devil working to pull us down.

    Being a believer is a continuous process of living “in the Spirit”, being “led by the Spirit” and only God knows the desires of the heart. More importantly, it is imperative that we have the ‘love of the Spirit.’

    A believer will not have the “peace of God” while living in the flesh. However, I do know professing believers who have been living in sin, for a period of time and they have never repented.

    The devil cannot take a true believer to hell, but he certainly does work on us to discredit our faith and testimony. Perhaps, we who are stronger in the faith should be more aware of helping those who are weak. Building up the faith and having the gift of encouragment and love.

    May God burden our hearts to pray fervently for each other and for the lost.

  7. igetbored says:

    This is all pretty good stuff everyones written here. The only thing I have is a question. How many times will God forgive us for commiting the same sin? What if we are truly sorry for our sins but we can’t stop commiting them? Does this mean one can’t inherit the kingdom of God?

  8. daisymarygoldr says:

    Thanks! This has certainly cleared all confusion and created additional thoughts as well…

    In 1 Cor 6: 9-11, Paul is not only reminding the Corinthian saints (and Christians) of the grace of God that saved them from their sinful past (Eph 2:3) but is also exhorting them to avoid reverting back to that same vomit or mire. This also provides a ray of hope to an erring believer or children of believers to repent and turn back from their sins irrespective of their biological orientation of being ‘born this way’. The transforming power of the cross can change every drunkard(smoker), homosexual, adulterer and sinner from their sinful nature. By stating the sanctifying grace of Christ, Paul is emphatically ruling out every provision for the license to sin.

    However, as followers of Christ we cannot judge a backslidden fellow believer lest we’ll be judged by the same standard and we cannot be an accuser of the brethren either. Parents can only hope and wait in the Lord for the return of their prodigals. When it comes to our own individual selves we are assured of the ‘not so cool’ disciplining (Heb 12:3-11) of our heavenly father in order to make us yield peaceful fruits of righteousness which is the kingdom of God (Rom 14:17)!

  9. poohpity says:

    If we truly accept His forgiveness there are no ifs. He forgives us 70 times 7 for the same sin in the same day or hour. No ifs about it. If you accept what He did for you His love covers your and my sins and yes you do inherit the Kingdom of God. We have to remember His ways are not our ways, His thoughts are not our thoughts. IF you really want to continue to sin then go for it but every time we do we hurt someone. We live under grace not the law.

  10. overcomer says:

    I have been a believer for 35 years and I am just beginning to realise the enormity of our salvation – especially when it comes to never being able to lose it. It blows my mind that I could actually live a totally sinful and selfish life and still be saved because I really do trust in the blood of the Lord Jesus Christ to save me. But of course because I am saved when I do sin I feel really terrible. I really enjoyed sex drugs and rock and roll before I was saved. But on the occasions when I have slid back into sin it is like going back to my own vomit. It looks really good from a distance but when I get up close and personal sin stinks. Salvation means you can never really enjoy sin fully again. There is always that sense of, “ I know this is worthless”.
    My main sins now are more attitudes than “doing sin”. Living my own selfish life is the biggest sin in my life. The bottom line is “Time” and who we give it to. Whether we spend it in sin or in serving God and worshipping Him.

  11. overcomer says:

    Just thinking on this some more and it seems to me that a lot of the confusion is engendered by preachers. In order to maintain control and order in the church certain scriptures like this one are used to control behaviour. The truth is seen to be too free and radical and there is always the danger of people abusing it. Far better and safer to keep the congregation under the law. I know that is a terrible thing to say but here in England I have seen it all my life. Believers who should be flying on eagles wings are still crawling amongst the shrubbery.

  12. sjd says:

    It is difficult for me to somehow see something God has done be undone by man. God has chosen us, predestined us, made us new creations, adopted us, redeemed us, sealed us with His Spirit, indwelt us, begun a good work in us and will finish it, made us living stones being built into His Temple, made alive from being dead, translated us into His Kingdom… These certainly seem to be permanent facts for those who have repented(truly understood their depravity and turned from it), and placed their faith and trust in our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ and His finished work. For those who daily are trusting in Him, seeking after Him I can give great assurance of their salvation even if sin is still presenting it’s ugly head in their lives.

    For those who are living in sin as noted in the verses above(Galatians 5:21 and I Corinthians 6:9-10)I can not reassure them as to their salvation and place in the Kingdom no matter what story they give me of walking an aisle, or praying a prayer, or raising a hand. I John gives us ways of being reassured of our salvation(I John 5:13)throughout the book, including if we are not continuing in sin(I John 3:4-10). Anyone living in sin as above needs to be treated as one that has not understood their sin and the holiness and grace of God. We approach them with love and humility, but we must approach them.

    I believe that for those who persevere (a fruitful life), there is evidence of their faith or new life (James “faith without works is dead”, Mark 4:20 the “good soil”), and as they are persevering/living is step with the Spirit, we can comfort/reassure them with Scripture.

    I can not say for sure who is saved or not, but if I see someone who appears as if they are lost, I need to approach them. Hopefully you do not bypass someone that appears lost in the desert, or at sea, or anywhere for that matter. Jesus came to seek and save the lost. We are now His body to let Him do the same through us. Jesus is not willing that any should be lost, wanting all to enjoy His Kingdom now and future.
    As we sin as believers we break the enjoyment of that Kingdom fellowship, but thanks be to God we can confess and return to that enjoyment.

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