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.