“See how great a love the Father has bestowed on us, that we would be called children of God; and we such we are. For this reason the world does not know us, because it did not know Him. Beloved, now we are children of God, and it has not appeared as yet what we will be. We know that when He appears, we will be like Him, because we will see Him just as He is. And everyone who has this hope fixed on Him purifies himself, just as He is pure.”
John’s first letter is a study in point and counterpoint, including between the “already” and the “not yet”. In 1 John 3:6 we read that “whoever abides in Him [Jesus] does not sin,” and yet in in 1:8 we read, “”If we say we have no sin we deceive ourselves.”
In 1:7 we see that we have continual cleansing from sin, and yet in 1:9 we are told that confession of sin is part of life. In 2:27 we read that because of the anointing “you do not need that anyone teach you,” and yet John is obviously writing a letter of teaching.
So there is a lot of dynamic tension in this letter, but it really is not unlike other NT letters in this sense, its difference, when contrasted with Paul, may lie in the orchestration. Perhaps for this reason it can be a bit more difficult for people to wrestle with, though I don’t know how well people wrestle with Paul either. While John’s “already – not yet” and “point-counterpoint” is woven from chapter to chapter, Paul structures some of his letters to develop at length first his point, and then goes at length to develop his counterpoint. That is, he works with the “already” at length, and then the “not yet” at length. While this varies from letter to letter, consider the structure of Ephesians.
In the first chapter of Ephesians Paul works with the already, moving from before the foundation of the world, through redemption, the giving of the Holy Spirit, and the fullness of Christ in His church. In Chapter Two he drops back and portrays us when we were dead in sins, then shows our coming to life in Christ, then culminates his trajectory once again in the people of God as the habitation of God in the Spirit, the holy Temple of God. Then in Chapter Three he once gain drops back in the ages and cosmos and the mystery of God and works through God’s purpose in the church, arriving at a crescendo of prayer and praise.
After the above, predominated with this is who we “already are in Christ, this is who Christ is in us”, he transitions in Chapter Four into the “not yet”, dealing with how we knock up against each other in life, with obedience in daily life, with our relationship to the world, the flesh, and the devil. The lines of demarcation between the “already – not yet” are fairly clear in Ephesians. Yes, there is pretty much an overlay, a transition zone, in all of this wherever it’s found in the Bible – there are those moments of the sun rising, those areas of semi-light, after all, we do see through a glass darkly and the sun doesn’t rise in an instant.
In Romans Paul reverses his Ephesian structure; rather than moving from the already to the not yet, he begins with the not yet and transitions to the already. From 1:1 through 5:11 the move is from being sinners in need of forgiveness to being those who are justified in Christ and who have peace with God. In 5:12 – 21 we move from Adam to Christ. In Chapter Six we move from “sin” as a principle, an animating force, to being dead to sin and alive to God. In Chapter Seven we move from living under the accusation and condemnation of the Law to being dead to the Law and married to Christ. In Romans Eight we move from the flesh to the Spirit and from there into the crescendo of 8:28 – 39 with its strong emphasis on the “already” in verses 29 and 30.
Chapters 12 – 16 in Romans then deal with working out the “already – not yet” in the life of the Body of Christ, the Church (leaving off for the moment the enigmatic chapters 9 – 11).
People, pastors, elders, theologians – in other words, “humans”, seem to have a propensity to focus on either the “already” or the “not yet” and leave the other alone. But the Bible calls us to live in holy tension, affirming who we are while at the very same time acknowledging that we are “in process”, we are “working out our own salvation with fear and trembling” knowing that it is “God who is at work in us” (Philippians 2:12 – 13).
This is about Jesus Christ and about God’s great love for us in Christ. This is about not who we are but about who He is. This is not about what we do or don’t do, but about the perfect and complete work that Jesus has done. If we gravitate toward ourselves we will fall into looking at either the “already” or the “not yet” and leave the other pretty much alone, but if we behold our Lord and Savior we will see His work of cosmic redemption from the beginning to the end and become accustomed to living in holy tension between the way things are and the way they shall be, the way we are and the way we shall be. Our identity does not change, we are saints in Christ having left Adam, being delivered from the first man (fallen humanity), now we are the children of God, and such we are!. However, we are also learning just what it means to be a son or daughter of the living God – and one thing we must learn…it is not about our welfare or our blessing…it is about taking up the cross and following Jesus and laying our lives down for our brothers and sisters. We cannot live in the “already” without the Cross of Christ – He is the Lamb slain before the foundation of the world – the “already” is rooted in the sacrificial Lamb, and the “not yet” can only be worked out in and through the Cross, the altar on which the Lamb was slain.