As a follower of Christ, doctrine and theology have been important to me, particularly in the most recent decade of my life as both a means to better understand and articulate what God has done for me through Jesus Christ and fan my zeal for the Lord. The concept of “already but not yet” has been a great help in gaining a more full perspective of God’s story and, most importantly, His plan of salvation for His people. I first encountered the concept in my years interning for Young Life immediately following college. My understanding has changed much and continues to expand.
In reference to the “already but not yet” dimension of Pauline theology on salvation history, Thomas Schreiner writes,
“When we speak of salvation history, we think of the fulfillment of God’s saving plan and promises. The fulfillment of God’s plan in history is announced in the Pauline gospel. The promises made to Israel in the Old Testament have now become a reality in and through the ministry, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. God’s saving promises are already a reality for the believer in Jesus Christ…On the other hand, believers still await the consummation of salvation history…” (Schreiner, Thomas R. Paul, Apostle of God’s Glory in Christ: A Pauline Theology. Downers Grove, IL: IVP, 2006)
On a more personal scale, we see the concept of “already but not yet” in our struggle with sin. Christ’s death and resurrection has cancelled the power of sin. He defeated death, taking away its sting. Those found in Christ, are freed from sin’s bondage, united to Him in His death, and made alive with Christ. Paul lays this out clearly in Romans 6:
“For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his. We know that our old self was crucified with him in order that the body of sin might be brought to nothing, so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin. For one who has died has been set free from sin. (vv. 5-7)
But thanks be to God, that you who were once slaves of sin have become obedient from the heart to the standard of teaching to which you were committed, and having been set free from sin, have become slaves of righteousness.” (vv. 17-18)
Yet, while in a real and true sense Christians are set free from sin and made right before God (justification) through Christ’s blood on the cross and resurrection, we know in a very real sense how each of us continue to struggle with sin daily. We have “already” been set free, but are “not yet” free of all sin. We will not fully and completely realize sinlessness this side of heaven, but each and every day, the Lord is making us more like Jesus (sanctification).
I appreciate the study the small group leaders at my church are going through together. For the past several weeks we have been working through How People Change by Timothy S. Lane and Paul David Trip. As a group we are learning the Biblical model for change and applying it to our lives so that we can better minister to those under our care. Over the final few weeks, we will be engaged in our own “Personal Growth Project” applying the biblical model of change to an area of sin in our lives. I highly recommend this resource.