Gospel-based living must be understood in the context of “Already (In between) and Not yet.”
This way of seeing things will protect us from perplexing misunderstandings corrected by the apostle Paul in Romans 5-8.
The three parts (Already, In between and Not yet) follow the longstanding Justification, Sanctification and Glorification. A Biblical understanding regards all three as a one-time gift received from God by grace (Romans 3:24-26; 8:29-30). But we experience this gift sequentially based on redemption accomplished and final redemption of our bodies (Philippians 1:6; 3:20-21).
This will happen “each in turn: Christ, the first-fruits; then, when he comes, those who belong to him. Then the end will come, when he hands over the kingdom to God the Father after he has destroyed all dominion, authority and power. For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet. The last enemy to be destroyed is death. For he ‘has put everything under his feet.’ Now when it says that ‘everything’ has been put under him, it is clear that this does not include God himself, who put everything under Christ. When he has done this, then the Son himself will be made subject to him who put everything under him, so that God may be all in all” (I Corinthians 15:23-28).
Three Dimensions of life
- Already: We are In Christ – Justification: Justified before God through Christ (Romans 5:1-2). Redeemed, forgiven, saved, reconciled children of God.
- In Between: We are being made like Christ – Sanctification (II Corinthians 3:18). Progressive transformation into God’s image in this life.
- Not Yet: We will be like Christ – Glorification: the redemption of our bodies (Philippians 3:20-21; I John 3:1-2).
A Closer look
I. ALREADY - Four great provisions (Romans 5:1-2)
“Already…” God has made four great provisions for us through Christ and when I lose sight of them, I easily slip into a performance-based approach to God. These provisions are presented in Romans 5:1-2
- Romans 5:1-2 – “Therefore, since we have been justified through faith (a one line summary of the whole argument of 1:18- 4:25), we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand.”
All four provisions belong to those who belong to Christ
- Justified: to be declared “innocent of all charges justly leveled against those who have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God” (see: Douglas Moo, Romans NICNT).
- Peace with God: This is not inner peace but being in a relationship of peace with God. This is the gift of reconciliation for powerless, ungodly, sinners, who are enemies of God. Our peace with God shines against the backdrop of hostility (5:6-10).
- Access: a continual enjoyment of God’s presence through Christ (cf. Hebrews 4:14-16).
- Grace: as a realm in which we stand (3:23-24) Grace reigns (5:21) we are under grace (6:14). (
A new posture and perspective: joyful confidence
In view of the great provisions that belong to us in Christ, we posture ourselves with or embrace a perspective of “Rejoicing/Boasting.” Our posture is one of joyful confidence in the provision of God in Christ — not in human achievement (Romans 3:27; cf. Jeremiah 9:23-24; Philippians 3:3-9). We take joy-filled pride in God’s gift of salvation with a hope-filled expectation of His final deliverance!
II. NOT YET
We take this posture based on the promise of future glory awaiting us. v.2- “We boast in the hope of the glory of God.” Our future is fixed in God’s gracious actions described with a rich array of terms: He (God) foreknew, predestined, called, justified, and glorified! These are identity markers for those who have come to Christ! These actions of God overcome all the pain and challenges that assault us in this life. So “…our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us (Romans 8:18). And “….in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us” (Romans 8:37).
Because of God’s gracious action for us: “we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers and sisters. And those he predestined, he also called; those he called, he also justified; those he justified, he also glorified” (Romans 8:28-30).
III. IN BETWEEN
Romans 5:3-4 “Not only so, but we also glory inour sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope.”
We also take a joyful, hope-focused view of our sufferings. Why? Because our struggles are not really that difficult? No! We posture ourselves this way because present suffering cannot terminate or “break the connection with” God’s glorious future He has planned for us! “I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us”(Romans 8:18).
- “No sooner has the Apostle pointed to ‘the glory of God,’ as a light shining afar to cheer the believer on his course, than he thinks of the contrast between that bright distance and the darkness that lies around him here.” (Gifford ). “It is probably to head off criticism of his teaching that Paul introduces the ‘problem’ of suffering. For (particularly) Jewish objectors would be likely to question Paul sharply about his affirmation that the Christian is enjoying ‘peace with God’ when that same Christian is facing illness, persecution, and difficulties of all kinds. Indeed, Christians themselves, then as today, were surely wondering about the reality of these blessings in the face of suffering. Characteristically, Paul takes an offensive posture. Not only do sufferings not overthrow the reality of these blessings, but they are themselves occasions for joyful boasting! The believer should boast ‘not only’ in the hope of the glory of God ‘but also’ in afflictions. This means not merely that we are to exult ‘in the midst of’ afflictions but that we are to exult ‘in’ the afflictions themselves: that is, to view them as a basis for further confidence in our redeemed status (D. Moo).
Make the connection: faith, hope and glory
When we disconnect our present struggles from what we already have in Christ and what we will have by God’s promise through Christ, this life becomes burdensome in a way notintended by God.
The key words of this experience in Christ are “faith” and “hope”– focused on “glory.” Romans 8:24 says it well, “For in this hope we were saved.”
- “Saved” is the definitive act of God in the past.
- “Hope” is our present posture based on the certainty of God’s future for us.
Neither death (Romans 5), nor sin (Romans 6), nor the Law (Romans 7), nor any other created thing (Romans 8:38-39) can separate us from God’s glorious future He has planned us to in love (Romans 8:29-30). More than that God is working all things together to this good (Romans 8:28).
But during the “in between,” faith and hope are words that shine in a context of seemingly insurmountable obstacles and circumstances of desperation (Hebrews 11; Romans 4:18-21).
- “…all the evil that the Christian experiences reflects the conflict between ‘this age,’ dominated by Satan, and ‘the age to come,’ to which the Christian has been transferred by faith. All suffering betrays the presence of the enemy and involves attacks on our relationship to Christ. If met with doubt in God’s goodness and promise, or bitterness toward others, or despair and even resignation, these sufferings can bring spiritual defeat to the believer. But if met with the attitude of “confidence and rejoicing” that Paul encourages here, these sufferings will produce those valuable spiritual qualities that Paul lists in vv. 3b-4.” (D. Moo)
- “Sufferings, rather than threatening or weakening our hope, as we might expect to be the case, will, instead, increase our certainty in that hope. Hope, like a muscle, will not be strong if it goes unused. It is in suffering that we must exercise with deliberation and fortitude our hope, and the constant reaffirmation of hope in the midst of apparently ‘hopeless’ circumstances will bring ever-deeper conviction of the reality and certainty of that for which we hope” (D. Moo).
Connecting our present sufferings to the already/not yet fortifies us with a continual reaffirmation of hope. But this fortification is the work of the Holy Spirit who fills our hearts with an awareness of God’s permeating and unalterable love (5:6; 8: 35-39). Yet the Holy Spirit also intensifies our awareness of incompleteness (8:23) and helps us in our weakness (8:26-27).
Life between: What does it look like?
We must be clear about what life looks like during the in between period. In Romans 8, we learn so much about it. Whatever it looks like, it’s built on three great truths:
- No condemnation is declared over those who are in Christ (Romans 8:1)
- We are set free from the law of sin and death in Christ (Romans 8:2)
- The righteous standard of the Law is fully satisfied for us through Christ (Romans 8:3-4)
After these truths, the apostle explains the crucial role of the Holy Spirit connecting the Already and the Not yet (Romans 8:5-16). Then he builds a deep connection between sonship (Romans 8:19,21,23,29), suffering and Glory (Romans 8:17,18,21,30). Postured in hope (Romans 8:20, 24-25), we (along with the sub-human creation) are waiting eagerly and patiently (Romans 8:19,23,25), groaning (Romans 8:22,23, 26) and weak (8:26). These are very real experiences in the “In Between.” We must make sure that new believers anticipate the reality of these challenges. But we also must teach them to view “present sufferings” in deep connection with the Already and the Not Yet.
“And we believers also groan, even though we have the Holy Spirit within us as a foretaste of future glory, for we long for our bodies to be released from sin and suffering. We, too, wait with eager hope for the day when God will give us our full rights as his adopted children, including the new bodies he has promised us. We were given this hope when we were saved” (Romans 8:23-24, NLT).
Note: The only change I would make to this translation is to stress that it is because the Holy Spirit has given us a foretaste of future glory that we groan in view of our painfully obvious incompleteness in this life. We sigh and it’s a sign of our spiritual health. I call this the blessing and burden of the indwelling Spirit.
The Holy Spirit provides what we need as we journey through the incompleteness and frailty of life between the already and not yet! The two primary means used by the Spirit for transforming us into the likeness of Jesus are the Spirit-inspired Scriptures (II Timothy 3:15-17) and the Spirit-inhabited community — the Church (I Corinthians 3:16; 12; Ephesians 4:11-16).
Bondage to decay: from dust to dust to glory
It is noteworthy and must be taught that our present reality of “bondage to decay” is a result of God’s curse against the earth and against us because of sin. The reason that “the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time” (8:22) is because “the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it” (8:20).
This is doubtless a reference to God’s judgment in connection with human rebellion against the Creator. To Adam, who was gifted with earth as his dwelling place and made its caretaker, God said, “Cursed is the ground because of you” (Genesis 3:17).
Yet God (who is rich in mercy) brought this curse against the sub-human creation “in hope that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the freedom and glory of the children of God” (8:20-21). So the apostle (by divine inspiration) postures the sub-human order with this profoundly amazing depiction: “the creation waits in eager expectation for the children of God to be revealed” (8:20).
Decaying, waiting, groaning and hoping
Creation is in the waiting, groaning and hoping phase as it endures under bondage to decay. And– “Not only so, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption to sonship, the redemption of our bodies. For in this hope we were saved…. But if we hope for what we do not yet have, we wait for it patiently” (8:23-25). For God’s redeemed people, this (in between) time is also one of decaying, waiting, groaning and hoping.
For God also brought judgment against the man himself, “By the sweat of your brow you will eat your food until you return to the ground, since from it you were taken; for dust you are and to dust you will return.” When Adam broke God’s law, he came under the curse “you will certainly die” (Genesis 2:17). And, “just as sin came into the world through one man, anddeath through sin, andso death spread to all men because all sinned” (Romans 5:12, ESV)
Under bondage to decay, we are waiting, groaning and hoping! Let’s make sure that we adequately teach each new believer about this reality! But never teach it (this theology of the fall) apart from the gospel!
- “Very truly I tell you, you will weep and mourn while the world rejoices. You will grieve, but your grief will turn to joy. A woman giving birth to a child has pain because her time has come; but when her baby is born she forgets the anguish because of her joy that a child is born into the world.So with you: Now is your time of grief, but I will see you again and you will rejoice, and no one will take away your joy” (John 16:20-22)
Dust I may be, but troubled dust
Struggling with what he felt to be the exasperating enigma of existence, Richard Holloway, (the frustrated Scottish agnostic) couldn’t escape some identification with this reality when he groaned, “This is my dilemma. I am dust and ashes, frail and wayward, a set of predetermined behavioral responses, … riddled with fear, beset with needs…the quintessence of dust and unto dust I shall return…. But there is something else in me…. Dust I may be, but troubled dust, dust that dreams, dust that that has strong premonitions of transfiguration, of a glory in store, a destiny prepared, an inheritance that will one day be my own…so my life is spread out in a painful dialectic between ashes and glory, between weakness and transfiguration. I am a riddle to myself, an exasperating enigma…the strange duality of dust and glory.”
Hope of the gospel
The gospel (good news) is our hope. Jesus broke the power of this curse for us! “Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us, for it is written: ‘Cursed is everyone who is hung on a tree.’ He redeemed us in order that the blessing given to Abraham might come to the Gentiles through Christ Jesus, so that by faith we might receive the promise of the Spirit” (Galatians 3:13-14).
“Since the children have flesh and blood, he too shared in their humanity so that by his death he might break the power of death… and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by their fear of death.” (Hebrews 2:14-15). For “God would not leave him among the dead or allow his body to rot (decay) in the grave. God raised Jesus from the dead… Now he is exalted to the place of highest honor in heaven, at God’s right hand. And the Father, as he had promised, gave him the Holy Spirit to pour out upon us” (Acts 2:32-34, NLT).
God did this “for us who believe in him who raised Jesus our Lord from the dead. He was delivered over to death for our sins and was raised to life for our justification” (Romans 4:24-25). Yes, the gospel says, “God demonstrated his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Since we have now been justified by his blood, how much more shall we be saved from God’s wrath through him!” (Romans 5:8-9). We must place all of life and death in the context of the gospel!
Foundation of certainty
Paul emphatically and unequivocally states that no experience in this life can alter the certainty of God’s love for us. “Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? As it is written: ‘For your sake we face death all day long; we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered.’ No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord (Romans 8:35-39).
A plan for action
Mediate deeply and often on what God has already provided for us in Christ. And “Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things. For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God. When Christ, who is your life, appears, then you also will appear with him inglory” Colossians 3:1-4.
Live this life resting deeply in the one who said, “Come to me…take from me… learn from me… for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light: (Matthew 11:28-30).
Between the already and not/yet, I must train myself to be godly (I Timothy 4:7), seek God’s glory (I Corinthians 10:31), groan as I hope and wait (Romans 8:23-25), work out my salvation with fear and trembling (Philippians 2:12-13), avoid grieving the Spirit (Ephesians 4:30), make no provision for the flesh (Romans 13:14), run the race with perseverance and struggle against sin (Hebrews 12:2-4); wrestles against principalities and powers and take up the whole armor of God (Ephesians 6:10ff.), strive to please the Lord (II Corinthians 5:9-10), and endure hardship as discipline (Hebrews 12:7). I don’t do any of this to gain righteous standing before God but to practice righteousness as one who has been justified before God in Christ.
I am in Christ (Justification/saved); I am being conformed to Christ (sanctification/being saved); I will be made like Christ (glorification/ will be saved). I receive all of this as God’s gift in Christ (Romans 8:28-30). I am an unworthy recipient of the gift but by grace, an active participant in God’s work of transformation.
Yes, I must be mindful that transformation is by the Spirit (II Cor. 3:18) and my aim is to “strenuously contend with all the energy Christ so powerfully works in me” (Colo. 1:29).
Do I work to be justified? No! (the “Already”). Do I work to become glorified? No! (the “Not Yet”). Do I work to be Christlike in between these realities? Yes! “work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for man” (Colo. 3:23)–with “all the energy Christ so powerfully works in you.” And, as a spiritual leader following the example of Paul, sometimes for those I lead, “I am again in the pains of childbirth until Christ is formed in you” (Galatians 4:19).
The really important thing for believers is to keep both (already and not yet) in clear view during this life. This will protect us from slipping into legalism or law-based relating to God. Too many celebrate grace upon salvation and move on as if grace got them in but works are the basis once grace gets them in. Yes, we work out our salvation but only because God works in us to will and to do of His good pleasure. “For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do (Ephesians 2:10).
Audio version: “Living Fully Between the Already and the Not Yet.“