Already, Not Yet

“We ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies.” ~Romans 8:23

Waiting EagerlyOur God is unfolding a plan that provides fully for our eternal future, a plan that leads to ultimate glory for his children. And, as his people, we should be filled with confidence and assurance that the God who began a great work in us will indeed bring it to completion in the day of Christ.

God does work in all things for our good. We know that. That good is especially related to our final glory. But it also includes the benefits of being a child of God in this life. As we’re groaning. God uses our sufferings to build Christian character, to conform us to Christ, to prepare us for that glory.

Nothing will ever touch us that is not completely and totally under the direction of our loving Father. Everything we do and say, everything others do to us or say about us, every experience we will ever have, it’s all sovereign-ly used by our God for our good. We don’t always understand it. We don’t always enjoy it. But we know our groanings are not in vain. They serve an eternal purpose that’s being worked out by the Creator of Heaven and Earth who groans right along with us.

Peace,

Allan

11 Comments

  1. Howard Holmes

    You say that there are benefits in the current life. On the other hand, without being very specific you seem to characterize the current benefits as being more like medicine we are taking for our own good as opposed to something which brings current joy. The current life is described using words like “groaning”, “suffering” and something we “do not always enjoy.” The word “benefit” comes from “good”. Is there “good” to be had in the present life, or is it ALL in the future? If there is “good” in the present life, how would you describe that “good?”

  2. Allan

    What we would call “benefit” does not always come from what we would call “good.” You’re familiar with the concept of “No pain, no gain.” We’ll suffer if we see the payoff. We’ll run and lift weights so we can someday get back into that swimsuit. We’ll scrimp and save so we can take that vacation. We’re all fine with suffering and sacrificing in those contexts. We do it all the time. So, “bad” things are more than capable of producing “benefit.”

    But, you’re right, I’ve implied that Scripture claims we see some of the benefit on this side of glory. The liberation and glorious freedom and adoption and redemption and hope mentioned in this Romans 8 passage speak to future events, the ultimate fulfillment of God’s eternal reign in the new heavens and the new earth and our place next to him as co-heirs with his Son. So where’s the benefit in the here and now?

    Shalom. Peace. Absolute wholeness in a full, harmonious, joyful, flourishing life with God in Christ. A 24-hours-a-day life that is filled in relationship and service to God. An identity that is grounded in the loving Creator of heaven and earth. A liberation from my human efforts to find my identity and worth in my career or my money or my possessions or my political party or my country or my family or my hobby and the freedom to enjoy my great value as a created person in the love and grace of our heavenly Father. Peace, perfect peace.

  3. Howard Holmes

    At sixty I find it hard NOT to believe my life is filled with more peace, fullness, joy than ever. In fact, each decade “seems” to have gotten better. In my saner moments I believe that the entire sixty years has been equally fine. The “feeling” of always getting better is an illusion most likely related to the fact that NOW is absolutely wonderful, and any memory of the past or any anticipation of the future cannot top the experience of now.

    For the record, I extend this conception to all others and hold that all live a full, joyous now, and that I have nothing on them, nor they on me. My assumption is that you might hold otherwise. You might hold, for instance, that you have more of the things you described in your final paragraph NOW than previously in your life. You might also hold that you have more of these things than certain others do.

    In other words, I have always been happy. That happiness has held constant through the vissitudes of philosophy or theology. How about yourself?

  4. Allan

    Vissitudes???

  5. Howard

    Vicissitudes.

    I’ll grant an advantage of the Christian view and a disadvantage:

    The advantage could be the expectation of heaven. Of course, I might take this one away immediately for several reasons:

    1) Joy can only be experienced in the present. Any focus on the future in the present moment is generally a hindrance rather than a contributor to joy.

    2) An expectation of living forever tends to devalue any given amount of time because that time is infinitely unimportant.

    3) I wonder if Christians really have this advantage as I wonder if they really believe in heaven. I cannot reconcile the sadness at funerals and the dread of death among Christians with a true belief in heaven. I would suggest it is more of a hope than a belief.

    The disadvantage is guilt. I was never able to live as a Christian and live free of guilt and shame. Maybe it was just me.

    HH

  6. Weldon McKinney

    A little over four years, at 12:50 am, I stood beside the bed of my mother—the end was near. DeeAnn, dad and the children had gone back home—dad needed his rest.
    Standing in the doorway of the room, a nurse watched as I held mom in my arms praying into her ear, gently talking to her one last time as she opened her eyes, she attempted to mouth a few words back to me before she softly passed from this life.
    With every expression of joy (her name was Joy), I again raised my voice in a praise and prayer of to my Heavenly Father for giving to me this wonderful woman as my mother. She had brought me into this world and I was able to be with and comfort her as she left.
    I closed her eyes, gave her a final kiss and pulled the sheet over her head. Turning to the nurse, I could sense that she was confused: after all, I was not sad or crying. There were no tears, but rather complete joy on my behalf: my mother had kept the faith, finished the course and won the crown.
    The nurse asked if I was all right. She seemed genuinely concerned. I reached and touched her arm and simply asked, “Or you a Christian?” She lowered her eyes and responded that she had never really given the question much consideration. I looked her in the eyes and explained: “First, know that I don’t intend to witness to you right now, but for certain I have now know exactly what the Apostle Paul once described as ‘the peace that passes understanding.’”
    I told her that is exactly what God desires for all of us, and that, if she would but seek Him then she would be able to discover what I was feeling.
    Howard, Paul pours out his soul to his good and close friends in the Philippian letter. At one point he says, “for me to live is Christ, and to die is gain.”
    The Christian in his/her growth finally comes to the realization that “God will meet all of your needs according to his glorious riches in Christ Jesus.”
    As a Christian there is no reason for me to ever carry doubt or insecurity or guilt. This guilt and the burden of sin is exactly what Christ carried to the cross with Him. I bask in the victory that He has attained for me.
    My intent is to help in this discussion, not hinder. My God bless you Howard.

  7. Allan

    Weldon, I appreciate very much your opening up your heart and your life in this space like that. Thank you.

    Howard, I’ll give you one of your points, absolutely reject the other two, and then politely disagree with your last observation.

    I must reject your assertion that joy can only be expressed in the present and that waiting for a future glory is a hindrance to joy, not a contributor. My joy in the knowledge and assurance that Christmas Day or my birthday or the Super Bowl is tomorrow is not diminished by the fact I have to wait for it. The anticipation actually heightens the joy. Yes, Christmas Day is going to be better than Christmas Eve. But it doesn’t make Christmas Eve any less joyful.

    The expectation of eternal life doesn’t render our time on earth meaningless, it makes it even more significant, more important. Our time on this earth—what we do, how we think, how we live—will echo throughout eternity. It’s infinitely important.

    I gotta give you your third claim that some/most/all Christians don’t really believe in heaven. You’re right to question that belief when you see disciples of Jesus paralyzed by the very thought of death. When you see Christians at Christian funerals of Christian friends and loved ones wail and scream and cry like everything’s over. When you see followers of the Christ put off death, put off talking about death, and hanging on with white-knuckles to every form of medicine, therapy, life-support, and chemicals to avoid death. You’re right. It doesn’t make sense. I can’t figure that one out yet. I’m afraid that Weldon’s story is too uncommon. It’s Scriptural. It’s grounded in a belief and a faith in the Savior who is the author of eternal life. But it is uncommon. When we act like this about death, I understand your deduction.

    To your last point, Howard, you know this, perfect love drives out fear. There is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. You know that, too. No guilt. No shame. No humiliation. Allow me to politely suggest that any guilt or shame you felt as a Christian believer was put on you by family and/or friends and/or church, not our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. You know this, too.

  8. Jesse

    Weldon, WOW! What a beautiful conveyance of your mom’s passing as a disciple of Jesus. Thank you for sharing such a vivid example of that which I completely believe, and yet all too often fall short at living out EACH and EVERY day. Bless you.

  9. Howard

    Weldon, I appreciate and enjoyed your story. I do not feel that a belief in the afterlife was “essential” to the peace you felt at her death. I am “only” 61 now, but have come to accept that my life is more that half over and that maybe the next “big event” is my death. Even though, in my humble opinion, that will be the end I do not look at it with dread or regrets. I am thankful for the 61 years as they have been most enjoyable. I have no apprehensiveness about the ultimate end coming. I can imagine feeling that way about Joy as well as I am sure her life reflected her name. All I am attempting to claim is that you and I can share the same essential truths about our lives or Joy’s life and death regardless of which of us happens to be right about what comes next. When I first stopped believing in an eternal life, I felt a period of “mourning” which only lasted a week or two. It was an adjustment to stop thinking about living forever and thinking about another 40, 60 or 80 years, but the adjustment was relatively painless as I learned that you and I have only today, today. If I have 2 more years and if you have an infinity of tomorrows we can only experience today today.

    Allan,

    Adding to the above, I do not disagree that it is enjoyable to anticipate a future good. However, in my own experience I normally force myself to NOT think about upcoming things. I believe that while it is fun to think about them that such thoughts remove me from the now. There is plenty of goods in the now. I don’t want to miss those. Christmas will come and it will be enjoyed. It is the now, I don’t want to miss. On the other hand, this is a subtle point. I am not going to argue that (for instance) sitting here as I am on my patio in the cool morning, eating oatmeal, drinking tea, watching the hummingbirds drink a couple of feet from my face and writing this email is “more or less” fun that sitting here thinking about my trip in a couple of weeks. How we spend our “nows” is a matter of personal preference. Perhaps for you there is no greater joy that thinking about the future. I am only emphasizing one thing your grandfather always said that “was” true: “Tomorrow never comes.” Only the now is real. Tomorrow is a fantasy.

    Certainly I agree with your point that how we view eternity affects WHAT we do now. If there was no belief in the afterlife the churches would be empty.

    Glad you got the point on really believing in heaven. If we “really” believed in heaven we would rejoice when someone dies and “really” believe they have passed to a better place. When a 18 year old dies prematurely, we would consider him lucky and not consider that he has missed anything. Afterall, if one lives forever and only has any suffering during a period of only 1 to 100 years of that forever, who needs that 1 to 100 years? We should be anxious for it to end.

    For the record, as if this post weren’t already long enough, I mention that for the same reason it is obvious Christians do not believe God’s answers prayer either. If my leg was broken and if I believed God answers the prayers of the righteous, I would pray then stand up. There would be no need of health insurance. Anything else is jargon.

    I still disagree on your last point. I was taught about God by my family, true enough. The God they taught me about is the same God that is protrayed in the Bible. He still reads our every thought, he is still sending most people to hell, only a few will be saved. He still has rules that must be obeyed. I will say, I was not aware of the guilt, shame and stress until it was no longer there. I did not believe I felt guilty. I believed I felt saved. In actual fact I was tied in knots. For instance, when young the only time I got to watch Wide World of Disney on Sunday night was when I was sick–very seldom. I PREFERRED watching WWD to going to church. No doubt about that. I feared to say that or to admit it to myself. That is a metaphor for 1,000 like examples. I am now free to be honest, especially with myself.

    Sorry for the length, but the oatmeal is finished. I have only this and the hummingbirds.

    HH

  10. Weldon McKinney

    Howard, I really appreciate your thoughts on living for today. I believe that is entirely a biblical God-given thought!

    However, I can’t help it—it is God who is responsible for putting eternity in the mind of mankind. And why not, it was the God without beginning or end that created man.

    For me, Howard, I am a believer because of a very decided pragmatic nature. My belief in acceptance of God is very simple: I simply do not have enough faith to believe in the other choice! There is no logic in accepting that something came from nothing or that man, through time, chance and natural processes has simply advanced to where he is today. Of course, change occurs, but the mathematics of determining our accidental arrival at this point, is, for me, a faith in which I cannot believe.

    That peace that passes understanding is the assurance that there is something bigger than me and bigger than the moment. Whether it is the unbearable death of a child or the doctor’s dread words of “I have some bad news for you,” I can live today with a greater meaning and know that destiny as not ultimately changed for me.

    My friend, at some time or point, believe me, eternity will return to your conscious thought. For some reason, I cannot help but believe that you are a seeking and searching… and therefore, I fully believe that you are going to discover the true relevance that God has for your life.

    Well, at least I hope so as I guess my own personal honesty would declare that I continue to search for that relevance in my own life. I realize that sometimes life seems like a dark tunnel, but it is the Light at the end of that tunnel that allows me to live today with hope.

    I promise to not further hijack Allan’s blog! Well, at least not today!

  11. Howard

    Keep high-jacking. I always talk until no one responds. I enjoy your responses.

    You said your belief was out of pragmatism. I will present an idea you might not have considered. Belief is not something we can choose. I could not agree with you on some of these matters if it were my greatest desire to agree. We can only believe that which we hold to be true. You hold your beliefs to be true. You could not consciously choose to change any of them (try if you wish to prove me wrong). You can only “choose” to believe from that list of things you find believable. That list is not of your making. I did not choose to believe the way I believe. I enjoy seeking and learning. I (no more and no less than anyone else) want to be correct in my thinking. That is what we all want. That we disagree is testimony as to how hard that is; it is not reflective of our desires or effort or ability.

    If I change my mind (on anything) it is a great joy and a thrill. That is what learning is. I would love to discover I was wrong about theology. On the other hand, I (like you) do not expect to discover I am wrong. It is the nature of beliefs to appear real to us (It also appears very rational as well).

    It is my hope that we could all realize this and to realize we differ only in beliefs, not desire, love of truth, intelligence or dedication to being correct. This is another of the things I find untenable about the Christian concept of reality as it presumes one can choose what to believe, rewarding those who choose correctly and punishing those who choose incorrectly. I realize I am on the wrong side of that fence, but I realize just as surely I am not there by choice. I wish to be correct ever bit as much as you or Allan or anyone else. If I fail to get there, it is not from lack of effort.

    Thanks for the chat. Allan can join in if he wishes.

    Howard

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