Living in the Tension of the Already and Not Yet

I have fond memories of my college years. When else do you eat pancakes at midnight guilt-free, load your dinner dishes on a conveyor belt to be cleaned by someone else, and wave each day at the lovely lady in a polo who cleans your bathroom. (Oh, how I would love to wave at that precious lady again.)

However, summers during my college years were a different story. It can be weird to come home and realize that life went on without you. The tension of being an “adult” living under your parents’ roof again can feel like “No Man’s Land.” Am I an adult, or am I a kid? It’s the age-old conundrum of the already and the not yet. Here’s what I mean: as a college student, I was already making decisions for myself but not yet fully independent. I was already living on my own, but not yet all the time.

In much the same way, the Christian life is a continuous walk between the already and the not yet. Through faith in Jesus, we already have reconciliation with God, but we aren’t with God yet. We already have the forgiveness of our sins, but we aren’t free of sin yet. We already love Jesus, but we have yet to see Him face to face. Our citizenship is already in heaven, but our street address is definitely not yet celestial.

So we wait, but waiting is hard. And we trust, but trusting God in the tension of the already and the not yet isn’t any easier. 2 Corinthians 5:17 says, “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has passed away, and see, the new has come!” 

Most days I don’t feel very new. I feel stuck in the old me with the same old doubts and the same old struggles. Though the Bible tells me I am already spiritually resurrected, I am not yet physically resurrected, and the tension is palpable.

Trusting in both the “already” and the “not yet” requires faith by the truckload.

God Is Faithful to His “Not Yet” 

1 Peter 1:8 explains our situation this way. “Though you have not seen him, you love him; though not seeing him now, you believe in him, and you rejoice with inexpressible and glorious joy.” How do we know if we are successfully navigating the already and the not yet? We rejoice with a deep, resounding, spirit-filled joy—even when it looks impossible, even when the world says we shouldn’t, even when we still don’t have what we’re waiting for—because we know God is faithful.

Multiple factors can get in the way of the human plans we make. If I’ve learned anything over the past two years, it’s to hold my agenda loosely. My “not yet” is not a done deal until it’s a done deal because I can’t control the future. But God’s “not yet” is as sure as the sunrise. If He plans it, it will happen; we can count on God’s agenda.

In Christ, our future is so certain that Romans 8:30 speaks of it in the past tense. “And those he predestined, he also called; and those he called, he also justified; and those he justified, he also glorified.” I assure you I am a long way from being glorified. But God’s faithfulness is so certain that He can speak as though it’s already finished. 

Trusting in the Already Helps Us Wait for the Not Yet 

The problem is, we tend to treat God’s “not yet” like our “not yet,” doubting whether it will actually happen. We think things like, What if God didn’t hear me? What if God changes His mind? What if that’s not really what God meant? 

Waiting on God to fulfill His Word is part of walking by faith. It’s not easy to wait. But focusing on what we already have, makes it easier to wait for what we don’t have. Perhaps this is one reason God tells us to “give thanks in everything” (1 Thess. 5:18). When we call to mind what God has already done, we’ll be more content to wait for what He hasn’t done—yet. 

If it’s hard for you to claim Scripture’s “not yets,” start by celebrating the already. For example, Ephesians 1:3 says God has already blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places. We are “God’s children now” according to 1 John 3:2. We don’t have to wait to be God’s children. By faith in Christ, it’s already happened.

We may not have everything we want, but as God’s children, we have something better: every spiritual provision required for godliness. And that, my friend, is something to celebrate. 

Christmas Is a Great Time to Celebrate the Already 

Christmas isn’t just the most wonderful, stressful, or hectic time of year (depending on your perspective). It’s also a built-in season to stop and reflect on the already. Jesus already came once to offer us life. He already paved the way to God. He already took care of our sin, and He is already on the throne.

In the prophetic book of Malachi, God says to Israel, “I have loved you” (Mal. 1:2). But Israel is struggling to see God’s love and responds with, “How have you loved us?” God answers them by explaining that He proved His love long ago by choosing them. There was nothing special about Israel, and yet God chose Israel to be His treasured possession.

In the same way, there is nothing special about us. Yet God has chosen us. “For he chose us in him, before the foundation of the world, to be holy and blameless in love before him” (Eph. 1:4). And then He loved us by sending His Son to die in our place (John 3:16). His Father’s will required that the precious baby nestled in Mary’s arms already had a death sentence for no other reason than our sin. 

Romans 5:10 sums up the already and the not yet like this, “For if, while we were enemies, we were reconciled to God through the death of his Son, then how much more, having been reconciled, will we be saved by his life.” Here’s the bottom line: the magnitude of what Christ has already done is ample proof of the glories still to come.

The Christian Life Is All about the Not Yet

While our salvation hinges on what Christ did in the past, our hope centers on all He will accomplish in the future. Hebrews 11:13 says of the Old Testament saints like Enoch, Noah, Abraham, and Sarah, that they all died believing in promises they didn’t receive. “But they saw them from a distance, greeted them, and confessed that they were foreigners and temporary residents on the earth.”

The saints of old based their decisions to follow God on the hope of a future kingdom. In the same way, our hope is also nestled in the promise of a future kingdom. Spiritually we are already part of the kingdom of God, while physically, we still live in the devil’s domain. 

Like my summers home as a college student, it can feel like “No Man’s Land” to navigate the spiritual blessings we already have against the physical blessings we’re waiting for. Unfortunately, in our present-day reality, we may not feel very blessed. In seasons of intense suffering, it may even look like we’re cursed.

But here’s the promise that remains: When Christ appears, “we will be like him because we will see him as he is” (1 John 3:2). So don’t give up on tomorrow just because today is hard. We already have Jesus, even if we can’t see His face yet. We have hope and peace and life. We have the promise of so much more, and we have each other until we get there.

The more we can set our minds on the “not yet,” the better we will steward the “already.” And the more we celebrate the “already,” the stronger our convictions will grow for all that is yet to come. Praise God that our future is as good as done by grace through faith in Jesus Christ. 

About the Author

Stacey Salsbery

Stacey Salsbery

Stacey Salsbery is a farmer’s wife and mother of four—or as she likes to say, “President of Home Operations.” Stacey loves teaching women the Bible and along with her family makes her home in the cornfields of Indiana. For more, … read more …

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