************ Sermon on Belgic Confession Article 37 ************
By: Rev. Adrian Dieleman
This sermon was preached on December 6, 2020
Belgic Confession Article 37 (#4)
"Already But Not Yet"
Underlying the New Testament's teachings about the last things is a tension between the "already" and "not yet." It is, in fact, impossible to understand the last things apart from this tension. Let me illustrate what I mean by the "already but not yet."
A couple of weeks ago I was slicing meat we had cooked on the grill. I popped a piece into my mouth. It was so juicy, so tasty. So I already had a taste, but it was not yet the full meal -- that had to wait until all of us were sitting around the table and had devotions.According to the New Testament Scriptures, the believer experiences the "already but not yet." He is already in the future era spoken of by the prophets of the Old Testament, but he is not yet in the final state. He is living in the last days, but the last day has not yet arrived.
A couple expecting a child also experience the "already but not yet." Already in the womb they can feel the child kicking and moving. Already an emotional attachment is being formed between the parents and the child. Already the mother is caring for the child by watching what she eats and drinks and being careful about what she does. Already the couple have a baby. On the other hand, they do not yet fully have a baby until after birth. It is not until then that they can see and touch and hold. It is not until then that they get to feed and burp and change.
Last time, if you remember, we looked at what happens to the believer and unbeliever in the time between their death and the Final Judgment. Those in the Intermediate State experience the "already but not yet." The believer is already with Christ, he or she is already experiencing the joys of heaven; however, this joy is not yet complete. The unbeliever is already experiencing the pain, anguish, and torments of hell; however, this eternal torment is not yet as awful as it will be.
If you remember, we also looked at the Kingdom of God. We learned that the Kingdom too is "already but not yet," that it is both present and future. Already Jesus is King but every knee has not yet bowed before Him and every tongue has not yet confessed Him. Already our God reigns, but many still oppose His rule.
In our Scripture reading from Romans 8 we see the "already but not yet" reflected in three areas: the new life, the indwelling of the Spirit, and being children of God.
I New Life
A We see the "already but not yet" in the new life. On the one hand, it is already ours; on the other hand, it is not yet fully ours.
On the one hand, the new life within us is already revealed. Already we are new people in Christ, a new creation (Rom 6:4; 2 Cor 5:17). On the other hand, the new life is still hidden (Col 3:10) and is not yet fully ours. Paul says that the creation groans -- as in childbirth -- as it waits for our final consummation (Rom 8:19,22); and, we groan with it as we also wait (Rom 8:23).
B The new life is "already but not yet." Consider what this says about the kind of life we live. On the one hand, we have already put on the new self created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness (Eph 4:24). We have already put on the new self renewed in knowledge in the image of its Creator (Col 3:10). The life-giving Spirit is in us (Rom 8:9) so that we both live in accordance with the Spirit (Rom 8:5) and our mind is controlled by the Spirit (Rom 8:6). On the other hand, we do not yet fully live as new people in Christ. Or, as Paul puts it in an earlier chapter,
(Rom 7:15,19) I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do ... (19) For what I do is not the good I want to do; no, the evil I do not want to do--this I keep on doing.Paul talks here about his continued struggle with sin although he is a new creation in Christ.
We all experience this, don't we?! On the one hand, everyone of us who believes are new creatures in Christ. In a very real sense we can all say that our new man lives. Within all of us is both the desire and the ability to do the will of God. On the other hand, that old man of sin is still within us and is very much alive.
Because of the "already but not yet" we are divided people for, on the one hand, we want to do good and the Spirit enables us to do good and, on the other hand, we also want to sin and rebel against God. We are people in which genuine piety and genuine wickedness coexist.
The Bible offers us many illustrations of people living out the "already but not yet." Think of Noah. He is described as a righteous man yet he also got drunk and lay shamefully exposed for all to see him. Think of Abraham. He is called God's friend yet two times in Egypt he failed to trust God when Pharaoh saw his beautiful wife Sarah. Think of Moses. God talked to him face-to-face as a man talks to his friend, yet he failed to honor God and was not allowed to enter the Promised Land. Think of King David. He is not only a mighty man of God but he is also a peeping tom, an adulterer, and a murderer. Or, think of Peter. He is not only one of the Lord's saints, the rock on whom the church is built, but he is also a liar, someone who denies the Lord in order to save his own skin.
I read an article on Benjamin Moore paints. Let me ask, how white is white? I ask that because Benjamin Moore offers more than 150 shades of white. People need to be careful when they choose white because not all white is white. More people are unhappy or make a mistake or are shocked at the white they choose than with any other color.Because the new life is "already but not yet" that's the way the believer is -- at the same time he or she is both clean and dirty; at the same time he or she is both the new man of righteousness and the old man of sin.
You can put two shades of white side-by-side. The one looks clean and the other looks dirty. Yet, both are white.
Our new life is "already but not yet" -- this means that our struggle against sin continues throughout all of life. We know we cannot attain sinless perfection in this life. Does this mean, however, that we are to simply give in to sin? Does this mean that we are to accept evil and injustice with a shrug of our shoulders? Absolutely not! We are to engage in the struggle against sin and evil, not in the expectation of defeat, but in the confidence of victory. Sin may not yet be fully defeated in our life but the decisive battle has already been fought and the doom of sin and Satan is certain.
C Our new life is "already but not yet" -- this has definite implications for how we look at ourselves and others.
There are churches whose specialty is total depravity. That's what the minister preaches on and that is what the congregation wants to hear. But what about the new life? If we are new creatures in Christ we don't focus just on total depravity and original sin.
Our new life is "already but not yet" -- this has definite implications not only for how we look at ourselves but also for how we look at others. When I address you, I say "congregation, brothers and sisters, people of God, beloved." I don't say, "depraved sinners, doers of evil, haters of God and man." I follow the example of Paul who wrote his letters to the "saints" in Ephesus (Eph 1:1) or at Philippi (Phil 1:1). God's people are to be addressed as those who are new creatures in Christ.
D Our new life is "already but not yet"-- this helps to explain our present sufferings. And there is so much suffering among the people of God: cancer, heart attack, death, wayward children, COVID-19, AIDS, poverty, adultery, broken relationships, drug and alcohol abuse. Whatever is found in the world is found in the church as well.
"Why do the righteous suffer such things?" One answer to this question is that suffering is a sign of the "not yet." Suffering still occurs in the lives of believers because the new life is "already but not yet." Suffering still occurs in the lives of believers because sin and its results have not yet been eliminated. Suffering still occurs in the lives of believers because the Spirit "who raised Christ from the dead" has not yet given us a glorified body (Rom 8:11).
However, as Paul reminds us, suffering and pain does not have the final word in a believer's life. "Our present sufferings," he says, "are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed" (Rom 8:18). When the "not yet" becomes an "already" then all the suffering and pain will be gone. When the "not yet" becomes an "already" then the many sufferings we experience today will be forgotten. What a joyful day that will be! Our present sufferings -- no matter how big they may be -- cannot begin to compare with future glory.
II Indwelling of the Spirit
We see the "already but not yet" not only in the new life but also in the indwelling of the Spirit. On the one hand, the "Spirit of God lives in you" and you "have the Spirit of Christ" (Rom 8:9). On the other hand, all that you have is "the firstfruits of the Spirit" so that you groan inwardly for more (Rom 8:23).
What is meant by firstfruits? The word is used in the Old Testament to describe the first products of the field or of the flocks. Firstfruits mark the beginning of a much greater harvest still to come. In New Testament times the reception of the Spirit by the believer is firstfruits; it marks the beginning of a much greater harvest still to come. Right now we have the firstfruits; after the second coming we shall have the full harvest. The indwelling of the Spirit in the believer's life is "already but not yet."
III Children of God
Lastly, we see the "already but not yet" in being children of God. On the one hand Paul says we "received the Spirit of sonship" and, the "Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God's children" (Rom 8:15,16). On the other hand, "we wait eagerly for our adoption as sons" (Rom 8:23).
Already we are sons and daughters of God. Already we can call God "Abba, Father" (Rom 8:15). Already we are "heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ" (Rom 8:16). At the same time we have not yet tasted the fullness of the blessings and privileges of being God's children. That's why the "creation waits in eager expectation for the sons of God to be revealed" (Rom 8:19). Our adoption as sons and daughters of God, in other words, is something which we both have and do not yet have. Being God's child is both something present and something future.
"Already but not yet." That to a large extent sums up the Reformed doctrine of the last things. We believe that God's end-time promises are already realized but they are not yet fully realized. We believe that the future is already here but it is not yet fully here.
"Already but not yet." This says something about the present. Though our hope is on the future we cannot dismiss the present as being unimportant; after all, God's glorious promises are already being realized in our midst: ours is new life now, we are indwelt with the Spirit now, and we are sons and daughters of God now. We need to hear this because there are Christians who are so future-oriented that they rob themselves of the joys of salvation that are ours right now.
"Already but not yet." This also says something about the future. Though the present is important, we do look forward to the future when all the glories of the new life, the full indwelling of the Spirit, and the total blessing of being God's children becomes ours. Though the present joys are real and many, the glory of the world to come will far outshine what we have now. Remember what Paul says?
(1 Cor 2:9) No eye has seen, no ear has heard, no mind has conceived what God has prepared for those who love him.We need to hear this because there are Christians who are so this-worldly minded that they fail to store up treasure for themselves in heaven.
"Already but not yet." This is the tension God's people must live with in this life and on this earth.
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