One important principle for correctly interpreting many Bible passages is to recognize the “already, not yet” tension. Already, the Kingdom of God has come in Christ. Yet, while we are already “raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus” (Ephesians 2:6), yet we dwell in “the present evil age” (Galatians 1:4). It isn’t that the fulfillment is slowly coming. Rather, it is the overlap of the ages, brought about by the resurrection of Christ. As long as the present evil age remains, we will have this tension.
This tension is often brought forth in discussions of eschatology, the doctrine of “last things”. But it has important applicability to our daily Christian lives as well! For instance, we read in Hebrews 10:10:
And by that will we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all.
Now sanctified means to be set apart for service to God. Since God is holy, one who is sanctified must also be holy.
Yet a few verses later, in Hebrews 10:14, we read:
For by a single offering he has perfected for all time those who are being sanctified.
Being sanctified? Yes, I realize that not all translations carry this sense the sanctification being a continuing processes, but several commentaries indicate that the Greek tenses do convey this sense, so the ESV tranlation is reasonable. We see here that we are being made fully holy, more fully able to please God. So which is it? Are we already sanctified, or are we being sanctified? The answer is that both are true. From the point of view of the Kingdom, our sanctification has already been perfected, through Christ’s offering. Before God, we stand in Christ’s righteousness. This is the truth of justification: we have already been
declared righteous before the court of Heaven! This righteousness is the gracious gift of God, earned by the work of Christ alone, and applied to us by faith alone.
Yet, in the present age, from the perspective that most captures our awareness, we have a long way to go! As we read in Hebrews 12:14:
Strive for peace with everyone, and for the holiness without which
no one will see the Lord.
This pursuit of holiness is what theologians call growing in sanctification. The great truth that the “already, not yet” paradigm brings is the understanding that while we strive to grow in sanctification, yet from God’s perspective our ultimate success is already a certainty!