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For Such a Time: Present Not Just Future

August 25, 2010

An element of time exists within our experience of the gospel.   In other words, the gospel has an impact on our past, present, and future.  Jesus was, He is, and He is to come (Rev. 4:8).  We were saved  through justification (Rom. 8:24), we are being saved through sanctification (1 Cor. 1:18; 2 Cor. 2:15; Eph. 2:8), and we will be saved through glorification (Rom. 13:11).  The reign of Jesus over the calendar of our lives is comprehensive. 

Unfortunately the past, present, and future dimensions of salvation have not always been equally emphasized.  Instead, evangelicalism has tended to emphasize the future dimension alone to the neglect of the present dimension of salvation.  Salvation often is reduced to a one moment decision to punch a ticket into heaven without also calling us to follow Jesus.  Don’t get me wrong.  I believe that the future aspect of our salvation is a primary motivator and transformer of the Christian life.  I also believe that one can enter into salvation in a moment and souls are made alive the moment faith is in a heart. 

However, the problem is that we are losing a postmodern and skeptical world because they are looking for present evidence that our faith is real.  They are asking if our faith matters right now in the present moment.  Let me assure you that it does.  Here are a couple of suggestions concerning the present dimensions of salvation that need to be articulated for us to realize the present power of the gospel in our lives. 

First, the kingdom of God is a present reality.  This was the message of John the Baptizer (Matt. 3:2) and Jesus (Matt. 4:17; Luke 17:21):  the kingdom of God was near and came with the arrival of its king, namely Jesus.  The arrival of the kingdom was the message that His disciples were to preach (Luke 9:2, 60; 16:16) and it was the content of their prayer in that they were to pray that God’s “kingdom come . . . on Earth as it is in heaven” (Matt. 6:10).  Jesus’ establishing of His kingdom on Earth is signified by the fact that He is exalted and enthroned in the heavenly places right now(Eph. 1:20-23).  The kingdom He established is not complete but will be when He puts every enemy under His dominion when He returns.  The message that we are waiting to enter the kingdom when we die has neutered the present realities of our salvation and turned our lives into a waiting room for heaven. 

Second, the King of this kingdom is Jesus and the role of the church is to increase His supremacy over all things until He returns (Col. 1:18).  The term “gospel” was borrowed by Christians from their secular world in which it referred to the announcing of the “good news” that Caesar Augustus reigned over the Roman Empire.  The term “gospel” isn’t just the good news that you can go to heaven, as good as that is.  Gospel refers to the announcing that Jesus is Lord over sin and death.  He reigns over the hearts of His people and will one day reign over all things when He returns .  Our job is to glorify His name and increase His fame so that His reign spreads.  Accepting Jesus as your savior also means that your entire life is placed under His authority.  It is not a stagnant form of faith that waits for heaven without major life reconstruction.  The faith that saves also repositions us to live within the lordship of Jesus.

Third, as disciples we are called to be imitators of Jesus.  Disciples are students who imitate their teacher.  This is our present function in the world along with making disciples of others (Matt. 28:19).  We walk as He walked (1 John 2:6) because we know that our destiny is to be conformed to the image of Jesus (Rom. 8:29).  Eternal life is not something we are waiting for.  We have too often equated eternal life only with the future realities of salvation.  Heaven, of course, is the pinnacle of eternal life, but Jesus teaches us that eternal life is to “know the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom [He] sent” (John 17:3) and that begins the moment we enter into an apprenticeship with Jesus. 

Fourth, our calling by God to the world ignites a present urgency for the mission of Jesus.  When speaking about His future return, Jesus gives us two parables that teach us that the future reality of salvation fuels urgency concerning our present mission to make disciples of all nations.  A master leaves talents (money) with three stewards and upon his return he determines that two of them took what they had and invested it while one hid what he had (Matt. 25:14-30).  The second tells us that upon Jesus’ return He will divide the sheep from the goats – the saved from the unbelieving.  He determines who is in these groups by who cared for the “least of these” (Matt. 25:31-46).  Those who were found ignoring the mission of God upon Jesus’ return in both stories are sent to eternal punishment (Matt. 25:30, 46).  We are not informed about the second coming so that we can sit idly and speculate about it.  We are informed that Jesus is coming again to light a fire of urgency concerning our current mission to make disciples of all nations.  Our mission of love, both in word and deed, is the evidence of the kingdom, Jesus’ lordship, and our discipleship that the world needs to see. 

I love the future aspect of my salvation.  I long for heaven and to know Jesus with pure intimacy.  Being released from this painful existence will be glorious as well.  However, if we emphasize these aspects without also pointing to the present realities of salvation, we will stunt spiritual growth and mute our testimony to a world that is looking for present evidence of the veracity of our faith.

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