Whoever believes in me does not believe in me only, but in the One who sent me. The one who looks at me is seeing the One who sent me. I have come into the world as a light, so that no one who believes in me should stay in darkness. If anyone hears my words but does not keep them, I do not judge that person. For I did not come to judge the world, but to save the world.
One of the great revelations from Scripture for me has been the scope of God’s salvation plan. In the beginning, I thought God only wanted to help get us into Heaven after we died so that the afterlife could be more happily worshipful than this life. Later I learned that His plans were not so much about getting us out of here, but about getting us back here in new bodies on a new earth. At that point I thought getting a new earth would necessitate destroying this one, but the Bible makes clear that the new earth is really this earth, only fixed somehow. It’s like the planet gets its own resurrection. The new Heaven and the new earth also include non-human inhabitants (angels and animals) as well as cities, gardens, streets, and trees. Such descriptions call to mind scenes from Narnia or Lothlorien.
The more I have studied the Scriptures, the more I have come to realize that God wants to save everything, not just everyone. This means he isn’t interested in starting over with everything, so much as he is working towards healing everything.
And by everything I don’t just mean people and plants and animals and the ozone layer, but also culture and language and recreation and vocation and identity and pleasure and everything we now consider part of being alive.
The Greek and Hebrew words for “saving” are the same as the words for “healing”. Jesus came into the world to save and to heal. Those are much the same thing. He came that people might experience life abundant, life the way it was always meant to be lived. That life would happen fully later on, but it could happen partially now. This tension between the life that is possible already, yet not wholly available, is what theologians call the apposition of the already and the not yet.
The mission of God, through Christ and through His Spirit in us, is to heal the world. This was the desire behind His covenant with Abraham. This was His grief concerning the affair with Noah. This was His plan for Israel, for David, and even for the exiles. His Servant was meant to suffer to this end in Isaiah, and Christ came as the Suffering Servant meant to bear the wounds of the world so we might be healed. God’s plans are to heal the world. God’s plan for His people is that we would cooperate with him in healing the world. This cooperation, this healing, begins now.
But though we understand this world-healing concept at a meta level, most of us have a difficult time grasping it at a popular level. We wonder: What does it mean for God to heal my world?
We must cooperate with God to heal our families, our relationships, and our image of ourselves and of him.
That healing has already been promised. We know that, at the end, the world will be remade, and that is why Christian people talk about “the victory.” Christ conquered death, Hell, evil, and decay with his sacrifice on the cross. The victory over the world-corrupting powers has been won, because those powers exhausted the full measure of their strength in killing Christ. But Christ came into new life in resurrection, and they had no strength left to fight him. His resurrection was the insemination of God’s Kingdom into the world, the time when the victory went from being promised in the future to being realized in the present. It was just beginning, but it was beginning.
God has given us proof in Christ that he has power over those dark and harmful things. God has shown us that His power to heal is greater than the power of decay. The Spirit is the down payment of God’s full healing of this world and renewing of creation.
But we remain in the tension of the already and the not yet. The down payment has been paid; the life of the ages is possible but not actual in every circumstance. This is why we might work to cooperate with God and heal our world. There is a contest between the weaker powers of decay and the stronger power of God to heal. The powers are not equal, but they do contest, and we have a part to play in this struggle. Our efforts against humiliation, malevolence, disease, and injustice in this world are not natural or human, but efforts undertaken with the realization that every contest is spiritual. Every battle we fight is a supernatural struggle, the struggle between salvation and decay.
We have to live already in a not yet world.
Through prayer, belief, discipline, and control of our thoughts, through faith, Scripture, and the power of the Spirit, we can see our not yet world be transformed into the Kingdom of God already. At the very least we can turn our not yet family into an already family; meaning, through the power of prayer and the help of the Spirit we can see our children return to us after a season of waywardness. We can overcome our selfish desire to punish them for their adolescence, and instead receive them back like the prodigal’s son with open arms. In doing so, we can have the family we’ve always dreamed of having—not a perfect family, perhaps, but a healthy and loving and harmonious one where before we suffered the effects of selfishness and isolation and resentment.
Likewise, we can turn our not yet thoughts into already thoughts; meaning, we can stop ourselves from sliding down the slippery slope of negativity and self-loathing and remind ourselves that we are new creatures in Christ. We no longer have to be afflicted by low self-esteem or haunted by past mistakes. We can have a new start with Christ, and that new start comes with the chance for a healthy thought life, just as it comes with the promise of new dreams for a better future.
We can turn our not yet loves into already loves. We can turn our not yet church into already communities of faith. But mostly, we can cooperate with God to turn our not yet selves into the already people we’re meant to become.
And this is how we have actual victory, not just promised or future victory. This is what we hear Christian people celebrating when they say they “have the victory.” They have the victory over their not yet children, who—by the grace of God and the movement of his Spirit—have become already children. They have a victory when their children find a place of repentance before God and are ransomed back from Hell to find new life in Christ. That victory is already here.
We get the victory when we struggle for so long to pay off a debt or clear out a mortgage, suffer under a persecution, or work to repair a broken relationship, and then the things we’ve been believing for—the not yet things we were not sure would ever happen—begin to happen already in the here and now.
That’s victory. Victory over sin. Victory over the forces of decay and despair. Victory over brokenness and the crumbling nature of humanity in a fallen world. Victory that passes from death into resurrection life.
And it doesn’t have to wait. It is happening already. It is happening in and around and among you.
We get access to the victory now because Christ won the victory then and promises future and final victory later on. This isn’t to suggest that we will get everything we want just because we want it but it is to say that a better life is available to us because we have been empowered by Christ’s Spirit.
Your life can get better. You can already live life the way it was always meant to be lived. You just need to choose to live in the Kingdom already, to set your mind on the things above and to focus your intention on bringing further and more comprehensive healing here and now so things on earth can be like things in Heaven.
This requires us to discipline ourselves to live, speak, and respond as if we’re already living in the Kingdom. We’ve got to keep a clear picture in our minds of how God wants things to be. We’ve got to work tirelessly to be and live and dream a life that’s already like that. That’s how we get victory now instead of just anticipating victory later on.
What we’re all working and yearning for is present and persistent victory now, not just promised and final victory then.
This is why I find it so compelling to think that God’s mission is to heal the world. He has already begun, and he has already invited me to participate with him by healing me and by healing my world through me. This is what I was driving at earlier when I talked about the incredible and comprehensive nature of God’s plan for salvation.
It’s not just about citizenship and residence in Heaven later on, but about experiencing the life of Heaven now.
God doesn’t want to wait to heal the world; he has begun to save us already.
This post is from Seasons of Christian Spirituality.