My musical instrument of choice is guitar. Although I love the sound of a well over-driven Stratocaster or Les Paul, I choose to play a plain-old Martin acoustic. There’s just something about the naturalness of the tone that invites people to open their hearts in song and worship. All guitars, but especially acoustic ones are instruments of balanced tensions. A seemingly fragile body that is braced to handle about 175lbs of pull from the strings without losing the ability to resonate with the vibrations they make. The tension on each of the six strings is tuned and adjusted until it is pitch perfect and in harmony with the others. Would it surprise you that I see the same kind of balance and tensions in the Bible?
People that love Jesus and are of good faith have argued and divided over various positions of truth. These are typically two-sided arguments. Both sides staking out a territory. Both sides are able to present scriptural evidence without being able to fully tear down the proofs of the other side. So who’s right? Who’s wrong? Isn’t that the way we typically think? But, what if God intentionally provided us with those seemingly contradictory truths? What if both camps are right and the mystery is only discovered when truths are held in tension with each other. A guitar string cannot make music without tension, but it can make music that opens our heart to God when it is there.
The goal of this series is to present six articles covering six pairs of truths that I believe only ring true when held in tension with each other. Some of these have long been a battlefield in the Christian faith. And maybe what I’m proposing may sound like standing in no-mans-land between the entrenched armies of the first World War. Maybe it is.
The first point of tension is not one of the big ones but is essential to understanding the rest of this series. I think we can all agree that we struggle at times with the disconnect between what should be the normal Christian life and the realities we experience each day. We cringe when John declares, “No one who is born of God practices sin, because His seed abides in him; and he cannot sin, because he is born of God.” (1 John 3:9, NASB95) But find hope in this declaration from the same letter, “If we say that we have no sin, we are deceiving ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we say that we have not sinned, we make Him a liar and His word is not in us.” (1 John 1:8–10, NASB95) On the surface, these seem contradictory and that John is talking out of both sides of his mouth. But what if they are both true?
Another verse in John’s first letter unlocks this mystery. “Beloved, now we are children of God, and it has not appeared as yet what we will be. We know that when He appears, we will be like Him, because we will see Him just as He is.” (1 John 3:2, NASB95) This tension has been described as “already and not yet”. We are already seated with Christ (Ephesians 2:6) but we are not there yet in our experience (Colossians 3:1). The Kingdom of God is already here, yet the Kingdom is not yet fully realized in the world or in our everyday lives. We are already fully saved, yet we are still growing and changing into that reality.
Just like a guitar string we must tune the tension between “already” and “not yet” to avoid falling into abandon or fatalism. Abandon in the sense of forgetting or ignoring the realities of life. Fatalism in the sense of setting aside God’s magnificent promises and expecting nothing more than toil, sweat, and blood. Living between “already and not yet” gives us answers for today and hope for tomorrow. We are not surprised when trouble comes our way, but we stand firm because our hope and faith is in Jesus Christ. We don’t give up on those trapped in sin but yearn for them to experience God’s love, mercy, grace, and forgiveness. The note most often sounded when “already” and “not yet” are in tune is a simple prayer that asks “Thy kingdom come.” Lord, come into the realities of today’s struggle. Come, Lord Jesus, reveal where my heart needs renewal. Come Holy Spirit, draw those lost, broken, and alone into the Father’s loving arms.