Living in the tension of the “already, but not yet” is one of the most difficult mysteries in the Christian life. We have been adopted and regenerated into the family of God, but in our current state we are not made completely whole. That is, we are still subject to the effects of sin in our lives. Yet, as followers of Christ we are called to model our lives after our Elder Brother. Jesus, in His life, both accomplished the law, paid the penalty for breaking the law, and freed us from ever having to suffer that punishment. Yet, we still find ourselves sinning.
So often it is this discussion that leads us into so much false teaching about the role of works and righteousness in our lives. Some may say that the presence of sin in our lives is an indication that we are in fact unregenerate. While this may be the case, this is not an assumption we can make. Some may say that it is an effect of not receiving “enough” of the Holy Spirit, or even that we aren’t as mature in our faith. However, this focus can lead us further astray. It relates our works to the level of God’s acceptance of us.
However, we must clarify what it means to live in this world and also have been adopted into God’s family- how we are both saint and sinner. Sinclair Ferguson describes it as a change in our “disposition”. Our hearts that once desired sin now have new affections. We now long to do the good works God has prepared for us. However, we will fail. And we when we do, the Scriptures do not tell us to work harder or do more good things. Rather, they remind us of the forgiveness we have already received. It goes back to the indicatives driving the imperatives. What we need is what has been done, not what needs to be done. There is nothing else to complete, but there is a completion into which we are called to enter into. And in order to understand what it means to pursue holiness, we must begin with the One who was truly holy and what he has accomplished completely for us on the Cross!