Where are the Better Days?
In the first post of this series, we noted the Old Testament prophecies that say better days are coming. God promised he would intervene and bring deliverance, mercy, forgiveness, and peace. He would pour out his Spirit on all who submit to him and would bring about fear of the Lord, justice, and obedience. All this he would do through his anointed leader, whom we now recognize as Jesus, the Christ, the reigning Lord of the kingdom of God.
May I dare to ask a question that may have crossed your mind? Where are the better days God promised? If God promised better times and has unfolded his promise through Christ, why aren’t things better than they are? I mean no disrespect by this. I’m simply trying to be honest. Does it seem to you that we are experiencing better days?
In a sense, I think we are. We can trace much good that has been done in the world in the name of Christ. We can also see that Christ has had good effect in our own lives, including the forgiveness of our sins, the wise guidance and counsel he gives us, and hope for complete salvation in the coming age.
At the same time, though, I think we have to admit that things are not as “golden” as some of the Old Testament promises sound like. I won’t press this point, but I think it’s clear that not only in the world but even in the church we do not always experience the righteousness, peace, and joy that God promised in his kingdom. In fact, most of us have seen horrible examples of failure in churches as well as plenty of sins and misery in our own lives. Is the kingdom good news in actual practice?
It helps to understand that, even though the kingdom has in fact come, it has not yet been fully actualized. Jesus taught that God has not yet decided to root out all evil from his kingdom. The parable of the weeds makes this crystal clear (Matthew 13:24-30, 36-43). We can expect evil to be here and to cause trouble until the end of this age. That’s one reason things are not as good as we might have thought they would be.
In addition, though, it is partially our own fault that we are not experiencing the blessings of God’s kingdom more fully. Sometimes we haven’t even understood, much less practiced, that the salvation God brings is intended to change everything about our lives. Too often we reduce salvation to nothing more than being forgiven and getting to go to heaven in the end. Those are magnificent blessings, to be sure, but the salvation God brings in his kingdom entails much more than that.
When we respond to God’s work in Christ, we are saved from guilt and born again to a living hope of heaven (1 Peter 1:3-5), but we still need to put aside sin and “grow up into your salvation” (1 Peter 2:1-2).
Or, as Paul put it, once we are “in Christ” and have encouragement, and receive love and the Spirit (Philippians 2:1), we need to relate to others as Christ showed us (Philippians 2:2-11). To do so is to “work out” our salvation (Philippians 2:12). God is at work in us (v. 13), but he instructs us to work it out in our daily lives (v. 12). The first example Paul gives of working out our salvation is to stop grumbling and arguing (v. 14). This suggests that those who grumble and argue are not saved—not meaning they will be sentenced to hell in the end but rather that they are not experiencing the full salvation in their daily lives that God intended. You might even say they are experiencing some hell in their daily lives as they are consumed with grumbling and arguing. That is a miserable way to live, and God wants to save us from it. The salvation we have received from Christ needs to be worked out in matters of daily lifestyle like this.
When we do conduct ourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel—including such things as standing firm in one Spirit with other believers, striving together for the faith of the gospel, and not being frightened by those who oppose us—this is a sign that we will be saved (Philippians 1:27-28)! Even then, however, we need to remember that our salvation is still “by God”; (v. 28; see also the previous post). Working out the salvation that God is working in us does not mean we are earning it.
Clearly we will not work out salvation perfectly in our daily lives, however, nor is that a requirement in order to be saved in the end. But at the same time, if we refused to work out salvation in our daily lives, we are in fact in danger of forfeiting our salvation (Matthew 18:15-17; Hebrews 12:25). We wouldn’t lose it due to failing to achieve enough. We would lose it because our faith wasn’t real to begin with (1 Corinthians 15:2; Acts 8:18-24) or we drifted away from it and our hearts became dull (Hebrews 2:1-4; 6:1-12).
The need to work out salvation in our lives suggests another way of stating the reason why we do not experience the blessings of God’s kingdom more fully. Bluntly, it is a lack of cooperation. God has mercifully done a phenomenal work to provide a kingdom resplendent with power and blessings. But the blessings are not automatic. He calls us to cooperate with him. We cooperate by our initial response of repentance, faith, and baptism and our ongoing choices to working out our salvation and the reign of Christ in our lives.
As we seek to cooperate with him and work out our salvation here and now, however, we need to keep the overall message of the kingdom in view. God made clear that he is the one who would bring about the kingdom (Isaiah 9:7). He did this by appointing Christ as a King for us (Acts 2:36), and Christ provided yet another divine resource when he sent us his Spirit (Acts 2:33). Both the prophecies and their fulfillment also say that God himself would give us a new heart to help us obey him (Ezekiel 36:26; Romans 2:29). Yes, we need to cooperate, but we need to do so in a way that respects and emphasizes the great work God himself is doing among us and in us. We need to understand that salvation should affect our daily lives and choose to submit to our King as he empowers us to live lives worthy of his kingdom and so experience its blessings.