Future Things: Christian Responsibility, Part 12 (of 12)

How does the follower of Christ appropriately balance present things with future things?

In part 8 of this series I explored the historic Christian eschatological principle known as “already, but not yet.” This enigmatic expression conveys that while Christ’s kingdom has “already” been inaugurated by his first coming (John 1:14), it has “not yet” been fully consummated. This final stage will take place only at Jesus’ glorious second coming (Matthew 25:31-32).

Christians have responsibilities in the present age as they live out their temporal destiny, but also “eternal” duties that have bearing in the age to come. Augustine of Hippo (A.D. 354-430) called these two allegiances the City of Man and the City of God, respectively. Knowing how these obligations relate to each other and how to balance them is the challenge.

Faithful in Present Things

Sometimes believers become so preoccupied with future things that they neglect their responsibilities in this present age. Scripture charges the followers of Christ to promote goodness, peace, and justice in their sphere of influence. This spreading of “salt and light” involves duties to family, church, and state. Responsibilities in the City of Man are not to be viewed as unimportant or minor. Contributing to a just, peaceful, and beneficent society honors God’s civil laws and respects people who are made in the image of God. For example, building a culture that values the inherent dignity of human beings reflects the highest form of Christian ethics.

Anticipating Future Things

Yet while present obligations should not be neglected, believers must also realize that they are (to some extent) strangers in the present world (1 Peter 2:11). This alien experience is powerfully illustrated when Christians seek to live holy lives in a culture that is often given over to immorality.

Also, true and lasting justice, peace, and goodness will only be achieved when Christ’s kingdom comes in its fullness. Only in the future eschatological state will God utterly defeat all the forces of evil and do away forever with injustice and suffering (Revelation 21:1-4). Christians therefore labor earnestly in the City of Man but nevertheless anticipate the hope of Jesus Christ returning to the Earth (1 Thessalonians 4:15-17).

Faithful Servants in Both Cities

The goal for the follower of Christ is to fulfill one’s calling in both spheres of reality. Prudent citizenship in the City of Man requires courage, wisdom, knowledge, and hard work. At the same time, the City of God calls for the theological virtues of faith, hope, and love. Believers must set forth and contend for the gospel of salvation that is found in Christ Jesus (Jude 1:3).

Fortunately, we are not left to our own devices when it comes to this dual citizenship. The Holy Spirit empowers his people for service in both cities. God’s grace is sufficient for whatever task he has called his people to engage (Philippians 4:13).

Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ has already inaugurated his kingdom through his perfect life, sacrificial death, and glorious bodily resurrection. Now we long to experience its consummation at his blessed return in glory.

For an introduction to the topic of general eschatology, see Donald G. Bloesch, The Last Things and George Eldon Ladd, The Blessed Hope.

For a summary of the millennial positions and their Scriptural support, see John Jefferson Davis, Handbook of Basic Bible Texts.

Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4 | Part 5 | Part 6 | Part 7 | Part 8 | Part 9 | Part 10 | Part 11

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