“Set your hope fully on the grace that will be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ.” – 1 Peter 1:13.
I know the Bible teaches I will not experience the fullness of my salvation—the redemption of my body—until Jesus returns (1 John 3:2). I know it teaches my dim vision of Jesus will become brilliantly clear the day I see him face to face (1 Corinthians 13:12). I know it teaches faith and suffering are inseparable in this life (Romans 8:17). But sometimes I find I am driven by something other than this knowledge: a subconscious impatience. Though I am intellectually aware that the fullness of my redemption is reserved for a future day, sometimes my heart expects it right now. I expect to see God clearly and experience him fully today. I expect to be unaffected by sin and untouched by the pains of a broken world today. And when these subconscious hopes are not fulfilled—and they never are!—despair begins to sink its claws into me. I start to feel like either the gospel is failing at what it’s supposed to do (and therefore perhaps it’s untrue), or I am failing to be what I am supposed to be (and therefore a fraud).
Moral of the story: false expectations can really mess you up.
Whether or not we realize it, our contentment is largely dictated by our expectations. This is universally true for all areas of life, not just the spiritual. If you are an average Joe who expects to date girls in the Carrie Underwood category, you are going to be crushed when none of these girls even glance in your direction, and you won’t be content with the “normal girls” who actually give you the time of day. However, if you are realistic with yourself about who is and isn’t “in your league,” being invisible to supermodels won’t destroy you, and being noticed at all by “normal girls” will make you all kinds of happy!
Similarly, if we expect to live now as if we are already comprehensively redeemed (spirit, mind, and body), we are going to live in perpetual frustration. However, if we remember the fullness of our redemption is reserved for a future day, and our sanctification on this side of glory is going to be a messy struggle, our contentment won’t be leached by false expectations. We will strive to see God clearly, but we won’t be utterly discouraged when our sight of him is still dim. We will fight our sins tooth and nail, but we won’t give up when temptation persists. We will desire to avoid suffering and pain, but we won’t despair when trials come. If we expect the toil and struggle that accompanies a not-yet-fully-redeemed life, we won’t be drained by it.
It is good and right to expect growth in this life. The Bible teaches we will progress in our experience of God and freedom from sin in this life, and it commands us to make every effort towards those ends! But the biblical fact of the matter is we will not be perfect until we are totally transformed. We are justified now and have the firstfruits of the Spirit now, but we have not yet experienced the fullness of our salvation: the redemption of our bodies. There is a day coming when sin will no longer cling to us, and our experience of God will no longer be hindered. But until that day comes, the Christian life is going to be a struggle. We will struggle to see God, and we will struggle against the flesh—not to mention cosmic powers and evil spiritual forces (Ephesians 6:12)! This is why the biblical writers constantly remind us to keep our hopeful gaze fixed on the future day when we will experience the fullness of our salvation:
“But our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, who will transform our lowly body to be like his glorious body, by the power that enables him even to subject all things to himself.” – Philippians 3:20-21
“Beloved, we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is.” – 1 John 3:2
“[We] who have the firstfruits of the Spirit groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies. For in this hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what he sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience.” – Romans 8:23-25
In writing this article, I hope I haven’t at all insinuated we should give up in our pursuit of God or our fight against the flesh. We can experience so much of God and break free from so much sin in this life, and we are commanded to make every effort toward those ends! I just wanted to remind us—mostly myself—that complete freedom from sin and unhindered enjoyment of God are blessings reserved for a future day. And our Savior is faithful to sustain us we wait patiently for the day of his glorious arrival.
“I give thanks to my God always for you because of the grace of God that was given you in Christ Jesus, that in every way you were enriched in him in all speech and all knowledge—even as the testimony about Christ was confirmed among you— so that you are not lacking in any gift, as you wait for the revealing of our Lord Jesus Christ, who will sustain you to the end, guiltless in the day of our Lord Jesus Christ. God is faithful, by whom you were called into the fellowship of his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.” – 1 Corinthians 1:4-9