Many have written books, essays, articles and posts about the role that Christians are to play in the transformation of the current world with its politics, literature, art, music, education, etc. The variation of opinions leaves many believers confused as to where they are to place the better part of their prayers, time, energy and resources. Despite a multitude of insistent voices, Scripture does not give us a neat and clean systematic framework for the impact that Christians are to have on this world. Instead, it gives us general principles about our need to “do good to all men, especially to those of the household of faith–as we have opportunity” (Gal. 6:10). The generality with which the Scriptures set out principles which Christians are to put into practice during their time in this world leaves little room for any certainly about the immediate outcome of putting those principles into practice in our lives.
When the writer of Hebrews brought the great faith chapter (i.e. Hebrews 11) to a close, he explained that while the Old Testament believers walked by faith in the promises of God in this life–hoping for the city that has foundations, whose builder and maker is God–there were quite strikingly different outcomes in the here and now. Some conquered kingdoms, stopped the mouths of lions, quenched the flame of fire, out of weakness were made strong, received their dead back to life and some were tortured, sawn in two, flogged, imprisoned, stoned to death, lived in caves and dens, wandered in sheepskins and goatskins and were destitute, persecuted and mistreated (Heb. 11:33-38). We must be very careful not to impose on the consciences of believers the idea that if we walk by faith in the promises of Christ, in the here and now there will be victorious and transformative outcomes. In fact, it may be that suffering and loss–rather than triumph and transformation–is the immediate result of walking by faith in Christ in the here and now.
While there is certainly room for disagreement in the finer points of whatever biblical worldview we adopt, of this much we should be agreed: Scripture teaches us that we are pilgrims pressing on to Zion, the City of the living God, and are looking forward to “the world to come”–over which Christ, the Last Adam, has become the head of a new humanity. He is the one who, by His death on the cross has overcome this present evil world (Gal. 1:5) and has secured the New Heavens and the New Earth in which righteousness dwells. He has come conquering and to conquer; and, will one day unveil “the world to come” that has been made subject to redeemed humanity by virtue of His representative reign.
B.B. Warfield, in his sermon “The Glorified Christ,” explains what it is that the writer of Hebrews has in mind when he tied “so great a salvation” (Heb. 2:3) to “the world to come” (Heb. 2:5-9):
“The salvation [Christ] wrought is called with pointed directness “so great a salvation”…We are asked to attend, not to what we are saved from, but to what we are saved to. And that is presented as nothing less than dominion over the universe. This dominion God has destined for man from the beginning. But man had failed of his destiny. How hopelessly, how dismally, he had failed…[but now] he points them to Jesus as one who had saved them out of this depth to that height. Lordship, — not over ‘this world,’ with its troubles and trials, its incompletenesses and make-believes, and after all done, the end of death, — but over the ‘world to be,’ was theirs. True, they had not entered as yet into their heritage: the ‘world to be,’ by that very token, is not yet. But Jesus had entered upon it; and in Him they held the reversion to it. ‘But now, we do not yet see all things subjected to man: but Him who has been made a little lower than angels for the suffering of death, Jesus, who we see crowned with glory and honor, in order that by the grace of God He has tasted death for all men.’ He is on the throne; and He is there not for Himself but for us. It was for us that He died–that He took upon Himself mortality; and now He is on the throne that this dreadful experience of death might really avail for us.”1
Our worldview must contain a continual view of “the world to come.” The already of the dominion that we have over that world to come is the already of the finished work of Christ. The not-yet of the dominion that is ours in Christ is the not-yet of seeing “the world to come,” over which we will reign with Christ. “We do not yet see all things put under Him, but we see Jesus…”
1. B.B. Warfield The Savior of the World (Hodder and Stoughton, 1913) pp. 164-165.