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Already Not Yet, Part 2

Posted by Matt Postiff February 17, 2008 on Matt Postiff's Blog under Theology 

In my December 7 post, I said, "I cannot grasp something that is ‘already' true and ‘not yet' true at the same time and in the same sense." It seems to me that this is just another way of expressing the logical principle we call the "law of non-contradiction."

My attentive blog reader asked if this statement is contradicted by the Christian doctrine of adoption. After all, Romans 8:15-17 teaches that we have received the Spirit of adoption as sons (see also Gal. 4:5-7). But then Romans 8:23 says that we wait eagerly for adoption as sons. So are we adopted or are we not? Or are we "already adopted but not yet adopted?" I suspect many Christians would by default lean simply to the first "leg" of the already-not yet statement, namely that we are already adopted. I would agree. The resolution of the supposed "already-not yet" conundrum comes when we see that Paul clarifies what he means by adoption in both cases. In Romans 8:15, he speaks of our receiving the Spirit of adoption. In Romans 8:23, he seems to refer back to that adoption as the "first fruits of the Spirit." In the latter half of v. 23, he speaks of adoption, "that is, the redemption of our body."

Thus, we see that the doctrine of adoption is not an exception to what I said above. It is not true that we are adopted at a singular time and in a singular sense in two different ways. Rather, we are adopted in one sense of the term presently, and we will be adopted in another sense of the term in the future. I believe a case can be made that "adoption" encompasses these two related truths which are distinct and can be carefully distinguished so as not to violate our sense of the law of non-contradiction.

Paul uses the term "adoption" to encompass both the realities of present receipt of the Spirit of adoption and the future reality of the resurrection and glorification of our bodies. There is some tension here. I will quote from Moo, Romans, NICNT, p. 521, who expresses this tension: "Christians, at the moment of justification, are adopted into God's family; but this adoption is incomplete and partial until we are finally made like the Son of God himself (v. 29). This final element in our adoption is the ‘redemption of our bodies.' ‘Redemption' shares with ‘adoption' and many other terms in Paul the ‘already-not yet' tension that pervades his theology, for the redemption can be pictured both as past and as future." So can we unravel the tension? I believe we can. The resolution is simply that there are certain elements of the adoption "umbrella term" that are complete for the believer, and there are certain other elements that are not. To me, this does not contribute to a kind of vacillation: "Am I adopted or am I not?" It simply points out that I am adopted and awaiting all the benefits that come with the package. I'm a son and an heir, I just have not received the inheritance as of yet.

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