“Are we there yet?” Every parent has heard this question from the back seat. Are we there yet? “Almost,” would be my usual slightly annoyed reply or I would say something like, “It’s just around the corner and up the bend a piece.” All road trips have a moment where the excitement of reaching the destination and length of the journey, leads to impatience. Are we there yet? There is nothing like the feeling of reaching our goal! Does this dynamic connect to our faith journey? From our perspective, it is clear that none of us have reached our goal. Paul even says this in Philippians 3:14, “I press on toward the goal for the prize of the heavenly call of God in Christ Jesus.” So in a sense, when it comes to reaching our goal, if asked the question, “Are we there yet?” we would have to say, no. No, we are still in the process of becoming who God has called us to be and who God has called us to be as a church as well. Yet, here we encounter a surprising and amazing word in our scriptures! In fact, it is here, we encounter the Word and Gospel itself!
When it comes to being who God wants us to be, both personally and as a church, the answer to our “Are we there yet?” question is actually, “yes!” What? You mean we have arrived? As we look around it doesn’t look like we are there. It doesn’t look like we have reached our destination as we see the many ways we personally and corporately fall short. Yet, here is the amazing promise of the Gospel: In Christ, we are as righteous as we will ever be. In Christ we are righteous right now, not becoming righteous. In Christ we are reconciled, not becoming reconciled. In Christ we are redeemed, not becoming redeemed. In Christ, we are sanctified (made holy) not becoming holy. Everywhere we see these words in the New Testament; they are in the past tense or to be more precise grammatically, they are in the “perfect” tense. The perfect tense tells us that the action of the verb is complete or finished. When it comes to righteousness, holiness, redemption, they are done, not in the process of being done. They are complete. We are, because of Christ’s choosing, the church. We are not becoming the church, we are the church right now as a pure gift and creation of Christ. Paul, when he writes his letters in the NT doesn’t say, “To the people in …. who are becoming the church.” No, he says, to the church …” Check out Paul’s greeting in I Corinthians as one example, he says: “To the church of God that is in Corinth, to those who are sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints” Notice he says we are the church and are sanctified. We are called to be, not become the church.
Am I splitting hairs here? Absolutely not. In fact, the very Gospel is at stake when it comes to the difference between “be” and “become.” Yet, I know this doesn’t seem right from our human perspective because as we look at all our personal and churchly imperfections, we say to ourselves that we still have a ways to go. We surely are not there yet! Nevertheless, who we are, and even our destination, is not our work but God’s, and God’s Word declares that we are righteous, reconciled, redeemed, and sanctified. God’s Word breaks in and says we have arrived because we have Christ. God’s Word has the power to create and it does just that, it makes us who we are. We are already there. Personally, I can’t become any holier than I am now because, if I have Christ, well, you can’t get any holier than that. Corporately, we can’t become any holier than we are now because, if we have Christ, well, we can’t get any holier than that. This is indeed the Gospel uncovered by Luther: In Christ, despite our many imperfections, we have arrived. We are righteous for Christ’s sake. Done. The law says “do” but Christ says, “done.” That applies to us personally and as a church. By his grace, we are his body, the church.
What then becomes of our becoming? When it comes to what we do, I go back to I Corinthians 1:2 where Paul says, “called to be saints.” We are called to be who we are. I love this because now I do what I do, not to become something, but because I am something. What I am is a gift. To go back to Philippians 3, Paul says that we “press on to make Christ our own because Christ has already made us his own.” Do you see how this works? What we do is because of the gift. This is part of the core of the Reformation. From our personal prayer life, worship, and scripture study, to how we care for and improve our neighbor’s lot, it all flows out of God’s gift and promise. Our becoming is nothing more than being who we are. Both personally and as a Church, we are seeking to be what we already are by the grace of Christ. What a joy the destination is! Are we there yet? Oh, what a joy it was to tell my kids we had finally arrived. Oh, what a joy it is to tell you: For Christ’s sake, we are already there!