But it is the tension of the “already and not yet” nature of Christ’s kingdom that creates so much difficulty for us. We expect what is “not yet” now—we expect heaven on earth—and when we are forced to live by patience and perseverance, we often worry and fret instead. We expect the crown of glory now and are too easily derailed in our faith when God places on us the cross of suffering instead. As Martin Luther said, we have spent far more time cultivating our theologies of glory than our theology of the cross. This was not a uniquely first-century problem. Our modern conveniences have trained us to expect immediate results in almost a blink of an eye. Thus, learning to live patiently between the “already” of Christ’s kingdom and the “not yet” of its eschatological consummation may be difficult. Paul helpfully directs the church’s attention back to creation (which has been waiting patiently for quite some time), but he also points our eyes forward toward the new creation as he says, “For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us” (Rom. 8:18). What we endure now so pales in comparison to what will be revealed in us later that Paul says the former is not even worthy to be compared with the latter.
Christians are a chronological paradox. We live on earth but belong in heaven. Our lives are lived in this age but are ultimately defined by the age to come. Our King is both with us and yet coming to us. God is not simply our travel partner; He is also our destination. We are already in Christ but not yet what we will fully be in Him when we are with Him in heaven. These truths may not be easily understood, but they are at the heart of what it means to be a Christian—to be in Christ—and to have Christ in us.
This leads us to Romans 8:28–30, which in many ways is Paul’s comfort crescendo. Many things could be said about this section, but we will focus on only one: conformity to Christ’s image. Paul ends this uplifting section by directing the church’s attention to the great “good” that God is continuing to do, even in this present evil age, which is to conform those whom He loves (the church) to the image of Christ. The sufferings that we endure in this present evil age are a tool that God uses to mold us to the image of Christ. They are not outside His providential care; nor are they capricious. Rather, even the hard things that we endure have a good goal—they conform us to the image of Christ.
Who we are in Christ informs our response to trials and adversity. Rather than leading us to anxiety or despair, trials should remind us that heaven will be better, that Christ is sufficient, and that these momentary, light afflictions that we endure now are incomparable to the eternal weight of glory that awaits us with Christ in heaven. Thus, we do not worry; we do not fear; we have no need to be anxious. As the hymn A Mighty Fortress Is Our God reminds us: “Let goods and kindred go, this mortal life also. The body they may kill, God’s truth abideth still. His kingdom is forever.”