Ultimately, life today must be lived in light of the end. Our end is the only way to make sense of life now and the only way to live according to the hope of Christ. Søren Kierkegaard has been paraphrased as saying, Life can only be understood backwards; but it must be lived forwards. While Kierkegaard meant that we can only learn about our lives by looking back at our own personal histories and moving forward from there, this expression can be repurposed to express Paul’s eschatology. If Paul had said it, he would have meant that our lives can only be understood from their end point, their telos—moving through death, resurrection, and judgment, to eternal glory.
The power available to believers as they navigate living in the now and not yet is the Spirit of God. He mediates both the past and future work of Christ. Just as the Spirit raised Christ from the dead, he raises believers now, and he will do so bodily when Christ comes again. As the deposit guaranteeing their inheritance, the presence of the Spirit mediates the future to believers. He is the future breaking into present experience. As such, the presence of the Spirit empowers believers to participate in the new creation and to live according to the day rather than the night.
There are two senses in which believers live by the Spirit. First, believers live by the power of the Spirit. Living according to the age to come is only possible with the power that the Spirit brings from that age in anticipation of that age. New life in Christ can only exist in the Spirit. Second, believers live by the Spirit in the sense that they are to live according to the Spirit. As they walk in the Spirit, the Spirit produces fruit in them; as they sow to the Spirit, they reap eternal life. Thus, believers can only be alive in Christ by the power of the Spirit, and they are to conduct themselves in step with the Spirit.
The church must be characterized by an eschatological perspective and by the hope of glory. Just as all believers straddle this present age and the age to come, so the wider communion of believers does so on a corporate level. If the church ceases to be an eschatological community, it will cease to exist as a true church. A church that does not long for the coming of Christ has lost its way. A church that is not living as in the daytime amid this present darkness cannot reflect the light of Christ to a lost world. A church that does not cling to the hope of resurrection will live without hope. And a church without hope is an oxymoron.
The way we conduct our work is an opportunity to declare our expectation in what is to come. It declares our expectation of the world to come—or at least it ought to do so. The values and standards that pertain to the daytime can inform our work now. Work can build, contribute to society, improve people’s lives, facilitate community, and myriad other positive things. Believers ought to embrace these positive features of work as emblems of the values that will characterize the age to come.
As such, believers ought to avoid work that destroys, marginalizes, and corrupts. Work that is only self-serving does not embody the values of the kingdom to come. Such work becomes an antiwitness to the eschaton, not to mention the final judgment. Our care for the environment also ought to express our eschatological expectation that this world will be renewed. The earth that is should be respected in anticipation of the earth it will become. Earth care is therefore an expression of our hope. It should not be underplayed by consigning this earth to the trash can, nor should it be overplayed by imagining that the renewal of the earth is at risk unless we intervene.
Life can only truly be understood backward from that end. But life must be lived forwards as we approach that end. Or, as Paul did say, we live with Christ in us, the hope of glory.
About the Author
Constantine R. Campbell (PhD, Macquarie University) is professor of New Testament at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School in Deerfield, Illinois. He is the author of several books, including Advances in the Study of Greek, Basics of Verbal Aspect in Biblical Greek, Keep Your Greek, Paul and Union with Christ, Outreach and the Artist, and 1, 2 & 3 John in The Story of God Bible Commentary series. Con is a scholar, public speaker, musician, and author, and lives in Lake Zurich, Illinois with his wife and three children.