This is an interesting question that we see answered in many ways, when we just look around at how Christians are living in the world, and at what churches seem to think they need to offer.
There are many confusing and contradictory messages. As a small kid, I was at a church where hell-fire was vividly taught, the Gospel was clearly taught, but then we were told we couldn’t just “believe in Jesus” as “fire insurance.” Ummm. For a small kid, that was terrifying. If I believe that Jesus is my savior out of fear, then it doesn’t count, and I’m doomed? Praise Jesus, I wasn’t at that church all that long.
Although I am not Reformed, I find the Reformed formulation of “already but not yet” a helpful reminder that we are already living in the Kingdom of God and should be doing the business of that Kingdom, even while we wait for it to be fully revealed. Jesus actually gave us a pretty extensive to-do list.
Holding a traditional view of sin that is tied to evil, I look forward with great anticipation to the absence of evil, and life in the conscious presence of my God (all three persons at once).
While evil is present, life is harder at best, and the people who should be most closely tied to each other in love are not and don’t work together as we should. For me, that makes a robust understanding of Communion/Lord’s Supper essential in that it is a regularly repeated sign-act that Jesus uses to feed us of the Gospel that saves us and binds us to himself and which also binds us to each other, even the ones we really, really don’t want anything to do with. But the sign-act is not enough; we must cooperate and act.
Around Easter the Language of God podcast had N.T. Wright on, talking about the point of the Resurrection. I found this part (from the transcript) very helpful, in which he reminds us we are living in the Kingdom now and have things we should be doing, and we can do them through the power of the Holy Spirit:
It’s very interesting that the early Christians discovered quickly that there are four virtues, which the ancient world didn’t count at all, but which really mattered. And they are patience, humility, chastity, and charity, in the sense of outward looking love to and help to anybody and everybody. And so to believe in the resurrection involves saying, there is this new way of being human, and we are committed to it. Though we all fail, we are jolly well going to carry on in the power of the Holy Spirit. And then comes the extraordinary point of continuity, that even though what we do at the moment seems often to be useless, we try this and that and it doesn’t seem to get us very far se are promised that in the new creation, all that has been of God and of the Holy Spirit, in the present world, will be there somehow in God’s new world. That’s that line at the end of 1st Corinthians 15, where Paul says, therefore get on with your work, because you know that in the Lord, your labor is not in vain. In other words, as Jesus himself said, every cup of cold water that you give to somebody in the name of Jesus, the Messiah, then that will not go unnoticed and unrewarded. There is going to be continuity between the present world and God’s future world. That’s why Paul talks about God coming in Christ to change our lowly body to be like his glorious body. He talks about the body being meant for the Lord, and the Lord for the body. So what we do in the present matters, because it is actually part of the future, which we are to be part of, when Christ comes again to renew this world and at that point, of course, very controversial in parts of America, I know, perhaps more in America and elsewhere, because the whole rapture theology is all about people being taken away from this world, to another world entirely. Whereas the whole point of the second coming in the New Testament is that Jesus is coming back to rule and to reign, to transform, to heal, to fill this present world with justice and joy and peace and love. And we are to practice justice and joy and peace and love in the present because it’s the language we’re going to be speaking when Jesus comes back.