Growing up poor, I remember times when my parents just didn’t have enough money to buy Christmas presents for us. They almost always seemed to work things out in the end, but there were times things just didn’t to come together. One advantage they had was Wal-Mart’s layaway program – come in and find what you want, pay a little for it now and come back and pay the rest later, at which time you can pick up your item.
This was an advantage for my parents, but not for us kids. One Christmas I remember my mom and step-father taking us to Wal-Mart and telling us we had $100 worth of items to put on layaway. This was right around the time the original Super Wal-Mart’s came out, so I ran around that store for probably 3 hours collecting baseball cards, sweaters (when I was a kid I wanted to be a preppy) and a baseball glove. After our time was up we went and put the items on layaway, in full confidence that in a month we would be able to come back and get our presents.
Unfortunately, that never happened. The first payment was made and my mom and step dad never went back to pay the rest so that we could get our Christmas presents. They never gathered enough money to pay the full sum; I never saw my baseball cards.
The larger narrative of the Spirit of God never has this kind of unfortunate conclusion. The Spirit is the first-fruits of our final, eschatological inheritance…the down payment of our final redemption. At the cross our savior won redemption for the entire world and the giving of the Spirit testifies that that redemption, already accomplished, will finally be completed. The Spirit witnesses in the “right now” to the “what is yet to come” – and the “what is yet to come” is guaranteed.
“Down payment” is from the Gk. avrrabw.n, a word which comes from the business world. The idea is a contractual agreement between two parties that the buyer will make a single payment at one time, in promise of returning with the full sum at a later time. The fulfillment of the promise is GUARANTEED in the initial installment. Thus, promised by the Father (Acts 1:4-5), the Spirit is God’s layaway plan for creation. The Spirit is His promise to entirely finish what He began so long ago. The Spirit is the evidence that we possess in the “now” what we still yet await for in the “then.” The Spirit is the church’s evidence that God will cash in on His promise.
The Spirit is the promise of the final redemption of this world. He is the “wellspring of Christian faith, forward-looking toward the final end.” The Spirit is the promise of the Father, the promise that all our temptations and sufferings do not have the final say. We do not have to wallow in our own depravity, but the Spirit gives us hope to see “the possibility of being wholly set free” and urges us to break free from the fetters of our so-called “freedom.” This hope is entirely audacious. In the face of our failures, this crazy, Spirit induced hope emboldens us to see that our sin does not have the final say. We can truly believe that this sin is the last one.
In Ephesians 1:13, Paul speaks of this inheritance of redemption being sealed with the promised Holy Spirit. A seal was a stamped impression on wax or clay that signified ownership and authenticity. It carried with it the protection of its owner. The Spirit, then, is the evidence that we are authentically owned by God. He has purchased us out of the slave-market and has made us children! This seal marks us “until the day of redemption.” The Spirit is the evidence that God protects us and will finally redeem us.
What better message of hope exists? God is not like my parents. He does not lack the resources to go back and finally redeem his purchase. The promise of full and final redemption is made known in the initial installment, the Holy Spirit.