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As I’ve mentioned before, one common conception of the Holy Spirit among some churches of Christ is that His role was to help people perform miracles in the first century, confirm the deity of Jesus and then give us the New Testament before retiring to heaven for a sabbatical (except maybe to serve as an occasional prayer partner).  You’ll notice that this description of the Spirit’s role is primarily past tense.  However, many have become increasingly suspicious of this understanding of the Spirit.  I’m not sure about anyone else, but my move away from this understanding was prompted by the Bible’s use of present and future tense words to describe the Spirit’s role.  Recall the crucial and fundamental role the Spirit would play in the Messianic Age.  The N.T. declares that age to be a present reality awaiting a final consummation.  This is the dominant framework in which the Holy Spirit must be understood.  Any discussion that focuses primarily on personal piety or on past activity misses the eschatological nature of His role.  To borrow a couple words from Gordon Fee, the Spirit was conceived of in the New Testament as the certain evidence that new creation had been inaugurated and the absolute guarantee of its final consummation.  Thus, the “already/not yet” language of so many eschatological terms (salvation, redemption, adoption, inheritance, etc.).  A quick examination of three of Paul’s unique metaphors for the Spirit bears this out. 

THE SPIRIT AS DOWN PAYMENT

Now it is God who makes both us and you stand firm in Christ. He anointed us, set his seal of ownership on us, and put his Spirit in our hearts as a deposit, guaranteeing what is to come (2 Co. 1:21-22).

Now it is God who has made us for this very purpose and has given us the Spirit as a deposit, guaranteeing what is to come (2 Co. 5:5).

And you also were included in Christ when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation. Having believed, you were marked in him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit, who is a depositguaranteeing our inheritance until the redemption of those who are God’s possession—to the praise of his glory (Eph. 1:13-14).

The word translated “deposit” is the Greek arrabon.  This metaphor only occurs three times in the N.T., all in Paul and all in reference to the Holy Spirit.  It is a technical term for the first installment of a total amount due (as attested by the Greek commercial papyri).  So you buy something in the agora or obtain hired services from someone and the funds used to secure the sale or service are referred to as the arrabon.  When the deposit serves in this capacity it establishes a contract and also guarantees its future fulfillment.  This is precisely the role the Spirit plays in the life of the believer.  The Spirit is the fundamental reason that Christians have assurance.  Yet we would miss the totality of the metaphor if we failed to emphasize that the party receiving the “down payment” is also under obligation to fulfill his part of the agreement.  I believe in Paul’s thought world the human end of the bargain would be described as “faith” or “loyal allegiance.”  In other words, the continual willingness to be led by that same Spirit which guarantees the future. 

THE SPIRIT AS FIRSTFRUITS

We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time. Not only so, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies (Romans 8:22-23).

Perhaps no other passage in Paul is as explicit as this one when it comes to his “already/not yet” understanding of eschatology.  Any good farmer knows that the firstfruit of the crop serves to guarantee the rest of the harvest.  Paul’s understanding is that the Spirit is just that; the firstfruit–the guarantee of what is to come.  But how can Paul speak of awaiting adoption?  He has just previously in the same chapter spoken of believers as “sons” having received adoption.  Again, the Spirit solves the dilemma.  We have in some sense received the adoption and have become heirs through the Spirit; yet we await the consummation and total inheritance which also involves the Spirit (1 Co. 15–the whole chapter).

Paul uses very similar language to refer to Jesus as the “firstfruit” of the eventual harvest; namely, the resurrection.

But Christ has indeed been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. 21For since death came through a man, the resurrection of the dead comes also through a man. 22For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive. 23But each in his own turn: Christ, the firstfruits; then, when he comes, those who belong to him (1 Co. 15:20-23).

Very similar ideas emerge.  Jesus’ resurrection guarantees yours and mine.  Thus, Paul can speaking of “having been raised with Christ” and then turn around in the next breath and speak of the hope of being raised. 

THE SPIRIT AS SEAL

The notion of the Spirit as a “seal” has been mentioned in passing above in 2 Co. 1:21-22 and Eph. 1:13.  Fee writes, “When used literally, a ‘seal’ usually referred to a stamped impression in wax, denoting ownership and authenticity, and carrying with it the protection of the owner” (God’s Empowering Presence, 807).  This is the only metaphor of the three which is not inherently future oriented.  It speaks to the present reality of the Christian’s assurance through the Spirit.  But Paul is not shy about making this term serve his future oriented purposes.  Eph. 4:30 speaks of the Spirit “with whom you were sealed for the day of redemption.”  Even here Paul has kept his focus where it always is–The present experience of the believer as a foretaste and shadowing of the future glory to be revealed.

CONCLUSION

These three metaphors were enough to convince me some time ago that I better not minimize the Spirit’s role lest He minimize my future inheritance!  The New Testament’s (and the old for that matter) witness is decidedly in favor of a present and future task for the Spirit.  Why some are afraid of this I do not understand.  For Paul it is to have the opposite effect–assurance!  Thanks be to God for His unspeakable gift.

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A new project is underway to try and advance dialogue between conservative and progressive members of Churches of Christ.  A new website, Grace Conversation, is hosted by two “progressives” (Todd Deaver and Jay Guin) and two “conservatives” (Phil Sanders and Gred Tidwell).  BTW, I hate labels, but sometimes they are the best way of communicating basic assumed ideas.  This promises (but we’ll see) to be a forum which moves past name calling and speaking past each other, to an arena for cordial dialogue in a Christ-like fashion.  My hopes are high and my prayers often, but cynicism and history are pulling strongly at my realism.  I hope that my hope is not a nope.  This site should be up and running in about a week.  Probably worth checking out.  If you are a reader here and not affiliated with Churches of Christ, you might enjoy the site as a case study in patterns of religion!

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