God's down payment to us

The infilling of the Spirit is a down payment on Heaven.

I had really thought of it that way before reading Ephesians 1:13-14 in the Italian Bible.

In the classic King James Version, that passage speaks of the Holy Spirit as the "earnest" of what is to come. That never made much impression on me. I was familiar with "earnest" as an adjective, as in the sentence "he seemed very much in earnest." However, "earnest" as a noun was not something I had often heard, and I don't think I personally had ever used it as a noun. To be sure, the NIV speaks of "deposit," but that wasn't very vivid for me either. As a result, I had not paid much attention to that passage, nor to 2 Corinthians 1:22 and 5:5 where the same wording occurs.

Barbara and I spent ten years as missionaries in Italy. So, we have a certain degree of fluency in Italy. One day I was reading Ephesians 1 in my Italian Bible. Suddenly, verses 13-14 came alive. There was "pegno," a very ordinary word meaning down payment or first installment. It is often used by Italians in stores, in hotels, and when buying cars. And, as I discovered, its nuances reflect almost exactly the original Greek of Ephesians 1:13 in both meaning and commonness of everyday usage.

Though used only three times in the New Testament (once in Ephesians and twice in 2 Corinthians), this word offers us a significant perspective on the Spirit-filled life.

To begin with, isn't a down payment something one receives at an identifiable time? Therefore, to fit into the Apostle Paul's illustration of a deposit or down payment, the infilling of the Holy Spirit happens at an identifiable time. It is, as some have noted, an instantaneous "crisis" experience that is described that way in other New Testament passages.

An understanding of this down payment or deposit idea sheds light on what is meant by the statement "without holiness no one will see the Lord" in Hebrews 12. It should be obvious that people should not expect to receive full payment ("seeing the Lord" ) if they have refused the offered down payment.

To understand this concept better, let's look at how the word was used outside the New Testament. Some old papyri documents from New Testament times record an advance payment to a troop of castanet dancing girls for their appearance at a village festival. The advance payment serves as a guarantee that they will be paid in full after they perform at the festival. In another instance, a mouse catcher is being paid a deposit to encourage him to start the job at once.

In each of these cases, the down payment binds both the giver and the receiver. By paying the deposit, the giver guarantees full payment while the receiver, by his acceptance, guarantees a certain course of action. The infilling of the Holy Spirit is God's down payment on Heaven. Our acceptance of that down payment indicates our willingness to live out, as perfectly as we can, God's will for us.

In what sense is the infilling of the Spirit, or the experience called entire sanctification, an advance payment of Heaven? Well, when people go to make a down payment, they do not take enough cash to pay the full purchase price and then tear off small parts of each bill to give to the seller, leaving the seller with an unspendable "promise" or "pledge." Down payment means whole bills that are good money. While it is a part of the full payment, it is whole, but not the whole.

Sanctification means freedom from enslaving domination by the carnal nature. Isn't that a taste of Heaven? Sanctification means victory. Isn't that a taste of Heaven? Sanctification means perfect love. Isn't that a taste of Heaven?

So, while it can be called "full salvation," it is not glorification. In translating th phrase in Ephesians, Weymouth used "foretaste" in addition to "pledge." H. Orton Wiley, in writing of this down-payment concept, spoke of the "sample" of Heaven that God gives us now.

The kingdom of God is a "hot" topic today. Understood in Kingdom terminology, this down payment would illustrate the paradox of the Kingdom, which has already come (i.e., as a down payment) but which is yet to come (i.e., incomplete payment).

After having saved us from our sinful past, the Eternal God now offers us a down payment on the future. Other scriptural passages called it entire sanctification or the baptism of the Holy Spirit. Here, Paul refers to it as the first installment that guarantees full payment of all God has promised us.

Why hesitate? Why not accept this down payment, agreeing joyfully to fulfill the conditions He has laid down so we can one day receive full payment?

Discussion questions

  1. How does the concept of a "down payment" or "deposit" in relation to the Holy Spirit challenge our understanding of the infilling experience?
  2. What implications does the idea of a down payment have for our understanding of salvation and the concept of "seeing the Lord"?
  3. In what ways does the concept of a down payment bind both the giver (God) and the receiver (individuals)? How does our acceptance of the down payment indicate our commitment to God's will?
  4. How does the analogy of a down payment help us grasp the idea of sanctification as an advance payment of Heaven? What aspects of sanctification provide a taste of Heaven?

This article was written and published in what is now called Holiness Today while Barbara and I were missionaries in Italy.

A New Year's promise and project

Jesus gave His followers some daunting instructions. They included statements like:

In a commissioning address to His followers, Jesus said, " Whoever does not take up their cross and follow me is not worthy of me." (Matthew 10:38).

Discipleship does have a high cost. In 1945 a German pastor and theologian named Dietrich Bonhoeffer was hanged by the Nazis. In a 1937 book titled The Cost of Discipleship, Bonhoeffer wrote, "When Christ calls a man, he bids him come and die." (More on Bonhoeffer and The Cos of Discipleship)

To be sure, during the short years of Jesus' earthly ministry, He did more than give commands. He also made some promises. Big promises. And those promises speak not only of life in Heaven someday but also of life here and now.

Jesus talked of giving abundant life. Referring primarily to the work He would leave His followers to do, Jesus said, "If you ask anything in my name, I will do it." His last words spoken just before His ascension to heaven were words of promise: "You will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you" (Acts 1:8).

Perhaps as this year has been coming to a close, we have looked back over some crumpled shells of hopes and dreams we had had for these past twelve months. It may be that we didn't experience or utilize all the resources that Christ promised for us.

In looking ahead to this new year, we should accept the assurance of God's inexhaustible power and appropriate His strength available to us. Christ offers everything we need to obey His commands and to live holy, Spirit-filled, world-changing lives. That kind of life must be lived by the power of His Spirit -- or it cannot be lived at all.

Christ promises to fill all who are part of His Church to overflowing with His presence and power. However, too often, we have failed to make ourselves available to Him. Instead of being mountain-movers and instruments of divine miracles, we have been content to kick pebbles into the gutter.

Paul highlighted two very different lifestyles with his dual imperative, "Do not get drunk on wine. . . Instead, be filled with the Spirit," (Ephesians 5:18). One question that comes to mind from that passage is: So, what are you going to be controlled by: Alcohol or the Holy Spirit?

Materialism would say, "Gorge yourself on the things of this world. Grab all you can." In contrast to that, God's challenge is clear: "Live the great adventure for which you were created."

And that should be Project Number One this coming year for all Christians -- allowing the power of the living Lord to control us and to be exhibited for His glory through us.

If, during the next twelve months, we live with the Spirit as a dimly realized fact -- our souls bleached and anemic -- it is because we are content to live this way. The beginning of a New Year is a good time to yield fully in an unrestrained way to the guiding presence of the Holy Spirit in our lives.

    -- Howard Culbertson,

This article was written and published in what is now called Holiness Today while Barebara and I were missionaries in Italy.

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