Theologian Alister McGrath once identified the Holy Spirit as “the Cinderella of the Trinity. The other two sisters,” he said, “may have gone to the theological ball; the Holy Spirit got left behind every time” (Christian Theology, 240). My, my, how times have changed! Contemporary interest in the person and ministry of the Spirit is unparalleled in the history of the church. As a result, passages such as 2 Corinthians 1:21-22 are being given renewed attention. It’s hard to imagine two verses anywhere in Scripture that speak more directly and powerfully of the work of the Spirit than do these:
“And it is God who establishes us with you in Christ, and has anointed us, and who has also put his seal on us and given us his Spirit in our hearts as a guarantee.”
I want to draw our attention in this passage to three glorious truths concerning the Spirit, the third of which being the primary focus of this meditation.
First, God the Father has “anointed” us with the Spirit, even as he anointed Jesus. Paul deliberately juxtaposes two words to highlight this remarkable truth. Here is a translation that makes the point unmistakably:
“It is God who establishes us with you in ‘Christ’ (christon) and ‘christed’ (chrisas) us.” Or again:
“It is God who establishes us with you in the anointed one and anointed us.”
Thus, just as Jesus said of himself, “the Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me” (Luke 4:18), likewise Christians are spoken of as anointed ones because we too have received the same Holy Spirit and are thus set apart and empowered to serve God and authorized to act on his behalf. The Spirit who indwelt and energized the ministry of Jesus indwells and energizes us! All Christians, therefore, are anointed (as confirmed also in 1 John 2:20-21,27).
Second, God has “sealed” us with his Spirit. As Paul said in Ephesians 1:13, “in him you also, when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and believed in him, were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit” (cf. also Eph. 4:30).
The term "seal", when used literally, referred to a stamped impression in wax pointing to ownership and protection. When used metaphorically, it meant (1) to authenticate (John 3:33; 6:27; 1 Cor. 9:2) or confirm as genuine and true, including the idea that what is sealed is stamped with the character of its owner; (2) to designate or mark out as one’s property; to declare and signify ownership (see Rev. 7:3-8; 9:4); or (3) to render secure or to establish (i.e., protect; cf. Eph. 4:30; Matt. 27:66; Rev. 20:3).
With what, precisely, are we sealed? Both Ephesians 1:13 and 4:30 would appear to suggest that the seal is the Spirit himself, “by whom God has marked believers and claimed them for his own” (Fee, God’s Empowering Presence, 807). In other words, it isn’t so much that the Spirit does the sealing as the Spirit is the seal (although it certainly could be both). Hence, sealing is nothing less than the reception and consequent indwelling of the Holy Spirit.
Third, God the Father has “given us his Spirit in our hearts as a guarantee.” Before we explore this word translated “guarantee” (or “pledge”), I want to draw our attention to something all Christians experience.
I have in mind that ill-defined but inescapable ache in your heart for something better, that instinctive sense that all is not as it should be, that there is a world yet to come where justice will prevail and truth will be known and peace will reign and all will love righteousness and beauty will radiate and permeate everything. You know what I’m talking about. One struggles to put it in words. It’s as if you’ve been allowed to smell the flower but not see it, taste the feast, but not consume it.
I suppose there are even times when we’d just as soon not at all be aware, even in the slightest degree, of the “not yet” in God’s redemptive purposes. The frustration in knowing it is coming but not seeing it is often more than one can endure. It would almost be better never to have caught a glimpse of the glory to come than to have seen it but be compelled to continue life in its absence. But then we come to our senses. “Of course I’m glad to have touched the reality of future glory, if only in part, if only in a passing glance, if only in a gentle twinge in my spirit that says, Wait, be patient, it will be worth it all.”
Where does it come from, this unfulfilled confidence in what is not yet, this unconsummated longing for what we can’t see? It’s as if we are given just enough water to sustain us in the desert, with the ever echoing reassurance that an oasis of unimaginable and transcendent refreshment is just beyond our grasp.
It comes from the deposit of the Holy Spirit in our hearts! On three occasions Paul describes the Spirit as the down payment, the pledge, or as the ESV renders it here in 2 Corinthians 1:22, the guarantee. The term (arrabon) itself was used in commercial transactions to refer to the first installment of the total amount due. The down payment effectively guaranteed the fulfillment of whatever contractual obligations were assumed. "The Spirit, therefore," says Fee, "serves as God's down payment in our present lives, the certain evidence that the future has come into the present, the sure guarantee that the future will be realized in full measure” (807). John Eadie’s explanation beautifully sums up Paul’s point:
“It is the token that the whole sum stipulated for will be given when the term of service expires. The earnest is not withdrawn, but is supplemented at the appointed period. . . . But the earnest, though it differ in degree, is the same in kind with the prospective inheritance. The earnest is not withdrawn, nor a totally new circle of possessions substituted. Heaven is but an addition to present enjoyments. Knowledge in heaven is but a development of what is enjoyed on earth; its holiness is but the purity of time elevated and perfected; and its happiness is no new fountain opened in the sanctified bosom, but only the expansion and refinement of those susceptibilities which were first awakened on earth by confidence in the Divine redeemer. The earnest, in short, is the ‘inheritance’ in miniature, and it is also a pledge that the inheritance shall be ultimately and fully enjoyed” (67-8).
In giving the Holy Spirit to us, writes Peter O’Brien, “God is not simply promising us our final inheritance but actually providing us with a foretaste of it, even if it ‘is only a small fraction of the future endowment’” (121).
In other words, when you become consciously and experientially aware of the presence within of transcendent deity, of a joy that is inexpressible and full of glory, of a power that triumphs over the allure of fleshly lusts, of a delight that is sweeter than the passing pleasures of sin, of a satisfaction that puts earthly success to shame, you are sensing, if only in small measure, what will be yours in infinite and unending degree in the age to come!
It is nothing less than the precious Spirit of God quickening your soul to the reality of what awaits us on the other side, assuring you that he is here, “in our hearts” (2 Cor. 1:22b), to guarantee that all God has promised will come to pass. We have it on no less authority than the Holy Spirit himself that what we sense in our spirit now is a foretaste of what we will see and hear and feel and taste and enjoy throughout the ages to come in all the fullness of God himself.
Even so, come Lord Jesus!