While God launched the new era of the new creation in the resurrection of Jesus and the giving of the Holy Spirit, the old age of sin and death is temporarily present in the world. The resurrection of Jesus is the beginning of the end. Jesus came once to launch the new age of the Spirit, and he will come again to put an end to the old age of the flesh. Everett Ferguson writes:
Through Christ the End, or the beginning of the End, has come. Tomorrow is here today. Something of God’s glory and power has reached down and called people for the coming age. The kingdom of God has created a new people, the church. But all this is only a down payment. Much more awaits the final consummation of God’s purposes. Nevertheless, the imagery of first fruits and first installment indicates the life in the world to come and its blessings will be in continuity with the present. Those who share the kingdom now will be those to participate in it in the future.1
The kingdom of God, then, is both now, but also not yet. Now, believers experience freedom from the power of sin through the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. Believers experience a spiritual rebirth in the present. At the same time, believers anticipate a future physical rebirth in the resurrection to come (1 Cor. 15:51–57; 1 Thess. 4:16–17). The Holy Spirit is the agent through whom spiritual and physical rebirth occurs (Rom. 8:12–14).
Defeatism interprets Romans 7 as the normal Christian life. However, the Bible teaches that those in Christ can be free from the power of sin and sinning.
That the kingdom is both now and not yet means that Christians live in a tension between defeatism and triumphalism. Defeatism emphasizes the reality that salvation is not yet complete while we await the second coming and the consummation of the kingdom of heaven in the return of Jesus. Defeatism loves the phrase, “Well, I am and will always be a sinner,” which undermines the power, the promise, and the Presence of the Holy Spirit as well as the efficacy of Christ’s work. Defeatism interprets Romans 7 as the normal Christian life. However, the Bible teaches that those in Christ can be free from the power of sin and sinning (Rom. 6) because of the fullness of the Holy Spirit.
On the other hand, it is likewise a mistake to believe that since the kingdom is now, we ought to be able to have enough faith to overcome infirmities, poverty, and ultimately death in this era. Stories of God performing miraculous healings (starting with the stories in the New Testament) are present indicators of future hope. At the same time, there are other stories of when God did not heal people miraculously in ways anticipated. This is because the kingdom, while now, is also not yet. Corruption, death, and decay reign over the physical creation until Christ’s second coming and the consummation of the kingdom.
The Holy Spirit as the Seal of Salvation
This present and future dynamic of the Holy Spirit is communicated in the metaphor of the Holy Spirit as seal (2 Cor. 1:21–22; Eph. 1:13; 4:30). The Holy Spirit as seal emphasizes that the Holy Spirit is a present mark of a future reality yet to be fulfilled. This is also conceptualized as a down payment on a later inheritance. Gordon Fee writes:
The Spirit is the evidence that the eschatological promises of Paul’s Jewish heritage have been fulfilled. At the same time, the Spirit as God’s empowering presence enables the people of God not simply to endure the present as they await the final consummation, but to do so with verve (with “spirit” if you will). And that is because the future is as sure as the presence of the Spirit as an experienced reality, hence the significance of the dynamic and experiential nature of the Spirit’s coming into the life of the believer.2
The Holy Spirit as seal is an indicator of those who will be saved in the final judgment. Those who live a life free from the condemnation of sin are those who conform to the image of Christ and will be with him upon his return. While Christians live a life free from sin in the present, the evil powers of the world still condemn Christians as guilty, as they did Christ. The final condemnation of sin-guilt is death. The resurrection of the body, then, is the final vindication of Christ and his body of believers as those who have escaped the wages of sin. Just as the Holy Spirit empowers a life free from sin now, he is also the one who enacts the bodily resurrection in the future. Christ was first vindicated as the Son of God through his resurrection by the Holy Spirit (Rom. 1:2; 1 Tim. 3:16). He is the first fruit of the resurrection (1 Cor. 15:23)—the representative head of the new creation that is the church. Likewise, those in Christ by the Holy Spirit will also be vindicated and declared victorious in the final judgment.
Pentecost marked the beginning of the end. When Jesus poured out the Holy Spirit on his followers, he launched the new age of the Spirit in which Christians can live free from the guilt and power of sin. Sanctified believers are the mark of those who will be saved from the final judgment. The mark of the faithful Christian whom God will vindicate in the last days is the fullness of the Spirit. That vindication is resurrection in the Holy Spirit.
Why It Matters
It is important as Christians that we know who we are, where we are from, and what time it is. The Christian worldview believes that history is going somewhere. Most non-Christian worldviews believe that history is simply on repeat; that all events that occur are simply a recurring cycle. The Bible refutes this. The Bible reveals that history is linear, not cyclical, and that God is working out his plan in time and space to redeem his creation. This means that there will be an end to sin, corruption, decay, suffering, and ultimately death. Knowing that there is an end coming informs the way that we live today. As Christians, we live today as if Jesus could return at any moment, and that upon his return we will be vindicated as faithful in God’s eyes.
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Readers will come away with the sound biblical and historic Christian basis for the divine personhood of the Holy Spirit and the optimism of living a Christian life that is free from the power of sin. This results from the graceful reality of the indwelling Spirit, who unites our lives with Christ. This book—The Holy Spirit: An Introduction—drives home our high privilege of having the Holy Spirit restore the image of God in individuals by uniting us to Jesus. It will serve as an indispensable resource for leaders, students, and anyone desiring to deepen their understanding of the Holy Spirit. Watch the free teaching videos here.
1. . Everett Ferguson, The Church of Christ: A Biblical Ecclesiology for Today (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1996), 35.
2. . Gordon D. Fee, God’s Empowering Presence: The Holy Spirit in the Letters of Paul (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2011), 808.