As pilgrims making our way through the harsh elements of life, can we really be sure that we will reach our destination? In short, yes. In fact, both our survival and arrival are guaranteed. This is God’s promise to us as the Apostle Paul reminds us in his letter to the Corinthians.
For we know that if our earthly tent we live in is destroyed, we have a building from God, an eternal dwelling in the heavens, not made with hands. Indeed, we groan in this tent, desiring to put on our heavenly dwelling, since, when we are clothed, we will not be found naked. Indeed, we groan while we are in this tent, burdened as we are, because we do not want to be unclothed but clothed, so that mortality may be swallowed up by life. Now the one who prepared us for this very purpose is God, who gave us the Spirit as a down payment.2 Corinthians 5:1-5
In this passage, and its context, Paul is encouraging the believers in Corinth to live by faith, not by sight. Our bodies appear to be falling apart and life is being swallowed up by death, but we hold onto the hope that they are giving way to greater things.
Paul compares our bodies to a tent – fragile and temporary. But one day we will trade in our earthly tent for a glorious dwelling. Our sin-riddled lives, worn by the years lived in a falling-apart world, will be turned in for solid, permanent lives, handmade by God. Mortality swallowed up by life.
This incredible promise is followed by a guarantee from God himself – the Holy Spirit. The presence of the Spirit in us is God’s down payment of our future dwelling. We know that we are participants in God’s everlasting life and possessors of a home in heaven because we already now in this life possess the Holy Spirit. The eternal, unquenchable life of the Spirit already lives in us, giving us both a foretaste and a guarantee of the life of the Spirit in the future.
So, if we possess the Spirit, we have a place in God’s new creation reserved for us. The question then becomes: How do we know we possess the Spirit?
It is easy to be deceived in this regard. With surprising ease we can slide into living a worldly life softened by the outward niceties of Christianity, yet missing the deep renewal of the Spirit, We live and breathe and view the world much the same as our unbelieving neighbours, the only difference is we cover over our life with the veneer of church and good deeds. We end up putting our assurance in the existence of this Christian veneer instead of the real presence of the Spirit.
In John’s gospel Jesus explains that the Spirit enables us to see the Truth that the world cannot see: the reality of sin, the righteousness found in Christ, and the coming judgement. Therefore, if we are alive to these things, living as if they are true, that is the work of the Spirit.
Do we groan under the weight and carnage of sin? Are we quick to point to Jesus as the reason and cause of our salvation? Do we feel a longing to know God and to make him known?
This self-examination is the true test of the Spirit’s presence and the wonderful assurance which follows. As our earthly tents wrinkle and collapse under the burden of sin, are we seeing little evidences of Spirit-life at work in us? If so, rejoice because the down payment guarantees the full inheritance, and the full inheritance will be beyond imagination.