Spirit-Fueled Courage

January 30, 2018

by John Currie

Whatever fears threaten to cripple us or silence, the teaching and example of Paul remind us that believing the facts of the faith can give us the capacity to take action despite our fears. The particular fact of faith we will pay attention to in 2 Corinthians 5:5 is that God has prepared us for bodily resurrection and guaranteed it to us by the Spirit. The life-transforming reality to take away from this verse is this: We should be courageous in Christian life, and ministry because God has prepared us for bodily resurrection and guaranteed it to us by the Spirit. 

We do not have the time to fully unpack this, but allow me to focus on the last facet: Christian courage under fire is fueled by the fact that God has given us the Holy Spirit as his guarantee. The apostle’s confidence is not simply “whistling in the dark.” God has given his guarantee of this very thing for which he has prepared Christians.

The Best Guarantee

Paul makes this point by drawing on trade language, the language of commerce in his culture. The word “guarantee” refers to deposit given as down payment, given as a security, for a future full payment. In this kind of deposit, the thing given as down payment is of the same kind as the thing to be finally paid. The deposit is a part of the whole.

What this common cultural image communicates is that God has given us a down payment which guarantees full payment at the appointed time. He has given the first installment of the very thing which is guaranteed to come fully later on. So, this embattled servant’s courage and confidence is based on the fact that God, who does not change and cannot lie, and whose purposes cannot be thwarted, has given his first installment of the full glory yet to come.

Please notice carefully what that guarantee is, or rather who it is. The guarantee is the Spirit! Something similar has already been said in 1:22, “. . . who has also put his seal on us and given us his Spirit in our hearts as a guarantee.” God the Holy Spirit, in our hearts, is the first installment of the glory that we will receive in full when Jesus returns. God the Holy Spirit, in our hearts, is the guarantee of the bodily resurrection!

God the Holy Spirit, in our hearts, is the first installment of the glory that we will receive in full when Jesus returns.

Again, Paul uses a similar concept and similar language in another letter, and it will help us to look at it. In Romans 8:23 he discloses how the whole creation groans for the time when Christians’ bodies will be redeemed, the resurrection of the body. Romans 8:23 reads, “And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies.”

In this instance, the apostle uses agricultural imagery. The “firstfruits” is the initial installment of the whole harvest. It is a small portion taken at the beginning of the harvest which represents the entire harvest to come. And, Paul says, the Spirit is the first fruits of the whole harvest, which is the redemption of our bodies. A little different imagery, but it communicates the same concept as our passage.

Here’s the point. When you believed in Jesus, God gave you the Spirit in your heart. And he gave him to you not just for power for Christian living. He is that, but not just that. God gave you the Spirit as his guarantee that he will raise you from the dead with a body transformed like Christ’s glorified body! The fact that the Spirit lives in you now means God will raise you bodily in eternal glory. The Spirit, and his work of inner renewal and transformation in you now is the first installment, the foretaste, of the final glorious renewal of your entire person when Christ returns.

The point, of cosmic proportions, is this: the Spirit, who is now working out the resurrected life of Christ in our inner man by transforming us to Christ’s image (cf. 2 Cor. 4:16), is God’s guarantee  to us of the transformation of our outer man in eternal glory. Why do I think it matters to press that home? Because we need to realize how central the Holy Spirit is to our entire salvation.

The Power of Pentecost

Perhaps I can make the point this way. We have just completed Easter, the celebration of the death and resurrection of Christ. For that reason, Easter is a celebration which makes sense to us as Christians. Without Christ and his death and his resurrection, we have no salvation; there is no Christianity. But there is in about a month, another celebration on the Christian calendar: Pentecost.

Pentecost celebrates the giving of the Holy Spirit. In our tradition, we don’t set that time aside for special celebration, and I’m not saying we ought to. There is nothing in Scripture that mandates such things, even a special Easter celebration. But perhaps the church’s disparity in its observance of these particular seasons is illustrative of what we think of the Holy Spirit. “Easter is indispensable, Pentecost is a bit of a frill, take it or leave it.” In fact, when it comes to the Holy Spirit we may even be a little skeptical. We relegate focusing on him to other traditions that are more sensational and emotional.

But, for the apostle, there is no salvation without the Spirit. There is no Christianity without the Spirit. Please notice the essential bond between Christ and the Spirit and the Christian in the apostle’s theology in Romans 8:9–11:

You, however, are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if in fact the Spirit of God dwells in you. Anyone who does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to him. But if Christ is in you, although the body is dead because of sin, the Spirit is life because of righteousness. If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit who dwells in you.

To be in Christ is to be in the Spirit, to have Christ in you is to have the Spirit in you; without the Spirit, we do not belong to Christ.

But, the centrality of the Spirit is also disclosed in the very context of our passage. In 2 Corinthians 3, Paul describes the ministry that he is courageous about, the ministry for which the guarantee of bodily resurrection strengthens his heart. And he describes it as essentially a ministry about the Spirit. You can see this in 3:3, 6, 8, and especially in 18!

For Paul, the ministry of the new covenant is one where the Spirit gives life. The Spirit gives glory. The Spirit works in us to transform us from glory to glory. In the new covenant, the present ministry of Christ and the Spirit are so inseparably tied that he says, “The Lord is the Spirit. . . .” (3:17). He’s not confused about distinctions within the Trinity, but it’s the Spirit who makes the presence and power of the Lord effective in our lives.

Living in the Resurrection

Please understand this: the Holy Spirit is not a frill negotiable to what is otherwise basic to salvation. To focus on him only in terms of spectacular phenomena is to make far too little of him! The Spirit is essential to the very nature of our salvation and Christianity itself. So, it is not strange that he is the guarantee, he is the down payment, of the consummate hope of our salvation. The Spirit, in our hearts, is the first installment in our final resurrection in eternal glory!

To be in Christ is to be in the Spirit, to have Christ in you is to have the Spirit in you.

Why? Because the final resurrection of our body is also the work of the Spirit.

We’ve already taken some time in 1 Corinthians 15, and you remember its promise that those who are united to the last Adam follow him in the same kind of resurrection body. Do you remember how it describes the kind of resurrection body in which he was raised, and so shall we? A spiritual body (vv. 44, 46)! That doesn’t mean a “see-through body.” It means a body transformed by the Spirit. One of the verses we just read states, “If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit who dwells in you” (Rom 8:11).

Just as it was the Spirit who transformed the body of Jesus at his resurrection, so it will be the Spirit who will transform our bodies at our resurrection in Christ. That’s why the Spirit is the guarantee, the first installment because he is the one who pays in full at the end! The Spirit is the one who brings in the full harvest of our resurrection on that day.

This piece is adapted from John Currie, “Preaching by Faith, Not by Sight: A sermon on 2 Corinthians 5:5″ in Resurrection and Eschatology: Theology in Service of the Church, eds. Lane G. Tipton and Jeffrey C. Waddington (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2008) 555–64. Used with permission of the publisher.

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