During the 1930s, when credit was scarce and the economy had tanked, the layaway system was a godsend. The system is a “method of purchasing by which the purchaser reserves an article with a down payment and claims it only after paying the full balance.”
Using this system, retailers can entice low-income consumers to purchase their product, while consumers can reserve an item for themselves (without a credit-check), lock-in the purchasing price, payoff the balance of the item in small, incremental payments, and avoid paying interest.
The program became fairly ubiquitous in the early 70s, only to fizzle out somewhat when the economy improved in subsequent decades.
But the layaway concept did not originate in twentieth-century America. Rather, God is its inventor. In fact, salvation itself may be the original layaway item.
Laid Up In Heaven
Paul affirms that our “hope” for salvation “is laid up [apokeimai] for [the elect] in heaven” (Col. 1.5; cf. v.2).
In his letter to Timothy, the apostle indicated that “a crown of righteousness” is “laid up [apokeimai]” for all who fight “the good fight,” finish “the race,” keep “the faith,” and love “his appearing” (2 Tim. 4.7-8; see also 1 Peter 1.4).
The term, apokeimai, employed in these two passages, stems from two words: “away” and “to lay.” Like modern-day layaway, this word combines the concepts of:
(1) stored away;
(2) guaranteed because reserved, provided conditions for preserving it are met; and
(3) given in full at a later time.
First, Moulton and Milligan note that the “word is common in the sense to be stored” (63, emp. added).
In the parable of the ten minas, for example, the Lord depicts a servant as having “put away” (apokeimai) his master’s money “in a handkerchief” (Lk. 19.20). He had preserved his master’s currency by storing it away (cf. 1 Tim. 6.19).
Second, the word encompasses a conditional guarantee. That which is “laid away” is stored in a manner designed to thwart others from obtaining it, and to ensure that it will not be lost by its possessor. Vincent cites Wilson as offering this definition:
“Deposited, reserved, put by in store out of the reach of all enemies and sorrows” (Vol. III, 463).
In other words, our “hope” for salvation is ours by promise, stored away for us.
Of course, though that is the ideal, the guarantee for a layaway item is not necessarily absolute, but contingent upon criteria. Items may be stolen or corroded, or the possessor may simply neglect it over time, eventually losing it to forgetfulness. In modern terms, when you put an item on layaway (through down-payment), the retailer will hold the item for you (with a guarantee), provided you keep making payments to the end. If, however, you cease making payments, the item can be forfeited.
Likewise, salvation is guaranteed, but only if certain conditions are met.
Unlike the “uncertain riches” (1 Tim. 6.17) of this world, the treasures of heaven, at the very least, can neither be stolen nor corroded (cf. Mt. 6.19-20).
However, they can be lost, if we should “depart” from God (cf. 2 Jn. 1.8; Heb. 3.12; 10.38-39, etc.). Some who are ready to “inherit salvation” can “drift away” from it, if they “neglect” it (Heb. 1.14-2.3). Worse yet, if we begin “denying the Lord who bought” us, we will surely “bring on [ourselves] swift destruction” (2 Pt. 2.1). Thus, though salvation is ours at the moment, stored away in heaven for us, we must ever be careful not to “receive the grace of God in vain” (2 Cor. 6.1).
Third, the laid-away item will only be fully acquired at a future time.
By way of illustration, in Hebrews 9.27, the inspired author employs the term, apokeimai, with reference to death — “it is appointed (laid away) for men to die once.” Birth itself, effectively, is a down-payment on death, for flesh and blood are, by creation, mortal things, “sown in corruption” (i.e., subject to decay; 1 Cor. 15.42).
With every breath, the mortal body makes a payment on death, until one day, no more payments can be made, and death — inevitably ours — comes to us with a personal judgement on its heels. Thus, death is stored away for us, provided the Lord does not return before all payments are made (cf. 1 Cor. 15.51; 1 Thess. 4.15-18). However, death cannot be fully acquired until sometime in the future, after we have “breathed [our] last” (Lk. 23.46).
Equally so, salvation is both a present possession and a future acquisition, provided we remain faithful to the Lord (cf. Titus 3.4-5; 1 Cor. 15.1-2; Rm. 13.11; 2 Tim. 4.18). John assures the faithful that “God has given us eternal life” — thus, we “have eternal life” — but that we must “continue to believe in the name of the son of God” in order to retain it (1 Jn. 5.11-13). Those who cease holding onto the Son of God will “not have life.”
Paul describes those who accept the message of the cross as those “who are being saved” (1 Cor. 1.18). Salvation is not a one-and-done transaction. Rather, like modern-day layaway, salvation is an ongoing acquisition, beginning at baptism (1 Pt. 3.21), continuing through a faithful life (Rev. 2.10), and ending at death (Rev. 14.13; cf. 1 Pt. 1.9). In the words of denominational scholar, Peter Davids, commenting on 1 Pt. 1.9:
“Salvation, then, is a goal. It is what Christians are moving toward. According to 1 Peter it begins with baptism (1 Pet. 3.21), but it is finally revealed only in “the last time” (1 Pet. 1.5). The mark of those who are “being saved” is their remaining firm in the faith under persecution” (Kaiser, et al., 710).
In short, salvation is stored away in heaven, guaranteed to the elect, provided we keep the faith, and given to us in full at a future time.
Details of the Heavenly Layaway Program
God, then, offers humanity a layaway program. Its details are as follows:
(1) The “hope” of salvation (Col. 1.5) — that eternal “crown” (i.e., reward; 2 Tim. 4.8) — is the item that may be laid-away in heaven’s store. Though it is not yet fully in our possession, the “inheritance incorruptible” is nonetheless being “reserved in heaven” for us to obtain at a future time (1 Pt. 1.4).
(2) The down-payment for this salvation was made by the blood of Christ on behalf of all mankind (1 Jn. 2.2; Jn. 1.29; Heb. 9.11-12; Lk. 3.6; Tit. 2.11), apart from human works (Rm. 4.6; 11.6). Mankind did nothing either to compel or influence God to pay for man’s salvation through the blood of Christ (cf. Rm. 5.6-8).
(3) Ongoing payments are also being made by the same blood (1 Jn. 1.7).
(4) However, though Christ entered heaven’s store to purchase salvation for everyone with his own blood (Heb. 9.24-26; Acts 20.28), each of us is responsible for ensuring that we are “registered [enrolled] in heaven” as recipients of this grace (Heb. 12.23; cf. 2 Cor. 6.1). Salvation is bought and paid for by God, but man must accept his gracious gift “by faith” (Rm. 5.1-2; cf. 1 Tim. 4.10).
Those who are not enrolled — who have not accepted the gift — cannot partake of the benefits of this blood-bought salvation (Rev. 20.15). We enroll “through faith” (1 Pt. 1.5; Gal. 3.26), when we obey the Lord (Heb. 5.9) in baptism, thereby washing “away our sins” through the blood (Acts 22.16; cf. Rm. 6.1-6).
At this point, our names are written in heaven (cf. Lk. 10.20; Phil. 4.3), and salvation is ours. The down-payment, though paid by Christ, is now made in my name. And even though salvation is mine (reserved for me), the transaction is ongoing — only to be completed at a future time, “the last time” (1 Pt. 1.5).
(5) Once we are enrolled in heaven’s layaway program, we must keep making payments with the blood of Christ, by “walking in the light as he is in the light” (1 Jn. 1.7). As long as we keep walking in the light, Jesus will keep making payments on our salvation in heaven, guaranteed.
Those who quit the faith, however, will have their names “blotted out” of the lamb’s book of life (cf. Rev. 3.5; Ps. 69.28), thereby running out of the blood-currency, and will forfeit their access to salvation (cf. Gal. 5.4; Heb. 10.29; 12.15; 2 Pt. 2.1, 14-17, 20-22; Rm. 5.1-2). These will receive a “worse punishment” for esteeming the blood that bought salvation for them as a “common thing” (Heb. 10.29); indeed, “the latter end is worse for them than the beginning” (2 Pt. 2.20).
In sum, heaven is the store; salvation is the product; the blood of Christ is the currency; the down-payment, paid by the blood, is made in my name when I am “baptized into Christ” (Gal. 3.27), at which point salvation is stored-away for me in heaven; the ongoing-payments, paid by the blood, are continually made by Christ in heaven so long as I keep “walking in the light as he is in the light”; finally, once I have have “finished my course” on earth and have “kept the faith” (2 Tim. 4.7), the final transaction for my salvation will have been made, and I will, at that future time, fully acquire that “inheritance incorruptible”—that “crown of righteousness”—that “hope” of salvation—forever to be mine!
In view of this, will you not “lay hold on eternal life” for yourself, before it is too late (1 Tim. 6.12)?
Kaiser, W. et al. Hard Sayings of the Bible. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1996. Moulton, J. H. and G. Milligan. Vocabulary of the Greek Testament. Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers, 2004. Vincent, Marvin R. Word Studies in the New Testament: Volume I, III. Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1973.