Who are heirs with Christ?

by Mike Ratliff

16 The Spirit Himself testifies with our spirit that we are children of God, 17 and if children, heirs also, heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, if indeed we suffer with Him so that we may also be glorified with Him. Romans 8:16-17 (NASB) 

Even through as Christians we are justified and are under no condemnation (Romans 8:1) it is also clearly taught in God’s Word that Christians are to live lives of repentance from the works of the flesh. However, there are some who take the Doctrines of Grace and separate them from the great teachings of the Puritans such as John Owen, John Bunyan, Thomas Watson, Jonathan Edwards, et cetera that made it clear that in this life Christians are required to “work out their salvation with fear and trembling” (Philippians 2:12). Those who are doing this are antinomians in that they teach those who follow them that if they are in Christ, what they do in the flesh is merely for their enjoyment and has no eternal consequences. Really? Is that what God’s Word says? 

12 So then, brethren, we are under obligation, not to the flesh, to live according to the flesh— 13 for if you are living according to the flesh, you must die; but if by the Spirit you are putting to death the deeds of the body, you will live. 14 For all who are being led by the Spirit of God, these are sons of God. 15 For you have not received a spirit of slavery leading to fear again, but you have received a spirit of adoption as sons by which we cry out, “Abba! Father!” 16 The Spirit Himself testifies with our spirit that we are children of God, 17 and if children, heirs also, heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, if indeed we suffer with Him so that we may also be glorified with Him. Romans 8:12-17 (NASB) 

To live according to the flesh is to be an unbeliever. However, to live by the Spirit means that you are a believer, that is, you are in Christ and he is in you. The flesh is our unredeemed humanness—that complex of sinful passions that sin generates through its one remaining domain—our bodies (Romans 6:6, 12; 7:5). In v13 we learn what believers must do in the struggle with sin. Paul makes it clear that there are some false teaching in the Church about how believers are made holy and he destroys those teachings right here. The first false view is that in a crisis-moment we are immediately made perfect. The second false view is that we must “let God” take over while we remain idle. The third false view is that some turning-point decision will propel us to a higher level of holiness. Instead, Paul tells us that that the Holy Spirit provides us with the energy and power to continually and gradually be killing our sins, a process never completed in this life. The means the Holy Spirit uses to accomplish this process is our faithful obedience to the simple commands of Sacred Scripture (Ephesians 5:18; Colossians 3:16; 13:14; Psalm 1:2; 119:11; Luke 22:40; John 17:17; 1 Corinthians 6:18; 9:25-27; 1 Peter 2:11). John Owen called this The Mortification of Sins.

In v14 Paul makes it clear that the Spirit of God leads all true believers. What does this mean? Believers are not led through subjective, mental impressions or promptings to provide direction in make life’s decisions—something Sacred Scripture nowhere teaches. Think of those “Christian Leaders” in our time who claim they receive audible direction from God. They are possibly confused or they are deceived or they are liars. Instead of something subjective that can be horribly misused and lead many astray, God’s Spirit objectively leads his children sometimes through the orchestration of circumstances (Acts 16:7) but primarily through illumination, divinely clarifying Scripture to make it understandable to our sinful, finite minds (Luke 24:44, 45; 1 Corinthians 2:14-16; Ephesians 1:17-19; cf. Ephesians 3:16-19; Colossians 1:9). He also leads his children through sanctification, divinely enabling us to obey Scripture (Galatians 5:16, 17; 5:25). As God leads the believer these ways, he gains assurance that God has adopted him into his family (Romans 8:15-17; 1 John 3:2). Never forget though that the faith of the true believer is made strong through testing.

Unbelievers are enslaved to their flesh. Their will is enslaved to their fallen nature and so, being unregenerate; they are slaves to their fear of death (Hebrews 2:14, 15), and to their fear of final punishment (1 John 4:18). However, true believers have received a spirit of adoption as sons. Paul is talking about a Spirit-produced awareness of the rich reality that God has made us his children, and, therefore, that we can come before him without fear or hesitation as our beloved Father. In this we have the confidence to cry out, “Abba! Father!” This denotes tenderness, dependence, and a relationship free of fear or anxiety (cf. Mark 14:36).

I have heard many use Romans 8:16 in a “proof text” sort of way to say that if you have some inner, mystical voice that you are in Christ then that is the Holy Spirit bearing witness with your spirit that you are really saved. That is not what Paul was talking about. Roman culture, for an adoption to be legally binding, seven reputable witnesses had to be present, attesting to its validity. God’s Holy Spirit confirms the validity of our adoption, by the fruit he produces in us (Galatians 5:22, 23) and the power he provides for spiritual service (Acts 1:8).

Finally, in v17 we come to our inheritance as heirs. Every believer has been made and heir of God, our Father (Matthew 25:34; Galatians 3:29; Ephesians 1:11; Colossians 1:12;; 3:23; Hebrews 6:12; 9:15; 1 Peter 1:4). We will inherit eternal salvation (Titus 3:7), God himself (Lamentations 3:24; cf. Psalm 73:25; Revelation 21:3), glory (5:2, and everything in the universe (Hebrews 1:2). Unlike the Jewish practice of the primacy of the firstborn son, under Roman law the inheritance was divided equally between children, where the law more carefully protected possessions that had been inherited.

Not only are Christians heirs, but “fellow heirs” with Christ who has been appointed to be heir of all things (Hebrews 1:2). Every adopted child will receive by divine grace the full inheritance Christ receives by divine right (cf. Matthew 25:21; John 17:22; 2 Corinthians 8:9). Proof of the believer’s ultimate glory is that he suffers—whether it comes as mockery, ridicule, or physical persecution—because of his Lord (Matthew 5:10-12; John 15:18-21; 2 Corinthians 4:17; 2 Timothy 3:12).

I find it interesting that as I have been going through these passages, there has been so much emphasis within the “visible church” on how much Christians are to resemble the world or how little. What about taking part in the fantasy books and movies about werewolves and vampires and the video games that are extremely violent? Should Christians take part in that? As I study these passages I see that we are to become more and more separate from the world, not more and more like the world. If you are so in love with your video game or books series or tv series that you become resentful if your participation in it is questioned as a professing Christian then that is evidence of a deeper spiritual problem such as idolatry. Remember my brethren, spiritual blindness is a judgment that comes from God upon those who refuse to repent of their idolatry (Romans 1, 2).

Soli Deo Gloria!



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