Children, Heirs, and Fellow Sufferers
Today we move into the spectacular and scary promise of verse 17. Spectacular because it says that all the children of God are his heirs — we will receive the inheritance of God, and there is no greater inheritance in the universe. And scary because verse 17 says that we will have to suffer in order to receive it. “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.”
How the Spirit Testifies that We Are Children of God
But first, let’s review the main point of the previous verses. Verse 16 says, “The [Holy] Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are children of God.” If you belong to Jesus Christ, as verse 9 says, you have the Spirit of Christ. And what does he do in you? He testifies that you are the child of God. How does he do that? We saw at least two ways from last Sunday’s text.
“Our inheritance is so great that it makes every trouble in life seem small by comparison.”
First, we saw the connection between verses 13 and 14. “If by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live. For all who are being led by the Spirit of God, these are sons of God.” So we concluded that one of the things the Spirit does to show that you are the child of God is lead you, that is, lead you into war with sin so that by his power you put to death the deeds of the body.
Second, we saw from verse 15 that the Spirit gives rise to the cry “Abba, Father!” Verse 15b: “You have received a spirit of adoption as sons by which we cry out, “Abba! Father!’” Notice the words “by which.” This is the work of the Holy Spirit. When believers in Jesus find rising in our hearts the cry, “Abba! Father!” this is the testimony of the Spirit that we are the children of God.
Let’s see this in relationship to 1 Corinthians 12:3. There Paul says, “No one speaking by the Spirit of God says, ‘Jesus is accursed’; and no one can say, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ except by the Holy Spirit.” In other words, the Holy Spirit bears witness with our spirit when we cry, “Jesus is Lord!” But that is not the only cry the Spirit prompts in our hearts. Another is, “Abba! Father!” In other words, the Spirit produces two profound changes in us toward God: One is a humble demeanor of submission: Jesus, the Son of God, is my Lord, my Master; I am his subject; he is my ruler, my sovereign. And the other is the joyful, bold, childlike demeanor of confidence: God is my Father.
Jesus is my Lord! God is my Father! That is the humble, hope-filled cry of the Spirit-indwelt Christian. And out of this humble confidence, we are led “by the Spirit” to make war on our sin and put to death all that does not exalt our Lord and honor our Father.
Spectacular and Scary News
Now in verse 17 Paul gives us added reason to exult over the truth that God is our Father. And don’t miss this. Clearly, Paul wants us to rejoice! You don’t tell someone spectacular news about his future if your aim is to discourage him. And verse 17 is spectacular news. Yes, it has a scary side to it. Almost all good news does. But that doesn’t take away from how spectacular this verse is. In fact, it probably adds to it.
“If [you are] children, [you are] 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.” There are two great truths in this verse: one is that we are going to receive a great inheritance, including our own glorification; and the other is that we are going to have to suffer in order to receive it.
Our Great Inheritance
Let’s take them one at a time and ponder what they mean for us. First, then, you are heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ and you will be glorified with Christ.
What is the inheritance promised here? As you face the pleasures and the pains of what remains of your life here on earth, what are you hoping for beyond all this? Do you have a hope beyond this life that makes the present pleasures look smaller than the present pains look manageable? This is what Paul had. He wants us to have it. You see it in verse 18: “For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory that is to be revealed to us.” Paul wants us to share this tremendous hope: the inheritance on the way to us is so great that it makes every trouble in life seem small by comparison. What is this inheritance?
There are at least three aspects to the inheritance.
1. The World
First, the inheritance is the world. Romans 4:13: “The promise to Abraham or to his descendants that he would be heir of the world was not through the Law, but through the righteousness of faith.” In other words, if you share the faith of Abraham, then you are a fellow heir with him, and the inheritance, Paul said, is “the world.”
If you are an heir of God, then you will inherit what is God’s. And God owns the world. Psalm 24:1: “The earth is the Lord’s, and all it contains, the world, and those who dwell in it.” So if the earth is the Lord’s and everything in it, then the heirs of the Lord will inherit the earth and everything in it. In Psalm 2:8 God says to his Son, “Ask of me, and I will surely give the nations as your inheritance, and the very ends of the earth as your possession.” And if we are fellow heirs with the Son, then we shall inherit the nations.
Paul puts it this way in 1 Corinthians 3:21–23: “For all things belong to you, whether Paul or Apollos or Cephas or the world or life or death or things present or things to come; all things belong to you, and you belong to Christ; and Christ belongs to God.” What is our inheritance? The world. The earth and all that is in it. The nations. All things.
But practically what does that mean? At least it means this: that everything that exists will serve your happiness. Nothing will have the final prerogative of trumping your joy. “All things are yours” means that even the negative things — Paul mentions life and death in 1 Corinthians 3:22 — will serve you in the end. In the end, God does not merely defeat every enemy of your good, but turns enemies into servants. “Tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword” — we don’t just conquer, we more than conquer (Romans 8:35-37). All things are yours — life and death — all things are yours. All things will serve your everlasting joy.
2. God Himself
Second, the inheritance is not only the world, but God himself. In fact, if we said that our great inheritance was mainly the things God had made, and not God himself, we would be idolaters. Consider Romans 5:2b: “We exult in hope of the glory of God.” In other words, the great joy of our hope is that one day we will see and savor the glory of God himself. And lest you think that his glory is something different from God himself, consider verse 11 of that same chapter, “And not only this, but we also exult in God through our Lord Jesus Christ.” “In God!” Not the gifts of God. And not in this verse even in the glory of God, but in God.
“This is our great inheritance: the Lord himself!”
The great high hope of the Christian church is described in Revelation 21:3 like this: “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God.” This was the capstone of the hope of the Old Testament saints, even though they had strong hopes for a land of their own. Psalm 73:25–26: “Whom have I in heaven but you? And besides you, I desire nothing on earth. My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.”
This is our great inheritance: the Lord himself! Oh, how we need to cultivate a great taste for him and his fellowship. If he is not precious to you, what a stranger you are to your inheritance! If you love his gifts, think on how wonderful the giver must be. And think what an insult it is to take a gift from someone’s hand and delight in it more than you delight in the giver. God himself is our portion. We were made for him. And all the good things that he has made for us are meant to reveal more of him and send our hearts singing to God (1 Timothy 4:1–5).
3. Redeemed and Glorified Bodies
Third, there is one more aspect of our inheritance found in the following verses in Romans 8, namely, redeemed and glorified bodies. The reason this is so crucial is that if we are to enjoy the world and all that is in it, and if all these good things are not to compete with God and become idols, then we must have bodies capable of deeper, higher, fuller joys than we presently have. And we must be rid of all the pain and crying and tears of this world. So Romans 8:22–23 says, “For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now. 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.”
This is a key part of what it means in Romans 8:17 to be glorified. We will share in the glory of God in the sense that we are enough like him (conformed to the image of his Son, Romans 8:29) to enjoy him and all his gifts the way he does. It will all be from him and through him and to him, and our joy will be full and his glory will be unmistakably central.
So our inheritance as children of God includes at least this: the world and all that is in it; God himself as our final and ultimate portion and reward; and new, glorified bodies that can enjoy more fully and deeply God and his gifts with no hint of idolatry.
Suffer with Him in Order to Be Glorified with Him
Which leaves now one more question: what does it mean that we must suffer with Christ in order to be glorified with him in this way? Remember what the text (Romans 8:17) says: “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.” Our glory with him — our inheritance — is conditional upon our suffering with him.
Jesus said it. Luke 9:23: “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.” Paul said it. 2 Timothy 3:12, “Indeed, all who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will be persecuted.” The author of Hebrews said it. Hebrews 12:6–7: “For the Lord disciplines the one he loves, and chastises every son whom he receives. It is for discipline that you have to endure. God is treating you as sons.” Peter said it. 1 Peter 4:13, “To the degree that you share the sufferings of Christ, keep on rejoicing, so that also at the revelation of his glory you may rejoice with exultation.”
No pain, no gain. No cross, no crown. No suffering, no inheritance. That’s the way it is. And if you ask, “What kind of pain? Is it just persecution he’s talking about? Or is it other miseries we face in this life?” I answer from the following verses in Romans 8 that it is all the groaning that comes with the futility of this fallen age — persecution, calamity, disease, death. Any suffering that you meet on the road to heaven and endure by trusting in Jesus. Any hardship that might destroy your faith and lead you away from God. Read Romans 8:18–25 and see for yourselves. We will look at it next week.
Suffering Brings Perseverance of Faith
But I close by asking why. Does Paul tell us why suffering must precede glory? We can give at least part of the answer. It’s found in Romans 5:3, “And not only this, but we also exult in our tribulations, knowing that tribulation brings about perseverance.” There’s the clue: Suffering, or tribulation, works endurance or perseverance. Perseverance of what? Faith. How? By knocking the props of self-reliance (and trust in things and people) out from under us, and making us rely more on God (see 2 Corinthians 1:8–9).
If there were no afflictions and difficulties and troubles and pain, our fallen hearts would fall ever more deeply in love with the comforts and securities and pleasures of this world instead of falling more deeply in love with our inheritance beyond this world, namely, God himself. Suffering is appointed for us in this life as a great mercy to keep us from loving this world more than we should and to make us rely on God who raises the dead. “Through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God” (Acts 14:22).
“Suffering is appointed for us in this life as a great mercy.”
There is no other way. Do not begrudge them. They are hard to bear. I know they are. But if you keep your inheritance before you, and if God gives you the grace to see what Paul calls “the riches of the glory of his inheritance” (Ephesians 1:18), then will you not say with the apostle, “I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory that is to be revealed to us”?
My Carriage Is Broken
Picture this life as a journey on your way to receive a spectacular inheritance. It will protect you from idolatry and make all your burdens lighter, and quiet all your murmurings.
Here’s the way the old John Newton put it:
Suppose a man was going to New York to take possession of a large estate, and his [carriage] should break down a mile before he got to the city, which obliged him to walk the rest of the way; what a fool we should think him, if we saw him ringing his hands, and blubbering out all the remaining mile, “My [carriage] is broken! My [carriage] is broken!” (Richard Cecil, Memoirs of the Rev. John Newton, in The Works of the Rev. John Newton, 108)