Paul has led us, in Romans, chapter 8, to see that the Holy Spirit who has come to dwell within every true Christian believer is that Spirit of adoption: so that we, who are by nature sinners, have now been received into the very family of God and can cry to Him, “Abba, my dear Father,” and know and believe that He will under every circumstance treat us as His own. Having established this, however, he now proceeds in verses 16 and 17 to tell us of the INHERITANCE OF THE NEW LIFE to which our new status as sons of God entitles us, Listen!
“The Spirit itself beareth witness with our spirit, that we are the children of God: and if children, then heirs; heirs of God, and joint heirs with Christ; if so be that we suffer with Him, that we may be also glorified together”
1. Now, first of all, the apostle (moved, of course, by the Spirit of God) seeks to establish our right to the inheritance of which he is now thinking, and we see this in his opening words that “the Spirit itself beareth witness with our spirit, that we are the children of God.”
You know of course, what difficulties sometimes arise when you learn that you have been included for a certain sum in a person’s will and you attempt to claim the inheritance. Even under the most favorable of circumstances there is a certain amount of “Red tape” that must be expected including, as a rule, the submission of some proof that you are in fact the person who is entitled to the bequest as well as many other things. And if the will is contested by one party or the other, the problem of proving your right to inherit may indeed turn out to be a difficult and complicated matter – so expensive at times that it is better to “sign off” and waive your right than to attempt to assert it.
Now this difficulty might be even greater still for an adopted son or daughter whose right is based on adoption rather than a blood relationship: and in the ancient world-under the Roman law – one might have to bring in witnesses to prove his or her claim. There is a famous scene in the novel by Thomas Costain, “The Silver Chalice” a story of that exciting period when Christianity was spreading by the ministry of Christ’s apostles in the ancient world, where the heir, who was formally adopted by his former owner as his son and heir, must prove his right over against another claimant, his adoptive father’s rich and powerful brother. Seven witnesses has been present, as the law required, at his adoption, but some had died and the remaining ones were bought by the youth’s powerful opponent so that they testified falsely: and as a result, instead of inheriting the estate, he became a mere chattel of the estate, a slave again as he has been born, and so the rest of the story was set in motion.
The point is, of course, that the witnesses were all important in such cases – and Paul has such a case in mind: yours and mine as Christians. How shall our right to the inheritance be established, so that we may have confidence that, after all, we are God’s children and do not merely imagine ourselves to be so?
The question becomes all the more important today as we realize that so many people on these days are claiming to be the children of God who, in fact, possess no such right at all. The teaching that says: we are all the children of God naturally irrespective of our spiritual condition, is quite contrary to the Bible and a presumption, a false claim. How can we know that our claim to be children is any better than theirs? How can we have some assurance? Or is it simply “our spirit” that tells us so? Must we rely on our own fallible human judgment alone?
No, says Paul, not at all! But the Holy Spirit Himself is our supporting witness. Do not be disturbed here, and in verse 26, because our authorized King James Version refers to the Holy Spirit – who is a person – as “itself,” for I told you before that this is simply an example of the translators’ fallibility. The Greek language, like most European languages other than English, assigns gender to nouns not for natural reasons, but for grammatical reasons and so the word for “spirit,” “pneuma” like all other nouns ending in “ma” is a neuter, an “it-word” without regard to its meaning. Paul, therefore writes “itself” for grammatical reasons and our translators should have said “himself” because – from the very context here – the Spirit is a Person and does what only persons can do. Here He testifies, or bears witness, obviously the act of a person, not a thing. How well this goes together with the name that Jesus Christ Himself has assigned to Him, “the Comforter!” What a comfort to our souls His testimony is! Our status with God and our expectations from Him are not presumption, or guesswork on our part, but they must stand because of the unimpeachable witness of God’s Spirit Himself!
How does God’s Spirit bear this witness with our spirits? Must we look for signs and wonders to have this blessed comfort for our hearts? Must we wait for particular “experiences” such as certain others have had in order to be assured that, after all, we have a right, we are those children whom the Father has chosen for Himself? Not at all! There are, in general, three lines of evidence that He presents. First and foremost is the Word which He has inbreathed and caused to be written by Prophets and Apostles – the Bible itself. There we may read in black and white, as we say, in a form which admits of no exceptions or corrections , the truth of God. “Whosoever believeth on Him, that is, on Jesus Christ, shall not perish, but have everlasting life.” “He that believeth on the Son of God hath life.” “Christ died for our sins” “There is therefore now now condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus.” And many many other precious words, which are the transcript of the testimony of the Holy Spirit. Shall we prefer our own notions, however pious and good they may sound to us, to the Spirit’s words?
Secondly, we must name those signs and seals of the truth which Christ has instituted and which the Holy Spirit continually employs. Martin Luther – when the devil confronted him sometimes took chalk and wrote on the tablets before him: “I have been baptized.” This fact – not the time or occasion or even the condition of the subject at the time – is an anchor for every soul: for what treasures of grace, what prospects of delight are not opened to us by the mere fact that we are in covenant with God? And then there is the Feast of Love to which we come again and again as Christians. We take that bread into our hands and look at it and remember: as surely as we hold it and put it in to our mouths, so surely did He give His life for us and for many for the remission of our sins! These things, too, are part and parcel of the Spirit’s witness – the verbal promises signed, sealed and delivered, all bound in wax and tap, to YOU!
A third line of testimony consists, of course, in the Spirit’s fruits in your lives. His words are first, His signs are second, and His fruits are third: love, joy, peace, long-suffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, temperance, in whatever measure or proportion that they appear. By these things He says, Yes – you have a right, not a presumption, to call yourself a child of God. You have a right to the inheritance: and need not fear ability to establish that right to all eternity.
2. But having established our right to the Inheritance of the New Life in Christ Jesus, Paul, led on the Spirit of God, proceeds to name our fellow heirs – “if children, then heirs,” he says, “heirs of God, and joint heirs with Christ.” From this we see that all the true children of God are heirs, without exception. It sometimes happens, does it not, that a father will disinherit or seek to disinherit one or more of his children. It is not always an easy thing to do, and wills of this type are often challenged and sometimes successfully challenged: for it is normal and natural that all children should inherit and not just some – and with God, it is the rule.
If children, then heirs: it admits of no exceptions. Are you a child of God, not by presumption, but in very truth, the Spirit bearing witness with your spirit that you are? Then you have an inheritance on the basis of His divine and holy will, you are God’s heirs, which means, of course, not that He will die and leave you something but that you have this standing with Him which admits you already to great and wonderful things. Think of how all the children of rich men, though they may not themselves have a personal possession of their father’s wealth, still enjoy the use of that wealth. Who will refuse them, the children of such a father, so long as they are still in his favor, his heirs! Are they not a privileged group? And such, my fellow believers, are we, by the will of God. By true faith in our Lord Jesus Christ, the blessed work of the indwelling Spirit to which He also bears witness with such force and clarity, we are children and heirs of Him to whom the worlds, all of them, belong! What a privilege!
But that is not all! We are joint heirs with Christ, for what is His is ours, too. Oh, just think of it! The Father’s love and approval are ours because we have become joint-heirs with his blessed Son! We know what the Father’s attitude is, for He has revealed it from Heaven in words that were once clearly heard by men: “This is my Beloved Son in Whom I am well pleased,” He declared. And this same thing is now said of us – all and every one of us to whom the Holy Spirit, our Comforter, bears witness with our spirit that we are the children of God.
3. Yet even this is not all that Paul makes clear to us here. He has established our right to the inheritance and named our fellow heirs, Christ Himself above all – and now he indicates what the inheritance is, even in verse 17, the second part, “if so be that we suffer with Him, that we may be also glorified together.”
Ultimately, then, the inheritance is the share in the glory of Christ, our risen and ascended Lord! At present we have only a foretaste, an earnest of that inheritance even the sealing of the Holy Spirit of promise (Ephesians 1:14) but hereafter we shall enter in more fully. At physical death, though our bodies must go to the grave and its corruption, we ourselves shall be forever with the Lord; and we shall be with Christ at His glorious second coming. In that day the very graves will be opened and the corruptible bodies of them that sleep in Him will be made like unto his glorious body according to the working whereby he is above even to subdue all things unto Himself (Philippians 3:21). And then we shall live and reign with Christ forever, and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying nor any such thing, for the former things are passed away – Revelation, chapter 7, 14 and 21. Truly, as both Isaiah and Paul testify: “Eye hath not seen or ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man the things which God hath prepared for them that love him.”
But immediately – ah, brother and sisters in the Lord, if we are to share in His glory, shall we not also share in his humiliation? If it pleased God that His Son and Heir forever should through suffering enter into His glory (Hebrews 2 and 5) shall not we who are sons by adoption and joint heirs with Him have a like experience?
If some men despise us for the name and faith that we have – did not they hate Him? If some abuse us in this life – did they not persecute Him to the very death? If men disappoint us – was it not so with Him, too? If trials abound – wasn’t His agony greater still?
“Take up thy cross, the Savior said, If thou wouldst my disciple be; take up thy cross with willing heart, and humbly follow after me.
Take up thy cross, and follow on, Nor think till death to lay it down; for only he who bears the cross may hope to wear the glorious crown.”
Are you a suffering Christian? There are so many today everywhere! Perhaps you are lonely or sad, perhaps you are ill, perhaps others have disappointed you. There is hardly a life that has been lived for very long without some heartaches. Yet you have the privilege if you believe on Christ and have His Spirit within you to share your sufferings with your Savior, and you have the promise of being glorified together with Him, too.
But perhaps all things are going well for you just now. It may not always be so – and in the best of circumstances, life is short and full of trials. If you are a believer and the Spirit of God dwells within you, you have an inheritance that is glorious and shall never pass away. Do you think of it often? Does it not fill your heart with joy and expectation?
Some of you may not be believers in Christ, and you have no right to those things which God has laid up for His own through Christ: yet listen to me. We have a gracious God, and He will receive all who truly come to Him and who believe on Jesus Christ and He will full them with His Spirit to testify that though you were strangers before, now through faith you can be brought high – the inheritance of the new life can be yours – the blessed assurance that you are a child and an heir of heaven.
“Come then and join this holy band, and on to glory go, To dwell in that celestial land where joys immortal flow: Only trust Him, only trust Him, only trust Him now: He will save you, He will save you, He will save you now.”
Sermon written by: Rev. Charles W. Krahe, Seventh Reformed Church