(e) Heirs of God
In expounding the subject of Christian Assurance Paul now transports our thoughts to glory, the blessed hope of the Church. When taken as a whole, however, this section has a practical application because it teaches Christians how to deal with suffering. Affliction is a real problem in that it challenges our faith and can lure us into questioning God.
James Montgomery Boice explained that there are three kinds of suffering experienced by Christians;
Persecution (Matthew 5:11-12),
Purification (Zechariah 13:9)
Preparation (2 Timothy 2:3).
God in his sovereign purpose leads us down some dark and fearful alleys. How are we to respond? By reflecting upon the glory that awaits us. If we react in this way our suffering will strengthen our faith. Notice how suffering unites these verses; v17, v18, v21, v22, v23. We will study this subject, “The Heirs of God” as the great comfort for suffering Christians. There are 5 pairs of words which develop the passage. The first and last pairs are comparisons while the middle section contains three distinct contrasts.
1: Heirs and Joint-Heirs v17
The phrase “heirs of God” begs the question, ‘Are we God’s inheritance or is God our inheritance?’. There is a sense in which both are valid. We are God’s precious jewels (Malachi 3:17) and he reserves an inheritance for us (1 Peter 1:4). This verse, however, would teach that this inheritance is God Himself. This is corroborated by Old Testament passages which teach that although the Jewish people received a land their inheritance was God (Psalm 73:25-26 and Lamentations 3:24). In this regard we are “joint-heirs with Christ” because His inheritance too is His Father (John 17:4-5). This emphasizes the inheritance to be guaranteed as Robert Haldane stated, “God is all-sufficient, and this is an all-sufficient inheritance, God is eternal and unchangeable, and therefore it is an eternal inheritance.”
2: Suffering and Glory v17-18
These verses contrast the suffering of our present existence with the “glory which shall be revealed in us.” This glory, this eternal happiness, is beyond all comparisons in the here and now. There is nothing which comes near the eternal experiences of God’s dear children.
“What is this glory?”
The word glory is used in Scripture to describe the sheer magnificence and beauty of the incomparable God. If God is our inheritance then we are to be given, in some measure that which we cannot properly understand or define, the glory of God. The word “glory” carries the meaning of “worth”, “acceptance” or “approval”. When we please God on earth we speak of “glorifying him “. To glorify Him is to honour Him. Immediately this gives us an insight into our eternal destiny – we will become perfect servants of God pleasing Him, glorifying Him.
God chooses for us a path of suffering in this life in order that we might be prepared for glory. As the path winds further into the valley we find ourselves longing for home, for our eternal destiny with God.
3: Bondage and Liberty v19-22
Paul now changes his focus to the whole of creation, with the exception of humanity. Here we observe that the whole universe, whether animal, vegetable or mineral, is groaning, suffering and longing for a better day. This is illustrated by the savagery of beasts and the unpredictable cruelty of nature when its forces are unleashed. The original creation was without wild fearful beasts, tempestuous winds, terrible tsunamis or destructive earthquakes.
Therefore nature is groaning and waiting; What for?
“The glorious liberty of the children of God”.
It was man’s sin that corrupted nature; therefore the glorification of man will liberate nature into that which pleases God (Isaiah 11:6-9).
4: Groaning and Redemption v23
The apostle now returns to the people of God, the heirs. We too are groaning under the burden of sin and the suffering we are called to bear in this life.
As the brute creation waits we too wait – What for?
“The redemption of the body.”
Paul does not here speak of the resurrection of the body but its redemption. This teaches us that Christ died to redeem both body and soul. We presently enjoy the redemption of the soul, but we have not experimentally benefited from the redemption of the body. The body is that old dead carnal man which is a destructive parasite and a dreadful nuisance (7:24, 8:10). Our whole Christian experience on earth is spent waging war against this old body. But when our Lord returns the body will enjoy that which Christ died for, resurrection, new life. A body which will conform to God’s pattern is what we are guaranteed here. We are sure that this will occur because we have already received the “first fruits of the Spirit”. When the first fruits of the harvest appear the success of the main harvest is promised. The fact that we are saved, that we have new natures within is a divine token that the body will be raised incorruptible in that great day.
5: Hope and Patience v24-25
As we return to earth, to the life we now have, Paul calls us to the virtues of hope and patience.
The hope of the Christian is no idle wish – it is a sure and certain hope.
We are saved by hope in that hope gives us the optimism of a better day in the midst of all our trials. This hope also encourages patience.
We are a waiting people, bearing our trials with fortitude anticipating the future glory.