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 8:17).
Romans 8:17 is a transitional bridge that reaches back to the previous verses that talked about being a child of God, and reaches forward to address the suffering of this present world. As a child of God, we suffer with Christ in this present life while we look ahead to the glory that we will one day share with Him. The Holy Spirit brings the internal witness for the assurance of our salvation (verse 16). He testifies to our heart that we are children of God. This thought continues into the next verses, “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. 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” (verses 17-18).
The key word in verse 17 is “heirs.” This one word is mentioned three times in verse 17. It is obvious that the main focus is that believers are heirs of God and heirs with Christ Jesus. An heir, by definition, is a person who is legally entitled to the property and possessions of an estate upon the death of the benefactor. An heir receives an inheritance that is passed down from the benefactor to the beneficiary. The beneficiary has not worked to accumulate this inheritance. Rather, someone else already did the work, and it is now passed down to the recipient.
“Heir” (kleronomos) is a compound word in the Greek. Kleros means ‘one who receives an allotted portion.’ Nomos is the Greek word for ‘law.’ Nomos is used multiple times in Romans 7 when Paul refers to the law. When put together, kleronomos means ‘one who receives an allotted portion of an estate as apportioned by the law upon the death of the benefactor.’ In this case, the benefactor has never died, because the benefactor is God the Father. He is the living God who can never die. He possesses immortality. From everlasting to everlasting, from beginning to end, He is the living God. In this scenario, it is the beneficiary who dies. When we die, we will receive the full allotment of the inheritance that comes to us. But the Benefactor will never die.
There are four headings as we look at verse 17. First, all believers are heirs of God. Second, all believers are heirs with Christ. There is a distinction made here. Third, all believers are heirs of suffering in this present life. Fourth, all believers are heirs of glory, referring to when we are glorified with Christ after our earthly death.
I. Heirs of God (8:17a)
First, all believers are heirs of God. This should be important to every Christian. If you are a believer in Jesus Christ, you are an heir of God. This is based upon the wealth of the benefactor and the liberality with which He distributes His estate. Verse 17 starts with “and if children, heirs also, heirs of God.” The flow of thought at the start of this verse continues from the previous verses when Paul referred to believers as “sons of God” (verse 14), “sons by which we cry out, ‘Abba! Father!’” (verse 15), and “children of God” (verse 16). “Children” refers to all those who have been born again and adopted into God’s family.
These are the two ways you become a child of God—you are born again and adopted. It is not either/or, but both/and. You are both born again and adopted by God. There are unique features that pertain to both. Adoption indicates that we are brought in as a fully mature adult son who has all the rights and privileges that would come as a member of the family of God. Because we are adopted, we are now included in the will. What belongs to the Father will be passed down to us.
Inheritance From God
“Heirs also” means every child of God is a recipient of a vast inheritance from the Father. “Heirs of God” means that God is the Source and Giver of this inheritance. It all comes from God. Every blessing in your life has come from God the Father, through the Son, and is applied by the Spirit. When we pray, we pray to God the Father through the Son and the Spirit. We thank God the Father for the many blessings He has lavished upon us. When Jesus taught us how to pray, He did not say to pray to Himself. Rather, He said to pray to “Our Father who is in heaven” (Matthew 6:9). We are to ask the Father for our daily bread, for the forgiveness of our sin, and for His kingdom to come upon the earth.
We are heirs of God and recipients of His vast estate. God says, “the silver is Mine and the gold is Mine” (Haggai 2:8). It may be held in a vault someplace, but it still all belongs to the Father. Psalm 50:10 tells us that every animal of the forest and every cattle on a thousand hills belong to the Father. Someone else may be taking care of those cattle on one of those hills, but they are only stewards of what ultimately belongs to the Father. It is His by right of creation, and it is His by right of oversight and providence. His riches are so vast that they cannot even be number. They exceed human calculation.
This is not an isolated truth found only in Romans 8:17. Paul writes in Galatians, “therefore you are no longer a slave, but a son; and if a son, then an heir through God” (Galatians 4:7). “Through God” means through the gracious act of God. It points back to God the Father. We are heirs of the gracious acts of God the Father as they flow from the Father to us. “If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s descendants, heirs according to promise” (Galatians 3:29). It was God the Father who made the promise to Abraham in Genesis 12:1-3. “So that being justified by His grace we would be made heirs according to the hope of eternal life” (Titus 3:7). It is God the Father who justifies us. God the Father declares that the righteousness of Christ belongs now to us in the act of justification. It is a forensic declaration that the righteousness of Christ belongs to us. It is God the Father who pronounces this and justifies. Romans 8:30 makes this very clear. It is a very basic New Testament truth. For further reference, you will find this in Acts 20:32, Ephesians 3:6, Hebrews 1:14, and Revelation 21:7. This thread runs throughout the pages of the New Testament.
All believers are heirs of God. There is not a condition placed upon this statement. It is an indicative statement of fact. Those whom the Father has saved are heirs of God.
II. All Believers are Heirs with Christ (8:17b)
Second, all believers are heirs with Christ. Continuing in verse 17, “and fellow heirs with Christ.” This means that Jesus is the principle Heir, and we share in His inheritance. The Father has transferred everything over to the Son. The entire universe has been give to Jesus Christ. Jesus says, “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth” (Matthew 28:18). He also declares that all judgment has been given to Him (John 5:22). Paul writes of Jesus that all things have been put “in subjection under His feet” (Ephesians 1:22).
God the Father wants His Son to be the object of our praise and worship. It glorifies the Father for the Son to be glorified. The Father has transferred the legal right to the universe, including this world, to His Son, the Lord Jesus Christ. Jesus is the principle Heir of God’s vast riches. As “heirs with Christ,” we now share in the inheritance that comes to Jesus.
Everything that belongs to Christ belongs to us. There are initial down payments of this truth for us to enjoy presently. His righteousness has become our righteousness. His holiness has become our holiness. His peace has become our peace (John 14:27). His joy is now our joy (John 15:11). His strength has become our strength (2 Corinthians 12:9-10). Everything that belongs to Christ now belongs to us because we are in Christ. We receive part of the inheritance in this lifetime, and the fullness of it in the life to come. It is important to know that we are fellow heirs with Christ.
III. All Believers are Heirs of Suffering (8:17c)
Third, all believers are heirs of suffering. Before we get too excited about our inheritance, it is important for us to know that we will also suffer. The next segment of verse 17 says, “if indeed we suffer with Him.” One of the distinguishing marks of every child of God is that we share in the sufferings of Christ in this lifetime. This utterly destroys the prosperity gospel and any teaching that claims our suffering is because we do not have enough faith. The true gospel says that if you are a true child of God, then you will share in the sufferings of Christ in this lifetime.
If you have faith in Christ, it does not mean that you will have no suffering, but actually the reverse—you will have suffering. This is part of the cost of discipleship, the price of being a follower of Jesus Christ. There are sufferings that now come to us because we belong to the Lord. If you are not sharing in the sufferings of Christ, then you are not a child of God, but rather a child of the devil. If you have an easy life with no suffering, then you have not yet been born again.
To “suffer with Him” does not mean that we make bad decisions in life and then suffer the consequences of those bad decisions. Rather, this means that we suffer for His namesake, for His reputation, because we believe His truth and speak up to testify about His truth. We suffer because of the sacrifice that is required on our part to extend the kingdom of God. We suffer because we are identified with Christ. We suffer because we believe the gospel, bear witness of the gospel, and testify to the gospel.
Romans 8:18 provides explanation for verse 17. Paul writes, “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” (verse 18). This is the same contrast from verse 17, which said we suffer with Christ and then we will be glorified with Him. Suffering now, glory later. There are sufferings in this present time, but Paul is quick to note that they do not even begin to compare with the glory that is to follow. When placed on scales, the eternal weight of glory so far outweighs the temporal sufferings of this world that it is not even worth it to compare the two. It is comparing our future eternity in glory with Christ that will never end with a miniscule amount of time in this world that we are battered around for Christ.
Paul continues to address suffering in chapter 8. He speaks of futility and being subjected (verse 20), slavery to corruption (verse 21), groans and pains of childbirth (verse 22), groans within ourselves (verse 23), and tribulation, distress, persecution, famine, nakedness, peril, and sword (verse 35). All of those are types of suffering with Christ. We face tribulation because we are identified with Christ. We are distressed because we suffer for our identity with Christ. Remember, the term “Christian” was coined by the world as a term of derision and mockery for the disciples who were on “the way” (Acts 9-11). “Christian” simply means ‘little Christ.’ “Persecution” is because of our identity with Christ. “Famine” is a judgment of God upon the world in which we live. “Nakedness” comes when you have been run out of town without even your clothes and lost your job because you associate with Christ. “Sword” refers to martyrdom and paying the ultimate price of giving your life for Christ. There are some hills that are worth dying on. Gospel truths are worth dying for. In Romans 8:36, Paul quotes Psalm 44:22, “For your sake we are being put to death all day long; we were considered as sheep to be slaughtered.” The rest of Romans 8 is unmistakably clear that believers will face sufferings in this world because of our identity with Christ.
Paul wrote the book of Philippians while he was in prison in Rome for two long years chained to a Roman soldier. Yet he wrote this book of joy. He writes, “For to you [believers] it has been granted for Christ’s sake, not only to believe in Him, but also to suffer for His sake” (Philippians 1:29). All saving faith is a gift of God. No one can believe in Jesus Christ apart from being given the gift of repentance and faith by God the Father. Freedom of the will is freedom to go to hell and remain in unbelief. One may only believe in Jesus Christ when it has been granted to you to believe. Notice the package deal in Philippians 1:29. If you are given the gifts of saving faith and “also to suffer for His sake.” It is the heads and tails of the same coin. If God gives you the gift of saving faith, He will also give you the gift of suffering for the Lord Jesus Christ.
This looks different in different cultures and places around the world. Some persecution is in very visible places, while some is behind the scenes. Some people live in cultures that are more friendly to Christianity, while other live in cultures that are hostile to Christianity. There is much variance. It does not mean that we should have a martyr’s attitude to seek out suffering simply for the sake of suffering. But it does mean that if you speak up and stand up for Christ in your daily life, you will receive pushback. If you are a man of principle who lives out the reality of Christ and speaks up for Him, there will be pushback.
Suffering Has Purpose
In Philippians 3:10, Paul writes, “that I may know Him and the power of His resurrection and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death.” Note the word “and” in this verse. This is not a multiple-choice option. They are all included together. Our sufferings conform us into the sufferings of Christ and the yieldedness by which He gave Himself up upon the cross. God has higher purposes in our lives than what we see in the moment, even in our suffering for the gospel. God is doing a thousand things in your life right now and you are only aware of two of those. He has another 998 things at work in your life, but we are completely unaware. God is working out our sanctification to grow and mature us.
The path of suffering in the Christian life was foreordained before time began. Paul writes, “So that no one would be disturbed by these afflictions; for you yourselves know that we have been destined for this” (1 Thessalonians 3:3). We have been predestined to suffer. This path was marked out for us from before the foundation of the world. It is inescapable. Again he writes, “All who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will be persecuted” (2 Timothy 3:12). It is impossible to hold to the prosperity gospel if you read your Bible. It is foreordained as an heir of God and a fellow heir with Christ that we will share in His sufferings.
God works out all things in the believer’s life, even suffering, for good and for the advancement of the gospel. The book of Acts clearly shows that persecution was the means by which the gospel was spread throughout the known world. “Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance. And let endurance have its perfect result, so that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing” (James 1:2-4). This is addressed to believers who are being scattered around the earth due to persecution. If you are a child of God, then you are an heir of God. If you are an heir of God, you are an heir with Christ. If you are an heir with Christ, you are an heir in suffering with Christ. God did not even spare His own Son this suffering. As we are conformed into the image of Christ, we join in His sufferings.
IV. All Believers are Heirs of Glory (8:17d)
Fourth, all believers are heirs of glory. This statement opens up a vast realm of truth. Paul concludes verse 17, “So that we may also be glorified with Him.” There is a purpose to the suffering. We will share with Christ in the glory that is to come. The more you suffer with Christ in this world, the greater will be the glory that you will experience in the world to come. Hell is hotter for some than for others. There is also a sense in which the glory experienced by believers will not all be the same. There will be greater recognition in heaven for some than for others. I can assure you the martyrs in heaven are being singled out at this very moment. Romans 6 tells us they have their own distinct place to worship. They are in their own special category. Because they suffered so much for the gospel in this world, that God has them recognized in heaven. I do not know all the ways this works out in heaven. But Paul wants us to know that as we suffer for Christ in this world, it will lead to glory with Christ in the world to come. The greater your pain, the greater will be your gain on the last day.
“We” still refers to all believers. “Also” tells us that this is a packaged deal—you will suffer with Christ and you will be glorified with Christ. Some of the glory will be experienced as follows: a heavenly home (John 14:2-3), a glorified body (1 Corinthians 15:51-53; Philippians 3:20-21), a perfected spirit (Romans 8:30), eternal reward (Revelation 4:10), endless reign (Revelation 22:5), full access (Revelation 3:12), white garments (Revelation 3:5), hidden manna (Revelation 2:17), permanent relationship (Revelation 3:12), and beatific vision (Revelation 22:4). To look upon the face of God will be the ultimate blessing of all the blessings.
In ancient times, very few people ever saw the face of their king. He did not reveal himself to peasants, serfs, and commoners. Only those in the inner circle regularly saw the king. Perhaps once in a lifetime, someone might catch a brief glimpse of the king as he rode down the street in a carriage. Revelation 22:4 tells us that we will one day look upon the face of God as He sits upon His throne. This is the greatest blessing we will ever know.
To Behold God
God is spirit and has always manifested Himself to man with bright shining light. He does not have a body—only God the Son has a body. This is the uniqueness of the incarnation and the virgin birth. The Father and the Spirit do not have a corporeal body upon which we can look. But the Bible says that we will look upon the face of God. That means you will have direct, unmediated access to God. We love Him by faith now, having never seen Him. But in that day, we will behold Him.
This far exceeds walking on streets of gold or seeing gates of pearl and walls of precious metal. The glory that will emanate from the face of God will be so radiant and brilliant that there will be no need for the sun in the new heaven and new earth. There will be no need for artificial light or artificial illumination. The effulgent outshining of the greatness, grandeur, and glory of God will light up the entire universe.
Believers will be given glorified eyes that will be able to look upon Him and not be burned up like a cinder. We will have a glorified body that will be able to be in His presence and not be consumed. Just as bodies in hell will never perish, but will endure the flames of hell forever, so we will have a body perfectly adapted for our new environment in heaven, able to be in the immediate presence of God and not be burned up.
When John was on the Isle of Patmos, he saw the glorified Christ and immediately fell at His feet as a dead man, which means he fainted. He could not even stand in the presence of the glorified Christ, whose face was shining like the sun, because John had not yet received a glorified body. When we are glorified with Christ, there will be the eradication of any sinful desires. Only the new man that we received in our new birth will go on. We will only have high and lofty thoughts. We will never grow tired or weary. We will worship Him forever and ever, never needing time off or rest, because we will have a supernatural body that will be endued with supernatural power to love God, worship Him, and serve Him. Our hearts will be enlarged so much that we cannot even begin to comprehend the capacity we will have to adore God. We will have access to God. We will be glorified with Christ, meaning we will be as much like Christ as a redeemed creature can be.
However, we will still never be on the same level as Christ. There is a sea of crystal around God in heaven that makes a distinction between the Creator and the creature. We will not be completely like Him because He will forever be God and we will forever be sons and daughters of God. But we will be so exponentially glorified that this will be our inheritance. Ultimately, our greatest inheritance is God Himself. When they portioned out the land to the twelve tribes of Israel and came to the Levites, there was no land to be given to them. Instead, God told them He would give them the best part—Himself. They inherited God. He, ultimately, will be our greatest inheritance in heaven as we will possess a relationship with Him that will be marked by purity, transparency, and intimacy that will fill and flood our hearts with joy unspeakable and full of glory, the likes of which we cannot even begin to comprehend.
In conclusion, let me remind us how the Christian life works. There is suffering now, and glory later. There are a few mercy droppings of glory now. God has put His Holy Spirit inside of us. He has clothed us with the righteousness of Christ. The peace, joy, and love of God has been poured out in our hearts. God has marked out our path and gone before us. We walk with Him, fellowship with Him, and pray to Him. But all of that is but a down payment for the fullness of the inheritance that will come to us. This is motivation for us that whatever pain or suffering we go through now is temporary and miniscule compared to the extraordinary glory that awaits us in heaven. We must keep our eyes on this great prize as it pulls us through this valley of tears here on earth. As we suffer with Christ in the present, it is but a speck compared to the eternal weight of glory that awaits us.