Heirs of the World
P. G. Mathew | Sunday, September 14, 2008
Copyright © 2008, P. G. Mathew
"It was not through law that Abraham and his offspring received the promise that he would be heir of the world, but through the righteousness that comes by faith" (Rom. 4:13).
Romans 4:13-17 speaks of God's promise that we are heirs of the world. Paul is saying in this passage, "Rejoice, you saints of God. You are rich. You are heirs of God and joint-heirs with Christ." Every believer in Christ owns all the riches that Jesus, the Seed of Abraham, possesses. We are blessed with all spiritual and material blessings in Christ forever.
Paul previously established the truth that we are justified not by works but by faith in Jesus Christ, refuting the arguments of the unbelieving Jews. Then he sets forth another argument of the Jews: "Was not Abraham justified by circumcision?" Paul disproves this by the historical argument that Abraham was justified fourteen years before he was circumcised and, therefore, his circumcision had nothing to do with his justification. The application to us is that we are not saved by any sacraments such as baptism. The saved are baptized, but the baptized are not saved merely because they are baptized.
Then Paul anticipates another argument of the unbelieving Jews: "What about the Mosaic law that tells us how to live and makes demands upon our conduct?" Unbelief is always coming up with yet another argument why we should not believe in Jesus Christ. Unbelief is like a child who, when told to do something by the father, does not want to obey the father because he wants to play. So the child comes up with many arguments designed to delay, deny, or entirely alter what the father said.
Here Paul answers the anticipated argument about the Mosaic law. We want to look at four points: the law, the promise, grace and faith, and the character of the God of promise.
Contrary to what the rabbis said, God's promise did not come to Abraham and his seed through the law. Some rabbis wrote that long before the law was given, Abraham had a thorough knowledge of it and obeyed it in all its details. This is pure fabrication that misses the bull's eye of the Messiah. These rabbis maintained that Abraham was justified by keeping the law, not by grace through faith. In Galatians Paul refutes this with a historical argument that Abraham was not justified by keeping the Mosaic law because the Mosaic law came 430 years after the promise was given to Abraham (Gal. 3:17). The idea that salvation could be obtained by keeping the law was an utter misunderstanding of the Jewish people. There is only one God, one people, and one plan of salvation, which is by faith in God's promise.
What is the purpose and nature of the law?
Through the law we come to know sin (Rom. 3:20).
The law produces the wrath of God (Rom. 4:15).
The law increases our sin (Rom. 5:20).
All have sinned (Rom. 3:23) and are under the sentence of death, which is the wages of sin (Rom. 3:23; 6:23).
The law indirectly produces death in us (Rom. 7:13).
The law is powerless to save us (Rom. 8:3).
If anyone relies on law-keeping to become righteous, he negates and nullifies the gospel (Gal. 2:21).
All who rely on the law to save them are under a curse (Gal. 3:10).
It was never God's purpose that the law could impart life to sinners (Gal. 3:21).
The law was given, not to save us but to show our impotence that we may be led to Jesus Christ, who is able to save us (Gal. 3:24).
Those who rely on God's law for salvation must obey all of it all the time perfectly (Jas. 2:10).
All religions except orthodox Christianity teach self-salvation. Man is ever-trying to save himself so he can boast. Justification by grace through faith excludes all boasting. Paul argues, then, that the promise to Abraham and all his seed was not given through the law.
What is the promise given to Abraham, to his seed, Jesus Christ, and to all believers? In Romans 4:13 the promise is defined: that Abraham and all his seed may become heirs of the whole creation (see also Gal. 3:29, 4:7; Rom. 8:17). As heirs of God and joint-heirs with Christ, the saints of God are truly rich. We have no need to run after the things of this world (Matt. 6:32). Christians who do so are fools because they do not realize how rich they already are in Jesus Christ.
Elsewhere Paul writes, "Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ. For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight. In love he predestined us to be adopted as his sons through Jesus Christ" (Eph. 1:3-5). We are sons, joint-heirs with Christ, heirs of all creation, who enjoy all Spirit-given blessings in Christ.
The Hebrews writer says God appointed Christ heir of all things (Heb. 1:2), and in Jesus Christ we share that heritage. God promised Abraham: "I will surely bless you and make your descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky and as the sand on the seashore. Your descendants will take possession of the gates of their enemies, and through your offspring all nations of the earth will be blessed, because you have obeyed me" (Gen. 22:17-18). Offspring here refers especially to the person of Christ.
By his death on the cross, Jesus defeated the devil, the god of this world. In Matthew 4 we read how Jesus refused to worship the devil who was promising to give him all kingdoms of the world and their glory. Instead, he followed the way of obedience, even death on the cross, and God gave him the world and exalted him to the highest place. Jesus is Lord, whether we acknowledge it or not. Whether we have faith in him or not makes no difference-he is Lord because God made him Lord. Every knee shall bow down to him, every tongue shall confess him. He is the one of whom the psalmist wrote:
I will proclaim the decree of the LORD: He said to me, "You are my Son; today I have become your Father. Ask of me, and I will make the nations your inheritance, the ends of the earth your possession. You will rule them with an iron scepter; you will dash them to pieces like pottery." Therefore, you kings, be wise; be warned, you rulers of the earth. Serve the LORD with fear and rejoice with trembling. Kiss the Son, lest he be angry and you be destroyed in your way, for his wrath can flare up in a moment. Blessed are all who take refuge in him. (Ps. 2:7-12)
Jesus said, "Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth." He was speaking of Psalm 37, where this idea of our inheriting the world appears several times. John tells us, "The kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of his Christ, and he will reign for ever and ever" (Rev. 11:15). Paul also speaks of this: "So, then, no more boasting about men! All things are yours, whether Paul or Apollos or Cephas or the world, or life or death or the present or the future-all are yours, and you are of Christ, and Christ is of God" (1 Cor. 3:21-23). Elsewhere he says, "Do you not know that the saints will judge the world? And if you are to judge the world, are you not competent to judge trivial cases? Do you not know that we will judge angels?" (1 Cor. 6:2-3).
God promised worldwide dominion to Abraham. It belongs to his seed, Jesus Christ, and to us who are in Christ. We are destined to rule the world and possess the cosmos.
The risen Lord says, "To him who overcomes and does my will to the end, I will give authority over the nations-'He will rule them with an iron scepter; he will dash them to pieces like pottery'-just as I have received authority from my Father. I will also give him the morning star" (Rev. 2:26-28). Jesus Christ is Lord of all. Seated on the right hand of God the Father, he is King of kings and Lord of lords. We may not believe it, but that makes no difference. He is King and he will deal ever so severely with all who do not come to him by the way of faith.
Yet his rule is invisible to the world at this time, so atheists mock him and his saints. But soon shall he return to earth in all his glory and splendor to rule visibly on this earth with his saints. At his coming all believers who died in Christ shall rise, and all believers shall be transformed. We all shall receive immortal glorious bodies and reign with Christ here on earth. This is the millennial reign of which the Bible speaks (e.g., Rev. 20:1-6, Is. 65:20, Isa. 11: 6-9; Psalm 72:8-14; Zech. 14:5-17; 1 Cor. 15:23-28).
Daniel spoke of this rule of Christ: "Then the sovereignty, power and greatness of the kingdoms under the whole heaven will be handed over to the saints, the people of the Most High. His kingdom will be an everlasting kingdom, and all rulers will worship and obey him" (Dan. 7:27). Matthew also declares it: "Then the King will say to those on his right, 'Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world'" (Matt. 25:34).
Christ will rule over all the earth and we will reign with him. Satan will be fully bound during this time. All nations will be subject to David's greater Son. Every tongue shall confess him as Lord and every knee bow before him by force.
This millennial reign shall end in a final manifestation of unbelief and final demonstration of Christ's victorious power. Then the final judgment shall take place and the eternal state shall be ushered in-a new heaven and a new earth, wherein God dwells with his people in righteousness.
The promise to Abraham was that he and his seed would inherit the world. Christ is his seed. He is the heir of the world and in him we all even now are heirs of the world. Ours is not a small salvation; it is full and complete.
God's Way of Salvation by Grace through Faith
Our receiving this inheritance, this promise, is not based on law but on faith alone. Paul writes, "It was not through law that Abraham and his offspring received the promise that he would be heir of the world, but through the righteousness that comes by faith" (Rom. 4:13). Law means our works, our self-righteousness, our merit, our boasting. Then he says, "For if those who live by law are heirs, faith has no value and the promise is worthless" (v. 14). The principle of law negates grace, faith, and any praise to God. Salvation by law is ever-opposed to salvation by grace through faith alone. The law divides; faith unites all people, both Jew and Gentile. The law empties faith and nullifies God's promise of salvation. The law says, "You shall"; the promise says, "I will."
If one desires to be saved by law-keeping, the promise can never be fulfilled because it will be depending on us. By keeping the law no one can be saved or become an heir of the whole creation.
In fact, Paul then explains that the law produces wrath (Rom. 4:15). There are only two destinies for the people of the world - either we become heirs of the world in Christ or we are subject to God's wrath, which means we will experience hell. "The law brings wrath." Therefore, it is sheer arrogance for a person to depend on law-keeping for his salvation. God's wrath is revealed against all who refuse to acknowledge that they are sinners by nature and practice. Such people refuse to acknowledge they are impotent to keep the law. Such people are dead because the wages of sin is death. Paul already proved that "there is no one righteous, not even one; there is no one who understands, no one who seeks God. All have turned away, they have together become worthless; there is no one who does good, not even one" (Rom. 3:10-12). Such people cannot go to heaven. The law guarantees God's wrath and, therefore, hell. If you depend on faith and grace, you will go to heaven; but if you depend on the law, you must go to hell. Sin is transgression of the law, and God must punish all sinners.
If you have not trusted in Christ, I urge you to forsake all self-salvation by keeping the law and run to Christ the Savior. Seek the way of faith. Trust in God. Grace gives, faith receives. He who depends on law is cursed. The law imposes penalties for failure to keep it. Salvation is not merit-based but mercy-based. It is based on grace to be received by faith alone.
Jesus revealed the principle of law and grace in the story of the Pharisee and the publican (Luke 18:9-14). The Pharisee depended on his own keeping of the law; therefore, he thought he did not need the mercy and grace that comes from Jesus Christ. This was also the case of Paul. Yet Paul confessed that all his righteousness was loss, dung, and filthy rags. It could not save him (Phil. 3:4-9). Paul went the way of grace through faith and was saved. Likewise, the publican cried out, "Have mercy on me, a sinner," and went home justified.
There is no salvation through keeping the law. As long as we depend on our own merit and good works, including circumcision or baptism, one thing we can count on is that the wrath of God shall abide on us. Law-keeping takes people to hell. All legalists and antinomians are hell-bound frauds. The Bible speaks of promises of faith. Salvation is of faith. Where law fails, faith succeeds.
Therefore, away with all boasting of law, merit, and works! Let us glory in grace and faith, a faith that is also God's gift to us. We merited death and hell. Grace gives us life and heaven, which we receive by faith. Grace gives us a kingdom, a crown, and a throne which we receive by faith. (PGM) Grace overrides all our demerits, inadequacies, and failures.
Why does Paul insist on grace and faith? Why does he so vigorously oppose the law principle? There are a number of answers.
The way of faith alone establishes grace. What grace gives freely, faith receives humbly. The free gift of the fullness of salvation cannot come to the arrogant and self-righteous but only to the beggar who lifts up his hand of faith to receive it in humility. An unbeliever, therefore, cannot become an heir of the world.
The way of faith alone guarantees all glory to God. Salvation by works, sacraments, or law promotes human boasting. Only salvation by grace through faith promotes worship of God. Grace and faith exclude all human boasting.
The way of faith and grace alone ensures the salvation of all God's elect, whether Jews and Gentiles, circumcised and uncircumcised, those of the Mosaic law and those outside of it. We come to this salvation irrespective of antecedents, according to Dr. Martyn Lloyd-Jones. Faith and grace remove all human distinctions. There is no difference; all are sinners and all are welcome to come to Jesus.
The way of faith and grace guarantees full salvation to all God's elect. God chose this way of salvation because to the degree any human merit is constitutive of our salvation, we cannot have any certainty of salvation. Faith plus our works can only guarantee total anxiety and uncertainty, especially at the point of death. Those who trust in Christ alone will not rely on their own merit but will cry out, "Lord, have mercy upon me, a sinner."1
Salvation is all of God, all of grace, and therefore all of faith. We rely on nothing in ourselves while depending on God for everything. Salvation from beginning to end depends on him. Paul speaks of this: "Being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus." He saved us, he is saving us, and he will save us to the very end.
We find this glorious guarantee throughout the Bible. Paul writes, "And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the likeness of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. And those he predestined, he also called; those he called, he also justified; those he justified, he also glorified" (Rom. 8:28-30). The same group of people are foreknown, predestinated, called, justified, and glorified by God himself.
Jesus said, "I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one can snatch them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all; no one can snatch them out of my Father's hand. I and the Father are one" (John 10:28-30). Let the devil or the demons or even you yourself try to extricate yourself from the hand of Christ; it will never happen. So Paul exclaims, "No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord" (Rom. 8:37-39). Notice, he puts death first. Unbelievers live in fear of death. This assurance is for every believer. We can be certain of our eternal salvation. "My hope is built on nothing less than Jesus' blood and righteousness." This is the doctrine of eternal security.
The Character of the God of Promise
Finally, why should we believe the promise? The character of God. Our hope of being the heirs of the world and possessing and ruling the whole cosmos with Christ the King is based on God's character.
What do we know about the character of God? First, we know that he is reliable. People often lie. God alone can be trusted wholly for he is truth and cannot lie. "God is not a man, that he should lie, nor a son of man, that he should change his mind. Does he speak and then not act? Does he promise and not fulfill?" (Num. 23:19). Every promise God makes, he fulfills. God promised a Messiah, and in the fullness of time the Messiah came and accomplished our salvation by defeating the devil and his works. He was raised from the dead as he prophesied and now rules on the right hand of the Father. Soon he shall come and we shall reign with him on this earth.
Second, we know that God is able. Death does not confuse him. He is the resurrection and the life who gives life to the dead. He is the conqueror of death; he holds the keys of death and hell. He goes out conquering and to conquer. Our God gave life to the dying Abraham and Sarah, that they may have a son. He raised Abraham's Son, Jesus Christ, from the dead, and he has also raised us spiritually. We were dead in trespasses and sins, but God raised us up already spiritually, and he shall raise up physically all those who died in Christ. Death has been swallowed up in victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.
Not only is God powerful enough to raise the dead, but he is also the Creator. He creates out of nothing things that did not exist. God said, "Let there be light," and there was light. Abraham did not exist and God called him into existence. Isaac did not exist and God called him into existence. We all are called into existence by God. Yet by nature we were dead in sins and trespasses, so he also effectually called us by the gospel, and we became believers in Christ. He said, "I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it." God calls the church into existence that we may live with him forever. We are invincible and indestructible.
Abraham saw God and heard his promise. He trusted in him, knowing that this reliable and powerful God could raise the dead and call into existence things that are not as though they are. He trusted in the God of glory and he was justified by faith. If we have trusted in the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, we also will surely inherit the promise, the fullness of salvation. We are heirs of the whole cosmos in Jesus. We have a kingdom, a crown, and a throne. Friends, we are rich. Heirs of God, joint-heirs with Christ we are. All God has is mine and all Christ has is mine and yours. To God be all glory.
There are only two destinies. We will either inherit the cosmos and rule with Christ or suffer the wrath of God and go to hell. I hope we will not depend on the law to save us, but run to Jesus Christ, trust in him, and be saved, that we may be enriched by every spiritual blessing in heavenly places in Jesus Christ.
1 These points are from James Boice, Romans: Vol. 1, Justification by Faith, Romans 1-4 (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1991), 474-475.
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Copyright © 2008, P. G. Mathew
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