NEW TESTAMENT CONTEXTUAL COMMENTARY
Dr. Robert R. Seyda
EPISTLE TO THE ROMANS
CHAPTER EIGHT (Lesson XXV)
When writing to his friend Titus, Paul made this point: “Because of His great kindness; we can now share in the wealth of the eternal life He gives us, and we are eagerly looking forward to receiving it.”1 The writer of Hebrews was also convinced of this promise and stated: “God also bound Himself with an oath, so that those He promised to help would be perfectly sure and never need to wonder whether He might change His plans.”2 Therefore, whatever we receive from God is not due to any good works we may do, but through the work done by Christ, and Christ alone. Consequently, it is our obedience and faithfulness to God’s word and God’s ways that reap the dividends promised to Abraham and confirmed in Christ. That’s why Paul says that we have become joint-heirs with Christ.
Jesus illustrated this pathway to the promise when He told His followers: “If anyone wants to be a follower of mine, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.”3 This became the message Jesus sent to His disciples after He died on the cross and rose from death: “Wasn’t it clearly predicted by the prophets that the Messiah would have to suffer all these things before entering His time of glory?”4 So when Paul went out on his missionary expeditions, he carried the same message with him: “He encouraged them to continue in the faith in spite of all the persecution, reminding them that they must enter into the Kingdom of God through many tribulations.”5 That’s why the reward is not given to all who participate, but only those who persevere to the finish line.6
When speaking of inheritance, both the Jews and Romans had specific laws respecting heirs whether they be natural or adopted. Before the law was given to Moses we read: “Nowhere in the land were women as beautiful as Job’s daughters to be found, and their father gave them an inheritance along with their brothers.”7 However, after the law was issued we read in the Jewish Mishnah that the order of succession became as follows: If a man dies, and has no son, then you must see that his inheritance is passed on to his daughter.8 The writer then goes on to say that from this we can conclude that a son takes precedence over a daughter.”9 There is no such provision for servants or slaves.
Receiving an inheritance was not only considered high in financial value but also spiritual value. It is said that when a person receives an inheritance that is given by God, they ascend to greatness. However, if sudden worldly wealth causes them to sink down to becoming a hoodlum, if they repent, the Holy One, blessed be He, will raise them up again.10 No doubt this understanding was in Paul’s mind when he talked about believers becoming heirs and joint-heirs with Christ. Knowing that the trials, tests, and temptations coming their way may try to discourage believers from keeping on. It’s what awaits the true believer at the end that will make it worth everything.
The early church Bishop of Paul’s hometown of Tarsus says that Christ did not suffer in order to get attention, nor did He go through trials and temptations in order for people to sympathize and feel sorry for Him. To suffer with Christ means to be brave during the same tests, persecutions, and rejections that He endured because He preached the Gospel. If we are willing to suffer with Him, then we will be able to stand with Him in glory as well. Such glory is a golden opportunity and should not be seen as something we earn or attempt to get. It is a free gift from a gracious Savior. And that free gift can only go to those who have received remission of their sins11.12
Pelagius notes that Paul is saying that the adopted person who is made worthy to be a child of God is also then considered worthy to become a co-heir with His only Son. But this happens only when we are willing to suffer for Him and with Him even as He suffered for us and suffers with us.13 But early church bishop Theodoret takes it a step further and says that in real life, not every son is an heir of the one who procreated him. Paul correctly adds heredity, which means passing on characteristics genetically from one generation to another. God was able to do this to His adopted children. That’s why they are not only known as the adopted children of God but Christians because they are Christlike. It is true that God allows the rain to fall on the just and the unjust,14 but when it comes to being made joint-heirs with Christ, it reveals God’s indescribable love for those He redeemed, called, chose, and made ready to be glorified as His children. Pelagius then poses an important question: Will all those who have been blessed with baptism enjoy these good things, or will only those who gladly accept the fellowship of the Lord’s sufferings as well? That a question the Apostle Paul will attempt to answer.15
Reformist John Calvin points out that there are various interpretations of what Paul said here. In his own mind, Calvin preferred the following rendering: “We are co-heirs with Christ provided that we enter into our inheritance by following Him down the same path He took going before us.”16 In other words, there is no need to think of “suffering” as referring to our having to be beaten, carry our own cross, or dying on a cross as martyrs. Paul uses the Greek term sympaschō only once more in 1 Corinthians 12:26. Thayer, in his Greek lexicon, says that as it is employed here, it means to feel what others feel. So when troubles and persecution come our way, we are to respond to them the same way Jesus did. Calvin goes on to say that we should not dread or become fearful when facing such difficulties because Jesus does not let us go through them alone, He is always with us.
Adam Clarke points to the fact that whatever occurs in our lives that may cause anxiety or persecution should be viewed in the light that we are joint-heirs with Christ to God’s promises. Clarke goes on to say that we should not look at it as something we inherit here on earth or in heaven. Our inheritance is God Himself and all that He is and has. Certainly, such an inheritance is far greater and more glorious than heaven itself. Clarke notes that God used His powers so that when He created the soul of man and woman, that nothing less than He Himself would be a satisfactory portion of the mind and soul of His most astonishing creation.17 This is another way of saying that the true inheritance we receive is not something we enjoy down here on earth and then must leave behind when Christ returns or something we must wait for until the resurrection when we enter the pearly gates of heaven, but something that will be with us both in this world and the world to come.
Robert Haldane gives his view on the Apostle Paul’s teaching that we can clearly prove our adoption as God’s children. He does so with a double confirmation by own spirit and by the Spirit of God. So here he infers that our possession of an eternal inheritance is secure and everlasting. It is easy to see that Paul traces how believers become divine heirs by being God’s children. Even in the everyday world and among most nations, children are the natural heirs of their parents’ possessions. So it follows naturally that believers are heirs because their Father is Almighty God. In Haldane’s view, by declaring us as heirs of the kingdom of God we are thereby reminded that was not something we bought nor something we earned, this inheritance was obtained as something to which we were predestined18.19
Albert Barnes notes that this heirship is the result of God treating us like His children along with His Son Christ Jesus. Barnes goes on to say, we all recognize that an heir is one who succeeds to an estate. So the meaning here is that if we are proven to be the children of God, then we are in line to be treated as such and be recipients of His favors. According to some customs, an adopted child receives only part of the inheritance.20 So it is only right that what we receive from God the Father we share with His Son Jesus. The fact that we are united with Christ here on earth contributes to our belief that we will share in His glory up there in heaven. The relationship between Christ and Christians is often referred to in the New Testament. Does Jesus not say: “Because I live, you will live also.”21 And did not Paul tell Timothy: “For if we die with Him, we will also live with Him; if we suffer, we will also reign with Him.”22 And did not John hear the words: “To him that overcomes will I grant to sit with Me on My throne.”23 Barnes is focusing on the unity we have with Christ, God’s Son so that as we suffer together, we will also be glorified together.”24
Charles Hodge gives us additional insight by pointing out that there are three ideas included in these words about our being joint-heirs with Christ. These can be seen as accessories to that which gives character to the main meaning – the right, the certainty, and the unalienable character of the possession. That’s why, when Paul says that believers are the heirs of God, he wants to acknowledge their identity, in, and through, their Redeemer to what is promised, as well as the quality and surety of what they will receive. Does not Paul say: “And if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise.”25 Also, we have the same assurance expressed here that Paul assured for the Galatians: “Wherefore you are no longer a servant, but a son; and if a son, then an heir of God through Christ.26”27
1 Titus 3:7
2 Hebrews 6:17
3 Matthew 16:24
4 Luke 24:26
5 Acts of the Apostles 14:22
6 See 2 Corinthians 4:8-12
7 Rabbi Rashi’s Commentary: Job 42:15
8 Numbers 27:8
9 Mishnah, Fourth Division, Nezikin, Tractate Bava Batra, Ch. 8:2
10 Babylonian Talmud: Seder Nashim, Masekhet, Nedarim, folio 55a
11 See Romans 5:15-18
12 Diodore: Pauline Commentary, op. cit., loc. cit.
13 Pelagius: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit.
14 Matthew 5:45
15 Theodoret of Cyr: Interpretation of Romans, op. cit., loc. cit.
16 John Calvin: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit.
17 Adam Clarke: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit.
18 Ephesians 1:11
19 Robert Haldane: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit., p. 364
20 Philemon 2:8-9; Hebrews 2:9-10
21 John 14:19
22 2 Timothy 2:11-12
23 Revelation 3:21; see John 17:22-24
24 Albert Barnes: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit.
25 Galatians 3:29
26 Ibid. 4:7; See Colossians 3:24; Hebrews 9:15; Ephesians 1:14
27 Charles Hodge: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit., pp. 414-415