What does it mean to be co-heirs with Christ in Romans 8:17?
It must be unfathomable, outrageous grace to inherit all that Christ has as God the Son!
This is way better than Eden isn’t it?
What does being co-heirs with Jesus look like expressed in our relationship with him for eternity – how does it fit in with us being the worshippers and him being worshipped? I suppose I mean what does it mean to be alongside God as heirs but being glorified humans, not divine?
[This is a Q&A question that has been submitted through this blog. You can submit a question (anonymously if you like) here: http://briggs.id.au/jour/qanda/]
The passage you are quoting is (to use the NIV) Romans 8:14-17:
14 For those who are led by the Spirit of God are the children of God. 15 The Spirit you received does not make you slaves, so that you live in fear again; rather, the Spirit you received brought about your adoption to sonship. And by him we cry, ‘Abba, Father.’ 16 The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children. 17 Now if we are children, then we are heirs – heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory.
To respond to your first two points. Yes, this is “unfathomable, outrageous grace” and yes, “this is way better than Eden”!
You ask what does it mean?
Firstly, we need to grasp what Christ’s inheritance is. The answer is big and simple: Christ’s inheritance is everything. It isn’t always spelled out; after all, how do you detail everything? What might it include? Big things, like “eternal life”, the “new heaven and the new earth”, and “peace.” It’s everything.
The go-to passage that helps us out is Hebrews 1:1-2
1 In the past God spoke to our ancestors through the prophets at many times and in various ways, 2 but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, and through whom also he made the universe.
You might also be familiar with the “attitude of Christ” that Paul espouses in Philippians 2:1-11. This passage talks about the “self-emptying” (the technical term is kenosis)of Jesus, “who, though he was in the form of God… emptied himself, taking the form of a slave… he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death – even death on a cross.” Paul then talks about Christ’s exaltation, and in many ways he is talking about Christ’s inheritance – what God the Father rightly gives the Son who gave himself up for his people:
9 Therefore God also highly exalted him
and gave him the name
that is above every name,
10 so that at the name of Jesus
every knee should bend,
in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
11 and every tongue should confess
that Jesus Christ is Lord,
to the glory of God the Father.
Christ’s inheritance is the reverse kenosis, that comes not from himself, but from his Father.
And it’s not just every thing, it is also all authority. Just look at Matthew 28:18 or 1 Corinthians 15:24 and many other places. Jesus really is the “Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End (Revelation 21:6).
That’s his inheritance. Of which we are co-heirs.
We can pull it apart theologically, but the narrative is simple: The heart of God has always been to share the fullness of himself with his people. We see it in Eden. We see it as he reaches out to Abram, making his promises, intervening in history. We see it as his presence goes with his people out of Egypt, through the sea, and on into the wilderness years. We see it as he speaks through his prophets. We see it as he nurtures a king whose heart is after his own. We see it as he pours himself out as a child, and in sharing our humanity, covers us with his grace and his purpose. He now shares with us his sonship, his sweet heart of faith, his trust and dependence, his obedience even to the point of death, and the blessings that rightly flow from it.
We are “in Christ” as he covers us, and Christ is “in us” by his Spirit. Salvation catches us up into the relational dynamics of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Thinking of salvation without any sense of sharing in Christ’s inheritance, is like conceiving of a banquet without any reference to food; you can sort of imagine something in the abstract, but it doesn’t really make any sense.
But your secondary question draws the meaning out even more. You ask, “What does being co-heirs with Jesus look like expressed in our relationship with him for eternity – how does it fit in with us being the worshippers and him being worshipped?”
I think there’s something here: God is a worshipper. The object of God’s worship is himself. This is not vanity, it is truthful delight and entirely appropriate. The Father adores the Son. The Son is devoted to the Father. The Spirit raises up the name of God! Surely we can say that Jesus, as the incarnate Son of God, rightly worships his Father, perfectly, throughout his life and especially in his death.
To be co-heirs with Christ is, therefore, to share in his role as a worshipper. In Christ, we offer our sacrifice of praise and thanksgiving and, in Christ, it is worthy and honourable and received in great delight by Almighty Creator God.
Again, there’s something amazing about that.
But does our inheritance with Christ also mean an inheritance in the worship he receives? In some sense, yes, but I mean this very carefully: as Christ’s people, we share in the worship he receives, not in any worship we receive, but in the worship he receives.
What I’m trying to grasp is in this account from the end of the book, in Revelation 21:9-27:
9 One of the seven angels… came and said to me, ‘Come, I will show you the bride, the wife of the Lamb.’ 10 And he carried me away in the Spirit to a mountain great and high, and showed me the Holy City, Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God. 11 It shone with the glory of God, and its brilliance was like that of a very precious jewel, like a jasper, clear as crystal.
John then goes on to talk about the gates and walls of the New Jerusalem and includes imagery of apostolic foundations and things like that. The overall picture is one of beauty, and purity, of the Bride of Christ, who shines (and this is the point) with the glory of God. Jesus covers his bride with his glory. That is our inheritance. It is not our glory. It is his. But we share in it. All creation will gaze upon us, his people, and worship him.
And that brings us back to Romans 8:17, where we started, because there it is in the second part of the verse:
Now if we are children, then we are heirs – heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory.
When You don’t move the mountains I’m needing You to move
When You don’t part the waters I wish I could walk through
When You don’t give the answers as I cry out to You
I will trust, I will trust, I will trust in You!
Truth is, You know what tomorrow brings
There’s not a day ahead You have not seen
So, in all things be my life and breath
I want what You want Lord and nothing less
Fearless warriors in a picket fence,
reckless abandon wrapped in common sense
Deep water faith in the shallow end
and we are caught in the middle
With eyes wide open to the differences,
the God we want and the God who is
But will we trade our dreams for His
or are we caught in the middle?
Somewhere between my heart and my hands,
Somewhere between my faith and my plans,
Somewhere between the safety of the boat and the crashing waves…
That things are both “now and not yet” is a fundamental part of Christian spirituality.
It locates us in history: The Kingdom of God is now, for Christ is Risen! The Kingdom of God is not yet, for we look ahead to when Christ brings renewal and rightness to the groaning of all creation. We are “in the middle” in the pportunity to share in God’s loving purposes, his mission. We are not too early nor too late to the dynamic plans of God. This is what eschatology and talk about the end of all things means for the Christian.
It locates us in ourselves: “Now we are children of God, but what we will be has not yet been made known.” (1 John 3:2). In the middle, we “work out our salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you to will and act in order to fulfill his good purpose.” (Phil 2:12-13). We know now, whose we are, for certain. But we are incomplete, and we must have growth, refinement, maturation, strengthening.
“Now and not yet” therefore both grounds us and stretches us.
We delight in what we have, but holy discontent with ourselves and the world spurs us on.
We rejoice in where we have come to, but plans and ambitions must be abandoned as shallow and small as God’s perspective invades.
We have the peace of present rest, but the constant call makes us face our fears and turn away from the control and comfort that would placate them: “Your journey is not yet done, continue, walk this way with me.”
The opposite of “now and not yet” is terrible. It’s “this is all there ever was, and it’s all there ever will be.” In such things we are both rootless and directionless, simply adrift. Rather, lead me through the tensions and pains of the now and not yet, so that, being alive, I may live!
Faith is both affective and cognitive. Which is to say that we not only know about God, but we know him and are known by him. He moves us. He is close. He is immanent. Even (and especially) at those times when we are simply drinking coffee in the morning.
I need to remember this. Because often I need to be moved, changed, shifted in perspective and focus – away from my own navel, and the things that would bind, and towards the God of love. And then I can move, and bless, and do those life-giving things. Because of him.
When you move, you move all our fears
When you move, you move us to tears…
Because when you speak, when you move.
When you do what only you can do
It changes us, it changes what we see and what we seek
A moment of reflection from this morning’s drive while listening to Christy Nockels’ Healing is In Your Hands:
Amongst the lyrics are echoes of Romans 8:35-39
No mountain, no valley
No gain or loss we know
Could keep us from Your love
No sickness, no secret
No chain is strong enough
To keep us from Your love…
In all things we know that
We are more than conquerors
You keep us by Your love
Romans 8:35-39 reads:
35 Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will hardship, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? 36 As it is written, “For your sake we are being killed all day long; we are accounted as sheep to be slaughtered.” 37 No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. 38 For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, 39 nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. (ESV)
It’s a passage that I know well. It’s one of my favourites and has been a source of comfort for me when the emotions of the day feel like alone-ness, anxiety, or even abandonment.
The phrase that struck me today is this: “We are more than conquerors.”
It’s one of those phrases that has what I call “teleological significance.” It speaks to our purpose, our ambition, our direction, our goal. There’s two facets to this:
The first recognises that what we observe in and around us in the world is a form of conquering. I see Islamic extremists beheading Christians; they are trying to conquer the world with their expression of Islam. I see areas of my own society, the Western World, which is blindly slipping into intolerant impositions that gives little value to freedom of conscience; it’s another form of attempted conquering. It has ever been the way of the world. This should not surprise us.
The natural response is fear. What does the future look like? Will I and my children and my children’s children be safe? To be safe, we look to win. We fight back. We use the same sword as what we perceive is against us: we spin and tear down, we demolish people as well as ideas, we demonise, we hound, we yell; we try to conquer.
The second facet recognises the reality: we are more than conquerors. And our safety and security rests not on the ways and woes of what is around us, but upon the love of God in Jesus Christ. The Kingdom of God is not headed by a weakened or sin-wracked king, but by the one who has conquered even death. The foundation of our ultimate citizenship is sure, as is the certainty of it’s future. God is the God of history, do you think he has abandoned this part of it?
And on that basis we face the conquering hordes (whoever or whatever they might be), not with fear, but in love-filled confidence. We speak and act on truth with our confidence not in ourselves, but in the love of God. We apply ourselves to his purpose. We invest ourselves in his loving works. We seek to capture every thought that’s floating through the social conscience and reimagine it in the light of the fact that God is actually real, and Jesus has actually risen and inaugurated the life of a renewed world. He is so much more than any pretentious conqueror. And we rest and work and have our being in him.
Just a short reflection from one of those mornings when God seems distant and despondency seems close. I have learned over the years that such moments are cues to run towards Jesus, no matter how much you don’t feel like doing that. And so I turned to where I’m up to in my readings, which happened to be Hebrews 12.
Hebrews 12 is all about how God in his love disciplines his people. It applies to times of trial, adversity, difficulty, despondency. “Endure trials for the sake of discipline,” it says, “God is treating you as children; for what child is there whom a parent does not discipline?” (Heb 12:7 NIV) Which, in and of itself, can feel of no great immediate encouragement. Although I have come to know over the years that it is true, that “discipline always seems painful rather than pleasant at the time, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it” (Heb 12:11 NIV), what does that mean for the immediate moment? That I should just wallow until it’s over?
But Hebrews 12 does have an imperative in it, a true exhortation that hadn’t really seized me before. It’s in verses 12 and 13. Let me quote it using the Complete Jewish Bible (CJB) version, because it makes it very clear:
So, strengthen your drooping arms, and steady your tottering knees; and make a level path for your feet; so that what has been injured will not get wrenched out of joint but rather will be healed. (Heb 12:12-13 CJB)
This is an exhortation that looks towards the fruits of the discipline: Strengthen yourself, steady yourself, level off your path. These are both self-caring exhortations and looking-ahead and keep-moving exhortations. They are exhortations that recognise that the hurt and the injury of the season is real. Something has been injured (the NIV talks about that which has become lame) and now the task is to move forward in a way that will allow it to heal and not be wrenched out of joint and possibly permanently damaged.
The chapter then goes on to talk about avoiding bitterness and living in peace with one another: the exact sort of thing that would cause an injury to fester.
Today this is encouragement. Despondency can be real. But by God’s grace it is not devoid of purpose. And there is a constructive task which is both valid and graspable: to steady myself, move forward and so embrace healing. God is good.