Romans 8: God is Our Portion
“The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs—heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him.” – Romans 8:16-17
Paul has been moving us from one degree of glory to another as his argument in Romans 8 progresses. Beginning in verse 1 with some of the most comforting words in all of Scripture, that “there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus”, he has brought us to what is some of the most encouraging words in Scripture, that “all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God… [For] the Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God” (Romans 8:14, 16).
His whole purpose here is to encourage Christians that they are indeed recipients of grace. Consider how Paul, inspired by the Spirit Himself, is actually writing into our hearts an assurance of faith. These verses are real promises given to us, which means, these words should be read and reread by us continually; we ought to be meditating on these verses precisely because through them we’re strengthened in our faith. Paul will later tell us that “faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ” (Romans 10:17) and Romans 8 contains some of the most beautiful, faith-producing words of Christ! Read and hear and be filled, friends – what we’re reading here is some of our Lord’s richest food and finest wine all meant to nourish our souls.
Now, in verse 17, Paul elaborates upon the truth that we are children of God by reminding us that we are also heirs of God and, indeed, fellow heirs with Christ! The early church father and preacher John Chrysostom wonderfully points out how Paul is “enhancing the Gifts of God little by little, for since it is possible to be children, and yet not become heirs (for not all children are heirs), he adds this – that we are heirs!” Paul is adding grace to grace as he shows us not just our adoption by God in Christ but that we’re also heirs of God in Christ. To be an heir is to be a recipient of all that a father has. It’s a curious statement though since an heir receives his inheritance only upon the death of the parent. But here it is absurd to conceive of the death of God the Father. Instead, we’ve become heirs of God the Father through the death of the Son! And so now, insofar as God is eternal and we, by the Spirit, are bound up in the resurrection of Christ, we become eternal heirs of God, inheritors of life eternal in God.
I think John Stott is right to ask the question, “is it possible… that the inheritance Paul has in mind is not something God intends to bestow on us but God himself?” This certainly is in keeping with Paul’s major emphasis in Romans 8 on our union in and with Christ. Receiving the blessings of salvation (our justification, our sanctification, our adoption, and glorification) means becoming one with the Son of God in whom all those blessings are found. And insofar as we become one with the Son, we also become one with God the Father. This was Jesus’ prayer in John 17, when he asked the Father that all “those who will believe in me… that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us… I in them and you in me, that they may become perfectly one” (John 17:20-23). And this prayer was to the end that “the love with which you have loved me may be in them, and I in them” (John 17:26).
In receiving the Son, we have received God in whom all the blessings of our inheritance is found. This is what we sing when we sing the Doxology: “Praise God from whom all blessings flow, Praise Him all creatures here below; Praise Him above ye heavenly hosts, Praise Father, Son, and Holy Ghost.” It is a mistake to separate any blessings we receive from the One who has given them. “Do not be deceived, my beloved brothers. Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change” (James 1:16-17). Is this not the cry of the Psalmist in Psalm 73:25-26? “Whom have I in heaven but you? And there is nothing on earth that I desire besides you. My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.” We ought not skip that last clause – God is our portion forever.
And so, I think we need to see here in the exclamation that we are heirs of God, the idea that we have become inheritors of God himself! What higher blessing, what greater enjoyment, what better treasure could there ever be? Calvin is right when he says that Paul, “proves that our salvation consists in having God as our Father.”
It’s worth stepping back at this point and seeing something of Paul’s larger argument in the book of Romans thus far. The privileges of being counted a child of God come to us, says Paul, through the power and work of the Holy Spirit. This is in complete contrast to those who, like Paul’s Jewish contemporaries, seek God’s blessings through obedience to the Law. It is not the Law which identifies someone as being a child of God, but the Holy Spirit. And so Paul is now arguing that it is by the Spirit that we come to inherit God (i.e., come into a personal relationship with God) in our fellowship with Christ. We are, “heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ” (Romans 8:17). Just as Christ intimately knows God as Father, so now we can know God as our Father, insofar as we are found in Christ. And it’s precisely here where we see Paul make a staggering move; he adds a condition.
We are “heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him.” There is no such thing as a true Christian who does not suffer with Christ. And here again we see so clearly Paul’s doctrine of our union in Christ. Just as Christ’s path to glory had to come through the suffering of shame (see Luke 24:26), so too all of us who are now united to Christ. There is no crown without the cross. Of course, Paul learned this lesson, this all-important doctrine, in his first encounter with the risen Jesus, when on his way to persecute Christians Jesus confronts Paul (knocks him to the ground, actually) and says “Saul, Saul why are you persecuting me?” (Acts 9:4). There is a most intimate union between Christ and the believer so that what is true of the man Christ Jesus must now be true of those who are one with him, and apparently, visa-versa (see 1 Corinthians 6:12-20).
And so what Paul is saying here is that the Christian believer, by believing into Jesus Christ, he has believed into and become a participant in his sonship, yes, but therefore also into his suffering. And notice the logic of Paul’s thinking: by becoming heirs of God we will inherit all the blessings that come with being God’s children, supremely, life everlasting with Him in glory. But just as Jesus Christ, the God-man, only attained glory through the suffering of the cross, so too must we. “We are children of God, and if children, then heirs—heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him” (Romans 8:16-17).
What does this mean for us? It means that all of our suffering ceases to be meaningless. All of our suffering has divine purpose wrapped up into it so that we know, we can be assured, that what we are going through is meant to bring about our future glory. It must be so! In Christ we have become inheritors of God, redeemed sinners who will know God and be with God forevermore as his children, enjoying him as our Father. Therefore, every little bit of suffering we go through is just another step closer to glory. This is where Paul will take our thinking next, which will culminate in the astonishing truth that “for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose” (Romans 8:28).
As Paul says in his letter to the Corinthians, “just as we share abundantly in Christ's sufferings, so through Christ we share abundantly in comfort too” (1 Corinthians 1:5). Be comforted friends in your current suffering; it is God your Father bringing you to glory, bringing you to enjoy Him forevermore as his heir.
Stephen Unthank (MDiv, Capital Bible Seminary) serves at Greenbelt Baptist Church in Greenbelt, MD, just outside of Washington, DC. He lives in Maryland with his wife, Maricel and their two children, Ambrose and Lilou.
 John Chrysostom, The Homilies of S. John Chrysostom, On the Epistle of St. Paul the Apostle to the Romans (Oxford Press, 1841), p. 241
 John Stott, The Message of Romans (InterVarsity Press, 1994), p. 234
 John Calvin, Commentary on the Epistle to the Romans (Baker Books, 2005), p. 301
 David Peterson, Possessed by God: A New Testament theology of sanctification and holiness (InterVarsity Press, 1995), p. 116
 Ibid., p. 117