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Romans 8:16-17

16 The Spirit itself beareth witness with our spirit, that we are the children of God:

17 And if children, then heirs; heirs of God, and joint-heirs with Christ; if so be that we suffer with him, that we may be also glorified together.

There seems to be a lot implied/assumed in those two verses. I'll try to keep it focused.

What is meant by children of God being "heirs of God"? What does He have to give us besides salvation? If salvation is something to be inherited, then does it mean that God once inherited/was given salvation?

As for being joint-heirs with Christ, does that mean we can obtain the same glory as he has?

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Restricting the domain of the question to "just Catholics" when you received 3 answers from a general standpoint invalidates all the answers already given: if you want to ask what it means for Catholics, ask a new question (preferably one that actually demonstrates why you want to know from a Catholic perspective). –  user72 Oct 22 '11 at 22:55
Does this question not deserve to be restricted to a particular denomination? –  H3br3wHamm3r81 May 31 at 21:25

5 Answers 5

This is a really sticky bit of theology. In Jewish custom, "joint heirs" has a very specific meaning: heirs who receive an identical inheritance. There are only two churches I've seen who aren't completely unwilling to so much as touch this verse with a ten-foot pole, and both are well outside of mainstream Christianity.

The Mormons claim that this is evidence that man can be exalted and become as God, like Christ did. On the other hand, the Jehovah's Witnesses take a completely opposite interpretation: since man can receive exactly the same inheritance as Christ, and since man can obviously not become as God, this is evidence that Jesus was not divine either.

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Not believing either of those theologies, perhaps it could mean Christ as human. Since he was fully human, yet is receiving the inheritance, we can also receive an equal share of the inheritance. Despite us being far from perfect. –  a_hardin Aug 29 '11 at 1:02
@a_hardin: But what was Christ's inheritance? –  Mason Wheeler Aug 29 '11 at 1:08
Out of curiosity, what are the two denominations that won't touch these verses? –  user23 Aug 29 '11 at 1:11
@JustinY: "churches" doesn't necessarily refer to denominations; in this case, Mason was referring to the Mormons and Jehovah's Witnesses. –  El'endia Starman Aug 29 '11 at 1:15
@JustinY I think Mason meant that there are 2 churches who ARE willing to build doctrine directly from these verses. –  a_hardin Aug 29 '11 at 1:23

In Jewish thinking, being an heir speaks to adoption into a family. An adoption would make the adopted one legally eligible for an equal share in the father's estate.

Now Jesus was intended to be the firstborn among many brethren:

Romans 8:29

For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers and sisters.

And we believers are adopted into the family of God:

Romans 8:15

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.”

With all the entitlement to an inheritance in the Kingdom of God that that entails. As joint-heirs with Christ, we have an equal share with him as Sons and Daughters of the living God.

Now, consider this, in the garden Adam an Eve were created in the image of God, with free access to the tree of life, they would have life forever in perfect communion with God... had they not grasped after God-likeness, seeking equality with God on their own terms.

Now, when talking of the resurrection Paul makes some startling statements:

1 Cor 15:42-49

42 So will it be with the resurrection of the dead. The body that is sown is perishable, it is raised imperishable; 43 it is sown in dishonor, it is raised in glory; it is sown in weakness, it is raised in power; 44 it is sown a natural body, it is raised a spiritual body.

If there is a natural body, there is also a spiritual body. 45 So it is written: “The first man Adam became a living being”; the last Adam, a life-giving spirit. 46 The spiritual did not come first, but the natural, and after that the spiritual. 47 The first man was of the dust of the earth; the second man is of heaven. 48 As was the earthly man, so are those who are of the earth; and as is the heavenly man, so also are those who are of heaven. 49 And just as we have borne the image of the earthly man, so shall we bear the image of the heavenly man.

So it is that we will be raised in the image of the risen Christ, incorruptible, immortal, redeemed, with a body like to what we have now, yet as different as that of the risen Lord who walked through locked doors and appeared and disappeared at will.

Interestingly, the Catholic church teaches, quite rightly I think, that we will be divinised with Christ in some mysterious way - "may we come to share in the divinity of Christ, who humbled himself to share in our humanity" (words of the mass, and direct teaching of John Paul II).

When the bible speaks of our adoption with Christ, it is speaking of the mystery that is God finally making us like him in a more wonderful and transcendent way after the resurrection than we ever dreamed possible when we grasped after it in the garden.

1 Cor 15:24

24 Then the end will come, when he hands over the kingdom to God the Father after he has destroyed all dominion, authority and power. 25 For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet. 26 The last enemy to be destroyed is death.

For what else can be the case in a world where all evil, death and pain is removed but that every evil inclination of mans heart has been removed and we have perfect and eternal communion with the living God? Not one of us will ever sin again - the idea will never even enter our heart. Yet we will remain separate persons, but our nature will be so transformed as to be unable to sin. Now imagine what kind of a nature can it be which can last for all eternity forward never self-seeking, never sinning and never having a single conception of so much as an idea in discord with Almighty God.

That's what it means to be an heir of God and joint-heir with Christ.

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I had no idea that Catholics believe this. Do you know if this doctrine is frequently taught or commonly believed? Also, you said we will become more like God after the resurrection. Will we be 100% like him, as perfect and omnipotent? If not, what are the differences? –  user23 Sep 4 '11 at 3:44
Justin: I can't say how widely it's understood by Catholics, but it's "taught" every time the Mass is said. The words I quoted are directly from the Latin-rite Mass. The NT scripture teaches in several places that we shall, somehow, share in Christ's nature. –  Lawrence Dol Mar 24 '14 at 0:17

Being a heir of God doesn't mean that whatever we inherit was inherited by God. For example, Bill Gates' children are each getting about 10 million dollars as their inheritance (source). Ignoring for now the fact that 10 million dollars is a really small portion of his wealth, it is certainly the case that Gates didn't inherit even that much from his parents. Thus, we can inherit salvation, eternal life in Heaven, and so on, even though God didn't get it first.

As for the joint-heirs part, NIV phrases it a bit differently:

Romans 8:16-17 (NIV)
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.

We share in Christ's suffering because the world hates us; "If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me first." (John 15:18) However, we share in Christ's glory as implied by John 7:18 and John 17:22, among other verses.
However, this doesn't take into account the Jewish meaning of the word as Mason Wheeler pointed out.

A side note: the NLT version makes it even clearer and more direct.

Romans 8:16-17 (NLT)
16 For his Spirit joins with our spirit to affirm that we are God’s children. 17 And since we are his children, we are his heirs. In fact, together with Christ we are heirs of God’s glory. But if we are to share his glory, we must also share his suffering.

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I like the NLT translation saying "his Spirit joins with our spirit". If we are one in spirit, then I could see how we would share in inheritance. It's not an inheritance split among many, but one inheritance given to one body. –  a_hardin Aug 29 '11 at 1:29

If joint heirs truly means that heirs will receive and identical inheritance of God's glory, then we should ask the question, "What is God's glory?" Is it his perfect understanding and knowledge of truth? Is it his omnipotence? Is it his power over evil? Is it is power to do great works of good (i.e. his righteousness)? Did Jesus Christ forge the way for man to lay hold upon God's righteousness, or his infinite power to do good?

Have we being invited to become a part of the collective creative power for good in the universe? Is religion as simple as feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, liberating the captive, and administering relief to the sick and the afflicted, as Isaiah 58 would lead us to believe? Is God willing to lift us to become his heirs, or to be like him in our power to go about doing good continually? What limits our power to do good? Is remnants of darkness within us, or unrighteousness? Are joint heirs with Christ all who are brought by Christ to lay hold upon understanding, knowledge, and power sufficient to trample upon all enemies of righteousness as he did, even unto overcoming death?

Is God an exalted being who has unlimited power to do good? If so, I would forsake all my sins to know him. I cannot think of anything greater. If the law of the prophets, "Do unto others even as you would have others do unto you," is the law that governs heaven, and is the law God lives, then that is where I want to live, with selfless loving beings whose desire it is to lift others to become good, like them. If Eternal Life is to learn how to live the laws that God lives, which govern his righteousness, then there is no mystery to religion. It is an invitation to become an heir to perfect righteousness.

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The meaning of joint heir with Christ is sitting on the same bench with Christ in heavenly place(Ephesians 2:6). Having authority to dominate every affairs of life(Genesis 1:28). Living a life of Heaven on Earth(Revelation 21:2-3). Not less than Jesus,we are one with Jesus(Hebrew 2:11) Thank you!

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Some of the information contained in this post requires additional references. Please edit to add citations to reliable sources that support the assertions made here. Unsourced material may be disputed or deleted.

This answer would be a lot better if you could add references showing that this is a common understanding, and who teaches/believes it. On this site, we're not looking for personal interpretation, but rather focusing on what various Christian groups teach. See How we are different than other sites? and What makes a good supported answer? –  David Dec 21 '14 at 20:15
Hi and welcome to the site! We hope you keep posting. Fyi, it can take a while to learn the ropes around here - reading the posts linked to by David can help in that process and there are many other helpful posts (re site guidelines et.c) found in our help centre and on our Meta site. –  bruised reed Dec 21 '14 at 23:27

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