On three occasions (1 Cor 6:9-11, Gal 5:19-21, and Eph 5:5-7) the Apostle Paul listed various vices and then said that people who live like that “will not inherit the kingdom of God.”
Galatians 5:19-21 has been selected as the representative text for this study. It reads:
Now the works of the flesh are evident, which are: adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lewdness, idolatry, sorcery, hatred, contentions, jealousies, outbursts of wrath, selfish ambitions, dissentions, heresies, envy, murders, drunkenness, revelries, and the like; of which I tell you beforehand, just as I also told you in time past, that those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.
For the Arminian exegete these verses create no difficulty. Paul is viewed as threatening his believing readers with loss of salvation if they fail to persevere in a godly lifestyle.
For the exegete who believes in eternal security, however, these verses seem to present a problem. If loss of salvation is not being threatened, what is?
Four options have been proposed: the Reformed Perseverance View, the Worthy Walk View, the Present Rewards View, and the Future Rewards View.
We will begin with a brief presentation of these four views.
II. Four Views Which Uphold Eternal Security
The following views all eliminate the apparent problem in Gal 5:21.
A. The Reformed Perseverance View
Most Reformed exegetes argue that Paul’s warning concerned false professors, not genuine believers.1 They suggest that Paul was warning believers, including both true and false professors, that if they live characteristically sinful lives they will prove to be false professors and hence will not enter God’s kingdom.
According to this view true believers will certainly persevere in the faith. God guarantees this. Since those who fail to persevere never had genuine faith and thus were never saved in the first place, they obviously cannot be said to have lost their salvation.
B. The Worthy Walk View
I first heard this view articulated in an eschatology course by Dr. Craig Glickman, one of my professors at Dallas Theological Seminary. I have since discovered several others who also advocate this interpretation.2
This view is similar to the Reformed Perseverance View in two ways. Both suggest that inheriting the kingdom actually refers to entering the kingdom and that those who fail to inherit the kingdom are unbelievers.
However, this position is also different from the Reformed Perseverance View. It does not believe that Paul is addressing this passage to both true and false professors. Rather, only true believers are in view. In addition, Paul is seen to be exhorting true believers not to indulge in the vices listed. Genuine Christians are viewed as capable of practicing as a habit of life the various sins listed (cf. 1 Cor 3:3).
According to this view Paul was calling genuine believers to live in a manner worthy of their high calling as children of God (cf. Eph 4:1, 16; 5:5-7). Paul’s point is that it doesn’t make sense for believers, those who will inherit the kingdom, to live like the unrighteous (i.e., unbelievers) who will not inherit the kingdom.
This view sees no explicit warning in these texts. Rather, it sees an appeal to holiness based on reason and responsibility.
C. The Present Rewards View
According to this view inheriting the kingdom refers in Paul’s vice lists to inheriting present blessings associated with the present aspect of the kingdom of God.3 The warning is thus seen as temporal in nature: unfaithful believers will be miserable.
The Present Rewards View thus solves the apparent difficulty by suggesting that inheriting the kingdom is not the same as entering the kingdom.
D. The Future Rewards View
This view is similar to the Present Rewards View in that it too suggests that inheriting the kingdom refers to obtaining rewards, not to entering the kingdom. However, it differs in that it sees inheriting the kingdom as referring to future, not present, rewards.
According to this view inheriting the kingdom in Paul’s writings refers to future possession of and rulership in the kingdom.4 Believers whose Christian lives prove to have been characterized by the fruit of the Spirit will possess the kingdom and reign in it as members of the King of kings’ world government. However, believers whose Christian lives prove to have been characterized by the deeds of the flesh will neither have possession of nor rulership in the coming kingdom, although they will be citizens in it.
III. Deficiencies of the Perseverance, Worthy Walk,
and Present Rewards Views
In determining which view of a given passage is correct, it is helpful to eliminate any view which does not fit the context, or which does not harmonize with other clear teachings of Scripture. For example, the Arminian understanding of our passage was eliminated because it involved the rejection of eternal security—a doctrine which is unmistakably biblical (John 5:24; 6:35-40; 10:27-30; Rom 8:38-39).
I believe that the first three views mentioned above, the Reformed Perseverance, Worthy Walk, and Present Rewards Views, all can be eliminated on the basis of the context and the clear teaching of Scripture.
A. The Reformed Perseverance View
A number of major difficulties attend this view.5
First, eternal salvation is not conditioned elsewhere in Scripture upon persevering in good works. Believing in Christ as one’s Savior is the sole condition given (John 3:16; 4:l0ff; 5:24; Eph 2:8-9; Titus 3:5). A number of passages specifically indicate that eternal salvation is not of works (Rom 4:1-5; Eph 2:9; Titus 3:5).
Second, there are clear examples in Scripture of genuine believers who did not persevere in good works, but who instead walked in the flesh. Solomon ended his life as an idolator (1 Kings 11). Many of the believers in Corinth, although five years old as Christians, were still carnal and fleshly—yet they are called babes in Christ (1 Cor 3:1-3). One believer at Corinth was actually living in immorality with his stepmother and was brazenly unrepentant (1 Cor 5:5). A number of believers in Corinth were sick, and some had already died, as a result of their selfish and drunken disregard for the sacredness of the Lord’s Supper (1 Cor 11:30). Demas, whom Paul at least twice referred to as his co-laborer in Christ’s service (Col 4:14; Phlm 24), later is said by Paul to have “forsaken me, having loved this present world” (2 Tim 4:10). Likewise James refers to the need to turn back fellow believers who have wandered from the truth Jas 5:19-20).
Third, the Book of Galatians is addressed to genuine believers (Gal 1:8-9) and there is no indication in the context of chapter five that unbelievers are being warned. In fact, exactly the opposite is true. In 5:13 Paul refers to those addressed in 5:13-26 as brethren. Furthermore, in 6:1 Paul again refers to those being warned as brethren, and he gives instructions for the spiritual among them to restore those who become ensnared by the deeds of the flesh.
Fourth, the immediate context explicitly rejects the Reformed doctrine of the perseverance of the saints. Rather than affirming that all true believers will walk in the Spirit, Paul commands the believers at the churches of Galatia to walk in the Spirit and not in the flesh. Such an admonition would be misplaced if addressed to an unbeliever since it is impossible for those devoid of the Holy Spirit to walk in the Spirit. Clearly in this passage Paul is saying that it is possible for genuine believers to walk in the flesh and practice the sins mentioned in the vice list (cf. vv 16, 17, 21, 25, 26).
Fifth, these verses are clearly ethical in nature and look to a future judgment according to one’s works. John M. G. Barclay writes:
One major problem with this interpretation [the Reformed perseverance interpretation] is in coming to terms with Paul’s specific comments about judgment on the basis of works (see e.g., Gal 5:21; 6:7-9).6
Although not commenting on the Reformed understanding of this passage, Sadler echoes the same sentiment: “This is one of those numerous places which assure us that the judgment hereafter will be according to works.”7
The interpreter who does not distinguish between eternal salvation and eternal rewards is forced to see all of the Judgment Seat of Christ passages as referring to some sort of final judgment for believers to determine who gets into the kingdom. Whether the interpreter is Arminian or Reformed, he views good works as a condition of kingdom entrance.
There is, of course, no final judgment to determine who gets into the kingdom and who does not. The Judgment Seat of Christ is for believers only and it concerns rewards, not kingdom entrance (Rom 14:10; 2 Cor 5:10). The Great White Throne Judgment is for unbelievers only—people already condemned according to John 3:18: “he who does not believe is condemned already“—and it concerns degrees of punishment in hell, not kingdom entrance (cf. Matt l0:15; 11:21-24; Rev 20:13).
Sixth, this interpretation eliminates something which the Scriptures clearly affirm, namely, assurance of salvation. If the Reformed Perseverance View were correct, one would never know for sure until he died if he was saved because it would always be possible that tomorrow his works might cross the line and become sinful enough to disqualify him from kingdom entrance. Indeed, under such a system one couldn’t even be sure today that his works were good enough to qualify him to enter the kingdom.
Seventh, this view produces a works-salvation mentality. Once a person begins to think that he must persevere in the faith in order to enter the kingdom, he then believes that eternal salvation is conditioned upon his works, not on his faith only.
For these reasons I find the Reformed Perseverance View to be wholly untenable.
B. The Worthy Walk View
This was the view I held when I wrote my master’s thesis.8 I have since come, however, to believe that it is not likely that Paul had this idea in mind.
The major weakness of this view is that there is nothing in the context to suggest that “those who do such things” refers to unbelievers. Indeed, as mentioned above, just the opposite is true. The context suggests that it is the Galatian believers (and by application all believers) who are in danger of losing their legacy.
Secondly, this view eliminates any explicit warning. Why would Paul fail to say in context what the believer who walked in the flesh will lose? In a parallel section in the next chapter (Gal 6:6-10), Paul states that those who sow to the flesh will reap corruption.9
For these reasons I feel the Worthy Walk View is most likely not the meaning which Paul intended.
C. The Present Rewards View
It is true that there is a sense in which the kingdom of God is already present. We already are citizens of heaven (Phil 3:20) and are already seated with Christ in the heavenlies (Eph 2:6). So, there could be a sense in which inheriting the kingdom could refer to some present experience of the kingdom.
However, there are no other NT examples where inheriting the kingdom is used in this way.
More telling still is the fact that in Paul’s only use of this expression outside of the three vice lists it clearly has an esehatological reference. According to Paul in 1 Cor 15:50, in order to inherit the kingdom one must first be resurrected from the dead.
This view is thus very unlikely.
IV. Strengths of the Future Rewards View
Even though the other views have been shown to be unlikely, it yet remains to be demonstrated that the Future Rewards View was Paul’s intended meaning.
There are a number of compelling reasons which have led me to adopt this interpretation.
A. The Other Views’ Weaknesses Are This View’s Strengths
The Future Rewards View answers all of the objections raised under the preceding views.
It does not suggest that persevering in good works is a condition of eternal salvation in addition to believing in Christ.
It has no difficulty with the many examples in Scripture of genuine believers who walked in the flesh.
It sees those being addressed as genuine believers, as the context clearly shows.
It has no argument with the fact that the context acknowledges the possibility that genuine believers might walk in the flesh.
It is completely compatible with the ethical nature of the passage and the fact that judgment according to one’s works is in view.
It does not eliminate assurance of salvation.
It does not produce a works-salvation mentality.
It is in harmony with the eschatological aspect of the expression found in 1 Cor 15:50. (Indeed, as shall be shown later, that text offers compelling support for this view.)
And, it does find in the passage a clear warning to believers.
All of these points are compelling evidence that this view is the one intended by Paul.
In addition, there are several other strengths of this view.
B. The “X Approach” Suggests This View
If one could force himself to look at this passage without prejudice, I am convinced that he would almost certainly come to the Future Rewards View.
Many people mistakenly assume that the expression inheriting the kingdom refers to getting into the kingdom. This, of course, eliminates the Future Rewards View since it does not understand that expression in that way.
One way I have found to help people consider that the expression may refer to something other than kingdom entrance is to invoke what I call the “X approach.” The X approach involves the placement of an X in place of the expression in question. Thus in Gal 5:21 we would read, “those who practice such things will not X.”
To what would we expect X to refer? In light of Paul’s other writings, we would expect something like “will not be approved” or “will not rule with Christ.”
Consider other passages in Paul’s writings in which he warns believers of the consequences of walking in the flesh.
The Apostle Paul was concerned (and wanted all believers to share his concern) that he might fail to fight the good fight and finish the course with the result that he would be disapproved (1 Cor 9:27).
Paul told Timothy that in order to be approved workers, believers must be diligent in their study and application of the Word of God (2 Tim 2:15).
The Apostle Paul did not know until the very end of his life, and then evidently only because of divine revelation,10 that he would receive the crown of righteousness which is reserved for those believers who have loved His appearing (2 Tim 4:7-8).
If believers fail to endure in the faith (the Apostle Paul included himself as a possible failure), then they will lose the privilege of ruling with Christ (2 Tim 2:12), even though their eternal salvation is unaffected (2 Tim 2:11, 13).11
Likewise, if believers’ works are burned up, they will suffer loss, but they themselves will be saved, yet so as through fire (1 Cor 3:15).
Paul taught that all believers will appear at the Judgment Seat of Christ where their works—whether good or bad (i.e., the sort of works Paul lists in Gal 5:19-21)—will he judged and where they will be recompensed accordingly (2 Cor 5:10).
There is no passage in Paul’s writings in which he says that believers who walk in the flesh will fail to enter the kingdom. There are, however, as we have just seen, a host of passages in which Paul links future rewards with walking in the Spirit.
The X approach strongly suggests, indeed demands, that this passage is talking about kingdom rewards, not kingdom entrance.
C. First Corinthians 15:50
As mentioned above, this is Paul’s only use of our expression outside of the three vice lists. As such, it should be very instructive.
Here Paul said that “flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God.”
Paul is defending the doctrine of the bodily resurrection of the dead in the fifteenth chapter of First Corinthians. In v 50 he is reminding believers that only those with resurrected bodies can inherit the kingdom of God.
For those of us who believe that there will be people with unresurrected bodies who take part in the kingdom, Paul must be talking about something other than kingdom entrance.
In the Millennial Kingdom there will be children born (Isa 65:20-23). And since people with resurrected bodies cannot have children according to our Lord’s teachings (Matt 22:30), that demands that people with natural bodies must be in the kingdom.
Likewise, we know that no one with a resurrected body will sin (1 John 3:2). Yet at the end of the Millennium there will be many people who take part in a rebellion against Christ led by Satan (Rev 20:7-10). Only people with natural bodies could possibly rebel against the King of kings.
Paul’s point in 1 Cor 15:50 is that if there is no resurrection of the dead, then the Corinthians could not hope to rule with Christ in His coming kingdom—something which they clearly desired (cf. 1 Cor 4:8; 6:3).
First Corinthians 15:50 refutes any view which understands inheriting the kingdom as merely getting in. On the other hand, it supports well the Future Rewards View.
D. The Beatitudes
The Beatitudes are teachings of the Lord to believers about the rewards which will come to those whose attitudes and actions are pleasing to Him.
Each beatitude begins with a promise of blessing—a rewards concept. The final beatitude explicitly states that there will be great rewards for those believers who persevere in the face of persecution.
Three of the beatitudes use expressions which are almost certainly synonymous with inheriting the kingdom. In vv 3 and 10 the Lord promises that those who are poor in spirit and those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake will receive the kingdom of heaven (“for theirs is the kingdom of heaven”). And, in v5 the Lord says that the meek “shall inherit the earth.”
Receiving the kingdom of heaven in this context is a rewards concept. This is easily seen by comparing vv 10 and 12. Verse 10 says that those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake will receive the kingdom of heaven. Verse 12 says that those who are persecuted for Christ’s sake should “rejoice and be exceedingly glad, for great is your reward in heaven.” Receiving the kingdom of heaven is parallel to receiving great reward in heaven just as persevering under persecution for righteousness’ sake is parallel to persevering under persecution for Christ’s sake.
Of course, eternal salvation cannot be in view here since it is not a reward for holding up under persecution.12 It is a free gift (John 4:10ff; Rom 3:24; Eph 2:9; Rev 22:17).
Receiving the kingdom in this passage thus refers to some reward. In light of other passages, rulership and its attendant privileges and responsibilities must be in view. All believers will be in the kingdom; however, only faithful believers will rule and possess it (Luke 19:11-27; Rom 8:17; 2 Tim 2:12).
Since inheriting the earth is a synonymous expression to receiving the kingdom, it too refers here to ruling and possessing the kingdom. After all, the kingdom will take place on earth (cf. Rev 20-22). To receive the kingdom is to inherit the earth. Those who are meek will be co-heirs with Christ and will share in kingdom rule and glory.13
The Lord Himself is a perfect illustration of the truth of the beatitudes. He was meek and poor in spirit, and He willingly accepted persecution for righteousness’ sake. As a result He Himself will inherit the earth and receive the kingdom. In Ps 2:8 God the Father says, “Ask of Me, and I will give You the nations for Your inheritance, and the ends of the earth for Your possession.” Quite probably the author of Hebrews had this in mind when he spoke of the Lord Jesus, “who for the joy [of reigning] set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame” (Heb 12:2; see Heb 1:8-9).
Believers who faithfully serve Christ can enter into His inheritance and become His co-heirs (Luke 19:11-27).
The Beatitudes add strong support to the Future Rewards View of inheriting the kingdom.
E. Galatians 6:7-9
Galatians 5:19-23 and 6:7-9 are talking about the same subject: walking in the Spirit versus walking in the flesh. It would thus be very helpful to consider Gal 6:7-9, since it is a parallel passage within the same book and even the same subsection of the book.
Galatians 6:8 says that he who sows to the flesh will reap corruption. The expression will reap corruption in 6:8 is parallel to not inheriting the kingdom in 5:21. If we can determine what corruption means, we necessarily also determine what the expression will not inherit the kingdom means as well.
Corruption (phthora) refers to “ruin, destruction, dissolution, deterioration, [or] corruption.”14 It could refer to many types of ruin, corruption, etc.
Many commentators understand phthora in Gal 6:8 to refer to eternal destruction, being influenced by the later statement that those who sow to the Spirit will reap eternal life.15
However, many other commentators, including some who believe in the Reformed doctrine of the perseverance of the saints, understand phthora in Gal 6:8 as referring to temporal decay and loss. John F. MacArthur, Jr., for example, writes,
The word “corruption” means decay and death. When the person sows to the flesh he reaps death and decay.
Keep in mind that this is a general principle. The Christian who sows to the flesh will reap corruption, erosion of the joy and the peace that he has with Christ. The unsaved person who continues to sow in the flesh all his life, reaps spiritual (present) and eternal (ultimate) death….
Here I’m seeing eternal life in a qualitative aspect, not quantitative. Eternal life is a matter of quality not quantity.
Some of the most absolutely wretched, miserable people I have ever met are people with eternal life. Because of sin they have forfeited the qualitative joys and blessings and the riches of their eternal life. I am not saying they forfeit eternal life. What I am saying is that they forfeit the joy and the peace and the blessing that come when one is sowing to the Spirit. This often happens to Christians who fall from living by the grace principle.16
Similarly Copley says,
If you support carnal institutions, you will not reap damnation, or separation from God; but you will reap corruption. The teaching you support corrupts, defiles, disintegrates, instead of feeding and building up. You will be “saved as by fire,” but your works burned.17
Likewise Donald Campbell writes,
If a person sows to please his sinful nature, that is, if he spends his money to indulge the flesh, he will reap a harvest that will fade into oblivion. On the other hand, if he uses his funds to support the Lord’s work, or sows to please the Spirit, and promotes his own spiritual growth, he will reap a harvest that will last forever.18
Finally, F. F. Bruce sees in Gal 6:8 a clear parallel with 2 Cor 5:10:
The eternal life is the resurrection life of Christ, mediated to believers by ‘the Spirit of Him who raised Jesus from the dead’ (Rom 8:11)… But its future aspect, with their appearance before the tribunal of Christ, to “receive good or evil, according to the deeds done in the body” (2 Cor 5:10), is specially implied here. Any one who did not seriously believe in such a coming assessment, or thought that the law of sowing and reaping could safely be ignored, would indeed be treating God with contempt.19
As these and other commentators20 note, these verses are dealing with something which believers reap for work done. Eternal salvation is not a reward for work done. Rather, it is a free gift.
Since the expression will reap corruption in Gal 6:8 refers to loss of eternal treasure (and possibly as well to loss of present joy), the parallel expression will not inherit the kingdom in 5:21 conveys the same sense.
Galatians 6:7-9 thus supports the Future Rewards view.
F. The Rich Young Ruler
The rich young ruler asked the Lord Jesus what he must do to inherit eternal life (Mark 10:17; Luke 18:18).21 Based on the ensuing discussion it is clear that by the expression inherit eternal life he meant get into the kingdom of God.
Even though the rich young ruler was using our expression22 to refer to getting into the kingdom, not to obtaining rewards in it, there is good reason to believe that the Lord wanted His listeners to understand it in the rewards sense.
Often overlooked in the analysis of this pericope is the promise the Lord made to the rich young ruler. He promised him treasure in heaven (not kingdom entrance!)23 if he sold all that he had and gave the proceeds to the poor (Matt 19:21; Mark 10:21; Luke 18:22). Heavenly treasure is a reward, not a metaphor for eternal salvation (cf. Matt 6:19-21).
Also often missed is the significance of the disciples’ follow-up question and Jesus’ response. Peter, speaking for the twelve, said, “See, we have left all and followed You. Therefore, what shall we have?”
The Lord’s response again concerns eternal rewards, not kingdom entrance. Peter and the other disciples, excluding Judas Iscariot, had already been guaranteed kingdom entrance by the Lord (cf. Luke 10:20). Now the Lord promises them something more: “Assuredly I say to you, that in the regeneration, when the Son of Man sits on the throne of His glory, you who have followed me will also sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel” (Matt 19:28).
Ruling with Christ is not guaranteed to all believers. Rather, it is a reward which will be given only to those believers who are faithful to Christ until the rapture or their death (Luke 19:11-27; Rom 8:17; 2 Tim 2:12; Rev 2:26-27; 3:21).
The Lord continued His response by saying that anyone who has left family, home, and lands for His sake will receive rewards here and now and will “inherit eternal life” (Matt 19:29; Mark 10:29-30; Luke 18:29-30). While some understand inheriting eternal life here to be a reference to eternal salvation, that is not a plausible interpretation. As we have already noted under Gal 6:7-9 above, even some of those who believe in the Reformed doctrine of the perseverance of the saints understand reaping eternal life for work done as a reference to eternal rewards. The faithful believer will experience eternal life in a fuller sense. He will have a more abundant eternal experience.
Eternal salvation is not a reward for service performed. It is a free gift received by faith alone.24 Eternal rewards, on the other hand, are a reward for faithful service, as this passage shows.
The accounts of the rich young ruler thus confirm the Future Rewards interpretation of Gal 5:19-21.
Paul told the believers in Galatia that if their manner of life was characterized by walking in the flesh then they would not inherit the kingdom of God.
This article has suggested that inheriting the kingdom in Gal 5:21 (and in the parallels in 1 Corinthians 6 and Ephesians 5) refers to obtaining eternal rewards. Particularly, the Lord’s approval and ruling with Him were found to be in view.
I have personally found this to be a very challenging passage. I enjoy serving Christ now. I strongly desire to serve Him as much as is possible in the kingdom. I very much want my Lord’s approval, as well as the attendant privilege of ruling with Him.
This motivates me daily to deny myself, take up my cross, and follow Him. It motivates me to walk in the Spirit and not in the flesh.
Walking in the flesh, though appealing to our old nature (Gal 5:17; Heb 11:25), is very unappealing for a number of reasons.25 One of those reasons is that to do so results in losing our legacy.
Christians can’t lose their salvation. However, they can lose their reward. The ultimate inheritance is the kingdom itself. Oh, that we might be numbered among those who are found worthy to inherit it! That is a legacy worth living—and even dying—for.
1. Representatives of this view include John H. Gerstner, Wrongly Dividing the Word of Truth: A Critique of Dispensationalism (Brentwood, TN: Wolgemuth & Hyatt, 1991), 213-30; Walter J. Chantry, God’s Righteous Kingdom (Carlisle, PA: The Banner of Truth Trust, 1980), 89-98; D. M. Lloyd-Jones, The Puritans:Their Origins and Successors (Carlisle, PA: The Banner of Truth Trust, 1987), 170-90; Frank Stagg, Polarities of Man ‘s Existence in Biblical Perspective (Philadelphia: The Westminster Press, 1973), 172-73; John F. MacArthur, Jr., The MacArthur New Testament Commentary: Galatians (Chicago: Moody Press, 1987), 162-63.
2. See William L. Pettingill, By Grace Through Faith Plus Nothing (Findlay, OH: Fundamental Truth Publishers, 1938), 90-91; Bob Yandian, Galatians: The Spirit-Controlled Life (Tulsa, OK: Harrison House, 1985), 230-32; J. Eric Binion, “Paul’s Concept of Inheritance” (unpublished Th.M. thesis, Dallas Theological Seminary, 1987).
3. See R. T. Kendall, Once Saved, Always Saved (Chicago: Moody Press, 1983), 121-34; Manford G. Gutzke, Plain Talk on Galatians (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1972), 138.
4. Representatives of this view include Zane C. Hodges, Grace in Eclipse: A Study in Eternal Rewards, Second Edition (Dallas: Redención Viva, 1987), 76-77ff.; Charles Deveau, “The New Testament Concept of Eternal Inheritance” (unpublished Th.M. thesis, Dallas Theological Seminary, 1979); Harry Ashe Lane, ‘Paul’s Use of the Root Klēronomeō in Relationship to the Believer’s Inheritance in the Eternal Kingdom” (unpublished Th.M. thesis, Dallas Theo-logical Seminary, 1978); C. H. Lang, Firstborn Sons: Their Rights and Risks, Reprint Edition (Miami Springs, FL: Conley and Schoettle Publishing Co., 1984; first published in 1936), 112-16; Robert Govett, Govett on Galatians, Reprint Edition (Miami Springs, FL: Conley and Schoettle Publishing Co., 1981; first published in 1872), 196-200.
5. For further discussion see Robert N. Wilkin, “An Exegetical Evaluation of the Reformed Doctrine of the Perseverance of the Saints,” unpublished Th.M. thesis, Dallas Theological Seminary, 1982.
6. John M. G. Barclay, Obeying the Truth: A Study of Paul’s Ethics in Galatians (Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark, 1988), 32.
7. M.F. Sadler, The Epistles of St. Paul to the Galatians, Ephesians, and Philippians (London: George Bell and Sons, 1902), 101.
9. The warning in Gal 6:8 regarding reaping corruption concerns a failure to lay up eternal rewards. See the discussion below under Gal 6:7-9 for a defense of this conclusion.
10. In other places Paul indicates that believers can’t know before the Judgment Seat of Christ what the outcome of that judgment will be (1 Cor 4:1-5; 2 Tim 2:12).
11. See Brad McCoy, “Secure Yet Scrutinized,” JOTGES 1 (Autumn 1988), 21-33.
12. In the early Church the teaching circulated that one sure way of getting into the kingdom was to die a martyr’s death. As a result some people actually went out of their way to be martyred for the Church. They viewed it a small price to pay for eternal salvation. Unfortunately, their faith was little different from that of the kamikaze pilots of WWII. Whether Buddhist or “Christian,” it is a grave mistake to trust in one’s works for eternal salvation.
13. See the discussion concerning Gal 6:8 (s.v. Gal 6:7-9) and Matt 19:29 (s.v. The Rich Young Ruler) below. Inheriting the earth in Matt 5:5 is parallel to inheriting eternal life in Matt 19:29 and reaping eternal life in Gal 6:8 (which in turn is parallel to inheriting the kingdom in Gal 5:21). See also footnote 22.
14. Bauer, Arndt, Gingrich, and Danker, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2nd ed., 1979), 858.
15. See, for example, Herman N. Ridderbos, The Epistle of Paul to the Churches of Galatia (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1953), 218-20; Charles J. Ellicott, A Critical and Grammatical Commentary on St. Paul’s Epistle to the Galatians (Minneapolis, MN: The James Family Christian Publishers, 1978), 146; Bauer, Arndt, Gingrich, and Danker, Greek-English Lexicon, 858.
16. Liberated for Life: Galatians (Glendale, CA: Regal Books, 1976), 126. Note that MacArthur understands “reaping eternal life” in 6:8 as referring, not to getting into the kingdom, but to obtaining joy and peace and blessings.
17. A. S. Copley, The Liberty of the Sons of God: Lessons on Galatians (Kansas City, MO: Grace and Glory, n.d.), 90.
18. The Bible Knowledge Commentary, NT Edition, s.v. “Galatians” (Wheaton: Victor Books, 1983), 610.
19. The Epistle to the Galatians (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1982), 265.
20. See also, Howard F. Vos, Galatians: A Call to Christian Liberty (Chicago: Moody Press, 1971), 114. Commenting on Gal 6:8 he writes: “And while he already possesses eternal life, there is a sense in which the spiritually minded man will one day have a fuller realization of eternal life, will ‘reap life everlasting.”‘
21. Matthew has “what good thing must I do that I may have (echō) eternal life?” (Matt 19:16).
22. While the expression inheriting the kingdom does not specifically appear in this passage, the related expression inheriting eternal life does. If there is any difference in meaning between those two expressions, the difference is not great enough to rule this passage out as a valid test of one’s view of inheriting the kingdom.
(In private conversation Zane Hodges suggested that there is a slight difference between the two expressions. He feels that the former refers to rulership in the kingdom and that it requires enduring in the faith until the end of one’s life [2 Tim 2:12]. He believes that the latter expression concerns how full and abundant one’s eternal experience will be [see the discussion above under Gal 6:8] and that, he suggests, is not identical to rulership in the kingdom. Indeed, he suggests that inheriting eternal life does not require lifelong endurance in the faith. In light of Matt 19:29 he feels that any sacrifice for Christ’s sake will result in a heightened eternal experience.)
23. The Lord knew this man well. He knew that he would only do such a thing if he believed that He was the Christ, the Savior of the world. Only on such a One’s authority would he give up all his earthly treasure. And, if he believed that Jesus was the Christ, the Savior of the world, then kingdom entrance would have been guaranteed him (John 11:25-27; 20:31). Of course, this promise was not limited to the rich young ruler. Any believer who makes a sacrifice for God will be rewarded eternally (see, for example, Matt 6:19-21; 19:29; Gal 6:6-10).
24. The account of the rich young ruler in Luke follows the famous parable of the Pharisee and the publican. The only recorded reference to justification on the lips of Jesus is found there. The self-righteous religious man did not go away justified. Rather, it was the sinner who beat his breast and cried out to God for mercy who was declared righteous. The rich young ruler pericope is set against this background. Clearly the rich young ruler is identified with the Pharisee who thought that he was better than common sinners and who felt that he deserved kingdom entrance on the basis of his good deeds.
No one can inherit (Matt 19:29) or reap (Gal 6:8) eternal life on the basis of work done who has not first received eternal life as a free gift (Luke 18:9-14; 15-17, 18-27).
25. See Zane Hodges’s article, “We Believe In: Rewards,” in this issue, 8-10.