By Bill Fiess
Recently, my 102-year-old father died and left an inheritance to each of his four children. My parents were not extremely rich, but they were both college-educated professionals, and they left us a very nice inheritance. I would have been extremely disappointed if I had not been included in my father’s will.
I think most people would feel sad if their parents did not leave them an inheritance, especially if those parents were very rich. I’m guessing Bill Gates’ daughter would be extremely disappointed if she were not included in his will.
Down here on earth, the idea of an inheritance is quite important. Most people have relatives from whom they either have received or will receive a family inheritance. Usually, one’s manner of life has something to do with whether he or she might be rewarded with an inheritance. For example, if I were addicted to drugs, there is a strong possibility I would be excluded from a family inheritance.
Many Christians are not aware that the NT also speaks about an inheritance that is available to children of God in the world to come. It would be a great disappointment to miss out on that inheritance too.
ENTERING VERSUS INHERITING THE KINGDOM
When Jesus spoke to a man named Nicodemus, He spoke to him about entering the kingdom of God. The Lord told him that he must be born from above by the Spirit of God (John 3:5-7). In the most famous verse in the Bible, Christ told Nicodemus how to experience that new birth. All who believe in Jesus as the One who gives eternal life are born from above and will enter the kingdom of God (John 3:16). Since entrance to the kingdom is by faith alone, it is completely free.
Inheriting the kingdom, on the other hand, is not free. Like an inheritance in this life, the actions of the child of God will determine if he receives it. To put it simply, good works are required.
Paul made that clear in 1 Cor 6:9-11. He told the believers at Corinth that if they lived immoral lives, they would not inherit the kingdom of God. He listed a number of sins, including sexual immorality, that would disqualify a believer from receiving his inheritance from his heavenly Father.
We must keep that distinction in mind. In 1 Corinthians, Paul was writing to Christians who already had eternal life, which he and they both knew they couldn’t lose. Based upon many Bible verses, including the Lord’s discussion with Nicodemus, they knew they were going to enter the kingdom. But because of the way they were living, they were in danger of losing an inheritance in the kingdom once they arrived. The difference between entering a place and inheriting it involves those who will actually possess part of the place they inherit.
The Lord Himself also made this distinction. In His most famous sermon, the Sermon on the Mount, He told His disciples they could actually own a part of His kingdom. The kingdom will belong to those believers who humbly serve Him. The Gentile believer will possess the earth on which Christ rules. The same is true for those who are persecuted by the world because they are faithful to Christ (Matt 5:3, 5, 10).
This ownership in the kingdom will mean that the faithful believer will rule with Christ. Jesus promised that will be the case for those children of His who keep doing good works until the end. They will be given ruling “authority over the nations” (Rev 2:25-29 NASB). Since Jesus’ rule will be over an eternal kingdom, the inheritance the obedient believer receives will be eternal as well.
All of this shows the importance of godly living for the believer. The wise Christian is the one who has a daily sensitivity to sin in his life to stay in fellowship with Christ. Such an attitude is well worth the effort in order to gain the phenomenal privilege of obtaining an eternal inheritance.
Paul had that attitude when it came to his own life. After telling the Corinthians about a possible inheritance for them, he told them he wanted it for himself. That was why he lived his life the way he did. He forsook certain things in order to receive the “prize” of the inheritance. He wanted to be approved of receiving that prize (1 Cor 9:24-27). Paul knew eternal life was free, but the inheritance would involve work.
Luke records an event in Paul’s life where the apostle said the same thing. He told a governor who was putting him on trial that he knew there would be a resurrection from the dead. Because he knew he would rise from the dead some day and appear before the Lord to see if he would receive an inheritance, he was compelled to do what he did. He said he always strived not to give offense to God or men (Acts 24:15-16).
LOSS AND TEARS
Clearly, some believers will experience the loss of this inheritance. Some will not be faithful. Some will not persevere in good works. Some will not be sensitive to the sins in their lives. The NT tells us that the inheritance for some, and the loss of that inheritance for others, will be determined at the Judgment Seat of Christ, often called by its Greek name, the bema (2 Cor 5:10).
Many think that all believers will inherit the kingdom and rule with Christ. They are convinced that all believers will only rejoice on that day. However, the Bible says that at the Judgment Seat, there will indeed be a loss experienced by many. Those who lose their inheritance will be in the kingdom of God forever, but when they see Christ, they will see what their lives caused them to forfeit.
Jesus warned His disciples that on that day, when He evaluates how they lived, nothing will be hidden from His eyes. If they have not listened to what He has said and acted upon it, they will have their inheritance taken away from them (Luke 8:13, 16-18; 19:20-26). Paul states that the bad works1 of the believer will be burned up at that judgment as well. When that happens the Christian will “suffer loss” (1 Cor 3:10-15).
In describing how the resurrected believer will feel about this loss, the NT often uses the imagery of weeping. Whether we will be able to actually cry in glorified bodies or not, weeping over such a loss is an appropriate illustration that we can readily understand. The author of Hebrews reminds his readers how Esau wept when he lost his inheritance from his father (Heb 12:16-17).
In four instances, the Lord spoke about weeping at the Judgment Seat of Christ. Those servants of His, which is a description of believers, will cry when they see what their unfaithful lives have cost them. He will call them hypocrites and unprofitable servants. They will lose an eternal inheritance and the privilege of ruling with Christ forever, even though they will be in His kingdom. The Lord described the sorrow and weeping on that day in graphic detail (Matt 8:12; 22:13; 24:51; 25:30).
No matter how I lived my life, I would always be my father’s child. But I also wanted to gain his approval. When his will was read, I was pleased that he left me an inheritance. If he had written in his will that I had greatly disappointed him, and he had not left me an inheritance, I would have been devastated. I am sure I would have wept.
I can imagine Bill Gates’ daughter would feel the same way. She would lose a lot more than I would have if I had lost what my father left me. Her father is one of the richest men in the world. Even if it is purely for selfish reasons, she wants her father to be pleased with her. If he were not, she would experience a great loss and would certainly cry a river.
As believers, our heavenly Father is richer by far. The inheritance He offers His children is eternal and far outweighs any earthly riches. Imagine being left out of that will.
But no child of God needs to experience such a thing. If we are faithful to the Lord, He is generous and will give us a rich inheritance. If you are a believer, what will it be for you on that day? Will you rejoice at the approval of the Lord and the privilege of ruling with Him? Or will you weep at your loss?
Bill Fiess teaches mathematics at Southwest Virginia Community College
1 Editor’s note: It is possible that the wood, hay, and stubble refers to works that lack eternal value, not bad works. Things like watching TV, playing video games, and recreational activities lack eternal value. Gold, silver, and precious stones would refer to works with enduring value, works that pass the test of fire. That is my understanding of the passage, and I first gained that understanding from Zane Hodges.