Includes Saved Christians?
Q. If we are saved by grace through faith, why does Paul warn us that neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor swindlers, or covetous people will inherit the kingdom of God? Why does he say that "God is not mocked, for whatever a man sows this he will also reap" (Galatians 6:7, Gal. 5:21, Eph. 5:5, 1 Cor. 6:9-10)? The apostle Paul is addressing Christians in these passages, isn't he? So then why does he warn Christians about this?
Christians at Judgment Seat of Christ
These are terrific questions and controversial ones. According to several theologians including two Moody Bible Institute scholars: Erwin Lutzer and Paul Benware; and Dallas Theological Seminary scholar, Joseph Dillow, there are two aspects of a Christian's inheritance in the Kingdom of God. Note that our Western view of inheritance differs from the Near Eastern, biblical concept:
1. Guaranteed Inheritance
- We receive this guaranteed inheritance because we are born into the family of God. This is our sure promise that we will enter Heaven.
"if you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham's offspring, heirs (kleronomos) according to promise (Gal. 3:29) and you are no longer a slave, but a son and if a son, then an heir through God" (4:7). Peter says this is a guaranteed inheritance based on the power of God, not on the faithfulness of man (I Pet. 1:4-5).
2. Conditional 2nd. Part of Inheritance
Our "conditional inheritance" is based on the life and works of the believer. In other words, while all Christians enter Heaven we are not all assured of equal rewards. Our rewards are based upon what we do on earth for Christ.
"The Spirit Himself bears witness with our spirit that we are (1) children of God, and if children, (2) heirs also, heirs of God and fellow-heirs with Christ, if indeed we suffer with Him in order that we may also be glorified with Him" (Ro. 8:16-17)..
Our conditional inheritance can be lost. Our salvation inheritance cannot be lost (Benware 2002, 23). Many Christian teachers fail to make a clear distinction between these two. They find the biblical, middle-eastern concept of inheritance hard to grasp. They have been influenced by a westernized view of inheritance.
Our conditional inheritance has to do with the rewards we receive at the Judgment Seat of Christ, "For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may receive what is due for what he has done in the body, whether good or evil" (2 Cor. 5:10, ESV).
Rulers over Lands, Cities&Nations
In His parables and sermons, Jesus made it clear that faithful stewards will be rulers over lands, cities, and nations in his Kingdom of Heaven (Luke 19:17, Rev. 2:26). This is our conditional inheritance.
Salvation Inheritance in Heaven
Our salvation inheritance depends on grace through faith alone (Ephesians 2:8). It is based on Christ's work on the cross. Nothing we can do merits our salvation inheritance.
"For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life" (John 3:16, ESV).
When we believe John 3:16, it constitutes "saving" faith. Saving faith is our belief that the Lord Jesus died for our sins and rose from the dead (1 Cor. 15:1-4).
A Diminished Inheritance
Clearly however, our inheritance in the kingdom - our rewards for services rendered - can be diminished. Nevertheless, our entering the kingdom is based on faith alone.
"and things like these, of which I forewarn you …that those who practice such things shall not inherit the kingdom of God."
We need to "burn" this on the frontal lobes of our brains: Paul wrote Galatians 5:19-23 to Christians who had already "entered" the kingdom. He was warning born-again Christians of what they must NOT do if they expect to receive their full "inheritance" in the kingdom of God (Lutzer 1998, 69).
This is not the only time Paul warned Christians of this fact. Paul also warned believers of diminished inheritance in his letter to the Ephesians, Corinthians and Colossians:
"For this you know with certainty, that no immoral or impure person or covetous man, who is an idolater, has an inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and God."
1 Corinthians 6:9-10
"Or do you not know that the unrighteous shall not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived neither fornicators, nor idolaters…nor swindlers, shall inherit the kingdom of God."
…"knowing that from the Lord you will receive the reward of the inheritance. It is the Lord Christ whom you serve. For he who does wrong will receive the consequences of the wrong which he has done, and that without partiality."
When we clearly understand that we can lose our inheritance while still being allowed into Heaven, it should change our lives and motivate us to "work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the inheritance as your reward" (Col. 3:23-24, ESV).
Benware, Paul. 2002. The believer's payday. Chattanooga, TN: AMG.
Dillow, Joseph. 2006 ed. The reign of the servant kings. Hayesville, NC: Schoettle.
Lutzer, Erwin. 1998. Your eternal reward. Chicago: Moody.
Ryrie Study Bible, NASB. 1995. Chicago: Moody.