Romans 4:13 The Earth How Big is the Gospel Promise?
In the series of messages at this presbytery we have been looking at the Scripture promise, “Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.” And I have been assigned the topic of earth – a promise that is so staggering that people have been tempted to downsize the promise to something thought to be more “realistic.” But Psalm 37 (the Psalm that this promise comes from) makes it clear sixteen times that the promise applies not just to the people of the earth, and not just to the land of Canaan, and not just to a few representative parts of the earth, but to the earth and all that is in it. It applies to the future new heavens and new earth. But that Psalm also applies it to aspects of the earth that Jesus is currently subduing beneath His feet. It is a comprehensive promise that illustrates the greatness of the Gospel.
The other thing that showcases the greatness of this promise is that it wasn’t just made to us. It was a promise made to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. And to truly understand all the dimensions that are involved in this staggering promise of the earth, I believe we need to go back to those patriarchs and see how big a Gospel they believed in. They had amazing faith. And the verse that I’m going to use to illustrate all of this is the one that comes from our New Testament reading. It is Romans 4:13. Referring to Abraham, the text says, “For the promise that he would be the heir of the world was not to Abraham or to his seed through the law, but through the righteousness of faith.”
Just to be clear of how comprehensive this word “promise” (or επαγγελια) is, let me quote from Mounce. He says,
The singular ἡ ἐπαγγελία is used in a collective sense of all the promises made to the patriarchs in Genesis. Robertson answers his own question (“But where is the promise”) by observing that the word means “not just Gen. 12:7, but the whole chain of promises about his son, his descendants like the stars in heaven, the Messiah and the blessing to the world through him” (Robertson, WP 4:352).
It is a promise of the Gospel, but as Mounce points out, a Gospel that is far more than the individualistic salvation of our souls. When God’s promise to Abraham is analyzed, it includes the Messiah, the Messiah’s salvation, and the Messiah’s making of all things new – including heaven and earth. Psalm 37 says that it includes Christ’s righteousness given to us, the cutting off of all evil doers from the earth, a world in which righteousness dwells, and an ever growing shalom. That word “shalom” is particularly interesting. If you were to get out a concordance and look up every time the word “shalom” occurs, you would see these kinds of translations. It is translated as “peace” 172 times. It is also translated as to be well, health, prosperity, safety, welfare, happiness, favor, friendly, to make restitution, to be restored to fellowship, to finish, to be complete, to be whole. You can see that it has a wide range of meaning. There are actually 30 different translations besides “peace.” One author says of Shalom: “The various shades of meaning contained in this word all indicate that every blessing, temporal and spiritual, is included in restoring man to that peace with God which was lost by the fall.” I think that is a great summary. God’s shalom reverses everything that was lost in the fall. In the Christmas hymn “Joy to the world” verse 3 says, “No more let sins and sorrows grow, nor thorns infest the ground; HE comes to make his blessings flow, far as the curse is found, far as the curse is found, far as, far as the curse is found.” I love that.
And just as God promised Abraham that he and his seed would inherit the land forever, Psalm 37 says that all these implied promises would be forever and ever without end. But though the fullest expression of this promise awaits our inheriting of the New Heavens and New Earth, Psalm 37 makes it crystal clear that we begin to possess our possessions even now. I will just read the first six verses of Psalm 37 so that you can see the all-encompassing direction of the promise of the earth:
Psa. 37:1 Do not fret because of evildoers, Nor be envious of the workers of iniquity.
2 For they shall soon be cut down like the grass, And wither as the green herb.
3 Trust in the LORD, and do good; Dwell in the land, and feed on His faithfulness.
4 Delight yourself also in the LORD, And He shall give you the desires of your heart.
5 Commit your way to the LORD, Trust also in Him, And He shall bring it to pass.
6 He shall bring forth your righteousness as the light, And your justice as the noonday.
My point is that the Gospel promise includes (as Romans 8 says) the redemption of our body and the redemption of everything about this creation that groans and travails in bondage. He begins with the individual and expands outward toward everything on this earth that the individual touches. So let’s tease apart Romans 4:13 to get a picture of just how big this Gospel Promise of earth and world really is.
It is so big that no one can earn it – it is received by faith; by the meek
First, the good news being promised to Abraham was so big that there is no way that Abraham could have earned it. It must be received meekly by faith. To put any of our own righteousness or any of our own merit into the equation makes a mockery of how big this promise really is. It is utterly unearnable. Reading Romans 4:13-15:
For the promise that he would be the heir of the world was not to Abraham or to his seed through the law, but through the righteousness of faith. 14 For if those who are of the law are heirs, faith is made void and the promise made of no effect, 15 because the law brings about wrath; for where there is no law there is no transgression.
You can’t inherit this Gospel-renewed cosmos through the law. Barret says, “Law, though good in itself, is so closely bound up with sin and wrath that it is unthinkable that it should be the basis of the promise.” No wonder Jesus said that the meek and only the meek shall inherit the earth. The meek don’t see themselves as the solution. The meek seek those things which are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of the Father. The meek are representatives of the kingdom of heaven which is invading planet earth and asking that God’s will be done on earth as it is in heaven. Grace comes from heaven and transforms the earth and makes it inheritable.
It is so big that it erases all our sins and gives us Christ’s righteousness
Second, the Gospel promise is so big that it erases all our sins and gives us Christ’s righteousness. That’s one of the big messages of Paul in these chapters – our sins were imputed to Jesus and His righteousness was imputed to us. The proud man has a hard time accepting that. It makes us seem too helpless. It mocks any idea of self-esteem, self-worth, or even self-preservation. Abraham had to die to any idea that he could earn what God had promised. Though the Gospel produced righteousness within Abraham and though it changed him from the inside out, Paul says that Abraham believed and received by faith the inheritance that God was going to give to him. It’s the only way it could be since salvation is of the Lord.
And when this earth is finally a world in which only righteousness dwells, we will all acknowledge that the righteousness filling this world is a righteousness that came from Christ. He (along with the Father and the Spirit) will receive the glory because all will recognize that this miracle is a God-thing.
It is so big that it embraces the cosmos and everything in it
Third, the Gospel is so big that it embraces the cosmos and everything in it. Notice that Paul says, “For the promise that he would be the heir of the world…” The word “world” is cosmos and can refer to our planet or even to the universe. Let me read you 65 promises made in Psalm 37 - the Psalm that our beatitude comes from. These 65 promises show how incredibly big the good news of the Gospel really is. Now, it is true that 43 of those 65 promises are made to us as individuals – the meek. But they cover such a wide range of our lives that even they show an astoundingly big promise. So let’s start with 43 promises related to personal wholeness. After all, unless the meek are transformed, they can’t transform the earth.
First, Psalm 37 promises freedom from fretting over evildoers (verses 1,8). Fretting only causes harm; it cannot transform the earth. If you are fretting, you are not living for the purpose that God made you for. Fretting is contrary to faith. And the greatness of the Gospel removes fretting and makes us tamed stallions whose meekness serves Christ’s interests, not our own.
Second, Psalm 37 promises us freedom from envy over workers of iniquity (verse 1). When you are captured by the vision of the greatness of our inheritance, there is nothing to envy from the Old World since 1 Corinthians 3:21 says all things are yours when you are united to Jesus. The Gospel makes us feel sorry for the workers of iniquity. They are the ones who are missing out. The meek do not envy them at all.
Third, Psalm 37 promises us the gift of trust (verses 3,5)
Fourth, the gift of a transformed life that now does good (verse 3)
Feeding on God’s faithfulness (verse 3)
The supernatural ability to commit everything to the Lord (verse 5)
The confidence that God will eventually bring the promises to pass (verse 5)
Personal righteousness (verse 6)
Rest (verse 7)
Patience (verses 7,9,34)
Deliverance from anger and wrath and their harmful effects (verse 8)
Delight (verse 11)
Peace (verses 11, 37). These are all marvelous gifts.
The ability to be satisfied with very little (verse 16)
Knowing God’s embrace (verses 17,24)
Assurance that God knows our days (verse 18)
Assurance of an eternal inheritance (verse 18)
Lack of shame (verse 19)
Satisfaction (verse 19)
Blessing (verses 22,26)
Imitating God’s mercy and generosity (verses 21,26)
Guidance (verse 23)
Sensing God’s approval (verse 23)
Secure even in our falls (verse 24)
Keeping us from stumbling (verse 31)
Never forsaken (verses 25,28)
Provision for needs (verse 25)
Victory over sin (verse 27)
Ability to do good and make a difference (verse 27)
Eternal life (verses 27,28)
Being a source of wisdom (verse 30). I mean, think about it – it is only as we become whole that the elect can be used to make the earth whole.
The 32nd promise is being a source of justice (verse 30)
Loving God’s law (verse 31)
Preservation under persecution (verses 32-33)
Being exalted by God even when cast down by men (verse 34)
Marked or noted by God (verse 37)
Able to be blameless by grace (verse 37)
Able to be upright by grace (verse 37)
Salvation being 100% from the Lord (verses 39, 40)
Receiving strength from God for trouble (verse 39)
Receiving God’s help (verse 40)
Deliverance from the hand of the wicked (verse 40)
A life of faith (verse 40)
You can see that those are pretty comprehensive promises. And brothers and sisters, I would urge you not to live below your individual inheritance. You have been blessed with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus and those blessings are given by a God who cannot lie. Amen? Lay claim to them in faith. You have a bank account in heaven. Daily write spiritual checks on your spiritual bank account in heaven. They are yours for the taking. Of course every check must be signed in the name of Jesus, because you no longer exist. You died with Jesus. If the law finds your name written, it will come after you and judge you as unworthy. All the promises are yay and amen in Jesus. So sign those checks “In Jesus name, Amen” And if you do that, God said that He will pour out these blessings into your life. He is a God who cannot lie. We must be made whole if the wholeness of earth or world is to also be seen.
But Psalm 37 also gives promises for societal wholeness. This too could be involved in the word cosmos. Let me list seven promises of societal wholeness.
First, the eventual disappearance of the wicked (verses 2,9,10,20,28,35-36). The way those promises are worded, I do not see how we can affirm anything less than a world in which dwells righteousness. We are going to see it in eternity, certainly, but some of these verses are anticipating a gradual growth of Christ’s kingdom in time and history where the church will be seeing the eventual disappearance of the wicked in history.
The second promise is the advancement of righteousness like light (verse 6). Light starts dimly, but gradually increases as the sun rises. And the second phrase of verse 6 gives the third promise:
Advancement of justice as bright as noontime sun (verse 6). And so this promises a gradual extension of the kingdom of light. And it can only be that way when we refuse to hide our light under a bushel. Gordon Conwell Seminary studies on Global Christianity claims that there are 2.5 billion Christians worldwide. But if that is so, many Christians are failing to be salt and light. And in the Sermon on the Mount Jesus said that when that happens, Christians are good for nothing but to be cast out and trampled under foot of man. Well, the church is under the boot of humanists, not because Christians are a tiny minority, but because Christians are failing to be salt and light. As the Gideon lamps begin to be uncovered, we will see the enemy flee and the light of the kingdom growing from dimness to the brilliance of the noonday sun.
Fourth, abundance of shalom (verse 11). We’ve already defined shalom as the reversal of everything that the fall of Adam and Eve defiled. And so verse 11 is promising an abundance of that reversal on planet earth. A pervasive shalom. Do we have the faith to believe that? Without faith it will not happen. Why? Because God doesn’t glorify us. He glorifies Christ. And as our faith is directed away from ourselves and towards Christ, we will see these promises being fulfilled.
Fifth, increase of wisdom (verse 30)
Sixth, justice (verse 30)
Seventh, the righteous ones eventually being exalted in the earth (verses 34,37).
But its not as if God’s kingdom and Satan’s kingdom grow in parallel with each other as some people like to affirm. No. God’s kingdom grows at the expense of Satan’s kingdom. Listen to five promises of judgment on all evil:
Judgment of all evil
First, in the future God will right all of the wrongs to us on the day of judgment of the wicked (verses 12-13,38). To that end, the next promise is that:
We can rest assured that God is currently keeping accounts (verses 12-13). When the righteous are being persecuted, that persecution is not being ignored. It is heaping up judgment upon the wicked until their cup of iniquity is full.
Third, God will bring a just recompense against every wicked person (verse 12-15,17)
Fourth, God will eventually cut off all persecution (verse 15). That sure has not happened yet.
And fifth, since God’s curse is on the wicked, they will not prosper forever (verse 22).
But then come the six verses that promise that the meek shall inherit the earth. I’ve summarized them into three general promises:
Wholeness to the physical creation
First, inheriting the earth (verses 9,11,22,29)
Second, dwelling in the land forever (verse 29)
And third, abundance of Shalom in the earth (verse 11)
If you can read all of those promises without having your faith elevated, I would be surprised. It’s a Psalm worth memorizing. But as John Murray, Mounce, and others point out, God’s promises to Abraham (though fewer in number) are just as comprehensive in scope. Paul is not exaggerating when he said that the promise to Abraham was far more than Canaan. It was a promise that he would inherit the universe. As Randy Alcorn points out so well in his fabulous book on Heaven, we were made to enjoy this physical universe and to explore this physical universe and to take dominion over this physical universe throughout eternity. So get used to doing it now. God is not rescuing us from the physical. That concept is Greek Gnosticism. No, we are going to inherit the physical, and God is preparing us to that end through every scientific, ecological, agricultural, chemical, and other enterprise right now. We should glory in God’s creation. We should take dominion of God’s creation right now if that is going to be our inheritance forever in the New Heavens and the New Earth. Yes, some people will be doing music in the New Earth. But there will be exploration and every imaginable kind of other dominion of the earth throughout eternity. Psalm 37 commands us right now to dwell in the land, to feed on His faithfulness, and to delight ourselves in the Lord as He gives us the desires of our heart. We have a generous God, and earth is one of His great gifts.
There is an already and not yet
But here comes a problem that some have noted. Hebrews 11 says that Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob didn’t get everything promised. Oh-Oh. Yes, they got a lot of the personal promises, but Hebrews 11:13 says, “These all died in faith, not having received the promises, but having seen them afar off were assured of them, embraced them and confessed that they were strangers and pilgrims on the earth.” Did God lie to Abraham? No. This is one of my proofs against Full Preterism. If there is no future earth in which Abraham will dwell, and if Abraham is only going to be in heaven, then the promises of inheriting the earth have not been fulfilled, nor will they ever be fulfilled on a Full Preterist scheme. The heavenly city is only part of the promise made to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. It’s a glorious part of the promise. But as Randy Alcorn points out, the heavenly city is described as coming down to earth and will eventually be merged with earth. God has given many promises about transformation of terra firma – the earth, and all that is in it. So there is an already and a not yet that must be affirmed about this beatitude.
The not yet
The not-yet part of the equation is that Abraham didn’t possess his inheritance of Canaan. Nor did Isaac or Jacob. They wandered and rented land, but did not inherit it. Yes, their descendants did under Joshua’s leadership, but the promise of land was made to Abraham too. In order for the promise to be fulfilled as God had stated, God is obligated to raise Abraham from the dead and place him on a renewed terra firma. And Revelation promises that. There will be a 100% renewed New Heavens and New Earth in which only righteousness dwells. That is ultimately what God’s promise was about. And that shows how gigantically huge the good news of the Gospel promise really is. Abraham and his spiritual seed will inherit the cosmos – a renewed cosmos, that includes the earth. Think of Canaan as a downpayment. If you get the whole house, it includes the downpayment, doesn’t it? If Abraham will eventually inherit the earth, he will be heir of the part of the earth known as Canaan. So that is the “not yet” part of the already/not yet. There is still some that neither Abraham or we have yet inherited.
But the already portion of the already/not yet was that God richly provided for Abraham everything that he needed. And the same is true for us. There are many Scriptures that show that now that the kingdom has started, we are beginning to possess our possessions of Canaan under a new Joshua – Jesus. Luke 10:23-24 says this:
Luke 10:23 Then He turned to His disciples and said privately, “Blessed are the eyes which see the things you see; 24 for I tell you that many prophets and kings have desired to see what you see, and have not seen it, and to hear what you hear, and have not heard it.”
The coming of the kingdom was part of what those Old Testament saints were anticipating. That implies that what we are experiencing now is at least part of what they were promised. 1 Peter 1:12 says,
1Pet. 1:12 To them it was revealed that, not to themselves, but to us they were ministering the things which now have been reported to you through those who have preached the gospel to you by the Holy Spirit sent from heaven—things which angels desire to look into.
The New Testament was the time when all things would begin to be made new. Christ’s resurrection was the first new thing in the New Creation. And the resurrected Jesus is advancing the cause until every feature of Psalm 37 is fulfilled. 1 Corinthians 15 says that He must remain at the right hand of the Father until all enemies are put under His feet and everything out of order is redeemed. Colossians 1 says much the same. Speaking of Jesus, it says,
15 He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. 16 For by Him all things were created that are in heaven and that are on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or principalities or powers. All things were created through Him and for Him.
[So keep those words in mind – everything that He created He is going to now continue to talk about. Verse 17 says]
17 And He is before all things, and in Him all things consist.
[As Hebrews words it, Jesus upholds all things in this universe by the Word of His power. Without Him, electrons could not continue to circle nuclei, gravity would cease to work, and the planets would not stay in their orbits. Jesus is the center and must be kept at the center of our worldview. So everything created by Him and for Him is sustained by Him. But amazingly, he goes on to talk about the elect being so united to Jesus that they are treated as His body. Verse 18]
18 And He is the head of the body, the church, who is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in all things He may have the preeminence. 19 For it pleased the Father that in Him all the fullness should dwell,
[And now we get to the redemption of the all things created. There is a “the” in the Greek before all things, and it refers back to the all things he has been consistently about. He is going to redeem the all things created by Him, sustained by Him, and above which He must have preeminence. Verse 20 says,]
20 and by Him to reconcile the all things to Himself, by Him, whether things on earth or things in heaven, having made peace through the blood of His cross.
Can you see how big the Gospel is? Every kind of thing that Jesus made in heaven, on earth, or under the earth, is also the kind of thing that must eventually experience His redemption. Yes Satan robbed the earth from the first Adam. But Satan doesn’t win in this story. The Second Adam restoring everything back. The cosmos that He created must become a cosmos that is recreated through the blood of His cross. It is an astounding promise. The meek truly will inherit the earth in time and in eternity.
Canaan was simply the starting place, not the finish line. It was the prototype, not the finished product. So it is not at all surprising to see Romans 4:13 summing up all the promises made to Abraham and his seed to involve the cosmos. Canaan was merely a type or picture of the fuller reality that God would give to His seed, Jesus, and through Jesus, to all who are united to Him. The promise is so big that it takes faith to believe it and meekness to live it out. Do you have such faith to progressively pray all things under the feet of King Jesus? Psalm 2 says to Jesus, “Ask of Me, and I will give You the nations for Your inheritance, and the ends of the earth for Your possession.” We are the body of Jesus and we can ask on His behalf. Meekness is not weakness. If meekness can be illustrated by a stallion tamed and completely under the master’s control and seeking to do the master’s will, we are meek when our passion for the extension of Christ’s kingdom matches His passion. Psalm 72 shows the final goal in history to be a worldwide kingdom and worldwide peace. But it also shows that this goal involves a lot of work for the meek to pursue. I’ll just read a few of verses of how big the gospel promise is in Psalm 72.
2 He will judge Your people with righteousness, And Your poor with justice.
3 The mountains will bring peace to the people, And the little hills, by righteousness.
4 He will bring justice to the poor of the people; He will save the children of the needy, And will break in pieces the oppressor.
5 They shall fear You As long as the sun and moon endure, Throughout all generations.
6 He shall come down like rain upon the grass before mowing, Like showers that water the earth.
7 In His days the righteous shall flourish, And abundance of peace, Until the moon is no more.
8 He shall have dominion also from sea to sea, And from the River to the ends of the earth…
15 And He shall live; And the gold of Sheba will be given to Him; Prayer also will be made for Him continually, And daily He shall be praised.
16 There will be an abundance of grain in the earth, On the top of the mountains; Its fruit shall wave like Lebanon; And those of the city shall flourish like grass of the earth.
17 His name shall endure forever; His name shall continue as long as the sun. And men shall be blessed in Him; All nations shall call Him blessed.
18 Blessed be the LORD God, the God of Israel, Who only does wondrous things!
19 And blessed be His glorious name forever! And let the whole earth be filled with His glory. Amen and Amen.
What difference should it make in our lives that we believe the bigness of the Gospel promise to include the earth? It should make a huge difference. Let me make eight applications.
It should give us confidence that if Christ came to transform this sin-sick world, He can transform our lives as Christians. Don’t have a low goal for your sanctification. Believe that the same Spirit who raised up Jesus from the dead is right now at work in your mortal bodies.
Second, it can also give us confidence that God cares about our bodies and everything in this physical world. We are not gnostics. If Christ’s goal is to redeem all things, we can begin applying His redemption to everything we are, and have, and do – including our bodies. Every healing God gives you is a tiny downpayment of the final redemption of the body that Romans 8 anticipates at Christ’s final coming. And He loves to give downpayments. Canaan was not the only physical downpayment. James tells us to call for the elders and ask to be anointed and pray for healing. God cares for your body.
But to balance that out, it means that there is a time for the complete redemption of our bodies, and that is the last day of history when our bodies are raised. Full Preterism completely neglects this part of our redemption. Any healing we receive now is simply a downpayment of that day. Any finances or other blessings he gives now is a downpayment of the far greater shalom that this world will one day experience.
But fourth, this means we need to have patience and contentment when God does not answer our prayers. We have far more than Abraham had, yet Abraham had faith. Future descendants will have far more than we have, but may we be models of faith and faithfulness.
Fifth, the knowledge of God’s generosity ought to fill our hearts with joy. Romans 5:2 says that since we have access by faith into this promised grace, we can rejoice in hope of the glory of God. Romans 12:12 says we can rejoice in hope.
Sixth, the bigness of the Gospel can enable us to persevere in the midst of suffering and affliction. Romans 5:3-4 says, “And not only that, but we also glory in tribulations, knowing that tribulation produces perseverance; 4 and perseverance, character; and character, hope.” Even if our persecutors take away our life, they cannot take away our inheritance. They cannot. We are secure in that, and can face death with confidence.
Seventh, the knowledge of the greatness of the Gospel ought to stir each of us up to venture something new and big for God. Take risks for king Jesus. The meek of the earth are not weak and cowardly. They are tamed stallions who confidently go wherever the master calls them to go, even if that is into the thick of the battle.
And finally, let the greatness of this gospel promise make you give glory to God for everything in your life that God has transformed. Romans 4:20 says of Abraham, that he “was strengthened in faith, giving glory to God.” The true Gospel is so impossibly big for any humans to ever merit that God alone can receive the glory. May that be true in our lives.
Amen. Let’s pray.
Father, you are so generous. Thank you for this promise of inheriting the earth. May we not despise any part of your creation. Since all things were made by Jesus and for Jesus may we seek to bring our souls, bodies, labors, money, food, houses, and everything into submission to King Jesus. May we be wise stewards of what you have so generously given so that we can be trusted with more. Give us the faith to believe that nothing in creation can separate us from you and therefore nothing can rob us of our inheritance- not even martyrdom. We love you. We bless you. We thank you that having given us your Son, you also freely give us all things through Him. May Jesus become the center of our worldview and of our lives. And through His grace may we come to love and joyfully serve you, Father Son and Holy Spirit. In Jesus name. Amen