You don’t buy or earn your way into an inheritance. The Greek word translated “inheritance” (klēronomia, 1 Peter 1:4) speaks of possessions passed down from generation to generation. You receive them simply because you’re a family member.
The apostle Peter describes the means by which believers gain membership in the family of God: “[He] caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead” (1 Peter 1:3). We receive our eternal inheritance by means of spiritual rebirth — the only solution to our sinful condition and alienation from God. Jesus made that very clear when He said to the Jewish leader Nicodemus, “Unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God” (John 3:3). John 1:12–13 underscores the same truth: “As many as received [Christ], to them He gave the right to become children of God, even to those who believe in His name, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.”
We were first born as sinful creatures, dead in trespasses and sins and indulging the desires of our flesh and mind. We were by nature children of wrath, separate from Christ, having no hope, and without God in the world (Ephesians 2:1–3, 12). We were no more able to change our condition than we could alter the color of our skin, or than a leopard could change its spots (Jeremiah 13:23).
A person in that condition must be transformed by the power of the Holy Spirit. Through the new birth, the Spirit makes a new creation in Christ (2 Corinthians 5:17), taking up residence in the believer and transforming that person’s thinking and behavior — perspectives and values change, and the focus shifts from self to Christ.
God’s Word is essential to the new birth. Peter said, “You have been born again not of seed which is perishable but imperishable, that is, through the living and enduring word of God. … This is the word which was preached to you” (1 Peter 1:23, 25). The Holy Spirit works through the Word to activate faith, which results in the new birth (Romans 10:17).
Faith means trusting in the Lord Jesus Christ alone for salvation. Many people want to add other requirements to the gospel, such as religious ceremony, some code of conduct, church membership, or whatever. All of those things are human works. Salvation cannot be earned by works but is a gift of God’s grace (Romans 3:21–26). That is, God does not ask us to reform as a prerequisite to being saved; He justifies us freely, then works His transforming power to change us into the image of Christ (2 Corinthians 3:18).
Before Nicodemus came to Jesus by night (John 3:2), he was undoubtedly like the other Jewish religious leaders of his day — living by an external code of religious conduct apart from true love for God (John 8:42). They thought they could be saved by their own good works. But Jesus shattered that illusion when He told Nicodemus, in effect, that he would have to assume the role of a spiritual infant by setting aside all his religious error and approaching salvation all over again on God’s terms — he needed to be “born again” (John 3:3).
Jesus illustrated His point by referring to a familiar event in Israel’s history. At one point during Israel’s wilderness wanderings, God had sent fiery serpents among the people because they had spoken against God and Moses. Many had been bitten and were dying. When Moses interceded for the people, God instructed him to place a bronze serpent on a pole. Those who looked upon the bronze serpent were healed of their snakebites (Numbers 21:5–9). That was the image Jesus called up in Nicodemus’s mind:
As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up; so that whoever believes will in Him have eternal life. For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life. (John 3:14–16)
That bronze serpent was symbolic of the spiritual healing that comes to all who turn from sin and look to Jesus, who was lifted up on a cross. Nicodemus had been bitten by the serpent of self-righteous religious legalism. He needed to acknowledge his helplessness and look to Christ alone for salvation.
The new birth gives “a living hope” (1 Peter 1:3). It is perpetually alive because it is grounded in the living God, who will fulfill all of His promises (Titus 1:2), and because it transcends this temporal life. Also, our hope is living because it’s based on the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead (1 Peter 1:3). Jesus said, “Because I live, you will live also” (John 14:19) and, “I am the resurrection and the life; he who believes in Me will live even if he dies” (John 11:25). Then He raised Lazarus from the dead to prove His claim (John 11:43–44).
Paul said, “For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain” (Philippians 1:21). Physical death is never the end for the believer — it simply ushers us into Christ’s presence, where our hope is eternally realized. We never need to fear the grave because Christ has conquered death and has given a living hope to all who love Him.
For more on the believer’s eternal inheritance, check out John MacArthur’s book Our Sufficiency in Christ.
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