Paul’s warning in 1 Corinthians 6:9-11 is at the same time one of the most bleak and one of the most hopeful passages in the New Testament.
Do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived; neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor homosexuals, nor thieves, nor the covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers, will inherit the kingdom of God. Such were some of you; but you were washed, but you were sanctified, but you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and in the Spirit of our God.
There is a lot of deception going on in the world today. Many suggest that unrighteous behavior is perfectly compatible with the life of a Christian.
Well, it’s a free country, and as long as you don’t hurt anybody else, you can do practically anything you want to.
But you can’t go to Heaven.
Those who follow a secular humanist worldview brush off this threat. They do not believe in Heaven or Hell, nor in a personal God who rewards or punishes. They focus on living by a different standard. They are not overly concerned with concepts like sexual purity and monotheism. This is, at least, a consistent position. While I believe it is misguided and doomed, I can respect its authenticity.
But others wish to participate in sinful behavior, while still claiming the title of Christian, and desiring a heavenly abode. They have exchanged the standard of the word of God with society’s feel-good standard. In many mainline churches, moving in with a boyfriend or girlfriend raises no eyebrows. Homosexual behavior is not at odds with active membership, even membership in the clergy. When the latest rapper lives too fast, fans rush to depict him rapping in Heaven, with one fist full of gold and the other fist holding a bottle of Cristal.
I’m not the judge, but based on what I read in this passage, cruising into Heaven after a life of unrepentant sin is wishful thinking.
Now, we all fail to live up to God’s standard of glory each and every day. But those who make no effort at all to avoid what God has identified as sinful behavior have traded fun times in this world for security in the next. Don’t tell yourself otherwise. “Make sure no one deceives you; the one who practices righteousness is righteous, just as He is righteous” (1 John 3:7). The Heaven we all claim to desire is free of the awful consequences of sin because it is free of sin (Rev. 21:8, 21:27).
Here’s where this passage goes from bleak to hopeful. No one will ever deserve Heaven. No one will successfully eliminate all sin so as to become fit for Heaven. But the blood of Jesus Christ accomplishes it.
You Were Washed
The blood of Jesus makes white (Revelation 7:14). Washing is a fitting metaphor for cleansing spiritual impurity. Baptism into the name of Jesus is part of this process. Ananias told Paul, “be baptized, and wash away your sins, calling on His name” (Acts 22:16). But it’s not a physical cleaning. It’s an “appeal to God for a good conscience” (1 Peter 3:21). A Christian has a new relationship to sin, avoiding it as much as possible, since Jesus has washed away his guilt (Rom. 6:1-7).
You Were Sanctified
This word contains one of the most common roots in the New Testament. It means “holy” as an adjective, “made holy” as a verb, and “saint” as a noun. Saints are not super-Christians, and certainly cannot answer prayer. All Christians are saints (Phil. 1:1), because all Christians have been made holy, given a new nature that allows entrance into the presence of God. Christians should embrace this designation.
You Were Justified
To be justified is to be legally acquitted. In terms of a modern courtroom, this means convincing a jury of innocence. In terms of the judgment seat of God, we are guilty as charged; but Jesus pays the penalty with His blood. Thus, we are not treated according to our guilt. We are set free. In this way, God is both “just, and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus” (Rom. 3:26).
It seems that if we could be transported back in time and survey the ancient Corinthian church, we would discover that the pews were filled with former thieves, adulterers, sexually immoral, drunkards, and the like. Such were some of us, too. True forgiveness is provided in Christ! Clearly, the church is designed to be a place where sinners find hope, change their ways, and receive the grace of God. Let’s never fail to share this message with our community! –John Guzzetta