Please turn with me in your bibles to 1 Corinthians chapter 6. 1 Corinthians 6. We’re moving into the next little passage of Paul’s letter to the church of God in Corinth. The church, as we have seen, has been struggling with worldliness. They had forgotten who they were in the gospel, who they were called to be, and had subsequently let the sinful patterns of this world infiltrate the church. It had become contaminated with sin. And so, like a loving Father, God is using Paul to point out the sin in the Corinthian church, so that it might be excised.
In chapter 5 Paul pointed out to the church their sin of tolerating sexual sin in their midst. They had let a situation persist that was so egregious, so blatantly wrong, that even the pagans wouldn’t have put up with. They had missed the mark, and tolerated impurity. So, Paul calls them to purge the leaven of sin, lest it leaven the entire lump.
Then last week, we saw in the first part of chapter 6 that Paul rebukes the church for taking each other to court. They had gotten so off track, so self-centered, that they were taking each other to court before pagan judges, seeking to defraud and rob each other, rather than handling the church’s business in the church. Paul chastises them, using some biting irony, and tells them that they should instead mediate disputes within the church, rather than seeking worldly mechanisms to demand their rights. And he even pushes it further, reminding them of their calling in Christ to even be willing to be robbed and defrauded for the sake of love and for the sake of the name of Christ.
And that leads us to the next three verses, which simultaneously contain some of the hardest truths and sweetest encouragements of any text in the New Testament. Tonight, we will see the impossibly high bar that is set before us: and that is perfect holiness. Perfect righteousness.
But we will also be reminded of the incredible work of God on our behalf. Not in lowering the bar down, but instead in Christ coming down, and by his coming down, raising us up.
Let’s read 1 Corinthians 6:9-11. Hear the word of our Lord:
9 Or do you not know that the unrighteous[b] will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality,[c] 10 nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. 11 And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.
This is God’s word for us this evening. Let’s pray and ask God to bless our time.
The first thing that I would like for us to observe in our text this evening is the destiny to be seen. The destiny to be seen in this text. Let’s look at verse 9 again:
“Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God?” The unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God. This is in one sense a very clear statement, but in another sense, it provokes several questions.
What is this kingdom, and what other kindgoms are there? What kingdom and I in? How do we get into the kingdom of God? What happens to those outside of the kingdom?
These are important questions, questions to which we ought to have answers if we are to have any peace in this life, or the next.
To put is most simply, the kingdom of God is that realm to which believers now belong. If you’re a Christian, you’ve been made part of the kingdom of God. But it hasn’t always been the case.
Turn with me to Ephesians chapter 2. Ephesians chapter 2 will help us answer some of these questions.
Ephesians 2 describes the kingdom, or the rule, into which each of us is born into. Ephesians 2, starting in verse 1:
And you were dead in the trespasses and sins 2 in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the ruler (or the prince) of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience— 3 among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body[a] and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind.
The whole of mankind, ever since the fall of Adam in Genesis 3, has been born a citizen of the worldly kingdom. We’re born with our spiritual passport stamped, and our birth certificate says property of the king of this Age, the ruler of the power of the air. We’re born into Satan’s dominion.
And because of that we are by nature, Children of wrath. That’s what Paul says in verse 3. We don’t come into this world neutral, and then either turn out good or evil based upon purely impartial choices. We’re born dead. We’re born under the rule of sin, under the prince of the power of the air.
So, there we are. That’s the bad news. That answers some of our questions, so let’s go back to 1 Corinthians 6.
Paul says, “9 Or do you not know that the unrighteous[b] will not inherit the kingdom of God?” But Paul, you’ve told us already in Ephesians that we’re born unrighteous. That means none of us will inherit the kingdom of God. So, Paul, how is it that you expect us to become citizens of this heavenly kingdom, if we’re by nature unrighteous? Ah, that’s a great question, indeed the question of questions.
That’s the question, for example, that Nicodemus brings to Jesus in John chapter 3. If our problem is that we are born in sin, Jesus says that the solution to that problem is to be born again, born of heaven. Jesus says,
““Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.””
To which Nicodemus says how can I be born again? You mean I must go back into my mother’s womb? Don’t be silly.
To which Jesus replied: ““Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. 6 That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit.”
You must be born a second time. You must be born of the Spirit, in order to enter into the Kingdom of God. OK. Good. Now we’re getting somewhere. Now we’re getting some answers to our questions. So, what must we do to be born again? What must we do to be born of the Spirit? If that’s what I need to do, then let’s get it done.
But what Nicodemus didn’t understand, and what the world doesn’t understand, is that we have as much control over our spiritual new-birth, as we did over our fleshly birth. Just like you didn’t pick your parents or the date of your birth, so too are you not in control of your new birth.
That’s why Jesus said what he said in John chapter 1. It says of Jesus very clearly in John 1:11 and following: “11 He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him. 12 But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, 13 who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.”
Those that are born again, born of the spirit, were born again as children of God, born not of blood. You don’t get into the kingdom of God because your parents are citizens already. The family tree of God doesn’t follow genetics.
And this new birth isn’t brought about by strength of will, as the text says: “he gave the right to become children of God, 13 who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man.” That means you can’t muscle your way into heaven. You can’t will yourself into God’s kingdom. To use the language of Ephesians 2, you are born dead in your trespasses and sins, and dead people don’t have a will. They are bound by their dead nature, enslaved to it.
So, we have a kingdom of God, we’re naturally born outside of it, citizens instead of the kingdom of this age, under the ruler of the power of the air, which is Satan, and we’re powerless on our own to enter the kingdom by sheer strength of will or by muscle. What are we then to do?
Well, the bible teaches that while we might be powerless, God isn’t powerless. We might be dead in out trespasses, but Christ isn’t dead. And we need to remember the previous verse in John 1: “But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God.”
Christ comes, and lives and dies in order to save for himself a bride, a people, a kingdom of people, who though they have no strength in themselves, HE chooses to give them life. And their source of life is not anything within them. Their source of life is only through him. Through union with him. Through belief in him. Through trusting in Him as the only one who can save them.
Through believing that Christ is the king that has come down to act like a servant. Through renouncing our citizenship in the kingdom of this world, and believing that Christ is the glorious king who can grant us citizenship in his kingdom. And all this takes is faith. All it takes is trusting in Jesus, the faithful king who rules at the cost of his own life.
That’s the kingdom of God, and how we become citizens of it. And that’s the kingdom that the unrighteous will never inherit.
So, you may be asking, “how do we know which kingdom we’re in?” That is another crucial question, the answer to which will be in our second point: a description to be avoided. Paul shows us a description to be avoided.
Paul says again: “9 Or do you not know that the unrighteous[b] will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality,[c] 10 nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God.”
Paul gives us a description of sins that mark the unrighteous. He’s not talking about here occasional slip ups, or lapses in judgements. He’s describing the character of those who are given over to sin, dominated by sin, and thus still evidencing that they are members of kingdom of this age.
He first lists the “Sexually immoral”, or the “fornicators,” we might translate it. This is the word porneia again, and in the context refers particularly to sexual immorality committed by unmarried persons. Sexual sin outside of the bounds of a marriage covenant. This is what is glorified in movies, and magazines, and online, and is even being portrayed as normal by our culture at the moment. It’s being driven down into the curriculums of our schools, it’s praised as a healthy way to explore our sexuality and our identity, and it is always portrayed as innocent and harmless.
But the truth is that sexual sin is always hiding a hook. Sexual sin is a path that leads to destruction, and a path that always brings pain. It promises fun and satisfaction, but gives birth to pain, disappointment, and misery with in us, and if un-relented, keeps us from the kingdom of God.
Next Paul lists, “Idolaters,” which refers not merely to those who bow down to idols, but anyone who worships false gods, and worships in false religious systems. This is mostly explicitly a violation of the first and second commandments of the 10 commandments. We see in our culture, which prides itself on being rational, scientific, and enlightened, trying to proclaim the virtues of atheism, while also bowing down to all sorts of other idols, serving the creature rather than the creator. It was true in Corinth, just as it is today. Not just in the world, though, but also in the church. We’re tempted, just like the Corinthians, to adopt the patterns and values of pagan worship, accommodating to sinful desires, rather than standing firm on the truth revealed in God’s word.
Next, Paul says “Adulterers,” which refers specifically to the sin of a married person who indulges in sexual acts outside of the marriage union. The life-long marriage of one man to one woman is a creation pattern that God put in place, and that he clearly prioritizes throughout scripture. Adultery was a sin punishable by death in the old testament, and some nations today even have civil laws of a similar magnitude. Violating the marriage covenant has horrendous effect upon the marriage, upon the family and children, upon the church, and upon society at large. I have no doubt that the cultural and societal degradation that we are currently seeing is due in large part to the sexual revolution of the past 60 years AND the introduction of no-fault divorce laws across this nation. Adultery unchecked, destroys families, destroys church communities, and destroys a nation.
Paul then lists, “Men who practice homosexuality,” or at least that’s how the ESV translates the two Greek words. Older translations may translate the two words as “soft or effeminate men” and “sodomite.” These two terms are very descriptive of both male partners in a homosexual relationship. Both parties are guilty of sexual sin before a holy God. Included within such sins would be all the horrendous perversions we see in our world: transvestitism, sex change operations, gender fluidity, and all other thoughts and deeds that undermine the goodness of God’s created pattern of complementarity in marriage.
They are acting contrary to God’s design, contrary to nature, contrary to the best interests of themselves, their household, and their family, and contrary to the pattern of righteousness clearly laid out in scripture.
We need to be clear here, because a lot of confusion has bubbled up in the last 10 years in the American evangelical world surrounding the nature of homosexual sin. The bible makes absolutely clear that Homosexual acts, including the desire that gives birth to those acts, is sin, and is a violation of God’s holy law. I won’t spend too much time on this, but Jesus makes clear that our actions overflow from whatever is in our hearts, and if our actions are sinful, then so too is the desire in our heart. Sexual impurity of whatever kind, fornication, adultery, homosexuality, all of it flows from a sinful heart, it violates God’s law and God’s design, and giving ourselves over to it will bar us from admittance to the kingdom of God.
Paul moves to list two parallel sins: thievery and greed. We could also include “swindler” which is at the end of the list, which means a robber. These three are related because greed is the heart level idolatry, and theft is one common manifestation of that greedy heart. The heart bows at the idol of mammon, and the hands move to worship such a false god. Theft and greed evidence a person that doesn’t trust God with what he’s been given, and evidences a heart that is discontent, a heart that idolizes created things rather than the creator, and a heart that is willing to rob from his fellow man. Sinful, from start to finish.
Then Paul lists another type of sinner, just as prevalent today: a drunkard. This refers to someone who has been enslaved to a foreign substance, explicitly alcohol here, but by extension any other substance that causes one to lose self-control, temperance, and loses the ability to govern oneself. Drunkenness enslaves the participant, harms those around him, destroys relationships, undermines the persons’ ability to care for themselves or even retain steady work, and is contrary to how God has designed us to operate. Drunkenness is also a form of self-murder: you’re destroying your body one drink at a time. It’s a sin that leaves shockwaves of brokenness in its wake, and is contrary to the design of God’s kingdom.
Lastly, Paul lists “revilers,” which refers to someone who uses the tongue to destroy others. You speak in a way that is crushing, or brings despair, or devalues and belittles, or murders reputations through slander or gossip. This is the sin, along with pride, that you see on greatest display on social media, I think. Everybody is quick to speak and slow to listen, jumping into quarrels not their own and grabbing the passing dog by the ears, like Proverbs warns against. Revilers do the opposite of what God does, and they invert the way things ought to be. God speaks life and grace through his word; revilers bring death and despair through their word.
Paul’s list here is pretty all encompassing. In this list, which isn’t even exhaustive, he undoubtedly hits every cross section of the church. We each have felt within us the temptations to these things, and most of us have felt the pain of actually acting out on these sinful desires. We’ve not guarded the purity of our hearts and eyes, we’ve indulged in the lusts of the flesh, we’ve greedily coveted what didn’t belong to us, and failed to be self-controlled in our appetites and our passions.
On our own, we see that we are the category mentioned in verse 9: we are the unrighteous. We were all born that way, bent away from God and from holiness, bent inward toward selfish desires and enslavement to sin. And some of us feel even worse about our sin because we know that we committed these sins AFTER professing faith in Christ. We’ve sinned with a high hand of rebellion against God, because we sinned knowing full well that it was indeed sin. We didn’t have pagan ignorance to try and absolve us. We knew full well the unrighteousness of our acts, and yet we did them anyway.
Whatever our situation, on our own, we stand condemned. Unrighteous. Outside of the kingdom of God. That’s the bad news. But praise be to God there is good news.
Let’s look at the next verse and see the Third point, a truth to be cherished. A truth to be cherished. Paul says to the Corinthians in Verse 11, “And such were some of you.” And such WERE some of you. Past tense. You were that way.
You were part of the kingdom of this world. You were sinful in the passions of your flesh. You weregreedy and covetous swindlers and thieves. You were idolaters whoring after pagan gods. You werehomosexuals and fornicators and adulterers.
But praise be to God that he provided a way for us to be saved FROM The kingdom of this world. The Corinthian believers needed to be reminded of the truth of God’s working in their lives. They had been brought out of the kingdom of darkness, and transferred into the kingdom of light. They had been made new creatures.
And there are two particular encouragements that we should note from this. Two particular things to help us stir our hearts with love for God.
First, the Corinthians believers were not defined by their past sin, and neither should you be. The Corinthians believers were not defined by their past sin, and neither should you be. They weren’t treated by Paul as terrible sexual sinners. They were washed saints. He doesn’t chastise them as greedy idolaters. He calls them “Holy Ones in Christ Jesus” (1:2). And in the same way, just because you’ve committed sin in your past, it doesn’t mean that you’re defined by that past sin. You’re not branded a murderer forever. You’re not marked out as a dirty sinner, or an adulterer, or a homosexual. You’ve been washed. You’ve been made a new creation. Yes, you can and will struggle with remaining sin, but your besetting sin doesn’t define you. What defines you is your relationship with the king, your relationship with Christ, and your new citizenship in the kingdom of God. You’re not defined by your past sin.
But notice also a second encouragement, the Corinthian believers were also not defined by their current sin, and neither should you be. The Corinthian believers were also not defined by their current sin, and neither should you be. We know that this is a church with a lot of problems. This is a church full of immature and sinful believers. But I want to encourage you, as you read through this letter, to take specific note of how Paul describes the Corinthian believers. How does Paul speak to these immature believers? He speaks to them on the basis of their profession, as followers of Jesus Christ, and therefore speaks to them in terms of what they are in relation to Jesus, not in relation to their sin. That’s important for us to notice.
Let me say it another way: Paul doesn’t keep defining the Corinthians by their sin, but defines them in relation to Jesus. He doesn’t refer to them as the spiritual babies, the immature whiney ones. He doesn’t call them the sexually corrupt ones, or the worldly fools. Read through the letter and see what he calls them.
The called ones.
That’s how Paul views them, in relation to their savior, and that’s how we ought to view ourselves, in relation to our savior. We don’t define ourselves by our sin. We don’t say “I’m a gay Christian, or I’m a greedy Christian, or I am a drunk Christian.” NO. We define ourselves as Christian. No additional adjectives are needed in front of that.
And when we get our definition, our identity, right in our heads, we’ll see that we both gain to the confidence to fight our sin, and we gain the love to actually engage in the fight. When I remember that I have been made a new creation, that my sin belongs to the old man, that my punishment has been removed and my condemnation has been replaced, then I will be renewed in my zeal to battle for holiness.
Looking backwards, helps me battle forward. Looking back at what I’ve been given, makes me lean forward in the war for holiness. That’s what Paul was trying to do: remind them of who they were in Christ, remind them of what they have been given in the gospel, so that they would renew their efforts in holiness. And what exactly were these things that they’ve been given in the gospel?
That’s what Paul spells out in our Fourth point, an inheritance to be enjoyed. And inheritance to be enjoyed. Look at the rest of verse 11: “And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.” These are some of the sweetest verses in all of the New Testament. There is something particularly comforting in hearing of the gospel in terms of washing, especially when the sins committed have been sexual sins.
Paul here describes the inheritance of the gospel, the blessings of the new covenant, in terms of blessings that are all translated in the PAST tense. That’s significant. The work is done. It is final. You don’t have to go around and continue to wash yourself, continue to justify and sanctify yourself. The past tense communicates to us the finality of it. The surety of it. And that is good news to those of us tempted toward doubt and despair. The work is done, and it has been done by Jesus.
And Paul unfolds our blessed inheritance in several categories, highlighting several different aspects of salvation in Jesus Christ. He first says that they were “washed,” which of course evokes the Old Testament imagery of cleansing, of purification. There was something that was dirty, defiled, and profane, but it has now been made clean, fit for use.
And that was us. We were defiled by sin, made dirty, unfit for holy use, and profaned. But God has come, and through union with Christ, has made us clean. He’s made us born again, born of the spirit, granted new life in Christ, and cleansed us of our guilt. By His stripes we have been healed. Our past has been washed away, never to condemn us again. Nothing can be dug up from our past that could ever make God stop loving us. There’s nothing that can separate us from the Love of God towards us in Christ Jesus. We’re made clean, perfectly loveable and lovely, because of the work of the perfectly lovely one dying in our place.
But Paul also says that believers are also “Sanctified,” which means made holy. Here the past tense refers to the holiness of Christ being counted to us. It’s not that we’re made perfectly holy and immediately stop sinning. People that believe that are totally deceived; that thinking matches neither the New Testament nor the Christian experience. Rather, Paul is saying that believers have Jesus’s holiness counted to them.
It’s as if we’re born with a huge debt in our righteousness bank account. And Christ comes washes away the debt that we owed. But he doesn’t just leave us with a bank account back at zero, he doesn’t just take away the debt. He positively credits us with His holiness. It’s as if he fills up our bank account with his merit. His righteousness is imputed to us, credited to us, so that when God sees us, he doesn’t see a bunch of rotten sinners, He sees Holy ones. He sees newly washed sons and daughters that are as holy as Jesus Christ because they are robed in the righteous robes of Jesus. Their covered in the holy garments of Christ’s own righteousness. That’s the wonderful news of sanctification in Christ Jesus.
And how can God do this? How is it that he can act as if we are holy when we know that we are not inherently holy? It is because of what Paul says next, that they are “Justified”. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified.
Justified means to be declared to be righteous. It is courtroom imagery. The judge has declared believers to be righteous. But how is that so? We’ve already said that we are born sinners, and that we continue to battle with sin after we come to Christ. How can we be declared righteous? Well that’s the heart of the gospel, the very heart of the good news.
We can be declared righteous, because another is standing in our place. We can be justified, because Christ has come, and he has taken the punishment that we earned for ourselves, which was death, and he died in our place. He bore the wrath, suffered the consequences.
But not only that, but we’ve also been given his righteousness, it has been credited to our account, as we have already seen. So that means that when God sees you, he doesn’t see you as the dirty sinner, he sees you as a perfectly spotless son, because that’s who’s righteousness has been counted toward you. That’s what has been imputed to you. Your sin is gone, and Christ’s holiness has been given to you, and that’s why God can say that you are righteous, because of the sacrifice of Jesus in your place.
Which is why he words it the way that he does, “But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified In the Name of Jesus.” It’s in Jesus’s name that these blessings are yours. No other name can grant you such salvation. No other name can give you such peace. No other name will soothe your guilty and weary soul. No other name will give you satisfaction and joy.
Allah won’t give you this. Muhammad won’t give you this, nor Brahma, nor Joseph Smith with his golden plates, Nor will the success of this world, nor the praise of man, nor will all the riches of this age. Only Jesus Christ can offer you such blessing.
And how does he give us these blessings? Look at the end of the verse: “But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified In the Name of Jesus By the Spirit of our God.” It is the spirit who grants such blessings.
Just like we don’t get into the kingdom by straining our way in, so too do we not strain ourselves by fleshly effort into holiness. It’s not as if we gain heaven by the spirit, but gain holiness by the work of the flesh. Every bit of the Christian life, from washing to justification to sanctification, is all of grace, in the name of Jesus, and by the power of the Holy Spirit. Therefore, we trust in God, lean on his word, submit to his will, and prayerfully seek the Spirit’s help as we continue to grow in our holiness.
If you’re trusting in Christ, then be encouraged by your inheritance in Christ, and let if propel you on in the battle for holiness.
And if you haven’t come to Christ by faith, then know that you stand outside the kingdom of God. But also know that the king of the kingdom has extended an invitation. He has invited all who would listen to hear of his grace, and to come to him by faith. Receive this night his invitation, and you too can be washed. You can be sanctified. You can be justified. You can be the beneficiary of a divine inheritance that is waiting for you in heaven, imperishable, and undefiled.
Don’t wait. This offer will expire. Don’t be caught outside of his kingdom on the day of judgment. Trust in Jesus, and be made holy in his name.