1 Corinthians 6:9-11 “9 Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality,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.”
With the news this week that active NBA player Jason Collins revealed his homosexuality, a largely celebrated decision (link), an important note that cannot go overlooked is that Mr. Collins claims to be a Christian and sees no incompatibility with his homosexual sin. Largely, this is what drew the excellent response by ESPN analyst Chris Broussard (link again).
This clinging to sin while simultaneously claiming the name of Christ as Savior is not isolated to homosexuality. Just recently I watched a video of a street preacher involved in a discussion with a TV reality star, who despite her continued animosity, foul language, unrepentant sinful behaviors, and likely inebriation, continued to cling to her profession of faith in Christ, citing God’s love as evidence for it. (see post on God’s Love here). It seems like only a few years ago that the world labeled Christians most often as hypocritical because the behaviors of those who profess faith in Christ did not match the lifestyle that the Bible outlines for believers (or the worldly expectation that believers are perfect).
Now there has been a paradigm shift. Professing Christians can live any lifestyle they wish, including open homosexuality, without any fear of the hypocritical label, but are simply free to live how they want. The pendulum swing from legalism to license is nothing really new, but it is certainly something that the Church needs to address more and more.
In the verses above, the Apostle Paul, writing to the Church at Corinth, provides a series of contrasts beginning with the contrast of heaven and the unrighteous who will not enter there. Continuing his thoughts from the previous verses, Paul asks the rhetorical question, “Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God?” Kingdom of God here is a reference to the kingdom which Christ has ushered in and for the sake of simplicity we can refer to it as eternal life, or heaven. So there are those who are unrighteous who will not enter heaven. The word “unrighteous” used here is the Greek word adikos (unjust, unrighteous, wicked) which we will look at again later, but for now we’ll leave it as an adjective describing a particular group of people.
The immediate question might be, “So Paul, who are these unrighteous people that will not get into heaven?” Isn’t that the ultimate question on most peoples minds, am I going to heaven? It’s almost as if Paul perceived that there are many who assume they are going to heaven, in fact most everyone you talk to will affirm that they are going to heaven. Not on the basis of Christ’s righteousness, but on their basic understanding of being “good”. It is to that line of argumentation that Paul says, “do not be deceived”. Paul then begins to color inside the lines of the picture he’s outlined for us when he used the term “unrighteous”. Here he tells us that the neither the: sexually immoral, idolaters, adulterers, men who practice homosexuality,thieves, greedy, drunkards, revilers, and swindlers will enter heaven. If there were any doubt that this list referred to the unrighteous who would not enter heaven, Paul began his statement in the negative “neither”, listed the people, and concluded with “will inherit the kingdom of heaven”, thus closing what Charles Spurgeon calls the “black list”. This ends the first contrast of heaven with those who will not enter.
Next, it needs to be noted that Paul is not listing sins. He’s not rattling off a list of do’s or don’ts. He has personalized this list to the individual level. Those persons who fornicate, or have sex outside of marriage, are sexually immoral and will not enter heaven. Those persons who have idols in their lives, whether it be food, entertainment, family, alcohol, drugs, name it, are idolaters and will not enter heaven. The person who has an adulterous affair is an adulterer and will not enter heaven. Men who practice homosexuality, note again it is personalized from more than just deed or actions, but it is the “men” who do the acts. (Please note: this is not excluding lesbianism from sin, see Romans 1:26-27) And so on down the list. Why is this so important to notice? Because it has to be understood that sin is something more than just what a person does or doesn’t do. If it were just a matter of cleaning up your act and “being good” then the person with the strongest willpower would win. But that is not the case. Sin is intrinsic to the nature of humans, i.e. it is a part of who we are, because we were born with a sinful nature. That is why Paul identifies a person on the basis of their sin.
This leads to the next contrast from the passage, “and such were some of you”. Here Paul has taken great aims to describe, while not exhaustively it is certainly representative, a black list of those who will not enter heaven. But in this particular sentence he contrasts the “those that will not enter” list with a phrase addressed to his audience and subsequently future readers, “and such were some of you”. The use of “were” here is the turning point. Paul points to the past of his audience in Corinth to remind them that even some of those Christians among them were once on this same “black list” that he has just described. Perhaps even some of you today who are reading this passage would be considered among the “such were some of you”. Consider how it is that God would save you from the black list of sinners. Perhaps some of you reading would still be on that list mentioned above. Consider how it is that you could get off of that list. Which begs the next question, if Paul hasn’t listed individual sins, or do’s and don’ts, then how is a person supposed to get off of the black list and into the group “and such were some of you”? How does someone make that change if it can’t be something that they just stop doing and then start being good? Well, the answer is that there is nothing a person can do to change their identity of being associated with the sin they’ve committed as a result of their very nature. But there is One who can make that change for them and His name is Jesus Christ.
The next contrast that we see is again the list of sinners and their identity with sin now contrasted fully with the “and such were some of you” and how they’ve obtained their new identity. “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.” Three particular actions were performed on behalf of those who used to be among the homosexual, adulterers, thieves, drunkards, etc. – washed, sanctified, and justified. While not particularly in chronological order, nevertheless, the list is significant. To this washing, Charles Hodge writes, “to wash means to purify, and is frequently used in Scripture to express moral or spiritual purification.” John Gill comments on the meaning of washing to refer to that
“which is not to be understood of external washing, of corporeal ablution, or of their being baptized in water; so they might be, and yet not be cleansed from their filthiness, either by original or actual transgressions; nor of the washing of regeneration, which more properly comes under the next head; but of their being washed from their sins by the blood of Christ, through the application of it to them, for the remission of them”
While there may be some debate on the application of washing in this passage, there is absolutely no reason here to assume the physical method of baptism, instead it should refer either to the “washing of regeneration” or the “washing by the blood of Christ” and I tend to take the reading of Matthew Henry who writes, “The wickedness of men before conversion is no bar to their regeneration and reconciliation to God. The blood of Christ, and the washing of regeneration, can purge away all guilt and defilement.” Here we see that both applications (though the latter will be spoken of next as Gill pointed out) of washing are necessary to purge the sin and guilt of believers. (see also 1 John 1:7, Rev. 7:14, Ephesians 5:26, Ezekiel 36:22-32)
Next, those who were formerly marked as the guilty sinners from Paul’s list have been sanctified. Again, it’s important to realize that this mention of washed, sanctified, and justified is not a chronological list, but is provided to point out the absoluteness of the work of God in the life of a believer. Sanctified always refers to being made holy or set apart. So those among the “such were some of you” in contrast to their prior sinful defilement, have been sanctified. This is a work of the Holy Spirit in the life of a believer and it occurs at regeneration, the moment the Holy Spirit takes out the heart of stone and gives the heart of flesh, or what is commonly referred to as being born again. In this sense sanctification is complete although the process of progressive sanctification (or being made holy unto perfection) is an ongoing work by the Spirit in the life of a believer and is not completed this side of heaven.
Finally, we see Paul saying that the “such were some of you” have been justified. This is the Greek word dikaioo and it is the positive counterpart to the word for unrighteous, adikos, used earlier in the passage, providing again another contrast. Justified is a legal term referring to the believer’s positional standing with God the Father and it is only through the Lord Jesus Christ that it can happen, “you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ”. Because of Christ’s perfect righteousness, those who have repented and placed their faith in Him can stand before God with confidence that they have been made righteous, or justified, on behalf of the Lord Jesus Christ. A person, regardless of their sinful past can be washed, sanctified, and justified by repenting of their sin and placing their faith in the Lord Jesus Christ.
From this short passage, we can see the Lord makes absolutely clear that for the believer in Christ, identification with a sinful behavior is simply incompatible. For those who do will not enter heaven. That doesn’t mean that the believer will be sin-free, but it does mean they can no longer be identified on the basis of their old sinful nature. As it relates to homosexuality, even in the case of Jason Collins, it is incompatible to claim Christ as Savior, to have been washed, sanctified, and justified and still be identified as one from the “black list”. What a glorious gospel truth that Christ saves the vilest of sinners such that we can claim, “and such was I”, because I have been washed by the blood of Christ and the water of purification, sanctified by the Holy Spirit, and justified by the Lord Jesus Christ.