“Or 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.” (1 Corinthians 6:9–11, NASB95)
Having just addressed the Corinthians believers taking their matters to the courts of the land to decide their internal conflicts, Paul now turns to the difference in their identities. This does not mean that all judges in the previous context were unbelievers. I imagine that there were some believers just as there are today, and that their faith influenced their practice. The real issue here as it was there being that those of the world are markedly different from those in the church. It is not because Christians have achieved some form of moral superiority on their own from which they can look down at the rest. No, it is because of what Jesus Christ has done in us.
Those who the Corinthians believers had been taking their conflicts were not influenced by God. They were counted among the unrighteous and engaged in the deeds of the unrighteous. They had no place in the kingdom of God? There was nothing that they were going to do in their lives that would make them good enough to inherit His kingdom, to receive His forgiveness and to obtain His gift of eternal life. Those who have not placed their trust in Jesus Christ for His sacrificial gift of salvation are the unrighteous. These believers and us are not to confuse this matter. Those who are lost in their sins are marked by their sinful actions, and this list was provided as proof of that. This was not a list of man by which men were to be judged. It is a list given by God which is representative of what was some of the more notable sin issues. But this list was also not exhaustive. Everyone is lost and will be judged apart from Christ. It is simply their identity, and unless it is changed it will result in eternal judgment and separation from God.
Indicating the partial nature of the list, Paul then wrote, “Such were some of you.” Sure, there were likely some who read this letter who were still identified in this way just as there were some who may not have identified with any of the things on the list. Paul did not use the term “all” as exhaustive, but as indicative of where they all came from. Every single person who read this letter at one time had the identity of being “unrighteous” and as such had no place in the kingdom of God. This part is exhaustive without exception. And what moved them from the camp of the unrighteous to the camp of the righteous was not ceasing whatever activity they were engaged in but them being saved by Christ.
In 2 Corinthians 5:17 Paul wrote to these same believers, “Therefore if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creature; the old things passed away; behold, new things have come.” (2 Corinthians 5:17, NASB95) When we are saved we receive a new identity. We are no longer counted among the unrighteous and we are no longer marked by our sins. We become a new creation in Christ and all things do become new.
One evening Nicodemus came to Jesus to talk to Jesus. In that conversation Jesus told him that he must be born again, and not understanding what Jesus was saying He asked how this was possible. “Jesus answered and said to him, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.” Nicodemus said to Him, “How can a man be born when he is old? He cannot enter a second time into his mother’s womb and be born, can he?” Jesus answered, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit he cannot enter into the kingdom of God. “That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. “Do not be amazed that I said to you, ‘You must be born again.’ “The wind blows where it wishes and you hear the sound of it, but do not know where it comes from and where it is going; so is everyone who is born of the Spirit.”” (John 3:3–8, NASB95)
Jesus told Nicodemus that he must have a spiritual rebirth. Paul breaks this into pieces for us in our passage for today. First, he wrote, “but you were washed.” The first step in the process was being cleansed of sin. Jesus’ blood shed for us cleanses us from all unrighteousness. The hope that Israel had been longing for was realized for all of us in Christ. “Purify me with hyssop, and I shall be clean; wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow.” (Psalm 51:7, NASB95) … “As far as the east is from the west, so far has He removed our transgressions from us.” (Psalm 103:12, NASB95) … “He will again have compassion on us; He will tread our iniquities under foot. Yes, You will cast all their sins Into the depths of the sea.” (Micah 7:19, NASB95) We needed to be cleansed to be made righteous, and it was Jesus who shed His blood for us that accomplished this perfectly.
He also said that they and us have been “sanctified” (Greek: hagiazo). This means that we have been made holy. This is our new identity. We are God’s holy ones, cleansed and set apart for Him to live holy before Him. It represents both what He did in our salvation such we are called “saints” (Greek: hagios). When Paul wrote to the saints in the churches he was specifically writing to them referring to their new identity in Christ, and when we look at the term “sanctification” today we are speaking of the continued process of growing as we live and breathe into the identity that we already have. Another term spoken of in Scripture is transformation into the image of Christ. “As obedient children, do not be conformed to the former lusts which were yours in your ignorance, but like the Holy One who called you, be holy yourselves also in all your behavior;” (1 Peter 1:14–15, NASB95) And, “Therefore I urge you, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship. And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect.” (Romans 12:1–2, NASB95)
We do not need to justify our identities before any court, nor will we have to suffer eternal judgment for our old identity or for what we do even as newly identified. Paul added that we “were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and in the Spirit of our God.” Remember, that this letter was written to a group of believers that were really struggling and who had not grown in Christ. Paul did not identity them for who they were before, but who they currently were in Christ as their new identity. This identification is something that we all need to remember even when we struggle with sin today. We do not lose our identity. It is established for us by Christ. The scars that Christ bears for us and the proof of the resurrection stands to declare the truthfulness of our being justified. This case has been closed.
Paul clearly presented this case in Romans chapter 3. “But now apart from the Law the righteousness of God has been manifested, being witnessed by the Law and the Prophets, even the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all those who believe; for there is no distinction; for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, being justified as a gift by His grace through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus; whom God displayed publicly as a propitiation in His blood through faith. This was to demonstrate His righteousness, because in the forbearance of God He passed over the sins previously committed; for the demonstration, I say, of His righteousness at the present time, so that He would be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.” (Romans 3:21–26, NASB95)
Paul wrote these things not to minimize the sins on the list or any other sin, but to clearly draw a line between them and our identity as Christians. Throughout Scripture we read the continual call for us to set aside the sins of the flesh and live according to Christ and the character of God revealed in His Word. But knowing that we all sin, we are also never to forget that our identity is not based upon our actions, but on Christ and His work to justify us. “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” (1 John 1:9, NASB95)