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, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. 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. – 1 Corinthians 6:9-11 ESV
Throughout his letter so far, Paul has been emphasizing the kind of conduct or behavior that believers should model. Their unique status as children of God came with non-negotiable expectations that their life should reflect His character. They had been “called into fellowship with his son, Jesus Christ our Lord” (1 Corinthians 4:9 ESV), and had been given the Holy Spirit to live within them. And as Paul had mentioned in the opening of this letter, as the body of Christ, they lacked none of the spiritual gifts (1 Corinthians 1:7). All of these factors should have resulted in true life change, and it had. But they were still struggling with pride, jealousy, and a tendency to view life from their former perspective as unbelievers. Their new natures in Christ had not yet replaced their old tendencies. Which is what led them to settle their disputes in court rather than within the body of Christ. They were thinking more like pagans, than believers. Their focus was on this world instead of the next. They were motivated more by selfishness than selflessness. At this point, their faith in Christ was little more than an add-on, a convenient option that provided them with forgiveness of sins and eternal security, but did little to change the way they lived their lives in the here-and-now.
This is what leads Paul to remind them, “that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God” (1 Corinthians 6:9 ESV). He then describes the unrighteous as “Those who indulge in sexual sin, or who worship idols, or commit adultery, or are male prostitutes, or practice homosexuality, or are thieves, or greedy people, or drunkards, or are abusive, or cheat people” (1 Corinthians 6:9-10 NLT). These behaviors are characteristic of the lost. And this list should have resonated with the believers in Corinth, because Paul immediately reminds them, “And such were some of you” (1 Corinthians 6:11a ESV). Paul speaks in the past tense, emphasizing that this was their former condition. It was how they used to live. But something had happened. Their old way of life had been radically changed when they placed their faith in Christ. Paul tells them that as a result of God’s gracious gift of salvation made possible through His Son, “you were cleansed; you were made holy; you were made right with God by calling on the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God” (1 Corinthians 6:11b NLT). Again, he uses the past tense, indicating that these things have already happened. They had been cleansed by God from their former sins, declared to be righteous before Him, and set apart by Him for His use. This is exactly what Paul had written to them in the opening chapter of his letter: “God has united you with Christ Jesus. For our benefit God made him to be wisdom itself. Christ made us right with God; he made us pure and holy, and he freed us from sin” (1 Corinthians 1:30 NLT).
But their salvation was not yet complete. God’s work in them was not finished. God had declared them to be righteous because of the shed blood of Jesus Christ, now they needed to live righteously. God had made them holy, setting them apart as His possession, now their lives needed to reflect their holy standing. He had cleansed them from sin, forever delivering from the penalty of death under which they had lived. But through His Holy Spirit, God had given them the capacity to live free from the power of sin in their daily lives. While they were still fully capable of greed, envy, idol worship, sexual immorality, theft, drunkenness and virtually any and all of the sins listed by Paul in these verses, these sins were no longer characteristic of who there were. They were sons and daughters of God. They had been redeemed. They were new creations. They had new natures. As Paul writes in his second letter to the Corinthians, “anyone who belongs to Christ has become a new person. The old life is gone; a new life has begun!” (2 Corinthians 5:17 NLT). This message of new life was a recurring them for Paul. He told to the believers in Rome, “For we died and were buried with Christ by baptism. And just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glorious power of the Father, now we also may live new lives” (Romans 6:4 NLT).
Salvation not only offers a future reward, it guarantees a real and radical transformation in the here-and-now. Our sanctification or growth in holiness is ongoing. We are constantly dying to our old way of life and being reformed into the likeness of Christ. And this will continue until, as Paul puts it, “Christ is formed in you” (Galatians 4:19 ESV). It will not stop until we are “mature in the Lord, measuring up to the full and complete standard of Christ” (Ephesians 4:13 NLT). And this transforming process will continue until we are glorified by God and given new bodies, free from sin and no longer held captive to the threat of death. The apostle John encourages us with these words: “Dear friends, we are already God’s children, but he has not yet shown us what we will be like when Christ appears. But we do know that we will be like him, for we will see him as he really is” (1 John 3:2 NLT). In the meantime, we have been given the privilege, power and responsibility to live our lives in keeping with our standing as God’s children. We are to lead lives worthy of our calling by God (Ephesians 4:1). We are to live in a way that honors and pleases God (Colossians 1:10). “So whether we are here in this body or away from this body, our goal is to please him” (2 Corinthians 5:9 NLT). We were once sinners. Now we are saints. But we must learn to live like what we are. Our lives must reflect the true nature of who we have become in Christ.