Carnivals are very discriminatory. I walk up to a ride with my kids and think, “Well, this looks like a nice ride—you sit in a little flying saucer and it goes around nice and slow—I could handle that.”
But then at the gate there’s this measuring stick…you have to be this tall, but not that tall to ride. Discrimination, I say!
Of course, we know that it is discriminatory for a reason. An adult wouldn’t fit right on the ride. He might break it, or make something unstable and cause the the whole ride to crash for everyone.
God’s kingdom is also discriminatory. Not everyone can enter. But it’s not like God just made up a set of arbitrary rules that people would have to abide by in order to enter.
The discrimination is based on what the proper fit for God’s kingdom is. God’s kingdom is characterized by God’s character—a character that was made flesh for us to see in Jesus Christ.
Those who enter the kingdom of God must come in Jesus—the way, the truth, and the life. There are those in the world, the unrighteous, that have no desire for Jesus Christ…they simply don’t want to fit in the kingdom of God.
Oh, they might complain that they do, they really do…but their unwillingness to leave behind their unrighteous lifestyle is evidence that they really don’t.
The Corinthians were at that point. They wanted to be in the kingdom of God, and they wanted to go back to their unrighteous lifestyles. They were in danger of proving themselves to be unbelievers. They needed a good talking to, and that’s what Paul does here. He says to them:
9 Know ye not that the unrighteous shall not inherit the kingdom of God? Be not deceived: neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor abusers of themselves with mankind, 10 Nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners, shall inherit the kingdom of God. 11 And such were some of you: but ye are washed, but ye are sanctified, but ye are justified in the name of the Lord Jesus, and by the Spirit of our God. (1 Corinthians 6:9–11)
First, Paul describes the entrance requirements for the kingdom of God—the measuring stick, if you will. He reminds them of…
I. THE TYPICAL SINS OF THE UNRIGHTEOUS
1 Corinthians 6:9b Be not deceived: neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor abusers of themselves with mankind,
1 Corinthians 6:10 Nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners, shall inherit the kingdom of God.
We’ve seen this list before, there’s one in 1 Corinthians 5:9 and one in 1 Corinthians 5:11. Each time the list appears, it gets a little longer— here we see that Paul adds adulterers, effeminate, abusers of themselves with mankind, and thieves. Really, because the human race is so creative in sinning, the list could be endless!
Paul could have said, “Don’t behave like unbelievers,” but that’s not very specific. In what way are we not to behave like an unbeliever? That he has a beard? Or doesn’t wear a tie? So Paul gets specific here and lists sins that are typical of the unbeliever.
“fornicators” (πόρνοι, NNPM, πόρνος) are those who are involved in sexually immorality—particularly those who engage in premarital sex.
“idolaters” (εἰδωλολάτραι, NNMP, εἰδωλολάτρης) worship false images or false ideas of God. Especially today, we find that folks like to make up their own god—one who loves them the way they are and likes it if they would just stay that way.
“adulterers” (μοιχοὶ, NNMP, μοιχός) are those who engage in sexual relations outside of their own marriage.
“effeminate” (μαλακοὶ, JNPM, μαλακός) literally means soft, and refers to the passive person in a same-sex relationship. In Paul’s day, it would have included the many boys who sold themselves to older men for sexual pleasure.
“abusers of themselves with mankind” (ἀρσενοκοῖται, NNPM, ἀρσενοκοίτης) also refers to homosexual relations. It’s possible that this word refers to the active partner in the homosexual relationship.
“thieves” (κλέπται, NNPM, κλέπτης) are people who steal. The ancient world was full of thieves—houses were, after all, much less secure then. Also, people who used public baths or gyms could have the unpleasant experience of having their clothes stolen.
The “covetous” (πλεονέκται, NNPM, πλεονέκτης) are people who are greedy.
The “drunkards” (μέθυσοι, NNPM, μέθυσος) are people who are habitually drunk.
The “revilers” (λοίδοροι, JNPM, λοίδορος) are those who abuse others with their speech. Really, they are gossipers!
“extortioners” (ἅρπαγες, JNPM, ἅρπαξ) find ways to swindle others out of money or possessions or power—they can work in reverse also—donating large sums to a church, expecting things to go their way as a result.
Jesus used the same word to colorfully describe false prophets, who are a kind of extortioner:
15 Beware of false prophets, which come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ravening wolves. (Matthew 7:15)
So what is true about all these kinds of sinners? Only that they…
II. THE UNRIGHTEOUS DO NOT INHERIT THE KINGDOM
1 Corinthians 6:9a Know ye not that the unrighteous shall not inherit the kingdom of God? Be not deceived:
A. The Unrighteous Have Different Values Than God
Now, don’t misunderstand, it’s not that unrighteous cannot be saved. That’s not the point that Paul is making at all. The point is that the believer is going to live differently because they are saved.
What does the “kingdom of God” refer to? It doesn’t so much mean a place, like Heaven, as it does the rule or kingship of God. Being in the “kingdom of God” is like placing your life under his rule and care. Think of it as moving from the world’s side to God’s side.
We also notice here that the kingdom is something that a person can “inherit” (κληρονομήσουσι, VFAI3P, κληρονομέω) or, in this case, “not inherit.”
A general truth about inheriting is that the person inheriting does not earn his inheritance, but it is given to him. That’s a good reminder that we don’t earn salvation, but receive it by faith in Jesus Christ.
Paul is not saying that the “unrighteous” failed to earn their inheritance by doing sins like the ones he listed here. He is merely saying that the sins are characteristic of the people who don’t inherit the kingdom or, if you will, receive salvation by faith in Jesus Christ.
John Hess-Yoder served as a missionary to Laos for several years. While serving there he heard of the tax system that used to be in place. Before the Colonialists imposed national boundaries, the kings of those two kingdoms agreed on a system.
Those who ate short-grained rice, built their houses on stilts and decorated their houses with Indian style serpents were considered Laotians.
Those who ate long grained rice, built their houses on the ground and decorated them with Chinese style dragons were considered Vietnamese.
The exact location of a house was not what determined their kingdom. Rather they way they lived determined which kingdom to which they belonged.
Your lifestyle, your values, are going to be the indicator of whose kingdom—God or the world—that you live in.
B. Don’t Be Deceived, Lifestyle Does Matter
So Paul tells the Corinthian church, “Be not deceived” (πλανᾶσθε, VPPM2P, πλανάω) people who persist in these lifestyles are the kind of people who do not inherit the kingdom of God.
They had a fornicator in their midst (and they were proud of it), and they were suing one another in courts—they were extortioners.
This is a severe warning to the church—do not think that a person can profess to know Christ and yet live a sinful lifestyle. He’s not saying that a believer has to be perfect to be saved, but that a lack of change in a person’s life is evidence that a person was never really saved.
Sometime in the mid-19th century, a false doctrine in churches arose called Decisionism. It was the idea that you could be saved by praying a certain prayer or responding to an altar call, or some such thing like that.
Now, some people are saved who pray the sinner’s prayer or go forward at an altar call—don’t get me wrong—faith in Jesus Christ can be expressed in those ways (false doctrines have a bit of truth in them), but there’s a subtle danger that many people fall into.
That danger is this—they think because they said this prayer, or did this or that, that means they are saved. If that were the case, who saved them? They did! It’s a work that they did! If you ask them, “How do you know you are saved?” they might say, “Because I raised my hand at a Billy Graham crusade.”
You see, their assurance of salvation comes from the decision they made. I had one person tell me that when he doubted his salvation, he would look at a stick he had in the backyard that had the date of his salvation on it. That was supposed to give him assurance of salvation.
Parents are perhaps the people most vulnerable to falling into Decisionism’s trap. We want so much for our children to be saved, that, when they walk away as young adults and live horrible lifestyles that we cling to that prayer they prayed when they were five.
Don’t do that! Don’t make yourself complacent about praying for them and sharing the basic gospel with them every chance you get. I know it’s hard, but our assurance of our salvation or anyone else’s salvation cannot come from a decision we or they made.
But what does the Bible say? It says that our assurance of salvation comes from the changes that God makes in our lives and in our desires. Do we want to follow God’s way or not? Sure, we’ll still sin, but does our overall lifestyle change?
3 And hereby we do know that we know him, if we keep his commandments. 4 He that saith, I know him, and keepeth not his commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in him. 5 But whoso keepeth his word, in him verily is the love of God perfected: hereby know we that we are in him. 6 He that saith he abideth in him ought himself also so to walk, even as he walked. (1 John 2:3–6)
After listing the sinful lifestyles of unbelievers, Paul says…
1 Corinthians 6:11a And such were some of you…
Notice that he says, “were”—past tense. When some of them were saved, they came out of very sinful lifestyles. Some were drunks, homosexuals, thieves, or whatever. But when they were saved—they quit that lifestyle and joined the church.
But now, some were in danger of, or already had, slipped back into those unbelieving lifestyles. Paul says, “Don’t do that…if you really are a Christian…you won’t go back. If you do go back, it may be proof that your conversion wasn’t genuine.”
When I was in Grade school, I got saved every year at Vacation Bible School. I’d raise my hand or pray with a leader, then I’d go home determined to read the Bible or be different somehow. Every time, the same thing happened: I went back to my old way of life.
Some people, inflected with Decisionism, would say that I was saved because I made that decision to accept Christ. But I knew better. Why, when I was a teenager I cursed God and believed the Bible was written by one person to fool a whole bunch of people.
So Paul is saying to the Corinthians (and to us), if your lifestyle is that of an unbeliever, then that places doubt on your salvation.
If you really are a Christian, then you won’t do these things, at least not habitually, and as time goes on they will become less and less in your life. When I was finally born again at the age of 19, I knew that conversion was real because my life and desires did change—and stayed changed.
III. WHY THE BELIEVER IS DIFFERENT
Why do believers act different from unbelievers? Why and how do they change?
While there is effort and holy sweat in living the Christian life, it’s not a self-reformation. The Christian is not a self-made man. The effort we put in comes because God has changed something inside us.
1 Corinthians 6:11 And such were some of you: but ye are washed, but ye are sanctified, but ye are justified in the name of the Lord Jesus, and by the Spirit of our God.
Paul really emphasizes the difference in the lives of believers. He uses a Greek for “but” that is a very strong word for contrast (ἀλλά), and he uses it three times. The difference between the unbeliever and believer is shocking.
Then, what is even more incredible, is that Paul puts the three verbs describing the Christian in the Aorist or past tense—indicating that they are actions that have been completed.
A. The Believer Is Washed
The phrase “ye are washed” (ἀπελούσασθε, VAMI2P, ἀπολούω) could refer to baptism, but more than likely it is referring to an inner washing—at least mainly. If Paul wanted to mean baptism mainly, he had a perfectly good word, βαπτιζω, that he could have used.
Instead, it is talking about the inner washing from sin that God does in the believer. This is referenced elsewhere in scripture, like Psalm 51, where David prays, “Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean: Wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow” (Psalm 51:7).
When a believer is saved, they are given new life by regeneration (also known as being born again) and washed from their sins.
5 Not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to his mercy he saved us, by the washing of regeneration, and renewing of the Holy Ghost; (Titus 3:5)
Believer, God has washed you. Through his grace, you can live a clean life.
B. The Believer Is Sanctified
The second phrase, “ye are sanctified” (ἡγιάσθητε, VAPI2P, ἁγιάζω), refers to being set apart or made holy. We tend to think of sanctification as a process whereby we gradually become more and more like Jesus. We call this progressive sanctification.
18 But we all, with open face beholding as in a glass the glory of the Lord, are changed into the same image from glory to glory, even as by the Spirit of the Lord. (2 Corinthians 3:18)
But here, Paul puts “sanctified” in the past tense, as something that has already taken place. We call this sanctification, positional sanctification, because, when we are saved, we are put into Christ…we are in his position, so when God sees us, he sees us as he sees Jesus—set apart and holy.
In Christ we are given all the power we need to live as Jesus does, should we choose to do so. As unbelievers, we only had one capacity—to sin (even our good works were tainted with sin). As believers we have two capacities—to sin or be holy.
The Corinthians were choosing the old, sinful capacity instead of the new, holy capacity. God has given you a new capacity for choosing holiness, believer, so choose to live a changed life.
C. The Believer Is Justified
The final phrase, “ye are justified” (ἐδικαιώθητε, VAPI2P, δικαιόω), refers to being declared righteous by God—or, being put into a right relationship with God by God.
No one begins life in a right relationship with God. We are all sinners and we confirm that standing with each sin that we commit. We stand guilty before the Great Judge.
Furthermore, there is nothing that we can do to change our relationship with God. Our guilt cannot be wiped away with any amount of community service or self-imposed penance.
People will beat themselves for a sin that they committed—but nothing we do can take the guilt away and give us a right relationship with God.
Look at this great passage from Romans that explains what God does to justify the believer in Christ—
24 But for us also, to whom it [righteousness] shall be imputed, if we believe on him that raised up Jesus our Lord from the dead; 25 Who was delivered for our offences, and was raised again for our justification. (Romans 4:24–25)
Jesus’ death and resurrection allows for his righteousness to be imputed or transferred to the believer. His death was also for our offenses—our sins—so that they are paid for.
When our sins are covered by Jesus’ blood, God, the Great Judge of all, can look at us and say, “Hmm, your sin debt is paid…you are covered in Jesus’ righteousness…you are therefore justified…you and I are good—we’re in a right relationship now.”
Believer, God has placed you in a right standing with himself, so live your life rightly.
Why does Paul tell the Corinthians that they are washed, sanctified, and justified? Because he wants to remind them of how God through the gospel had transformed their lives.
A transformed life should result in transformed living. A transformed life can result in transformed living. A transformed life will result in transformed living—or it’s not truly a transformed life.
I offer to you the same warning that Paul gave the Corinthians. Do not be deceived. Those who persist in living by the world’s values show themselves not to be kingdom people.
Those who live by God’s values show themselves to be different. Whose values do you live by? What does the evidence say?
 David Prior, The Message of 1 Corinthians: Life in the Local Church, The Bible Speaks Today, (Leicester, England; Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1985), 90.
 As told by Pastor David Chotka