“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 homosexuals, nor sodomites, nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners will inherit the kingdom of God. And such were some of you. But you were washed, but you were sanctified, but you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus and by the Spirit of our God” (1 Corinthians 6:9-11).
Corinth was a city of great immorality. It is said that to “to Corinthianize” was to “practice sexual immorality” (NIV Study Bible). But the gospel of Christ is “the power of God to salvation for everyone who will believe” (Romans 1:16), and the Corinthians’ salvation testifies to that truth. Writing to the Corinthians, Paul is reminding them in chapter 6 that the unrighteous will not make it to heaven, that they were once unrighteous, and that they are no longer that way. He is telling them this so that they will not return to those sins of the past.
Paul uses three different terms to describe how they had been translated from the power of darkness and into the kingdom of the Son of His love. Let us consider each of them and their significance to the Christian.
First, they were washed. To wash is to take that which is soiled and make clean. But this is not a physical washing; it is a spiritual washing of regeneration as Paul describes to Titus: “But when the kindness and the love of God our Savior toward man appeared, not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to His mercy He saved us, through the washing of regeneration and renewing of the Holy Spirit” (Titus 3:4-5). This happened when they were baptized into Christ, just as when the writer, Paul, was baptized into Christ: “And now why are you waiting? Arise and be baptized, and wash away your sins, calling on the name of the Lord” (Acts 22:16). Their sins were forgiven then. For the Corinthians – or any Christian – to return to the sins from which they have been forgiven would be to soil one’s “garments” again. Hear Jesus’ assessment of the church in Sardis: “But you have a few people in Sardis who have not soiled their garments; and they will walk with Me in white, for they are worthy” (Revelation 3:4). Let us not soil our garments so that we can receive the reward of heaven.
Second, Paul says they were sanctified. To be sanctified is to be set apart from the world and into the service of God. The Corinthians had been sanctified when they responded in obedient faith to the hearing of the gospel of their salvation. This is when they were washed – baptized – as Paul describes in Ephesians 5:25-26: “Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself for her, that He might sanctify and cleanse her with the washing of water by the word.” For the Corinthians – or any Christian – to return to their old sins would be to go back to that from which they were set apart and to profane that which set them apart – the blood of Christ: “For if we sin willfully after we have received the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, but a certain fearful expectation of judgment, and fiery indignation which will devour the adversaries. Anyone who has rejected Moses’ law dies without mercy on the testimony of two or three witnesses. Of how much worse punishment, do you suppose, will he be thought worthy who has trampled the Son of God underfoot, counted the blood of the covenant by which he was sanctified a common thing, and insulted the Spirit of grace?” (Hebrews 10:26-29). Let us remain sanctified by not returning to the world and by continuing in obedience to the truth.
Third, the Corinthians had been justified. To be justified is to be declared not guilty – legally innocent. One who has been justified is without accusation before God and thus declared righteous by Him. Sin makes every man guilty before God, and “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23). Paul teaches that justification is by grace (Romans 3:24), by way of the blood of Christ (Romans 5:9). And justification is by faith (Romans 5:1). But when is one justified by grace and faith? The faith about which Paul speaks is an obedient faith: “But God be thanked that though you were the slaves of sin, yet you obeyed from the heart that form of doctrine to which you were delivered” (Romans 6:16): In the context of chapter 6, what doctrine does Paul say that the Romans had obeyed? The doctrine of baptism! In baptism, they were “united together in the likeness of His [Christ’s] death” (Romans 6:5). Being baptized into Christ, they had died to sin and had been “freed from sin” (Romans 6:7). “Freed” is the idea of “cleared,” and is the same original word translated “justified” in Romans 3:24 and 5:1. To sum it up, one is justified – cleared from the guilt of their sin, declared not guilty – when he is baptized into Christ. Now, think about the Corinthians. They had been justified – cleared of their guilt of sin – at the same time they were washed and sanctified, and that was when they were baptized into Christ. For them to return to commit the sins from which they were once cleared would be to become guilty again before God. They had been justified! Neither they nor we should desire to go back to that which had made us guilty before God!
Paul’s exhortation to the Corinthians should be meaningful to every Christian today. The instruction may seem elementary, but isn’t the gospel simple? First, remember that the unrighteousness will not inherit the kingdom of God. Second, remember that we were once unrighteous – soiled, attached to the world, and guilty. But third, we have been washed, sanctified, and justified. It is not fitting, therefore, for us to go back to those sins from which we have been delivered.
- Larry Jones