A Bible Study by Jack Kelley at gracethrufaith.com
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 Cor. 6:9-11).
Of all the questions about OSAS (once saved always saved), those that refer to the above passage are among the most numerous. On its face, the first part of 1 Cor. 6:9-10 seems pretty clear, the unrighteous will not inherit the Kingdom of God. No argument there. It’s Christianity 101. And the examples Paul used to show what he meant by “unrighteous” are all clear violations of God’s Law.
Some of his examples, like fornicators, adulterers, homosexuals, and sodomites appear on most lists of “big” sins. These are sins that lots of people hate, and while they are certainly sins, their notoriety causes some people to gloss over the other ones Paul mentioned. Stealing, coveting, drunkenness and reviling (criticizing in an abusive or insulting manner) often get ignored in people’s minds, having been overshadowed by “the big ones.”
And, at least among the people who send me questions, it seems that many people don’t even take a glance at 1 Cor. 6:11: 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.
For that reason, I’d like to take a detailed look at the whole passage to see if we can figure out what Paul really meant here.
A Closer Look
First, let’s go back to 1 Cor. 6:9. Do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God?
If we really read that verse carefully we would see it can’t apply to believers because we are righteous by definition. We have a righteousness from God apart from the law that comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe (Romans 3:21-22). The examples of unrighteousness Paul gave all have to do with behavior, whereas our righteousness comes from our belief.
Where behavior is concerned, Jesus said it doesn’t take unrighteous acts to disqualify us from the Kingdom, it only takes an unrighteous thought. He gave anger (Matt. 5:21-22) and lust (Matt. 5:27-28) as examples but He could have listed many more, like greed, envy, jealousy, and the list goes on. How many of us have unrighteous thoughts from time to time? Does that mean we’ve disqualified ourselves from inheriting the kingdom? Of course not.
But the real kicker is in verse 11. 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.
Paul said some of us were fornicators, idolaters, adulterers, homosexuals, sodomites, thieves, covetous, drunkards, revilers, or extortioners. And from the Lord’s comments above we can assume that includes thoughts and words, as well as deeds. But note the past tense. We were like that. What has changed to make us not like that any more?
- First, we have been washed. We haven’t washed ourselves, we’ve been washed. In Ephesians 5:26 Paul said it’s the Lord who washed us, cleansing us by washing us with water through the word.
- Then, we were sanctified. It means to be made holy. Again, we didn’t sanctify ourselves, it was done to us. When Jesus washed us it was so He could present us to Himself as a radiant Church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless (Ephes 5:27), sanctified.
- And finally, we were justified. It means to render righteous. The Greek word for justified is the opposite form of the word translated unrighteous in verse 9. This refers to the righteousness that has been imputed to us by faith. And like we didn’t do the washing and the sanctifying, we didn’t render ourselves righteous, either. It was done to us, in the name of Jesus, by the Spirit of God.
When that happened we became a new creation in Christ. From God’s perspective, the old us was gone and the new us had come (2 Cor. 5:17). And though we still sin, He no longer attributes our sins to us, but to the sin that still lives within us. He knows our sin-infested bodies will never leave this world. They will either die or be changed at the rapture, so when we come into His presence we’ll be the new creation He has chosen to see from the moment we were saved.
Paul used himself as an example of how God now sees us.
For I know that good itself does not dwell in me, that is, in my sinful nature. For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. For I do not do the good I want to do, but the evil I do not want to do—this I keep on doing. Now if I do what I do not want to do, it is no longer I who do it, but it is sin living in me that does it (Romans 7:18-20).
David gave us a glimpse of this 1,000 years before Paul when he wrote;
Blessed is he whose transgressions are forgiven, whose sins are covered. Blessed is the one whose sin the Lord does not count against him and in whose spirit is no deceit (Psalm 32:1-2), and
As far as the East is from the West, so far has He removed our transgressions from us (Psalm 103:12).
This explains how God can “render us righteous” while we’re still sinners. He separated the believer from the behavior, making the believer a new creation, holy and blameless, and attributing behavior that is not consistent with His new creation to the sin that still dwells within us. He knows the cause of our sinful behavior resides in the mortal part of us that will die or be changed. Our faith in what Jesus did for us allows Him to consider only the immortal part of us, which He will soon clothe in perfection. This is the only way He could guarantee our salvation from the time we became believers, because if it depended upon our behavior we would all have been lost again shortly after we were saved.
A License To Sin?
This interpretation of Scripture has been called “giving people a license to sin” by some. They love to cite hypothetical examples of worst case scenarios that frankly never happen. For example, I had one person warn me that if my interpretation ever became accepted by the majority of believers then, in his words, “Let the rape and pillage begin,” as if to say that unless Christians are held in check by the constant fear of losing their salvation there would be no end to the evil acts we would commit.
But those who make predictions of this sort overlook three important facts:
- The first is, by and large even unbelievers are reasonably well behaved, and they don’t have the fear of losing their salvation to restrain them. Romans 2:14 says those who don’t know God’s law, do by nature the things required by it, because it’s written on our hearts, and our own conscience acts as a guiding influence on our behavior.
- The second is the indwelling Holy Spirit, sealed inside us when we were saved, to convict us of our sins, guide us into all truth, and counsel us on appropriate behavior. Remember, Paul said it’s God who makes us stand firm in Christ. He anointed us, set His seal of ownership on us, and put His Spirit in our hearts as a deposit guaranteeing what is to come (2 Cor. 1:21-22).
- And the third is our gratitude. The great majority of those who believe we’re saved by grace through faith alone are so grateful for such an amazing gift that we try not to behave in ways that would embarrass the Lord in an attempt to express our gratitude. Paul called it “living up to what we’ve already attained” (Phil. 3:16).
Where Are You From?
It’s easy for us to lose sight of where we came from, so Paul reminded us in Ephesians 2. He began by saying that at one time we were dead in our transgressions and sins, by nature objects of wrath (Ephesians 2:1-3).
But because of His great love for us God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions – it is by grace you have been saved (Ephesians 2:4-5).
Our relationship with the Lord is not due to the fact that one day we decided to clean ourselves up and make ourselves fit to be in His presence. In Ephes. 2:8-9 he said we are saved by grace through faith, and not by works. God accepted us just as we are because of His mercy, and saved us because of His grace. Our only contribution was to ask in faith. And then, before we had done anything, good or bad, He sent His Holy Spirit to dwell within us as a deposit, guaranteeing our inheritance (Ephes. 1:13-14).
We can’t claim our faith in God’s mercy and grace as the sole basis for our salvation and then demand that others meet certain behavioral standards in order to receive or maintain theirs. The fact that one person commits sins that are more obvious than others is irrelevant. Sin is sin, and we all do it.
He didn’t save us because we behave a certain way. He saved us because we believe a certain thing.
In A Nutshell
If you’re a human being, you’re a sinner. If you’re a saved human being, your faith in what Jesus did for you has allowed God to attribute your ongoing sinfulness to the sin that still lives within you [in your mortal body]. From His perspective it’s not you doing the sinning, but the sin that still lives within you. One day soon, you will shed that sinful part of yourself forever, and you will be clothed in perfection in preparation for your eternal life with the Lord. You will have finally been conformed to His image, just as God has always intended for you to be (Romans 8:29-30). Selah