The True Character of Christians
Or do you not know that the unrighteous shall 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, shall 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 Christ, and in the Spirit of our God. (6:9–11)
Paul’s purpose here is not to give a list of sins that will indicate one has lost his salvation. There are no such sins. He is rather giving a catalog of sinners who are typical of the unsaved. Persons whose lives are totally characterized by such sins are not saved and therefore unrighteous, unjustified. They shall not inherit the kingdom of God, because they are not right with God. They are outside the kingdom, the sphere of salvation.
The application to believers is clear. “Why, then,” Paul asks the Corinthians, “do you keep living like the unsaved, the unrighteous? Why do you keep falling into the ways of your old life, the life from which Christ has saved you? Why are you following the old standards, and having the old selfish, ungodly motives? You are to be separated from the world’s ways, not following them. And specifically, why are you taking your problems to the world’s courts?”
A believer is a new creation (2 Cor. 5:17), with a new inner personhood made after God’s own person (2 Pet. 1:4), and there is no longer unbroken unrighteousness. But the flesh can become dominant in the disobedient Christian, so that he may take on the appearance of an unbeliever.
The catalog of sins in verses 9–10 is not exhaustive, but those sins represent all the major types of moral sin, the types of sin that have always characterized ungodly societies and that ought never to characterize the godly society of the redeemed.
Fornicators has to do with sexual immorality in general and to that by unmarried persons in particular. Scripture continually condemns it. The sin is characteristic of our own western society today. It is portrayed and exalted in books, magazines, movies, and television as the norm of human living. But fornication in any form is an abomination to God and should be an abomination to His people. Those who habitually practice and defend it cannot possibly belong to God, for the heirs of His kingdom do not habitually practice and defend sexual immorality. True believers may do it, but no matter how involved and weak they are, deep within them they recognize its evil. (See Rom. 7:15–25 for Paul’s discussion of this conflict.)
Idolators refers to those who worship any false gods and false religious systems, not simply to those who bow down to images. Our society has never been so engulfed by and enamored of false religions and cults as in our day. No belief, claim, or practice seems to be too bizarre to get a following.
Adulterers refers specifically to married persons who indulge in sexual acts outside the marriage partnership. Because marriage is sacred, that is an especially heinous sin in God’s sight. The Old Testament required the death penalty for it. In addition to corrupting the participants themselves it also corrupts the family. It defiles the unique, God-established relationship between husband and wife and it inevitably brings harm to their children. And those may be only the initial effects.
Effeminate and homosexuals both refer to those who exchange and corrupt normal male-female sexual roles and relations. Transvestism, sex change, homosexuality, and other gender perversions are included. God’s unique creation, those created in His own image, were created “male and female” (Gen. 1:27), and the Lord strictly forbids the two roles to be blurred, much less exchanged. “A woman shall not wear man’s clothing, nor shall a man put on a woman’s clothing; for whoever does these things is an abomination to the Lord your God” (Deut. 22:5). The Hebrew terms in that verse indicate more than clothing, and include any tool, implement, or apparatus.
Homosexuality is condemned throughout Scripture. It was so characteristic of Sodom that the term sodomy is a synonym for that sin. The Sodomite men were inflamed with perverted sexual desire, and on one occasion they surrounded Lot’s house and demanded that the two angels (who had come in the form of men) be sent outside so that they could “have relations with them” (Gen. 19:4–5). God completely destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah because “their sin [was] exceedingly grave” (18:20). Since that time sodomy has stood for sexual perversion and the phrase Sodom and Gomorrah has stood for moral corruption. For believers the terms also have come to stand for God’s hatred and judgment of moral corruption.
By Paul’s day homosexuality had been rampant in Greece and Rome for centuries. In his commentary on this passage, William Barclay reports that Socrates was a homosexual and Plato probably was. Plato’s Symposium on Love is a treatise glorifying homosexuality. It is likely that fourteen of the first fifteen Roman emperors were homosexuals. Nero, who reigned close to the time Paul wrote 1 Corinthians, had a boy named Sporis castrated in order for the boy to become the emperor’s “wife,” in addition to his natural wife. After Nero died, the boy was passed on to one of Nero’s successors, Otho, to use in the same way.
Confusion of sex roles, like adultery, is particularly evil because it attacks the family. It corrupts the biblical plan for the family, including the standards for authority and submission within the family, and thus retards the passing of righteousness from one generation to the next. The most ungodly societies of history have been plagued by sex role perversions, no doubt because Satan is so intent on destroying the family. Churches who, in the name of love, defend homosexuality and condone homosexual ministers, “marriages,” and congregations not only pervert God’s standards of morality but encourage their members in sin. Encouragement in sin has no part in love. True love of others is not doing for them what they want but doing for them what God wants. “By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God and observe His commandments. For this is the love of God, that we keep His commandments” (1 John 5:2–3). Condoning sin is never an act of love, either for God or for those whose sins we condone.
Thieves and covetous relate to the same basic sin of greed. The covetous person desires that which belongs to others; the thief actually takes it. Greed is a manifestation of selfishness and, like all selfishness, is never satisfied. The greedy demand more and more. In our day it is difficult to find a person, even a Christian, who is satisfied with his income and possessions. But greed is not to characterize the heirs of God’s kingdom. It has no place in the Christian life.
Drunkards is self-explanatory. Like the other sins listed here, it is almost inevitably found to be a serious problem where God’s name and Word are disregarded or despised. Today alcoholism is spreading even to the elementary ages. Preteen and young teen alcoholics are becoming more and more common, as are alcoholics among their elders. The harm that alcohol does to individuals and to families is beyond measure.
Revilers are those who destroy with their tongues; they wound with words. God does not consider their sin to be mild, because it comes from hearts full of hate and causes misery, pain, and despair in the lives of those it attacks.
Swindlers are thieves who steal indirectly. They take unfair advantage of others to promote their own financial gain. Extortioners, embezzlers, confidence men, promoters of defective merchandise and services, false advertisers, and many other types of swindlers are as common to our day as to Paul’s.
And such were some of you, Paul continues. The Corinthian church, as churches today, had ex-fornicators, ex-adulterers, ex-thieves, and so on. Though many Christians have never been guilty of the particular sins just discussed, every Christian was sinful before he was saved. Every Christian is an ex-sinner. Christ came for the purpose of saving sinners (Matt. 9:13). That is the great truth of Christianity: no person has sinned too deeply or too long to be saved. “Where sin increased, grace abounded all the more” (Rom. 5:20). But some had ceased to be like that for a while, and were reverting to their old behavior.
Paul uses but (alla, the strongest Greek adversative particle) three times to indicate the contrast of the Christian life with the worldly life he has just been describing. But you were washed, but you were sanctified, but you were justified. It made no difference what they were before they were saved. God can save a sinner from any sin and all sin. But it makes a great deal of difference what a believer is like after salvation. He is to live a life that corresponds to his cleansing, his sanctification, and his justification. His Christian life is to be pure, holy, and righteous. The new life produces and requires a new kind of living.
Washed speaks of new life, of regeneration. Jesus “saved us, not on the basis of deeds which we have done in righteousness, but according to His mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewing by the Holy Spirit” (Titus 3:5). Regeneration is God’s work of re-creation. “Therefore if any man is in Christ, he is a new creature; the old things passed away; behold, new things have come” (2 Cor. 5:17). “We are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus” (Eph. 2:10). When a person is washed by Christ he is born again (John 3:3–8).
Sanctified speaks of new behavior. To be sanctified is to be made holy inwardly and to be able, in the Spirit’s power, to live a righteous life outwardly. Before a person is saved he has no holy nature and no capacity for holy living. But in Christ we are given a new nature and can live out the new kind of life. Sin’s total domination is broken and is replaced by a life of holiness. By their fleshly sinfulness the Corinthians were interrupting that divine work.
Justified speaks of new standing before God. In Christ we are clothed in His righteousness and God now sees in us His Son’s righteousness instead of our sin. Christ’s righteousness is credited to our account (Rom. 4:22–25). We are declared and made in the new nature righteous, holy, innocent, and guiltless because God is “the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus” (Rom. 3:26).
The Corinthian believers had experienced transformation in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, and in the Spirit of our God. God’s name represents His will, His power, and His work. Because of Jesus’ willing submission to the Father’s will, His death on the cross in our behalf, and His resurrection from the dead, He has provided our washing, our sanctification, and our justification.
A transformed life should produce transformed living. Paul is saying very strongly that it was unacceptable that some believers were behaving like those outside the kingdom. They were acting like their former selves. They were not saved for that, but from that.
11 In fact, this is precisely what some of the Corinthians have done. The apostle admits that some of them used to live in the lifestyles outlined in vv. 9–10. “But,” he declares, “you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus and by the Spirit of our God.” These three verbs independently and together denote the salvation the Corinthians have experienced through the power of Jesus and his Spirit.
The verb “washed” (apolouō, GK 666) occurs in only one other place in the NT (Ac 22:16), where it refers to Paul’s salvation and his subsequent baptism. Presumably Paul considers the lists of sins he has just cited as filth that needs to be washed away. On the verb “sanctified” (hagiazō, GK 39), see comments at 1:2. “Justified” (dikiaoō, GK 1467) denotes the legal declaration from God that we are righteous in his sight through faith in the atoning sacrifice of Jesus Christ on the cross (cf. Ro 3:21–26). This is the wonder of God’s salvation—that regardless of what our lifestyle may have been, God will forgive us through his Son and make us his special, redeemed children.
6:11 / This verse is the most important statement in this section. From a frank recognition of the character of some of the Corinthians before their conversion, Paul elaborates why they now are, and in turn ought to be, different. They are washed, sanctified, and justified. These terms do not aim at delineating various states of grace or various stages of Christian existence. They are a set of metaphors attempting to describe the indescribably multifaceted experience of God’s transforming grace. With this rich description Paul locates the Corinthians theologically, identifying them in relation to Christ, and recognizes the priority of God in their salvation and in their current conduct. In hearing these words the Corinthians would surely think of their baptism, the gift of the Holy Spirit, and their new, right relationship with God—recalling them as a magnificent and incomprehensible movement of God’s gracious Spirit through the name of the Lord Jesus Christ. Above all, in the entire dramatic declaration, Paul makes it clear that all this transformation that the Corinthians experienced comes, as the series of passive verbs that Paul employs show, through the work of God’s Spirit in Jesus Christ.
11. And that is what some of you were. However, you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and in the Spirit of our God.
Note the following points:
- Unclean. “And that is what some of you were.” Jesus says that he came to call not the righteous but sinners to repentance (Mark 2:17; Luke 5:32; 1 Tim. 1:15). The tax collectors and the prostitutes were the sinners in Jesus’ day; they were social and moral outcasts. Jesus called them to repentance and then ate and drank with them in their homes (Matt. 11:19).
When Paul first came to Corinth, he brought the gospel of salvation to some people who lived in sexual and social sins. In his epistle, Paul now speaks not in generalities but notes that only a few Corinthians used to live a degenerate life: “some of you were [degenerates].” Because of their sinful lives they used to be unclean, but through the preaching of the gospel they have received the gift of salvation and are clean.
- Cleansed. “However, you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified.” Using the strong adversative however, which in the Greek occurs before each one of the three verbs, Paul conveys the message of immense spiritual change. He contrasts the sinful past of the Corinthians with their new life in Christ. In addition, he writes the second person plural you in this particular verse in every verb form. Paul wishes to be acutely personal in his address.
“You were washed.” The washing is thorough and complete. When God forgives a repentant sinner he clears the record of guilt. The verb washed (as translated) and the next two verbs (sanctified and justified) are in the passive voice. The verb to wash appears only twice in the New Testament, here and in Acts 22:16. In the present text Paul refrains from using the verb to baptize, even though the act of washing away sin is linked to baptism. Here he wants to stress the effect of baptism. In Acts, Paul recounts his conversion experience in Damascus, when Ananias instructed him to be baptized and to wash his sins away (Acts 9:17–18). He underscores the act of being cleansed from sin and leaves the impression that we should understand this act figuratively. As Paul himself had experienced the cleansing from his sin of persecuting Christ’s church, so the Corinthians were cleansed from the sins of their former life.
“You were sanctified.” Already at the beginning of his epistle, Paul told the Corinthians that they were sanctified in Christ Jesus (1:2). Now he reminds them that they were made holy. The New Testament teaches that everyone who believes in Jesus is sanctified in him (John 17:19; Acts 20:32; 26:18). Sanctification means that the believer has entered into God’s fellowship (see 1:9).
“You were justified.” In earlier centuries, Protestant theologians debated whether sanctification should precede justification, for elsewhere in this epistle Paul places righteousness before holiness (1:30). Justification is a declarative act of God whereby the believer is pronounced righteous in Christ and is coordinated with God’s act of sanctification. The three verbs (washed, sanctified, justified) are grammatically related. In the Greek, they are in the aorist tense, which describes a single instantaneous action. Paul is saying that at a given moment God declared the Corinthians both holy and righteous. In this context, he is not explaining the distinction between sanctification and justification but is writing a discourse against unrighteousness.32Grace. “In the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and in the Spirit of our God.” The last part of this verse reveals an implied trinitarianism, for Paul mentions Jesus Christ, the Spirit, and God. Yet this observation should not be pressed, for in this text Paul does not explicitly teach the trinitarian baptismal formula of the Great Commission (Matt. 28:19). Nonetheless, the phrase in the name of occurs at times in connection with baptism (for instance, Acts 2:38; 8:16; 19:5).
The concluding part of the verse must be linked to every one of the preceding verbs (wash, sanctify, justify). The preposition in occurs twice, applies to all three verbs, and must be understood to mean “in relation to.” Let us now consider how these three verbs relate to the Lord Jesus Christ and the Spirit of God.
First, the washing away of sin is the result of baptism. Believers are baptized in the name of Jesus Christ and in the power of the Spirit (e.g., see Matt. 3:11; John 1:33; Acts 10:48). Paul uses Jesus’ full name, “the Lord Jesus Christ,” but he writes “the Spirit of God,” not “the Holy Spirit.” The former word choice is common for Paul, especially in this epistle (2:11, 12, 14; 3:16; 7:40; 12:3).
Next, the act of sanctifying believers is based on the redeeming work of the Lord Jesus Christ and is sustained by the power of the Holy Spirit. Likewise, justification has its basis in Jesus’ atoning work and becomes real to the believer through the Spirit’s powerful testimony.
Last, the act of justifying the believer appears in connection with the power of the Spirit only in this text. True, in the early Christian hymn of 1 Timothy 3:16, Christ is vindicated by the Spirit; but nowhere else in Scripture do we find the Spirit involved in the believer’s justification. The Holy Spirit takes part in the sanctification of the believer, but justification is God’s work based on Christ’s righteousness. Only in the present text is the Spirit linked to the believer’s justification.
Practical Considerations in 6:11
God’s forgiving grace offered to sinners who repent is both overwhelming and thoroughly gratifying. Jesus tells the immoral woman who entered the house of Simon the Pharisee, “Your sins are forgiven.… Your faith has saved you; go in peace” (Luke 7:48, 50). He addresses the woman caught in adultery by saying, “Go now and leave your life of sin” (John 8:11). To one of the criminals crucified with him he remarks, “I tell you the truth, today you will be with me in paradise” (Luke 23:43). And he calls Paul, the persecutor of the early Christians, “my chosen instrument” (Acts 9:15).
The Old Testament reveals the astonishing account of God’s grace extended to Manasseh, king of Judah and son of Hezekiah. Manasseh was born into the family of Hezekiah, who loved the Lord and faithfully served him. Manasseh, however, did evil in the eyes of the Lord. He worshiped the Baals, built altars to the starry hosts in the courts of the temple, sacrificed his own son, practiced sorcery and divination, placed a carved image in God’s temple, led astray the people in his kingdom, and shed innocent blood (2 Kings 21:1–9, 16; 2 Chron. 33:1–9). Yet this king, when he came to himself in captivity, repented. God not only forgave him but restored him as king of Judah (2 Chron. 33:12–13).
Reading this narrative, we are amazed at God’s forgiving grace. We try to fathom the depth of God’s forgiving love, and we boldly ask whether God will forgive any and every sin committed against him. Will he pardon those sins which, as Paul indicates, exclude a sinner from the kingdom of God? The answer is affirmative to every sinner who comes to God, confesses his sin, and pleads for mercy.
Here is Jesus’ assurance, with one qualification:
“Every sin and blasphemy will be forgiven men, but the blasphemy against the Spirit will not be forgiven. Anyone who speaks a word against the Son of Man will be forgiven, but anyone who speaks against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven, either in this age or in the age to come.” [Matt. 12:31–32]
6:11 Paul does not imply that these sins were practiced by the Corinthian believers, but he is warning them that such things characterized them before they were saved—such were some of you. But they had been washed and sanctified and justified. They had been washed from their sin and impurity through the precious blood of Christ, and they were being continually washed from defilement through the word of God. They were sanctified by the operation of the Spirit of God, being set apart to God from the world. They had been justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of God; that is, they had been reckoned righteous before God on the basis of the work of the Lord Jesus on the cross for them. What is Paul’s argument here? It is simply this, as so aptly expressed by Godet: “Such a fathomless depth of grace is not to be recrossed.”
6:11. Some (but not all) the Corinthian Christians had been guilty of the sins listed in verses 9–10, but God had intervened. They were washed … by the Spirit (cf. Titus 3:5), sanctified in the Son (cf. 1 Cor. 1:2), and justified before God (cf. Rom. 8:33). This fact of justification was an appropriate thought for those judicially carping Corinthians.
|1 Cor. 6:9–11
|Do you ever ask yourself:
||• Have I committed the unpardonable sin?
||• Can I ever be free of the weight of this guilt?
• Will God forgive every sin?
I have good news for you! Your loving heavenly Father will forgive you of all your sins. You can be released today from your sins if you will do what God says.
The apostle Paul dealt with an instance of gross sexual immorality in the Corinthian church: a man was sleeping with his stepmother. Against that backdrop, Paul wrote, “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).
This passage holds three great messages for us.
First, it tells us that sin is sin. God doesn’t differentiate between one type of sin and another. Most of us wouldn’t consider slanderers in the same sin boat as thieves, but sin is sin.
Second, it tells us that sin is a lifestyle, a state of being. Paul declared that sin had been the identity of the Corinthians. Sin had been their all-consuming character. Paul called them former thieves—people who had stolen as a way of life. He didn’t say, “Some of you had one too many drinks on occasion.” He said some in the Corinthian church were drunkards. Sin isn’t just something you do. Rather, sinful is something you are from birth.
Third, it tells us that all types of sin can be forgiven. Paul declared, “And such were some of you.” And then Paul reminded them that they were no longer who they had been, but they had been washed, sanctified, and justified in the name of the Lord Jesus and by the Spirit of God. The Corinthians—as sorry a group of sinners as ever came together as a church—found a new life and a new identity in Christ Jesus.
Nothing is beyond God’s forgiveness. No sin is too great or too awful for God to forgive. No person is so deep in sin, so ingrained in a wicked lifestyle, so steeped in evil, that he or she cannot be saved.
See the Life Principles Index for further study:
12. Peace with God is the fruit of oneness with God.
26. Adversity is a bridge to a deeper relationship with God.
 MacArthur, J. F., Jr. (1984). 1 Corinthians (pp. 140–144). Chicago: Moody Press.
 Verbrugge, V. D. (2008). 1 Corinthians. In T. Longman III &. Garland, David E. (Ed.), The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Romans–Galatians (Revised Edition) (Vol. 11, p. 309). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.
 Soards, M. L. (2011). 1 Corinthians (pp. 124–125). Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books.
 Kistemaker, S. J., & Hendriksen, W. (1953–2001). Exposition of the First Epistle to the Corinthians (Vol. 18, pp. 189–191). Grand Rapids: Baker Book House.
 MacDonald, W. (1995). Believer’s Bible Commentary: Old and New Testaments. (A. Farstad, Ed.) (p. 1763). Nashville: Thomas Nelson.
 Lowery, D. K. (1985). 1 Corinthians. In J. F. Walvoord & R. B. Zuck (Eds.), The Bible Knowledge Commentary: An Exposition of the Scriptures (Vol. 2, p. 516). Wheaton, IL: Victor Books.
 Stanley, C. F. (2005). The Charles F. Stanley life principles Bible: New King James Version (1 Co 6:9–11). Nashville, TN: Nelson Bibles.