Now if you would please take a copy of God’s holy Word in your hands and turn with me to 1 Corinthians chapter 6; 1 Corinthians chapter 6. We return this morning to a passage we considered only briefly last time. We looked at chapter 6 verses 1 to 11 last week. We’re coming back to consider verses 9 through 11 in a little more detail this week. And you’ll find that on page 955 in the church Bibles. And we’re doing that because here, the apostle Paul offers vital pastoral counsel for every Christian who struggles to live a life of holiness. Put your hand up if you don’t struggle to live a life of holiness. Okay, so these are words that you will find useful and helpful. We all know that we’re called to practical godliness, but we know that understanding that call to holiness and actually living it out are two very different things. We have a fight on our hands. Actually, the Westminster Confession of Faith calls it a “continual and irreconcilable war” that’s raging in our hearts. And we know, those of us who are Christians, we know what that feels like. We love our sin, and yet we love the Lord. We want to please Him and we want to indulge in our sin. And so there’s a fight, as the apostle Paul puts it at the end of Romans chapter 7, “The good that I want to do, I do not do. I find myself torn, conflicted. There’s a war. The Spirit lusteth against the flesh and the flesh against the Spirit,” as Paul puts it in the book of Galatians.
Conflict between Old and New Life
And that conflict, that battle with the old life, certainly describes the believers in the churches of Corinth. They were struggling to shake off the old patterns of sin that once dominated their lives. Their pride and their boasting – you remember in chapters 1 to 4 – their pride and their boasting had resulted in factionalism and divisions fracturing the fellowship at Corinth. They claimed superior spiritual insight and wisdom and yet they seemed indifferent when members of the church engaged in open scandalous sexual sin, failing to love them enough to practice faithful church discipline. And meanwhile, their petty squabbles – as we saw last week – their petty squabbles degenerated so far as to bring them into the public courts as believer sued believer and brought the Gospel into disrepute as they tried to gain from others’ losses. And then as we’ll see, God willing, next time in the remainder of chapter 6, some of them were even continuing to make use of the prostitutes that worked in the temple of Aphrodite in the city of Corinth. This is a church that is simply riddled with moral failure and compromise and worldliness.
And so in our passage this morning, chapter 6 verses 9 to 11, the apostle Paul wants to place in the Corinthian’s hands, in our hands, some scriptural and spiritual weapons that we can use in that continual and irreconcilable war with sin to help us win more than we lose. If you’ll look at the passage, you’ll see that it divides relatively naturally into two main sections. In verses 9 and 10, there’s a word of warning. There is a warning that we need to hear. Then in verse 11, there’s a reminder, a reminder of grace that we also need very urgently. There’s a warning and a reminder. We’re going to look at both in turn. Before we do that, would you bow your heads with me first of all as we ask for God’s help? Let’s pray together.
O Lord, Your Word is a light unto our path. It is a lamp for our feet. It is purer and sweeter than honey from the comb. Your law is reviving to our souls. And so we pray now that You would give us ears to hear what the Spirit says to the Church in this portion of holy Scripture. Let it be indeed sweet; let it be food for spiritually hungry sinners. Let it be light in our darkness. Let it be riches in our poverty. And let it lead us back to Jesus, that resting on Him we may find all that our souls truly need. For we ask it in His name, amen.
1 Corinthians chapter 6 at verse 9. This is the Word of God:
“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.”
Amen, and we praise God for His holy and authoritative Word.
Word of Warning
Let’s think about the word of warning Paul gives us here first of all. Would you look with me at verses 9 and 10 please? One of the great temptations when you come to this passage is to focus prematurely on the list of sins that will exclude a person from the kingdom of God and to skip right over the nature of the problem itself at Corinth. We talked about the problem last week when we observed the repeated question in verses 1 to 11; actually, it continues to be repeated all the way to the end of the chapter. Paul, in verse 2 asks, “Do you not know?” You see it again in verse 3, again in verse 9, again in verse 15, verse 16, and again in verse 19. So over and over and over again in this passage, Paul asks them, “Don’t you know?” That is to say, they ought to have known some truths that Paul considers to be foundational and elementary, that they seem somehow to be ignorant of. They have forgotten them, overlooked them, or dismissed them. We said the problem, you might say, is Gospel amnesia. That’s what they were suffering from, Gospel amnesia – truths they ought to have known but have forgotten.
Minimization of sin
And in verse 9, the particular problem that their theological amnesia seems to have led them to is the minimization of the sinfulness of sin and the absolute necessity of holiness if a person is to have any hope of heaven. The absolute necessity of holiness if a person is to have any hope of heaven. “Do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God?” he asks. Now Paul’s going to drive that point home in different ways in these two verses, but I want you to notice first of all very simply what happens when Gospel amnesia leads us to forget a foundational truth like this. Gospel amnesia, theological forgetfulness, creates a vacuum in our thinking that must be filled. If it’s not filled by Biblical truth, the danger is it will be filled instead by lies, by error, by deception. And so Paul says in verse 9, “Do not be deceived.” He knows if they have forgotten these truths, that they have been well-taught and instructed in, the great danger is they will be deceived. “Do not be deceived.”
Adjustment of Convictions to Accommodate Sin
There are stages that you can observe in the Corinthian Christians’ moral failures. We need to note them so that we may avoid them ourselves. You see them in Paul’s discussion so far. First of all, they ignore these basic truths or reject them or forget them or simply overlook them. They fell prey to Gospel amnesia. Then secondly, into that theological vacuum in their thinking creeps this deadly deception. Since they did not listen to the truth, they began instead to listen to lies. They began to adjust their convictions to accommodate their preference for sin. They loved their sin. And since the call to radical holiness no longer seems to have mattered to them, maybe a different set of convictions should be embraced that will accommodate their sin more fully instead. You see, we don't [G1] really have a sin problem, do we? “No, I don’t have a sin problem. I love my sin. I have a God problem. What He wants of me is just so inconvenient!” And when that way of thinking really gets ahold of us, if we’re not careful, we start to adjust our convictions, our doctrine, to make room for our morality.
I had a very dear friend who became a minister of the Gospel in a conservative denomination, somewhat like our own, that believed in the inerrancy and authority of holy Scripture. And he began his ministry well enough, but after a while his behavior became erratic. He began to disappear without explanation. One day his wife found evidence among his things that he had been living a double life. And when she confronted him, he left her and began to live an openly gay lifestyle. Today, he serves as a minister in a liberal church that denies that homosexuality is a sin at all. You see what he’s done? His convictions and his moral preferences could not be made to align. And because he loved his sin, he adjusted his convictions to accommodate his sin.
And that is what the Corinthians were in danger of doing. “Do not be deceived,” Paul says to them. “Don’t lie to yourselves! 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.” Sexual promiscuity, adultery, homosexuality were so normal in Corinth, so universal, that the believers in the church had a hard time resisting the relentless cultural pressure to make allowances, to begin to tell themselves that the claims of Jesus Christ on their lives really had to be adjusted to fit their Greco-Roman cultural context. You can imagine them trying patiently to explain how things really go to the apostle Paul, can’t you? “Oh sure Paul, this might work in Palestine, you know among those traditional, conservative Jewish people. But not here! Not in Corinth! No, you see Paul, sex outside of marriage, homosexuality, adultery, they may well be causes of scandal in Jerusalem, but in our metropolitan city they’re really no big deal. You can’t seriously expect us to refuse a bribe, can you? Paul, you’ve got to understand if you live in Corinth that’s just the price of doing business. And so what if we drink more wine than you all are accustomed to? What’s the big deal, Paul?”
And so on and on it goes. Certain accommodations have to be made. Sin, at first, is overlooked and then it’s tolerated and then it’s indulged. Then it is positively affirmed, not as sin any longer but as a good thing until the real sinner here is the apostle Paul – so narrow, so exclusive. It sounds awfully familiar, don’t you think? Paul wants to help us understand that however plausible the world’s arguments against what the Bible calls sin – the Bible calls it sin; the world says it’s not sin – however plausible the world’s arguments may be, Paul wants us to understand the consequences of embracing sin as a way of life are eternal in their scope. They are eternal in their scope. “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. Eternity is at stake, Corinthians.”
Relationship between Idolatry and Sexual Sins
Now let me point out a couple of things very quickly about the list of sins that Paul mentions here before we move on. First of all, notice in verse 9 right there amongst that list of sexual sins, there is idolatry. It seems like an odd thing to insert when you’re talking about sexual sin. It only seems odd until you understand and remember that dominating the religious life of Corinth were the temples of Apollo and Aphrodite. Their homosexual sex and temple prostitution were part of pagan worship in those temples. It was a normal part of worship in Corinth to engage in this kind of sexual sin. And so it was quite literally a form of idolatry. But don’t you think that actually in our current cultural moment, the link Paul makes here between idolatry and sexual sin speaks with a particular relevance to our own age as well? After all, the politics of sexual identity dominates the nightly news, doesn’t it? Even dictates the outcome of elections. Sex is entertainment on our television screens. It is a marketing tool in our advertisements. Pornography is epidemic and Christians who adhere to Biblical norms for human sexuality are being hounded out of the public square and penalized for believing what the church has confessed for two millennia. Sex is just as much an idol today in our age as it was in the Corinthians. So it’s very useful to understand that the sex obsession in Paul’s day and in ours is in fact a form of idolatry, of false worship.
Depth of Sin
The second thing to notice about this list is the way that Paul speaks about the vices that he mentions. He doesn’t actually name the sins; he names people who are defined by those sins. He doesn’t talk about sexual immorality, does he? He talks about “the sexually immoral.” He doesn’t talk about greed; he talks about “the greedy.” He doesn’t talk about fraud; he talks about “swindlers.” You see, sin is so very dangerous, eternally dangerous as Paul points out, precisely because it is a matter of much more than mere behavior. It is in fact a matter of identity. It’s not skin-deep. Sin goes right to the roots of who we are. Paul is telling us that while we believe and we tell ourselves the reason we pursue these things is because we think they’ll make us free, Paul is actually telling us the contrary is true. The sin that we love and pursue and make idols of, in the end, actually enslave us. They come to dominate us and to define us. We become unrighteous. We become “greedy, revilers, swindlers, adulterers, homosexuals.” It’s not a problem of activity, behavior merely. It is a problem of identity. Which means, we are much, much than we realize, as the saying goes. We are much worse than we realized. Our sin problem goes all the way to the roots of who we are. It’s not just a problem of what we do.
And that is why the kingdom of God excludes human beings who are defined by their sin, who are enslaved by sin because sin is an identity problem. If you'll look at verse 9 again, in the original Greek there's an interesting sentence structure. It's difficult to translate into English without it sounding like Yoda is speaking with a verb in the wrong place! But in the original Greek, the word "unrighteous" in verse 9 and the word "God" are right next to one another to highlight the contrast. Here's the real problem, you see. The unrighteous and God stand utterly alienated from one another. They are incompatible. The sentence would read something like, "Do you not know that the unrighteous, God's kingdom will not inherit." The unrighteous and God are incompatible. Sin excludes us from the kingdom of God. Paul wants us to understand if we think we don't have a sin problem, after all, that sin can be accommodated and indulged and pursued, well then, Paul wants us to understand the truth is, we have an insurmountable God problem, an insurmountable God problem. We will be excluded from the kingdom of God. [G2] So there’s a warning here; a sober warning here. Isn’t there? “Do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God?”
Reminder of Grace
There’s also a wonderful reminder. Would you look at verse 11 with me please? “Such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.” It seems their Gospel amnesia led the Corinthians to forget not just the danger that sin exposed them to; it also led them to forget the radical transformation that grace brings. “Such were some of you,” he reminds them. The sins he listed, once defined them. They were these things. That’s actually very much how our society tends to think today, isn’t it? One of the distinctive cultural motifs of our age – the emphasis is all on how we self-identify. And there’s a kernel of truth in that cultural motif. The issue here really is about identity. But it’s not the identity we invent or discover or choose for ourselves. The issue here actually is the identity given to us either by the sin that enslaves us or the Gospel that sets us free.
The Corinthians, it seems, continued to define themselves by what they once were instead of who they now are in Christ. Their sin continued to dominate the way they thought about their identity, not Jesus. But Paul is emphatic here, isn’t he? “Such were some of you.” When you became a Christian, your dominating, enslaving sin no longer rules in your life. It no longer defines who you are. Its mastery was broken and you were set free. You are not now, believer in Jesus, you are not now who you once were by the grace of God. Praise the Lord that that is true. You are not who you once were. When you define yourself by your old sin, your old life, you’re actually handing weapons to the enemy of your soul to use against you. When you continue to define yourself as a “gay Christian” or a “drunk Christian” or an “angry Christian” you make sin a modifier of grace. You are saying, “Yes, I’m a Christian, but my sin modifies it all. I continue to be mastered by it. It continues to play a role that the Bible says it simply does not any longer.” That is a lie, a deception, that Paul is calling the Corinthians and us to avoid. Jesus is Lord in your life. You are not who you were. “If anyone is in Christ, he is” – a what? You can answer me if you want. The ceiling will not fall on you! “If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has gone and the new has come.” You are not who you were. Time to start living in light of your new identity in Jesus Christ.
You Were Washed
Now sometimes when we struggle to shake off our past, it is because of a faulty understanding of the nature of Christian conversion. We tend to think that we are Christians because we chose for ourselves to come to Jesus Christ. We made it happen. When Paul lists those sins, and then he says in verse 11, “Such were some of you,” he does not say, does he, he does not say, “But you washed yourself. You sanctified yourself. You justified yourself.” If that were true, it might be legitimate for us to wonder day after day whether or not the Jesus that is offered in the Gospel is the one by whom I will define and identify myself, whom I will choose to love and follow and serve or will it be my sin. The jury is out which it will be. But that’s not the truth at all. No, the truth is, you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified. God, in sovereign grace, broke into the midst of your slavery to sin and He set you free, He washed you clean, He set you apart for a life of holiness and joy in His service. He counted you righteous in His sight because the righteousness of Christ was reckoned to you and you received it as a gift by faith alone. He did it, once and for all. The verb tenses there are important. They mean that each of these things happened at a definitive point, once and for all, settled in the past. “You were washed, you were sanctified, that is, you were set apart and consecrated to a holy life. You were justified, never to be repeated, never being able to be lost. Clean. Clean in the sight of God in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ.” Because of Jesus, you are clean. That’s who you really are. That’s who you really are.
Come as You Are
Now that’s helpful for two reasons. First, it’s helpful because it tells us that there is no one beyond the reach of grace. Some of you today hearing this message may wonder if your sin excludes you from all possibility of being welcomed by Jesus Christ. You feel the bite of it. Your shame is real, overwhelming. “He wouldn’t want me! Look at me! Look what I’ve done! Look who I’ve been! Look how I’ve treated others. Look how I’ve treated myself. No way Jesus would want me.” Read verse 11 again. “Such were some of you.” Swindlers, crooks, thieves, homosexuals, idolaters. The Corinthian church was full of them. First Presbyterian Church is full of them. The kingdom of heaven is full of them.
Now there are no idolaters, there are no sexually immoral people in heaven, but heaven is full of people who once were; who once were. “Such were some of you.” There is hope for the worst of us in Jesus Christ. He loves to take guilty sinners and make them clean. He loves to wash you clean. So come to Jesus dirty! Come to Jesus ashamed! Come to Jesus fearful! Come to Jesus with your sin intact and let Him do it all. He will wash you so that, though you feel filthy, He will make you clean. He will sanctify you so that where once you felt that you were utterly enslaved to your sin, He will set you apart for a life that runs on an entirely different set of principles, along a different set of tramlines, heading in a different direction pleasing to Him at last. Where your guilt dominated you, blotted out your horizon, you were so ashamed, He will robe you with the righteousness of Jesus Christ Himself, as though Christ were to take off His own garments and wrap them around you covering your filthy rags with the beauty of His own obedience. So that in the heavenly throne room, God will look at you and not see your sin but see you shining with the radiance of His own Son. He loves to do that for sinners, guilty sinners. There’s no one beyond the reach of the grace of Jesus Christ, so come, guilty sinner, and find a welcome in Him. It's helpful for guilty, shameful, fearful, broken sinners. There’s a welcome for you in Jesus.
God Will Change You
It’s also helpful for the believers, like the Corinthians, who feel that who they were is who they must always be. You ever feel like that? That tomorrow will be the same as yesterday. That the sin that has tripped you up and characterized you and defined you will always trip you up and characterize and define you. It is not so. “Such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified.” Not only will Jesus forgive, He will change you. He will change you, so that tomorrow, by His grace, you will not be who you are today. He will make you like Himself. There is hope for you nowhere else but in the Gospel. Sin enslaves you, defines you, dominates you, but Jesus Christ gives you a new identity. He makes you a new creature and gives you a hope and a tomorrow that is bright and beautiful, with His character beginning to shine from your life. So turn, whether you’re a Christian or not today, turn away from yourself and the wretched filth of your sin to Jesus Christ. Let Him wash you. Let Him set you apart for His service and robe you with His perfect righteousness.
Let’s pray together.
Our Father we confess to You that we sometimes allow our besetting sins to fill the whole of our horizon line. We can see nothing else but our failure. We wonder that we will never be other than we are now, that our fight with sin is unwinnable. Help us to remember the truth. We already are not who we were as we trust in Jesus and tomorrow we will not be who we now are. He is at work in us to make us like Him. And those of us who are not Christians, we pray for them now. We ask that You would show them that the real issue in their life is that sin, that perhaps they believe right now is setting them free, is enslaving them and will one day exclude them forever from Your kingdom. They have a terrible God problem. But show them, show them that there is hope for them too, that they can be made clean. And would You draw them even now, this morning, that now might be a pivot point in their life and draw them to bend the knee to Christ that He would wash them and set them apart and declare them righteous at the bar of heaven’s justice, now and forever. For we ask it in Jesus’ name, amen.
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