In this chapter Paul continues his strong teaching about sexual immorality. But since in chapter 5 he had been talking about the church meeting and taking action to excommunicate the unrepentant member, he continues with another problem existing in the Corinthian church -- not understanding the authority of the church and its leaders to settle matters between members. So Paul tackles that issue first, and then returns later in the chapter to strong warnings about sexual immorality.
Inherit the Kingdom of God (6:9)What does, "inherit the kingdom of God" mean? It is similar to what we mean when we say (rather imprecisely), "go to heaven." Consider the following New Testament passages that use this concept:
"Flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God, nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable." (15:50)
"I tell you the truth, at the renewal of all things, when the Son of Man sits on his glorious throne ... everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or children or fields for my sake will receive a hundred times as much and will inherit eternal life." (Matthew 19:28-29)
The Parable of the Sheep and the Goats: "Then the King will say to those on his right, 'Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world' .... Then they will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life." (Matthew 25:34, 46)
"Now a man came up to Jesus and asked, 'Teacher, what good thing must I do to get eternal life?'" (Matthew 19:16). Also, "A certain ruler asked him, 'Good teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?'" (Luke 18:18)
It's hard to escape the conclusion that the phrase "inherit eternal life" means to receive salvation and eternal life -- as opposed to eternal punishment -- at the Last Judgment.
Just to point out that Paul's teaching here is not an isolated instance, we see something very similar in his Letter to the Galatians when comparing the works of the flesh to the fruit of the Spirit:
"The acts of the sinful nature are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like. I warn you, as I did before, that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God." (Galatians 5:19-21)
Paul is saying that if you continue in gross sin, without repenting and attempting to turn away from it, you won't go to heaven. Period. End of story.
Forgiveness and Cleansing for Sin (6:11)But Lord, I'm tempted by sin and sometimes give in. Then I feel awful and ask for forgiveness and cleansing. Does that mean that since I fall, I won't go to heaven either? That I'm only saved as long as I don't sin? No! Thank God, Jesus died for all our sins -- those committed before we put our trust in him, and those committed after we received him! The Scripture is clear. Let me quote from the Apostle John.
"If we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all sin. If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness. If we claim we have not sinned, we make him out to be a liar and his word has no place in our lives.
My dear children, I write this to you so that you will not sin. But if anybody does sin, we have one who speaks to the Father in our defense -- Jesus Christ, the Righteous One. He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world." (1 John 1:7-2:2)
Okay, we've established that there is forgiveness for sin. Even if you slip, you can be forgiven if you repent and call on the Lord. Hallelujah!
In the congregation at Corinth -- and I daresay in your own congregation -- there were a lot of people who had been into some pretty gross sin. Paul says something wonderfully freeing:
"And that is what some of you were. 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." (6:11)
Let's look at each of those words:
"Washed" is apolouō, "wash something away from oneself, wash oneself," used in imagery of purification and Christian baptism.172 It is used as a figure of baptism in Acts 22:16. We see the noun loutron, "bath, washing" at Ephesians 5:26 and Titus 3:5. Paul is saying: You have been baptized, signifying the washing away of your sins.
"Sanctified" is hagiazō, "consecrate, dedicate, sanctify,173" set apart as holy. You no longer belong to yourself, you now have Jesus as your Lord. You belong to him body, soul, and spirit. As Paul says a few sentences later, to sum up his teaching, "You are not your own; you were bought at a price" (6:19b-20a).
"Justified" is a legal term, dikaioō, "to render a favorable verdict, vindicate ... justify, treat as just." There's another connotation as well: "to cause someone to be released from personal or institutional claims that are no longer to be considered pertinent or valid, make free/pure," in the New Testament in the passive voice, "be set free, made pure."174 In other words, whereas we were condemned under God's law, we have been freed from that law and declared just and righteous in God's sight. Hallelujah!
These words are in the Aorist tense in Greek, of an event which took place at some definite point in the past. Paul is saying that you are not who you were. Many of you Corinthians were gross sinners, but now you are new persons in Christ. In other contexts, Paul exhorts people not to continue as they were, but to "put on" their new identity in Christ Jesus (Ephesians 4:24; Romans 13:12, 14; Colossians 3:10; Galatians 3:27). As Paul writes to the Ephesian church:
"You were taught, with regard to your former way of life, to put off your old person, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires; to be made new in the attitude of your minds; and to put on the new person, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness." (Ephesians 4:22-24)