Sermon: “But You Were Washed” (1 Corinthians 6:9–11)
Listen to the Sermon:
9 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, 10 nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. 11 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.1 Corinthians 6:9-11, ESV
Our culture is obsessed with the issue of identity. Now when I say that our culture is obsessed with the issue of identity, it’s not my word. It’s actually the title in a New York Times article where they identified 2015 as the year we obsessed over identity. That same year on Dictionary.com, when you think about all the words people are looking up, they named the word of the year that year as identity. In the last four years this issue of identity has only ramped up.
One of the interesting things you can do on Google is to see the frequency in which various words showed up over the course of time. For example, if you plot the word justification against the word identity, believe it or not justification was used twice as often as the word identity about two hundred years ago. At some point they crossed a little bit and then in the last twenty of thirty years identity has just sky-rocketed.
Our culture is obsessed with these issues of identity for lots of reasons. Our identity is one of the most personal important things in our lives. Think about how much destruction someone can bring into your life by identity theft. By taking your identity, by putting your good name against the credit that they want to ring up. You can be dealing with that for years. Identity theft is a very serious issue.
Perhaps you have seen a second step, a more personal violation of identities, through deep fakes. Technology has increased to such a degree that they can now fake videos as though they were real, of real people. For example, you can watch videos of President Ronald Regan and President Barack Obama saying things they never actually said from their chairs in the Oval Office. Just through technology they can impersonate them. You can fake their voices and faces so that you can get them to say anything you want. They can do that with your as well. That is such a personal violation and we all recognize that because it hits at the core of our identity, our reputation.
Just as much as our identity can be destroyed, so also our identities are incredibly powerful creatively. We think about the phrases that have been thrown around recently, “I want to identify in this way or that”, or to engage in identity construction. There is a thrilling, even intoxicating level of power and possibility to say that I can remake myself in whatever image I wish to be.
Now in part the Bible affirms, God through his word affirms, just how important identity is. The Bible talks a lot about identity. The Bible says who you are, who you are identified with, is the most crucial question you will ever ask.
But the Bible comes at this questions, as you might expect, very differently than the way our culture does. The Bible entirely rejects the idea that blessedness, happiness, satisfaction, joy, comfort, peace can come by us constructing our own identities for ourselves.
The way the Bible comes at it is like this, to ask this question, “What if infinite happiness will not come by you orchestrating and constructing your identity to be whatever you want it to be.” One of the most frequent messages I heard growing up in the culture was that I could be whatever I wanted to be. What if that’s not true? What if infinite happiness only comes by embracing the identity that God has for you?
In other words, what if infinite happiness doesn’t come from me searching the deceptive recesses of my own heart to try to find where I should go and how I should identify and where I will find happiness? What if instead identity comes from outside of us? From God himself, as revealed in his son Jesus Christ and through his word.
Our big idea this morning as we look at this particular passage is all wrapped up in identity. Our big idea today is this, In Christ, you are not now what you were once.
In other words, if you are in Christ this morning there has been a fundamental change of your identity, a reformation, a transformation. Your identity has been radically changed in Christ so that in Christ you are not now, what you were once. We are going to see three aspects of this.
- Our future inheritance
- Our old immorality
- Our new identity
Our Future Inheritance
Paul asks a very serious question in verse nine. Now we have seen this question again and again. It means you do know, but somehow you’ve forgotten. Do you not know this crucial issue? Then he asks his question.
9 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, 1 Corinthians 6:9, ESV
Paul is going to define for us who these unrighteous people, the kinds of sins that their lives are characterized by in the next sentence starting in this verse and on into the next verse. I just want to draw your attention to the fact that this word unrighteous doesn’t show up all that often in this form of the word in the New Testament. It does show up a few verses earlier in chapter six verse one. Paul said there,
When one of you has a grievance against another, does he dare go to law before the unrighteous instead of the saints1 Corinthians 6:1, ESV
In other words if you are going to deal with these disputes, are you going to deal with unbelievers who practice the unrighteous that I’m about to identify here in verses nine and ten. Do you drag fellow believers before those people instead of before believers in the church?
So now Paul is talking about why this is such a big deal. Do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God. So there are two words, well a word and a phrase that we need to identity. What does it mean to inherit and what is the kingdom of God?
Let’s start with the idea of inheritance. To inherit Leon Morris defines as, “Entering into full possession.” Often when we are talking about inheriting we are talking about a legal sense, a strict sense. Where someone has died and because of their death and because of the provisions of their will you inherit something. You enter into possession of something. It doesn’t necessarily have to do with the death of a father or something like that. This simply means to receive.
What Paul is saying is that we have entered into the kingdom of God in part, we have taken possession of the kingdom of God in part. We don’t completely possess it just yet. So then we have to ask the question, then what is the kingdom of God?
Well the kingdom of God is God’s reign and God’s rule. You probably have a very simple definition of the kingdom of God already memorized. We recited it by memory earlier this morning. It comes from the Lord’s Prayer from Matthew 6:10. Jesus prays, “thy kingdom come” to his Father. He gives a simple definition of what it would mean for the kingdom to come, “your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.”
In heaven God’s will holds absolute sway. He gives a command and it is obeyed instantly. Here on earth, well as you probably know, not so much. When God gives a command it is rebelled against, even those of us who love the Lord. We don’t understand everything. God’s will is not fully done here as it is in heaven.
Which means that we still live in a world that is characterized by suffering and by sin. We haven’t taken full possession yet of the kingdom of God. But notice that Paul phrases this as a warning. Do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? There’s a warning here. He’s saying don’t miss this, if you don’t pay attention to this you may miss out on the most important thing in all of heaven and earth.
There’s a common theme in most stories. Maybe you read story books or maybe you watch some television shows where you’ve seen this sort of things that come to pass. There’s a common plot line that if you’ve seen in once you’ve seen it a thousand times. It’s the plot where a common person all of a sudden discovers that he or she is royalty. They are just going along their ordinary life and all of a sudden they realize that there is an element of their identity that they were previously aware of. Somehow in some lineage they in fact stand to inherit a kingdom.
If you’ve ever seen these movies or read these books, they are usually comical because it takes a little while for this common person to learn how to live as royalty. They have to be taught how to talk, how to walk, how to stand, how to sit, which fork to use at which course of the royal feasts. There’s a lot of humor in these sorts of things because it takes some time for people to get into their minds and for it to affect their behavior of what it means to live as royalty.
That story is not new, it’s the ancient story of the Scriptures. When we come to the Bible we discover that through faith our Father is almighty God himself, the creator of heaven and earth. When we come to the Bible we discover that we have a brother who has entered into a daring rescue mission for us and for our salvation. Where he did not even stop at shedding his own blood and laying down his life for us. Our brother died for us on the cross.
The Lord Jesus fully the Son of almighty God who took upon himself a nature like ours in every respect except sin. Who died in our place so that we could come to inherit the kingdom. It wasn’t our Father who died, but our brother so we could inherit the kingdom.
What we read in the scripture is that God himself sends his Spirit; from the throne room so that the Spirit comes into our lives to teach us. First how to relate to the Father, then to pray with us in groanings too deep for words, to cry out to our Father. That’s a radical shift in mindset and identity and we have to learn how to do all of those things as befits the sons and daughters of the king of kings.
We have entered into an identity transformation. Understand though, that what Paul is saying is not just a promise to encourage us. He’s giving us a warning. He’s alerting us to the threat that as good as this news is, we may forfeit it. The unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God. Our inheritance is in jeopardy.
So who are these unrighteous?
Well, Paul threw out the rest of his letters and here he’s given us a list of sins that are characterized by unrighteousness. He’s not saying that committing these sins is unrighteousness, but he’s talking about something different. He’s talking about ongoing and unrepentant practice of these sins.
Our Old Immorality
First we looked at our future inheritance and now we turn at the end of verse nine and into verse ten and encounter old immorality. We are in Christ this is what we used to be the old morality what we used to be characterized by, it is not what we are now our new identity in Christ. What he says earlier, “do you not know?” Now he says do not be deceived, don’t let the world tell you something. Don’t let your deceptive heart tell you something different, don’t be deceived.
Then he lists a group of people again and lists the same warning none of these people, he says if you look at the end of verse ten, will inherit the kingdom of God. He starts by saying the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God. Then he says none of these people will inherit the kingdom of God. Deadly serious of life-and-death significance.
So Paul lists here a vice list. We see these at several points in the New Testament there were various sins that are listed in rapid succession. Now the vices listed here, most of them come from chapter 5:11 where Paul gave a shorter vice list than he now names in 1st Corinthians 6:9 -10. But in 5:11, Paul only named six sins, now he increases the number of sins listed by four to bring the total to ten.
If you know anything about the Bible, ten is the number of completion. It’s saying this is not an exhaustive list, but there’s something of completion to this list to think about all the various ways that people can live their lives in order to be characterized by unrighteousness.
Now as we look at this list, there are essentially three categories that we can see in all of these turns fall into. The first is general immorality, the second is greater covetousness, and the third sexual immorality. Let’s look at these.
In the general immorality category there are three terms, all of these appeared in the previous list. The first one is in verse nine, it is this idea of idolatry those who give themselves to the worship of other gods to try to find their security their joy, their peace, their satisfaction in those other guys. Those maybe the kinds of gods that are created physically out of wood or stone or precious metals and worshipped in temples, or they may be the kinds of things that we seek satisfaction from in this life that aren’t necessarily statues that we bow down in front of all of those are idolatries. There are physical idolatries and part idolatries. Both are the sins of unrighteousness that can cause us to forfeit the kingdom of God.
In verse ten, the second sin that falls under this category of general morality is drunkards, to abuse substances. Alcohol was fairly prevalent in the ancient world, of course there are a variety of substances that we could have used today. Substance abuse is a sin of unrighteousness that if ongoing and unrepentant will lead one to not inherit the kingdom of God.
Then in verse ten Paul also mentions revilers, again all of the above mentioned in previous text in 5:11. A reviler is someone who is violent or abusive or threatening in their speech or in their conduct. All of these are sins that if left unchecked will keep you from inheriting the kingdom of God. General immorality, three of those terms there.
In the second category, there are also three terms and it has to do with greed and covetousness. The first term under this heading is thieves, in verse ten you see the word thieves. This is a new word and it refers to someone who engages, as Gordon points out, to actual robberies.
The other word we have is also in verse ten, its greedy. This is covetous, a heart that is characterized by an ongoing desire for more and you also have the word swindlers. Greedy and swindlers are both included in 5:11, but thieves is new. A swindler is somebody who doesn’t do an upright robbery, but they are constantly trying to defraud people of things.
So there’s this general immorality category and a greedy covetous category and then there is this third category where there are four terms. Sexual immorality. Now what’s mentioned here is so important that we are going to need to spend another sermon on it. I’m not preaching next week, Edison is, and then I’ll have a week of vacation then I’ll be back on August 18th. Lord willing we will come back to this text because there’s much to be discussed and considered from what this verse teaches us about sexual sins, especially about sexual identities.
This covers both the sins of homosexuality as well as there are some issues in here that tell us something about transgender kind of discussion and we need to consider all of these and we need to consider them carefully and we need to consider them with eyes wide open because our culture has a lot to say about this. These are such serious weighty issues that we need to be instructed by God’s word about how we should think about our identity.
Some of you may be struggling with these things right now and I want to tell you that I don’t want to for a moment to treat this lightly or flippantly because these are things that get to your deepest issues in the core of your life. Often these are bound up in trauma or perhaps past abuse. They’re covered over in shame and pain, so I don’t want to make light of these as we deal with what Paul is saying here. I want to be clear that the way that Bible the considers compassion is by insisting that it is so important to tell the truth.
If you were deceived on this issue, you may miss out on inheriting the kingdom of God. If you were led astray on this issue, this can cause you to forfeit your inheritance that you might have through Jesus. So I want to talk about these things and touch on them and give you the general picture of what Paul is doing in this passage as he talks about the radical transformation of our identity. To avoid doing these words a disservice, we’re going to try to come back to this Lord willing in a few weeks.
Let’s look at these words as they appear in the text. The first word that deals with sexual immorality is that first word, neither the sexually immoral. This is where we get our word pornography from. It’s a word that literally refers to some kind of fornication to sexual activity of someone who is unmarried.
The next word is in verse nine, adulterers. This is a new word, it wasn’t in chapter 5:11, but it’s pretty straightforward. Outside of their marriage they engage in sexual activity. The next few words, they weren’t included in chapter 5:11, but they are two words that are translated together if you’re reading from the ESV. They’re translated together with this phrase, nor men who practice homosexuality.
There are two words here, the first word means soft or efeminete, it has the idea in the fullest sense the passive partner in a male homosexual act. The second word has to do with the active partner in a male homosexual act. Both of these words together condemn all sorts of same sex sexual activity. But notice the Bible says these are sins, they’re serious sins or sins that can cause you to forfeit your inheritance in the kingdom of Go.
However we should also notice that these sins are in context with many other sins. Many other types of sexual immorality can cause you to forfeit inheriting the kingdom of God. Greed or covetousness can cause you to forfeit inheriting the kingdom of God. Idolatry can, drunkenness can, and so can abusive reviling.
Now what I want to see is whatever you’re struggling with, whether it’s sexual sin or its one of those other sins. All of us should see ourselves somewhere in here, even if it’s only in the kind of heart idolatry that lead us to find our joy our peace and our satisfaction. This condemns all of us, although some might look at this list and say a lot of these words describe me. So if all of us can identify with one or another of these sins the question then is who can be saved?
Our New Identity
Paul says no one who ongoingly, unrepentantly practices any of these things will inherit the kingdom of God. He says that these are our old immoralities, but then he turns the corner. In verse eleven Paul tells us not about our old immorality, but about the change, the transformation, our new identity. That’s the third issue we come to today.
Our new identity in chapter 6:11 Paul says, “and such were some of you.” He is referring to the sins that we discovered in the previous verses, the unrighteousness that can cause someone to not inherit the kingdom of God. Paul says he’s looking at the people in the church at Corinth and he’s saying such were some of you. Some of you sitting in the pews right now were actively, ongoingly, unrepentantly practicing some of these things. These things formally characterized your life. He’s talking to the church. This is who you were once, but this is not who you are now.
You have had an identity transformation so fundamental so deep that you can no longer identify with these old sins, you have a new identity that’s given to you not by your old sins but rather you are identified in Christ. Just as the common Joe and the average Jane who discovers that she is royalty or he is royalty, so you and I Paul says have to learn what we have been brought into. We have to learn that by the spirit of God what it means to walk in the new identity that God has given to us graciously, by faith. So Paul says but you were washed and then it’s redundant in English so we don’t translate it. It says but you were washed, but you were sanctified, but you were justified again and again it is so emphatic. Don’t miss that your life is changed. By the way this is not three stages, but it’s about three simultaneous events in the way that our identity is transferred from our old nature our old unrighteousness to our new identity in Christ.
Let’s look at these words this morning. He says but you were washed. This idea has to do with the cleansing from guilt and pollution. Now this word is not a synonym, not just replacement word, he’s not talking directly about water baptism per say. But when he talks about being washed, he’s talking about the spiritual reality to which baptism points.
We know this because the only other time this word washing is used in the same verb in the same form is in Acts 22:16 where it’s connected to the idea of a baptism. Paul is giving his testimony and talking about when Ananias came to him and Paul was blind and he had just encountered the risen Chist and he didn’t know what to do. Ananias was sent by the Lord Jesus to Paul and he said to him rise and be baptized and wash away your sins calling on his name.
Baptism is what is outward and it is external, it is visible and sensible with water while this washing to which baptism points, inward spiritual invisible. Paul is saying you have been washed your baptism points to this but it is even more than the washing of dirt from the body it’s an appeal to God for a good conscience through Christ Jesus.
As the Apostle Peter puts it in 1st Peter 3, but you are washed, but you were sanctified. The word sanctified means made holy, sometimes the word sanctified means our ongoing growth in grace. All of us are called to work out our sanctification to grow into the holiness without which no one will see the Lord. It’s an ongoing process, and we will never quite arrive in this life.
Sometimes this word is used that way, but not here. There’s also a sense in which our sanctification is one time and it’s complete. That is been taken out of what is common, defiled, polluted using the world and we have been cleansed and purified and washed and made holy set apart for the holy purposes of God. You have been made holy, your new identity is those who are sanctified in Christ Jesus.
As Paul opens this letter in 1st Corinthians 1:2, you’ve been set apart to the holy uses of God himself so don’t go back to those old defiling sin but you are washed but you were sanctified, but you were justified is the third term that Paul uses. This idea of justified refers to the fact that two things we have been number one forgiven of our sins, whatever demerits we have whatever curse or guilt we have incurred because of our sin God forgives it. We’ve been absolved. We’ve been forgiven, because of our justification.
But it’s not just being brought back to a neutral line, we have in Christ Jesus also encountered righteous with him. We are brought from a negative place not only to a neutral place, but we have been counted completely righteous in Jesus Christ. But you were washed, but you were sanctified, but you were justified.
I noticed how this happens in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ. When you’re dealing with the name of Lord Jesus Christ you are dealing with all of him. With his person, with his work, with everything He is and everything he has done for you as the eternal son of God. Though he existed in the form of God, he did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but he laid it aside considering to take upon himself the form of a servant.
Not that he could distance himself from it or separate himself. He veiled it. He didn’t make access to it. He took the form of a servant and died for us in the name of the Lord Jesus. Fully God and fully man who suffered and died in your place for your sins. Therefore you were washed you were sanctified you were justified, and not only in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ but Paul also says and by the spirit of our God.
These are the other two persons of the Trinity by the spirit that is the Holy Spirit and whose Holy Spirit the spirit of our God, that is the Father. We see here all three persons of the Trinity working together, the Father who sent His Son, our Lord Jesus Christ into this world. The Lord Jesus who obeyed fully in this life and laid his life down as a ransom as an atoning sacrifice as a ransom for sin.
Then when Christ ascended into heaven the Father and the Son sent the Spirit into this world to bring us the salvation that Jesus Christ has accomplished. The typical way of separating this is to say that Christ is the one who accomplishes our salvation, but the spirit is the one who applies it and all were sent by the Father himself. We have three distinct persons who engage in one inseparable, indivisible work. The Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit have washed you sanctified you and justified you.
So there are three things that we ought to do in response to this.
- We need to seek first the already not yet kingdom of God and his righteousness. Jesus said, “Seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness and all these things shall be added to you,” in Matthew 6:33. Your hope is bound up in the kingdom of God. If you miss out on this inheritance if you disqualify yourself from this inheritance. If you remain in unrepentant ongoing practice of unrighteous sin and you miss out on inheriting the kingdom of God, understand your eternity will be in misery. It will be in misery because there you will be tormented by the wrath and the curse of God. The wrath of the curse of God that Jesus has already suffered in your place you will have to face that because you rejected the Savior who died that you might be saved.
So brothers and sisters, friends, let us all turn to Jesus Christ in faith. Let us look to him and put our faith in Him he alone. He is the one who can bring us out of our corruptions and defilement and pollutions and unrighteousness to wash us, sanctify us, and justify us by his blood and by the power of the spirit of our God. Seek first the already not yet kingdom of God and his righteousness.
- Put to death the old deeds of the flesh. We will return Lord willing in the coming weeks to these issues of sexual sins that are dealt with here. They’re so important that we need to be instructed carefully and patiently as we listen to God’s word together. I want you to know that I recognize how complicated and painful same sex attraction can be especially when you have christian convictions and you wrestle against those things. Anytime we wrestle against our sins we realize how powerful these things are all the more. It wasn’t hard when we just went along with it but when we fight against sin we recognize were in an all-out war.
Understand I have all the compassion in the world, I have spent extensive time counseling people and leading them in the gospel as they wrestled against and fought against these sins in their lives. But understanding that it is not kind and it’s not loving to allow anyone to think that they can safely remain in an old identities in an old way of life. A minimum even if it’s just confused theology and God is still able to save you out of it, this will rob you of the joy of knowing the full riches of your new identity in Christ.
All of us who struggle with some of these sins, and even though we may have confused theology. God sometimes saves out of bad theology and if you are maybe trying to separate yourself from the activity but confused about where your identity is; it’s possible that God can save you out of that even though you need to grow in that. At minimum you’d be robbed of the joy of knowing the full riches of your new identity in Christ, but that’s not what Paul is wanting to say. That’s in the Lord’s hands.
At most, heed the warning. This may rob you of inheriting the kingdom of God. This may leave you bound in an unrepentant lifestyle. This may leave you too close to the fire so as to be burned. Don’t play with this, don’t toy with, get away from this. The Christian life is never about how close can we get to something but rather how far we can run away from this in Christ Jesus. But if sexual sins are not you are temptation realize everything I just said applies to you as well.
Don’t try to have one foot in one camp and one foot in another. At a minimum you will rob yourself of the joy of knowing your full identity which is now in Christ Jesus, but at most hear the warning of Paul, you may fail to inherit the kingdom of God. I say that seriously, I say that soberly, I say that pleading that that wouldn’t be the case for you. Respond to the gospel, flee immorality of all kinds sexual immorality and all kinds of unrighteousness. It will cause you not to inherit the kingdom of God. Put to death the deeds of the body, follow Jesus wherever he leads you.
- Become who you are now in Christ. All of us are called to grow into our identity we all start from a place of confusion. We all start from a place of not really understanding how to work this out, we don’t know how we’re supposed to relate to the aspects of our own life. We are confused about which fork to use at the royal feast. But our big idea today is that in Christ you are not now what you were once.You are washed but it’s not a carte blanche to do whatever you want, it is a call to live in purity. But you’re safe if I therefore devote yourself to God’s holy purposes for you. He set you apart to his holy purposes, follow him wherever he leads you. But you were justified therefore live in righteousness and pursue justice. You have received a radical identity transformation.
All of us struggle with figuring out where we are and who we are, we have voices pulling against us and we have ideas and old ways of doing things that pull against us and you may be in a state of deep confusion today, that’s okay turn to Jesus. Forsake who you were and turn to Jesus. The warning that stands before us is if you don’t you may never inherit the kingdom of God. But the promise is that for all those who turn from their sins reject their old identities and lifestyles to understand your identity is now found in Jesus and nowhere else, if that is you you are washed you are sanctified and you are justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the spirit of God.
Let’s pray, Lord we need clarity we need to have our thoughts enlightened. The light of the gospel cast on us in a place of our old dark places of our unlovingness, all the way up to sexual immorality. Father we pray that you would lead us to repent from these things to turn these things to recognize that we can have nothing to do with them. Those old immoralities have no part in our new identity. Father all of us wherever we are weak, wherever we stumble, we turn again to the precious blood of Jesus that saves us from all sins and we ask that once again you will be lead us in the gospel to turn from our sin to turn from our old identities. To find identity only Christ, it is in His name we pray. Amen