I have come to enjoy these lists of aberrant behaviors in the Scriptures, because they provide me with a wonderful opportunity to promote my self righteousness. If you are anything like me, you have probably already satisfied yourself that like me, you have probably already satisfied yourself, that like me, you are not on this list, either, and we can all heave a great sigh of relief because we’re all in pretty good shape spiritually and in no danger of missing out on the blessings of eternity. I like it that I’m not on the list, and I’m betting that all of you are pretty glad that you’re not on the list either. That list is full of the kinds of people that we don’t like, don’t want anywhere near us, and certainly don’t want in our church. Twice, in verses nine and ten the Apostle Paul writes that none of these kinds of people have any inheritance in the Kingdom of God. And so the language is pretty strong. These people are “out”, and some of us have come to the conclusion that because we are not on the list, that we are “in”. We are certainly much better people than that, and so therefore we deserve the blessings of eternity.
Unfortunately, the doo-doo in which we walk is just as offensive to God as the paths that these flagrant sinners tread. Just because we are not fornicators, idolaters, adulterers, male prostitutes, sodomites, thieves, greedy people, drunkards, revilers and robbers, does not mean that we will automatically inherit the Kingdom of God.
The Apostle says something that I find rather frightening at the very beginning of verse nine. He says, “Do you not know that wrongdoers will not inherit the Kingdom of God? Do not be deceived!” Oops. Busted. I have this terrible suspicion that I just might be a wrongdoer. I just might have done something wrong once or twice in my life or once or twice already this morning. Yeah, I’m pretty sure I’m a wrongdoer, and as the Apostle Paul indicates, wrongdoers will not inherit the Kingdom of God. So it seems like the list in verses nine and ten is a bit longer than it might first appear, and there I am, right at the top of the list! I’m not sure that my self righteousness is going to be able to help me all that much. It seems as though I am already lumped into this list of people, who until a few moments ago, were people with whom I was convinced I had not one iota in common. And now, here I am, right at the very top of the list, and sin mates with some of the baddest people I can think of. It turns out that I have everything in common with everyone on this list, because I am a sinner. There is no room for self righteousness, even in a comparative sense. I think sometimes we like to play the comparative self righteousness card from time to time, but unfortunately, the Scriptures do not provide us with one of those things. There’s no such thing.
So, is it all bad news? Not quite. Verse eleven contains our only hope if we would like to escape the self righteousness trap. The Apostle Paul says of the folks on this list, “And this is what some of you used to be. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and in the Spirit of our God.” That’s stunning, don’t you think? These people are in the church! They’re members of the Christian Church in Corinth. And they’ve joined the church, because they’ve had a transforming experience with Jesus Christ. God has done something in their lives, that has made them into something that they have never been before. God has made them into his children. Once they were self righteous, fornicators, idolaters, adulterers, male prostitutes, sodomites, thieves, the greedy, drunkards, revilers and robbers. But now, because of their encounter with Jesus Christ, these folks are members of Jesus’ church, and inheritors of the Kingdom of God.
And Paul says that this transformation took place because they were washed, they were sanctified and they were justified.
And it will do us good to spend a moment with those three things, because they are three things that God does on our behalf, that we have absolutely no part whatsoever in. This is God’s work, not ours. When we have an encounter with Jesus Christ, God’s perspective on us changes completely. God sees us in a completely new and different light. God does not see us as self-righteous, fornicators, idolators, adulterers, male prostitutes, sodomites, thieves, the greedy, drunkards, revilers and robbers. God’s sees us a people who were once these things in his long, forgotten past. From God’s perspective, we have been washed, cleaned up, sin scrubbed away, we’ve been sanctified; that means that the unholy has undergone a transformation that makes it absolutely holy, and we’ve been justified, which is a big favorite with me, because when we are justified, God becomes our defender. God says to anyone, and maybe to us in particular, “No, you can speak no evil against this person. I have washed their sins away, I have made them holy. They are mine, and from my perspective, they have been recreated into my glorious image, and there is no one who can bring any shame upon them. That’s what being justified is all about. God has made us all worthy inheritors of his kingdom. And there is nothing that can change that. Especially not a self righteous human being. That’s God’s perspective on all who have had an encounter with Jesus Christ, and we are forbidden to mess with it. We don’t have the power to change it anyway. We can never undo what God has done.
So…now the hard questions. Paul makes it very clear in this passage that all of the folks on this list were once these things. He says, “And this is what some of you used to be.” And Paul, is of course taking God’s perspective in this whole matter, on account that that’s what he’s writing about. So from God’s perspective, all of this aberrant behavior stuff is in the past. It’s gone, it’s forgotten. But did it go away? Did all of the people on this list stop, somehow miraculously, from doing and being all of these things? In some cases, it is absolutely possible. Never underestimate the power of God to transform lives. Some of these people may simply have stepped away from their formerly destructive lifestyles and stepped in to a way of life that immediately brought honor and glory to God. Others, most likely entered into a long hard struggle to square their lives with the demands of the Gospel. And we know this, because most of us realize that we’re into a long hard struggle to square our lives with the demands of the Gospel, and that we have a very long way to go. Very few of us were fortunate enough to have our lives instantly transformed. For most of us, it is a life-long project.
And so, in the first century church, as in the twenty first century church, there were people who still weren’t showing a whole lot of transformation, even though they’d been redeemed. This is a picture of the Christian Church throughout all of history. God sees the church as perfectly redeemed, all washed up, all made holy, and all justified. We see the Christian church through the lenses of our own broken eyes. And that can make for a pretty exciting church sometimes, especially when we get a bit self righteous.
And so for example’s sake, Paul picks the practice of visiting prostitutes as something that ought not be done. Visiting prostitutes was quite popular, even among Christians in the first century, because it provided folks with all of excitement that sexuality could provide without any of the responsibility that it required. But surprise, surprise, the Apostle Paul isn’t really spending verses 12 through 20 talking about how we ought not to be visiting prostitutes. Verses 12 through 20, instead, are an argument that Paul is putting forth about how we ought to be enhancing our intimacy with God. These verses, when we read them carefully, have very little to do with visiting prostitutes, and everything to do with enhancing the intimacy in our relationship with God.
You see, sometimes we’d rather have a relationship with God that mimics the kind of relationship that some folks have with prostitutes. We want all of the fun and all of the feel-good sensations, but we don’t want any of the responsibility.
Which brings us back full circle. There’s a ton of power in the words, “And this is what some of you used to be.” We need to start seeing ourselves and all others in the church in the same way that God sees us. Really, it is the only way we can be the church. We can’t keep assigning people to broken places just because they don’t seem to be as transformed as we are. Doing that sort of thing puts us at the top of the list of aberrant behaviors, because self righteousness is an unredeemed sin that we won’t allow God to wash, sanctify and justify, because we get so much satisfaction out of it.
Instead, let’s start living as God would have us live. Let’s lay hold of the truth that we have been washed, we have been sanctified and we have been justified, and that this is what we have in common with our brothers and sisters and seat mates. Yes, it is our ongoing sin that puts us on the list, but it is God who asks with a loud and thunderous voice, “What list?”