So I'm reading the Apostle Paul the other day, and he's on a pretty good rant against some church folk in a town called Corinth. I won't get into all the details, but at least a part of what he is going after is their non-kingdom-like behavior. They are willfully sinning, in some pretty awful ways (check it out for yourself in 1 Corinthians 1-5), and toward the end of this particular rant, it feels like he shouts:
...do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God?
[note: this should terrify you]
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. (1 Corinthians 6:9–10, English Standard Version)
A couple of reactions (resolution to come further down)...
My first reaction. Paul is clear: the proclamation of the good news of the kingdom of God includes a clarity about what kingdom behavior looks like for those who are getting in.
You see, someday King Jesus is coming back, and he is going to finish what he started on his first trip here. It is then that the kingdom of God will come in its fulness, perfection, and completeness. There will be a new heavens and a new earth. It is going to be the way it ought to be, everything we desire and far more than we can imagine. All when the King comes again - come quickly, King Jesus!
But lest you be decieved, not everyone gets into that consummated kingdom. People who zealously pursue everything which is opposed to the values of the kingdom will not inherit the kingdom. And the reason I think Paul is leveling this warning to the church at Corinth is because there are people who are going to church, but they are not the church. Just because you are in a garage doesn't mean you are a car.
So he waves the smelling salts of kingdom proclamation under their noses to wake them up to kingdom realities. "Examine yourselves, to see whether you are in the faith. Test yourselves." The kingdom of God demands a certain kind of living.
My second reaction: Have you ever met a (supposed) Christian who has ripped this little rant from its context and leveled it against those outside the church? As in,
"Hey, you, you there, having sex with multiple partners...you there, chasing after money and possessions...you there, sleeping with everyone except your wife...and, you over there, in the back, the one regularly acting on your same-sex attraction... oh, and you over there, I haven't missed you, stealing from your employer...or you, the one constantly trying to earn more, can't think of anything else but a bigger paycheck and more bling...and you, yeah you, the one who should really look into the local AA chapter...y'all know you are not getting in, right?! Your path is greased, and it's headed straight to hell."
It's as if they are positively pleased that someone is lost, doesn't know the way, and is going to get what is coming to them.
OK, hold those thoughts for a moment as we keep reading Paul, 'cause his rant ain't over...
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 Co 6:11).
Let's resolve that first reaction (from above) with what Paul just did there: He puts the mirror in front of the Corinthians and reminds them of their roots. Their lives were marked by the non-kingdom-of-God behavior he has just listed, and as such, they were outside the kingdom. They were in real trouble.
But that is their past-tenseness. They are no longer those people, so they need to stop acting like it. It is time to act like kingdom-of-God people in their present-tenseness. Such behavior will flow from dwelling on their present standing because of the past acts of God:
- They were washed, so they are now clean.
- They were sanctified, so they are now set apart, holy, to do good works.
- They were justified, so they are now declared legally righteous in the sight of the Father.
And to seal the deal, this all happened in the name of the Master, Jesus, the King (of the kingdom), and by Spirit of God himself!
Paul is saying their roots are not their roots anymore. They have been transplanted into a new way, so remember those roots. Live in the kingdom way.
And let's resolve that second reaction (from above): What he just did also keeps those inside the kingdom from a self-righteous reaction to the state of those outside of the kingdom.
"Such were some of you."
We too were once outside the kingdom. We were once those who - because of our lostness, because of our deadness, because of our blindness - were dirty, separated, condemned, and would not inherit the kingdom of God. But someone came along and spoke the good news of the kingdom, and in the name of the King, and by the Spirit, we (and everything) were changed.
So jettison any self-righteousness, for we were all, every one of us, once, the same.
And we all, every one of us, will inherit the kingdom of God, the same.
And [Jesus] called the twelve together and gave them power and authority over all demons and to cure diseases, and he sent them out to proclaim the kingdom of God and to heal. (Lk 9:1–2, ESV)