At the very end of this section, Paul begins to talk about how Christians must then live. He uses strong words. We have such a temptation to water them down because we believe in the doctrine of justification by faith. It is a great, foundational doctrine and we do not want to mix in works with justification. But notice what Paul says: “Do you not know that the wicked will not inherit the kingdom of God?” He did not say, “The ‘unjustified’ will not inherit the kingdom of God,” but “the wicked,” those who are wicked, those who act wickedly. Then he spells it out: “Do not be deceived. Neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor male prostitutes, nor homosexual offenders nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor swindlers will inherit the Kingdom of God.” He first lists the unquestionable sins, the ones with which they would agree, just the way we do. Of course, idolaters won’t get into heaven: they worship false gods. The same goes for adulterers, male prostitutes, homosexual offenders, and the like. There they find no argument. But then he begins to touch upon sins like cheating and wronging one another, sins of which they were guilty. So it is here that he gets them.
You might wonder whether this conflicts with the fact that we are justified by faith alone. Paul is not being contradictory here. Rather, he just sees a truth that we tend to overlook. The truth is simply this: there is no justification without regeneration. Nobody is justified by faith who is not also born again. Those who are born again, by definition, have a new nature. It is the nature of God. They will begin to grow in righteousness and live in a way that repudiates such sins. You will say, “Can’t a Christian lie?” Yes, unfortunately, Christians do lie. “Can Christians sometimes swindle one another?” Yes, they do. That is the problem he is writing about here.
What he is saying is that such sins cannot be the pattern of your life if you call yourself a Christian, because if you continue to live this way, you are really no Christian. You are not born again. You are not justified. But he assumes that those to whom he is writing are truly born again, so he expects something better of them. He reminds them that some of them formerly lived in such sins. But now their status is different. They have been changed. They were washed. They were sanctified. You were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.
People have looked at those phrases ending with “washed, sanctified, justified,” and said, “Maybe Paul is getting it backwards. Isn’t it true that justification, Christ’s righteousness imputed to us, comes before sanctification, the process of becoming Christ-like?” What Paul is talking about is three different ways of looking at the subject of sin. When he says, “You are washed from sin,” he is speaking about sin’s defilement. You were dirty, but now you are washed clean. When he talks about sanctification, he is talking about sin’s estrangement. Sin separates us from God. But now we are sanctified and separated unto him. When he talks about justification, he is speaking of sin’s guilt. You were guilty before the bar of God’s justice, but God, the great Judge of all, has declared you righteous through the work of Jesus Christ.
You need to examine yourself to see whether that describes you. Have you been washed? Have you been sanctified? Have you been justified? They go together. You can’t have one without the other. Make your calling and election sure because nothing is more important in all of this life. Then secondly, if you have been washed and justified and sanctified–if you are one who has been forgiven everything, live a life worthy of Christ who gave everything for us.