New life in Christ should be reflected by a new lifestyle because we have been made members of a new kingdom–the Kingdom of God. Paul warned the Corinthians that God’s Kingdom would never belong to the wicked, including those who identified as Christians, but persistently pursued unrighteousness. Alistair Begg cautions us to beware of false teaching that distracts us from the reality of God’s pending judgment and the urgent need for evangelism.
I invite you to take your Bibles, and we’ll turn to 1 Corinthians chapter 6, where we continue our studies here in Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians. And having turned to it—to the Word of the Lord—let us turn in prayer to the Lord of the Word:
Father, we have worshipped you and sought to offer up to you the praise that is due your great and mighty name. And now we come to these solemn moments when we anticipate that you will speak to us through your Word, the Bible. Through the lips of the ordinary, you will bring that which is extraordinary. Through the mouth of the finite, you will bring that which is of infinite wisdom. This is a great mystery. And yet our hearts are humbled before you, and we are expectant that in hearing you speak we might be changed, for the sake of your Son, Jesus, in whose name we ask it. Amen.
The verses before us this morning, and probably this evening as well, are 1 Corinthians 6:9–11. They read as follows:
“Do you not know that the wicked will not inherit the kingdom of God? 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. 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.”
Not only had the believers in the Corinthian church become blasé about a situation which ought to have caused them shame, involving an unsavory and adulterous, immoral relationship which was taking place within their fellowship, but they were also now beginning to flirt with a sorry catalog of sin. And Paul writes to them to remind them that those who have professed to be genuine followers after the Lord Jesus Christ should remove themselves from the framework of that which marked their pre-Christian lives. There was for these people a before, and consequently an after.
He’s written to them very graciously. He calls them “saints” at the beginning of 1 Corinthians, or, if you have the NIV, those who are “sanctified in Christ Jesus,” and those who have been “called to be holy.” He’s not in any doubt about that. Therefore, he’s dreadfully concerned about the incongruity of those who have been called to be holy living unholy lives. And the central thrust of these verses is that their new life will make itself apparent in a new lifestyle. And indeed, where there is no new lifestyle, then we might be caused justifiably to question whether there is actually any new life.
For all of their knowledge and all of their experience, the Corinthians had lost sight of some of the central building blocks of genuine Christian experience. They’d taken their eyes from Christ and placed them upon teachers. They had lost sight of the nature of God’s call to holiness. They were preoccupied with spiritual extravagances and had lost sight of spiritual usefulness. They were proud of being broad-minded, but God wanted them to be distinctive. They were proud of all the number of teachers that they had, but God wanted them to submit to the Lord Jesus Christ.
And in the verses before us, we’re going to notice four factors: first of all, the question that is to be addressed, then the deception that is to be avoided, then the realization that is to be acknowledged, and finally, the transformation that is to be affirmed. I think you’ll find that they’re all there.
The first is clearly there in verse 9. The opening sentence is a question, and it is a question which the Corinthians, and we with them, need to both understand and answer. And here’s the question: “Do you not know that the wicked”—or it may read in your Bible, “the unrighteous”—“will not inherit the kingdom of God?” Or, in Phillips, “Have you forgotten that the kingdom of God will never belong to the wicked?”
Now, we need to do a little bit of background study here, because not all of us immediately understand what we’re referring to when we read this phrase “the kingdom of God.” The kingdom of God is that realm to which the believers now belong in Jesus Christ. It was not always the case; you need to turn to Ephesians chapter 2. The unbeliever does not belong to the kingdom of God. The unbeliever cannot see the kingdom of God nor enter the kingdom of God. Ephesians chapter 2 describes the kingdom to which men and women belong if they do not belong to the kingdom of God: “As for you”—Ephesians 2:1—“you were dead in your transgressions and sins, in which you used to live when you followed the ways of this world and of the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient.”
And Paul writes, now, to the believers in Corinth—those who once belonged to the kingdom of this world, ruled by he whom he refers to as “the prince of the power of the air”—and he says, “You are no longer in this kingdom.” When Jesus came, Luke records for us—4:43—that Jesus appeared “preach[ing] the good news of the kingdom.” Jesus essentially said, “I am the King, and I’m here to establish my kingdom. If you would hear my voice, respond to my words, and bow your knee, then you may follow along with me and become members of my kingdom. You may become kids of the kingdom.”
Now, in John chapter 3, we have one of the classic statements concerning this—one of the most helpful notions as to how we become members of the kingdom. There was a religious man who probably thought that he was already in the kingdom, as do many religious people today. There are not a few, probably, who are present in worship this morning, and it will come as a glaring surprise to you to discover that, according to the terms of definition established by Jesus, you are not, this morning, in the kingdom of God—despite the fact that your upbringing and your religious heritage has told you that you are.
This religious man, Nicodemus, was concerned about these things. He came to Jesus by night, he had questions for him. And Jesus addressed him in John 3:3: “I tell you the truth, unless a man is born again,” or born from above, “he cannot see the kingdom of God.” Man, by nature, does not even see the notion that God has a kingdom. Nicodemus, in a surprising response, says, “How can a man be born when he’s old? Surely he cannot enter a second time into his mother’s womb to be born.” You understand how dramatic was the statement made by Jesus, that Nicodemus could not conceive of this notion of birth except in physical terms. And so Jesus replies again, “I tell you the truth, unless a man is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. Flesh gives birth to flesh”—that’s the way that you’re naturally born, physically born—“but Spirit gives birth to spirit.” That is the way in which people are spiritually born. “You should not be surprised at my saying, ‘You must be born again.’ The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.”
In other words, God moves in people’s lives in ways that are unique to their background, their experience, and their calling. But we need not be in any doubt as to the nature of this new birth experience—despite the fact that the last decade of the media has suggested that there are various possibilities of Christian experience, one of which is a born-again experience, if you would like to opt for that. If, of course, you do not choose the born-again Christian experience, then you could have some of our other meals on the menu. All right?
Now, it seems relatively plausible until we open our Bibles. Because presumably, if we want to be biblical, we want to allow the Bible to dictate to us what we think and believe about those things. So the question is, Is there any other kind of Christian experience save from a born-again Christian experience? Presumably not, if Jesus said the only way you can enter the kingdom of heaven—kingdom of God—was to be born again. If he had said there are five ways to enter the kingdom of God, one of which is being born again, we might have had justifiable reason to believe that there were a number of routes. But since he said there was only one, we’d better listen to what he had to say.
We better further ask the question, What did he possibly mean by that? And Jesus was perfectly clear. We’re the ones who fog it up. In the early verses of John’s Gospel, we read these words: that Jesus “came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him. Yet to all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God.” Now, get this: “Children born not of natural descent.” That’s number one. That’s not how you become a born-again Christian; it is not through genetic patterns. “Nor as a result of human decision”—“Oh, I think I’ll get born again this morning.” “Nor as a result of a husband’s will, but born of God.”
We had zero control over our physical birth, right? And when God brings a man or woman to faith in his Son and places them in the kingdom, ours is the part of amazing discovery. And the only thing that we bring to our discovery of new life in Jesus Christ is the sin from which we need—and acknowledge our need for—saving. So until ever we come to the place where we recognize that we are sinful and need to be saved, that we are dead and cannot make ourselves alive, then we are far from any notion of the kingdom of God, no matter how religious and orthodox and well-heeled we may appear to be.
So, a little phrase here in 1 Corinthians 6—that “the wicked will not inherit the kingdom of God”—demands that we understand the very phraseology that he uses. Unless a man is born again, he cannot see nor enter the kingdom of God.
Nothing defines the identity of believers more characteristically than that we have become members of the sphere in which Jesus rules. That’s the thing about us as Christians. That’s what makes us totally different. We are now members of a whole new kingdom. We may be black or white, we may be rich or poor, we may have come from a religious background or a pagan background, but the thing that unites us is that we have now become under the one King, namely Jesus. So we march to his instructions, we rejoice with the other members of his troops, and we are glad to do his bidding.
But, says Paul, “Have you forgotten that the wicked, the unrighteous, they won’t enter into the benefits of that kingdom?” Why not? Well, because it is a righteous kingdom. It is a kingdom for the righteous. God is righteous. He cannot tolerate to look on sin. Therefore, he cannot have a kingdom full of unrighteous people. Unrighteous and wicked people choose their behavior, and as a result of the behavior that they choose, they exclude themselves. God’s character is perfection. His standards are excellent. Therefore, those who deny his character and who reject his standards, they’re not going to be in his kingdom.
Now, there’s a kind of logic to that, isn’t there? God has a kingdom. It is a righteous kingdom. If you want to be unrighteous, then you won’t be in his kingdom. If you want to live in a wicked way, and pursue a wicked lifestyle, and say you do not believe in God and you want no part in his life, and you want him to have no influence over your life, then just don’t be confused. Those of us who identify with that kind of attitude are excluded from his kingdom. That’s why we read in Ephesians chapter 5 the same expression: “For of this,” says Paul, “you can be sure: No immoral, impure or greedy person … has any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ …. Let no one deceive you with empty words.” In other words, “Don’t let anybody tell you anything differently.”
Now, some of us are sitting here looking at this and saying, “Goodness, gracious, I was greedy this past week. I remember my wife said, ‘Would you like seconds?’ and I said, ‘Seconds? I’d like thirds.’ And now I’m looking down here, and it says, ‘Nobody who’s greedy will inherit the kingdom of God.’ What does that mean?”
Paul is not here talking about isolated acts of unrighteousness. None of us redeemed by Christ and placed in his kingdom will live sinless lives. What he is referring to here is a whole way of life, pursued persistently. An unrighteous life. The kind of life that declares, “I want nothing to do with God. I don’t want him to interfere in my life. And yet, at the same time, I want to live with the notion that I actually belong.” It is the lifestyle, if you like, of the illegal alien. They are dwelling where they shouldn’t be. They do not hold a passport. They are seeking to enjoy the benefits of life there, but they don’t belong. So, says Paul, “Those of you who are merely identifying externally with the things of Christ—who are thinking that by your involvement with the Corinthian church you are somehow absorbed into the kingdom, while at the same time you want to persistently pursue a life of unrighteousness—let me ask you a question,” he says. “Don’t you know that people like that will not inherit the kingdom of God?”
Now, I want to pause just for a moment and ask you to think about this with me for a moment, too. Doesn’t this run absolutely counter to everything that we hear and are called upon to believe in our day? I mean, isn’t this the most bizarre thing that some of you have heard for a while—that God will actually adjudicate about who is in his kingdom and who is not in his kingdom? I mean, haven’t we all been led to believe that God is not that kind of God? God is an absorbing God! Everybody’s in! No matter who they are, no matter what they believe, no matter what they want, we will all be in in the end!
Now, that sounds very plausible, very palatable, to late-twentieth-century thought, because after all, that is the way our relativistic culture has taught us to think. But the question is, Is that what the Bible teaches? And the answer is no.
The significance of this conviction about who will and who will not inherit the kingdom effectively revolves around our belief about the judgment of God. And try and think this through with me for a moment. Turn to Matthew chapter 25. Now, this is Jesus speaking. The same Jesus who said that “God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believe[s] in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.” This is the Jesus who said, “Come [un]to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.” This is the Jesus who wept over Jerusalem and said, “How often would I have gathered you as a hen would gather her chicks, but you wouldn’t come to me!” This is the Jesus who stood outside the grave of Lazarus, and he wept for a multiplicity of reasons. This is the Jesus who hanged upon the cross and said, “Father, forgive them, because they don’t know what they’re doing.”
Matthew 25:31: “When the Son of Man”—that is, Jesus—“comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit on his throne in heavenly glory. All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. He will put the sheep on his right and the goats on his left. Then the King will say to those on his right”—this is what’s going to happen if you end up on his right—“‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance’”—which is what?—“‘the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world.’” This kingdom is not an idea somewhere along the line that Jesus put in to correct a flaw in the system. This was planned from all of eternity. And those on his right will be welcomed into their inheritance. Now look forward at verse 41: “Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels.’”
I put it to you this morning, loved ones, that you don’t need more than a sixth-grade education to get ahold of this. Indeed, you don’t even need that. God says there will be a day of judgment. When the church grows soft on the notion of judgment, as it has done, then missing from its message will be any realistic sense of urgency in evangelism. Because after all, if we all belong to God and we are all ultimately going to heaven—no matter what we do, no matter where we belong, no matter what we believe—why in the world should anybody get excited about presenting to that world a living Savior in the person of Jesus, by whom they may find themselves on the right rather than on the left? So when the church gives up on the notion of “payday one day,” it gives up on evangelism.
Think about it. Think about the church today. What is it involved in? Social issues? Political issues? Psychological issues? Pragmatic issues? Largely, zero evangelism. Why? Not everyone understands this. Because at the point at which it matters—namely, in the pulpits of this great nation—you have men who no longer believe that it is intellectually tenable to uphold the notion that Jesus will do exactly what he said he will do. And plus, people don’t like that. Therefore, we won’t say that. And that’s why we are where we are.
At the same time, the church will then inevitably give up on any notion of church discipline. Why would you ever discipline anybody? The answer is, we would discipline them now so that they would not end up on the left then. But if there is no then, there is no need for discipline now. And that’s why men and women don’t understand church discipline. They don’t understand what 1 Corinthians 5 is saying: “Hand this man over to Satan, so that his body may be eaten up but his soul may be on the right on the day of judgment.” In their minds they say, “There’s no day of judgment, so there’s no reason to be unkind like that to Mr. X.”
Do you see how it all holds together? You see why it’s important to understand biblical theology? That Christianity is not some kind of funny feeling in your tummy once a week that kind of makes you feel good, pumps you up, and sends you on your way rejoicing? That will not reach our generation. We won’t be able to teach teens if that’s all we know. We’ll never be able to address the increased godlessness of our day—unless we think these things out.
And so he says, “Have you forgotten the wicked will not inherit the kingdom of God?”
Now, somebody’s sitting there, and they’re saying, “Well, it all depends what you mean by ‘wicked,’ doesn’t it?” “Okay,” says Paul, “you want some illustrations? I’ll give you them.” And there then follows a grim catalog of sin. Let’s just go into it—not a nice place to spend time, but we have to spend a moment or two here in order to understand the Bible.
We move, then, from the question to be addressed to the deception to be avoided. Notice, he immediately responds, “Do not be deceived.” Why? Because it is at this point that deception takes place. The Evil One’s agenda is—he is not concerned about many of our Christian activities. He is concerned if we would hold onto these absolutes concerning the nature and character of God, the distinctives of the kingdom. Recognizing that, Paul, as a wise teacher, says, “Don’t you know that the wicked won’t inherit the kingdom of God?” And people are sitting there going, “You know, I hadn’t really thought about that very much. But it does make sense. But I don’t know. I’m not sure. I think that’s just his opinion.” And so he says, “Hey, don’t be deceived. Don’t be under any illusion. Don’t wander into the minefield of false teaching and false behavior. Listen,” he says, “you want to know about ‘wicked’? Let me tell you about ‘wicked.’”
Now, let’s back up for just a moment and remind ourselves what Corinth was. You shouldn’t think of Paul addressing here some little place like Sandusky—sort of friendly spot, especially in the summer, little boats going back and forth, and the odd McDonald’s and Burger King, and everything else, and many nice places to stay. It wasn’t Sandusky. It wasn’t as nice as that. I don’t want to say it was more like Cleveland, but… it was more like Cleveland.
Corinth was a commercial center. It was located strategically in the southern tip of Greece, on a narrow neck of land which those of you who go to school and study geography know is an isthmus—hard to spell, difficult to say, but a narrow neck of land four miles across. And Corinth was right there: perfect spot for North–South trade, ’cause they had to go that way; an excellent spot for East–West trade, because that narrow neck of land saved the sailors a two-hundred-mile journey round the Cape of Maleas, which was a treacherous piece of water. And so it was better for them to actually drag their boats up on shore in Cenchreae, put them on rollers, roll them across the four miles, and drop ’em in the water at the seaport on the other side.
And as a result of that, the place was full of sailors. It was full of trade. It was a hodgepodge of races and creeds and languages. But as a culture, it was rootless, and it was rough. Nobody could go to Corinth without that they found themselves looking up, and when they looked up, they saw that the skyline was dominated by a hill—two thousand feet—the Acrocorinth. Not only did it have a physical atmosphere that it brought to the city down below, but it also had an immoral atmosphere that it brought. Because here was the temple of Venus, or Aphrodite, the goddess of love. And from that temple a thousand temple priestesses descended to roam the streets in the nighttime as “sacred” courtesans. Also, the temple of Apollo, which was dedicated to music and to art, had become the generic headquarters of homosexuality.
So when you went to Corinth, you went to a huge big place, it was densely populated, it was prosperous, and it was sex-crazed. That was it. Tons of people, tons of cash, sex-crazed. In fact, so badly was the place debauched that Corinth became a verb, korinthiazomai, which meant “to be immoral.” It was a byword for immorality itself.
And so, when Paul identifies this, he’s not surprising anybody. He’s not trying to be graphic for effect. He is not creating some extremism. He’s simply telling it like it is. And he goes in to this city, just as I’ve outlined, and what was his strategy? Well, you can turn to Acts chapter 18, and you’ll find out what his strategy was. Now, before you turn it up, if you don’t know the answer, ask yourself, “What would the strategy of the late-twentieth-century church be?” Or rather, “What is the strategy of the late-twentieth-century church in tackling cities that are densely populated, materially prosperous, and full of all of this kind of garbage?” I think I know the answer; I don’t know if you do.
Acts 18:5: “When Silas and Timothy came from Macedonia”—that is, to Corinth, where Paul was—“Paul devoted himself exclusively to preaching, testifying to the Jews that Jesus was the Christ.” That was his strategy: he devoted himself exclusively to preaching, and telling the people that Jesus was the Christ. Isn’t that quite unbelievable? “You mean to tell me that his objective was not to enact legislation but to begin proclamation?” Yes!
Loved ones, for the fear of sounding like the ultimate broken gramophone record, I have to ask you again this morning: Where did we get the notion in the late-twentieth-century church that we would usher in the kingdom of God by enacting legislation, when the Bible says that it will be done by proclamation? And as we have become totally preoccupied with legislation, there is a complete correlation between an absence of proclamation. Preaching is in the shadows. The world doesn’t believe in preaching. The church doesn’t believe in preaching. To certain degree, Parkside Church doesn’t believe in preaching.
How could I continue to give my life to preaching and teaching if I didn’t believe that this was God’s agenda for our world—not the exclusive agenda, but at the very heart of it? That there was an expectation that when I opened up this book, that God, in a way that I cannot fully understand, speaks out of this book, speaks into the lives of people that I have never met nor may ever meet, and speaks with such power and conviction that their lives are radically changed, so that “today may be the day,” I say to myself as I come to the pulpit, “in which God chooses to use his Word in the lives of somebody here in order to bring them into the kingdom of Christ.”
His strategy was proclamation.
His proclamation was clear. He didn’t buy into the elaborate rhetoric of his day. He didn’t seek to take the philosophers on and play them at their own game. He was bright enough to do it, but he didn’t do it. No, when you read 1 Corinthians 2:1–5, you find out that he only really had one message, and he kept saying it again and again. It really came down to one phrase. “What do you want to tell us, Paul?”
“I want to tell you one thing: I want to tell you about Jesus Christ and him crucified. That’s my message.”
“That’s it, Paul?”
“That’s basically it. I want to tell you the good news: that though you’re wicked, and though you’re all sexed out, and though your lives are debauched, and although you live in the classic moral cesspool of central Europe, I’ve only one thing to tell you, and that is Jesus Christ and him crucified.”
“Paul, why do you keep saying that, ‘Jesus Christ and him crucified’?”
“Well,” says Paul, “for one reason, and one very good reason: it was as a result of his atoning death on the cross that he made it possible for men and women who are thieves and prostitutes and swindlers and cheats and slanderers and greedy gluttons to be set free and brought into a whole new domain of life. And it is only in coming to that cross that that divine transaction can ever take place. And so I only really have one message; it is Jesus Christ, the Messiah, and a crucified Messiah.”
He died that we might be forgiven,
He died to make us good,
That we might go at last to heaven,
Saved by his precious blood.
“Do you not know that the wicked will never inherit the kingdom of God?”
Therefore, loved ones, it is a perilous thing to remain wicked. It is an unnecessary thing to remain wicked. For I proclaim to you this morning the same message that Paul proclaimed to Corinth: Jesus Christ and him crucified. All that you need to know to be saved is this: that you know that you need to be saved. That’s all you need to know to be saved—that you know that you need to be saved. If you don’t believe that you need to be, you will never be. Therefore, you need to know that you need to be. And to you, the message of the gospel sounds out as loudly in the corridors of Cleveland as it did in the streets of Corinth.
Let us bow together in prayer:
As we sit this morning in church and think about what is really a radical message in our world of relativism and religious pluralism, let us ask that it will be that God, by his Spirit, who affirms and confirms these things in our hearts, so that we don’t think we’re just being sold a bill of goods by some attempt at forcefulness…
Some of us are in our teens, and we come from a background that is religious. We thought we were in the kingdom. But now we discover that you have to be born again to be in, and we’re not born again, and so either we’re gonna stay out or we’re gonna be born again to get in.
Others of us have been orthodox and religious most of our days, but we have no victory over sin, no power to defeat that which rises up within us. We have no sense of the assurance of heaven, no hope of eternity with God. The very thought of getting put on the left-hand side paralyzes us. What good is a religion that doesn’t answer the left/right question?
So right where we sit this morning, if all that we need to know in order to be saved is that we need to be saved, then why don’t we tell God from our hearts that that is the great need of our lives? To confess that we have sinned in word and in deed. To acknowledge that we need to be cleansed, that we don’t deserve to be cleansed. To ask that we might be forgiven. So profoundly simple.
Father, hear the cries of individual hearts today, and do your work within our lives. May this question reverberate within us: “Do you not know that the wicked will never inherit the kingdom of God?” For Jesus’ sake. Amen.
 1 Corinthians 1:2 (NIV 1984).
 Ephesians 2:2 (KJV).
 John 3:3–8 (paraphrased).
 John 1:11–13 (paraphrased).
 Ephesians 5:5–6 (NIV 1984).
 John 3:16 (KJV).
 Matthew 11:28 (NIV 1984).
 Matthew 23:37 (paraphrased).
 See John 11:35.
 Luke 23:34 (paraphrased).
 1 Corinthians 5:5 (paraphrased).
 1 Corinthians 2:2 (paraphrased).
 Cecil Frances Alexander, “There Is a Green Hill Far Away” (1848).