Exposition of 1 Corinthians 6:9-11, Firmly accept your new identity in Christ

1 Corinthians 6:9-11

9 Or do you not know that wrongdoers will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: Neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor men who have sex with men 10 nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. 11 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.

Since he has raised the issue of the world’s ways penetrating the church in Corinth (1 Cor. 6:1-8), Paul negatively describes the future awaiting wrongdoers, those whose behavior matches that of the world (1 Cor. 6:9): they will not inherit the kingdom of God. After describing the types of wrongdoers he is talking about (1 Cor. 6:9b-10), Paul then tries to restore the Corinthian believers to a proper understanding of their identity in Christ (1 Cor. 6:11).

It is easy to overlook Paul’s command: Do not be deceived (1 Cor. 6:9). History and experience amply demonstrate that Christians have taken too casual an attitude toward sin in their own lives. This is especially tragic since God has given us the Holy Spirit, who enables us to refuse sins overtures (Rom. 6:1-14).

Paul presents a list of ten practices, five of which are sexual and five of which are not (1 Cor. 6:9b-10). Kenneth Bailey reminds us, “Idolatrous worship in Corinth involved sacred prostitution with the priestesses of Aphrodite/Venus, and thus idolatry in Corinth involved fornication.”[1] Still, if you are counting the list as translated by the NIV, you may come up with only four sinful practices in 1 Cor. 6:9. However, the phrase translated as “nor men who have sex with men” actually includes two Greek nouns. Ben Witherington explains, “The two terms refer respectively, then, to the leading and following partners in a homosexual [encounter].”[2] In other words, either role is unacceptable to God.

The five sexual sins are not said to be any more repugnant to God than the five non-sexual sins listed in 1 Cor. 6:10. All ten are part of the problems in Corinth and are discussed in different parts of the letter.

In 1 Cor. 6:11, a heavy emphasis lies on the first verb translated “were.” It is a common Greek verb whose form refers to continuous action in past time. What time is that? The remainder of the sentence makes it plain that the time of such behavior was prior to making a commitment of faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. Paul looks back on their conversion and probably puts the verb “washed” first for literary reasons; they have been washed clean of the ten sins listed above.

Far too many Christians look upon their conversion to Christ as being related solely to avoidance of eternal punishment; perhaps they add to that an expectation of heaven. But such a conception leaves out all the time between trusting Christ and going to heaven. Gordon Fee tells us, “For Paul there is to be the closest possible relationship between the experience of grace and ones behavior that evidences that experience of grace.”[3] The Holy Spirit transforms us to live for Christ until he comes!

Paul’s closing emphasis on Christian identity in verse 11 has an implicit command: Therefore, live out this new life in Christ and stop being like the wicked.[4]

Copyright 2013 Barry Applewhite, Plano, Texas. All rights reserved worldwide. Derived from materials created for Christ Fellowship, McKinney, Texas. Used by permission.


[1] Kenneth E. Bailey, Paul Through Mediterranean Eyes (Downers Grove, Illinois: InterVarsity, 2011) 178.

[2] Ben Witherington III, Conflict & Community in Corinth (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1995) 166.

[3] Gordon D. Fee, The First Epistle to the Corinthians, The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1987) 248.

[4] Fee, The First Epistle to the Corinthians, 245.

Do you have an opinion or a different interpretation? Let me know!