9Do 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 10nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. 11And 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.
During the time I was a teacher and basketball coach, many interesting things happened. One event in particular had to do with two young men who wanted to come to our high school to play on the basketball team. The issue was that our school was an alternative partnership school. It was a place designed for only certain students who had met certain kind of criterion. It wasn’t that there was a list of rules or requirements, it was simply a description of the type of kids that would be served by this sort of school. One of the young men came from another state, but after getting his records it was determined that he was the type of student that could enter into our school. (Most of the descriptions that determined whether or not they could enter the school would be considered of the negative type.) The other guy, however, found that he just wasn’t the type of student that could enter our school. Believe it or not, his academic career had been too positive. He was very frustrated but he couldn’t enroll in our school.
What Paul writes to the Corinthians here is a similar idea, although the exact opposite. In the case of the Kingdom of God, it is not negative but godly descriptions that will determine if they are Kingdom type of people. The Kingdom of God isn’t about a list of laws or rules or even qualifications; it doesn’t require certain behaviors or achievements in order to gain access. Instead it is a life. It is a life where certain types of people simply won’t fit, they won’t be served by what the ‘age to come’ has to offer. The point that Paul will make clear later in chapter 13 is that a Kingdom person is characterized by love. Love isn’t an achievement or number of tasks that can be checked off; it is a lifestyle. A Kingdom person doesn’t so much ‘love’ as a verb as they are ‘love’ as a noun. They are someone who has laid down their life to enter in and take up Christ’s life and be gradually transformed into his image. Those who have done that will show evidence of that in their life.
In Greek mythology, Damastes had a stronghold in the hills outside of Eleusis. He had an iron bed to which he invited all passersby to lie down on. If they were too tall, he cut off the excess. If they were too short he would stretch them on a rack. The catch was nobody ever fit because it was adjustable and he would change it after he sized up his guests from a distance. This is not the sort of thing that happens in the Kingdom of God. He does not use some sort of arbitrary standards of behavior to determine who gets in and who doesn’t. No, it’s simply a matter of the kind of people for which the ‘age to come’ is made. It is made for a people who have been transformed into the image of God through the life of Christ, and we know that God is love (1 John 4:8, 16). It is important to remember, though, that we are talking about God’s definition of love, not the world’s.
God created genuine human beings, unmarred by sin, to be His image bearers. But since the Fall of Adam and Eve, no one had seen what a truly genuine human being, characterized by love looked like. God, Paul believed, had revealed a genuine human, bearing His image and characterized by true love, in the person and life of Jesus the Messiah. So whether we see negative lists like this one or more positive lists of traits like the fruits of the Spirit in Galatians 5 they are more about descriptions than qualifications. In other words, Paul is saying, “if you want to know if you have truly embraced the genuine life of Christ, take a look. If it is characterized by things such as these, then you have embraced your own will rather than the transformational life of Christ.
Paul warns the Corinthians not to kid themselves and become deceived, people not characterized by love simply won’t fit into the Kingdom of God. They had fallen into the arrogance of thinking that they could define what sort of people could enter into the Kingdom, now Paul calls them back to God’s standard. He gives them an illustrative not an exhaustive list of the types of people whose very lives demonstrate that they are not conforming to the image of God. Although this passage has been disputed lately in our culture where it concerns homosexual behavior, Paul is quite clear. The Greek malakoi (translated ‘male prostitutes’) means ‘soft ones’ and most likely referred to the passive homosexual partner that so characterized those types of relationship in the Greek world (very similarly to the prototypical homosexual relationship today). The word arsenokoitai (translated ‘homosexual offenders’) refers to the dominant partner in the relationship, thus Paul is comprehensively saying that those who engage in homosexuality at any level simply are not bearing the image of God and will not fit into the Kingdom of God.
This is quite instructive for those of us who live in a culture where many biblical sins, especially that of homosexuality, are being accepted and even said to be a good thing. Holding to a biblical standard of what is acceptable behavior in the life of Christ and the Kingdom is not hateful as will be often claimed in our world today. In fact, mankind can collude all we would like and say that behaviors are acceptable and are good (cf. Isa. 5:20; Romans 1:32) and even come up with cleverly invented biblical interpretations to back that up, but that does not change the clear word of God and his standard of love and genuine human beingness that will be appropriate in the age to come. In fact, those who go along with the world and accept the things which God has warned us to stay away from actually show an incredible amount of hate to those engaged in those behaviors. If I saw you standing on a road with a truck screaming towards you, would I be judgmental or hateful because I warned you about the truck or would the one who didn’t want to make you feel bad about where you are standing?
Although each generation of Christians has been guilty of demonizing its own set of pet sins and behaviors and making them seem worse than others, there is the equal and opposite error of deceiving ourselves into believing that certain types of behavior, often related to sexual immorality of some type is okay. In our culture, the world has given love its own definition and then redefined many un-Kingdom-like behaviors as acceptable based on that definition. One of the ways they have done this is to confuse temptation with orientation. Just because someone is prone to a set of temptations that others may not be, does not make that behavior who they really are. Who we really are is the image-bearers of God, that is our only orientation. The types of behaviors that Paul lists here are temptations that keep us from being who we really are. We must be extremely careful to never confuse the temptation with our orientation and thus deceive ourselves into thinking that we are Kingdom people when we are not. Behaviors in the present that distort and deface the image of God lead us away from the Kingdom of God, not to it.
Paul reminds them that they were this sort of people. This indicates that he believes that the ‘real’ humans that they are, are separate from their temptations and behaviors (including homosexuality). They can leave those image distorting sorts of activities behind if they are to become God’s genuine human image-bearers. They have been washed (an allusion to baptism), sanctified (set apart and made holy) and justified (marked out and vindicated as God’s people of love that live by faith), now they need to start acting like it and calling others to the genuine human existence.
Part of why Paul wrote this letter was that he was aware that this new type of humanity doesn’t come automatically, but he does believe that once faith has intertwined with baptism, one has access to this new type of being a genuine human. How have you and how can you display this new type of being human to those around you? In what behaviors or areas of your life have you been deceived?