Q. I just read a troubling interpretation of 1 Corinthians 6:9-11. Here’s an excerpt. “Know ye not that the unrighteous shall not inherit the kingdom of God? Be not deceived (to be led away into error and sin): neither fornicators, not idolaters (worshiping something other than God), not adulterers, not effeminate (homosexuals), nor abusers of themselves with mankind, nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners, shall inherit the kingdom of God. And such WERE some of you…” The word ‘were’ means ‘used to be’ not ‘still doing what I dang well please and claim I’m a Christian anyway.’ “ What’s your response to this?
A. This is an example of someone misusing Scripture to justify the condemnation of others. In the first place, Paul was writing about unrighteous people. Our righteousness is imputed to us because of what we believe, not because of how we behave (Romans 3:21-22). Also, the interpretation stops short of providing the complete context of the passage. 1 Cor. 6:11 says, “But you are washed, you are sanctified you are justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.”
The word “were” in “such were some of you” does not imply that believers will no longer do any of these things once they’re saved. On the contrary, the verbs in verse 11 indicate that because of our faith something has been done to us rather than describing something we’ve done. We’ve been washed (cleansed from our sins) sanctified (set apart) and justified (rendered righteous). These things have all been done to us in the name of Jesus by the power of the Holy Spirit, and the verbs being in the present perfect tense mean this has already happened and is ongoing. That’s why we no longer “are” what we “were”.
Of course the Holy Spirit influences a believer’s behavior, but the idea that any evidence of subsequent sin casts doubt on our salvation goes beyond Paul’s statement and is inconsistent with His other writing on the subject.
Jesus said we’re not to judge other believers unless we want to be held to the same standards (Matt. 7:1-2) and Paul confirmed this in 1 Cor. 4:5. We have no capacity for understanding the internal struggle other believers experience over their behavior and have enough to do paying attention to our own (Matt. 7:3-5).