The Bible teaches that anyone who confesses their sins, repents, and trusts in Jesus Christ as their Savior will be forgiven for their sins and have eternal salvation. However, several scripture passages seem to indicate that if anyone commits certain types of sins, they will not inherit the kingdom of God (i.e., not have eternal salvation). How can this apparent discrepancy be resolved? [To get an explanation of the kingdom of God (or the kingdom of heaven, as it is often called), click on “What Is the Kingdom of Heaven and When Is It Coming?”]
In regard to this matter, we will focus primarily on the four immediately following scripture passages. [Note: When we quote Scripture in this article, we use the wording in the New King James Version of the Bible.]
I Corinthians 6:9-10 asserts: “Do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived. Neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor homosexuals, nor sodomites, nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners will inherit the kingdom of God.”
Galatians 5:19-21 states: Now the works of the flesh are evident, which are: adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lewdness, idolatry, sorcery, hatred, contentions, jealousies, outbursts of wrath, selfish ambitions, dissensions, heresies, envy, murders, drunkenness, revelries, and the like; of which I tell you beforehand, just as I also told you in time past, that those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.
Ephesians 5:5 declares: “For this you know, that no fornicator, unclean person, nor covetous man, who is an idolater, has any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and God.”
1 John 3:15 states: “Whoever hates his brother is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life abiding in him.”
[Note: There is strong reason to believe that even if all four of these scripture passages are combined, they do not provide a complete list of the sins that may keep people from entering the kingdom of God. Additional sins that surely could be included are rape, incest, and other types of heinous behavior. Furthermore, other scripture passages infer that any type of sin can prevent a person who has not trusted in Jesus Christ as their Savior from entering the kingdom of God.]
Before we discuss what Bible commentaries say about the previously cited passages of scripture, we will try to clarify the meaning of the sins that are mentioned in those passages. However, we will not attempt to define the term covetous, because it is explained in Ephesians 5:5, nor will we attempt to define the terms drunkard, greedy person, murderer, or thief, which we think are sufficiently understood.
Unless indicated otherwise, Strong’s Concordance provides the following definitions:
Adulterer: A person “who has unlawful intercourse with the spouse of another.”
Contentious: A person who engages in strife or contention. Webster’s Dictionary defines the term contentious as “always ready to argue; quarrelsome.”
Dissenter: A seditious person. Webster defines seditious as inclined toward or engaging in “the stirring up of dissent, resistance, or rebellion against the government in power.”
Envier: A person who has “the feeling of displeasure produced by witnessing or hearing of the advantage or prosperity of others.”
Extortioner: A person who is rapacious. Webster defines rapacious as “taking by force; plundering.”
Fornicator: “A man who indulges in fornication.” Webster defines fornication as “voluntary sexual intercourse engaged in by a man, esp. an unmarried man, with an unmarried woman,” or “voluntary sexual intercourse engaged in by an unmarried person.”
Hater: Strong does not define this term. A footnote in the NIV Bible states, “In the Bible hatred and love as moral qualities are not primarily emotions, but attitudes expressed in actions.”
Homosexual: Strong does not define this term, but Webster defines a homosexual as someone who is “characterized by sexual desire for those of the same sex as oneself.”
Idolater: An image worshipper. Webster defines image as “an imitation or representation of a person or thing.”
Immoral: Strong does not define this term, but it is reasonable to assume that it has a meaning similar to that of fornicator, since the NIV Bible uses this term instead of the term fornicator in the translation of Ephesians 5:5.
Impure: Strong does not define this term, but it is reasonable to assume that it has a meaning similar to that of unclean person, since the NIV Bible uses this term instead of the term unclean person in the translation of Ephesians 5:5.
Jealous: Feelings of emulation. The applicable definition of emulation by Webster is “envious dislike.”
Lewd: Lasciviousness, which is “wanton, lawless insolence, a disposition of the soul not having or bearing a struggle with remorse.”
Reviler: A railer. Webster does not define railer, but it does indicate that a reviler is someone who uses “abusive or contemptuous language in speaking” to or about other people.
Selfishly ambitious: Contentious. (See above definition of contentious.)
Sodomite: A (male) devotee (by prostitution) to licentious idolatry. Webster defines licentious as “morally unrestrained, esp. in sexual activity.”
Sorcerer: Idolater. (See above definition of idolater.)
Unclean: Someone who is morally unclean or impure. Webster defines moral as “conformity with the generally accepted standards of goodness or rightness in conduct or character, sometimes specif. in sexual conduct.”
Wrathful: Hot anger. Webster defines wrathful as “intensely angry.”
Now, let’s consider what Bible commentaries say about the previously mentioned scripture passages. [Note: Rather than focusing on the specific sins that are mentioned in these scripture passages,, we will focus on any indications of the spiritual condition of the people who commit the sins.]
Bible Commentaries Regarding I Corinthians 6:9-10
The perspective of Barnes’ Notes on the Whole Bible regarding I Corinthians 6:9-10 is as follows:
Know ye not … – The apostle introduces the declaration in this verse to show the evil of their course, and especially of the injustice which they did one to another, and their attempt to enforce and maintain the evil. . . . He assures them, therefore, that the unjust could not be saved.
The kingdom of God – This may refer either to the kingdom of God in heaven; or to the church on earth – most probably the former. But the sense is the same essentially, whichever is meant. The man who is not fit to enter into the one is not fit to enter into the other.
John Calvin’s Commentary on the Bible says with regard to I Corinthians 6:9-10,
Know ye not, etc. The unrighteous . . . those who inflict injury on their brethren, who defraud or circumvent others, who, in short, are intent upon their own advantage at the expense of injuring others, will not inherit the kingdom of God. That by the unrighteous here, as for example adulterers, and thieves and covetous, and revilers, he means those who do not repent of their sins, but obstinately persist in them. . . . The wicked, then, do inherit the kingdom of God, but it is only in the event of their having been first converted to the Lord in true repentance, and having in this way ceased to be wicked. For although conversion is not the ground of pardon, yet we know that none are reconciled to God but those who repent.
In reference to the same scripture passage, Adam Clarke Commentary states,
The unrighteous shall not inherit the kingdom – The unrighteous . . .: those who act contrary to right, cannot inherit, for the inheritance is by right. He who is not a child of God has no right to the family inheritance, for that inheritance is for the children. If children, then heirs; heirs of God, and joint heirs with Christ (Romans 8:17). There are here ten classes of transgressors which the apostle excludes from the kingdom of God; and any man who is guilty of any one of the evils mentioned above is thereby excluded from this kingdom, whether it imply the Church of Christ here below, or the state of glory hereafter.
John Gill’s Exposition on the Whole Bible explains I Corinthians 6:9-10 as follows:
Know ye not that the unrighteous shall not inherit the kingdom of God?…. Without a righteousness there will be no entrance into the world of bliss and happiness hereafter; and this must be a better righteousness than what a sinful creature is capable of working out, and no other than the righteousness of Christ. . . . [I]t is not agreeable to the holy nature of God, to his infinite justice and righteous law, to admit any into heaven without a righteousness: hence a judgment seat is erected, before which all must stand; and those that will be found without a righteousness will be for ever excluded the kingdom of heaven. . . . [T]heir tricking and defrauding of one another, with other sins they were guilty of; which, if not repented of, would show, that notwithstanding their profession, they were destitute of the grace of God, were unfit to be in the kingdom of God, in a Gospel church state here below, and would be shut out of the kingdom of heaven hereafter.
shall inherit the kingdom of God; not that these sins, any or all of them, are unpardonable; for such who have been guilty of them may, through the blood of Christ, receive the remission of them, and through the grace of the Spirit of God obtain repentance for them, and have both right and meetness [i.e., propriety] for the kingdom of heaven. . . .
With regard to the same verses, Matthew Henry’s Complete Commentary on the Bible says,
Here he [Paul] takes occasion to warn them against many heinous evils, to which they had been formerly addicted.
He puts it to them as a plain truth, of which they could not be ignorant, that such sinners should not inherit the kingdom of God. . . . [T]he unrighteous shall not inherit the kingdom of God (1 Corinthians 6:9), shall not be owned as true members of his church on earth, nor admitted as glorious members of the church in heaven. All unrighteousness is sin; and all reigning sin, nay, every actual sin committed deliberately, and not repented of, shuts out of the kingdom of heaven.
Men are very much inclined to flatter themselves that God is such a one as themselves, and that they may live in sin and yet die in Christ, may lead the life of the devil’s children and yet go to heaven with the children of God. . . . We cannot hope to sow to the flesh and yet reap everlasting life.
Peter Pett’s Commentary on the Bible offers the following comments in reference to I Corinthians 6:9-10,
Do they not realise [sic] in all this that those who behave unjustly or wrongly thereby reveal that they are disqualified from the coming Kingly Rule of God? Paul is always quite firm in his view that those who continually fail to reveal Christian virtues, those who do not seek to ‘put on the new man’, thereby reveal that they are not really truly Christian at all. . . . Whom Christ saves He gradually transforms (2 Corinthians 3:18). So to be without chastening from God in some way, to be without some evidence of improvement as a Christian, is a sure sign that someone is not Christ’s.
‘Do not be deceived’ . . . It is so easy for a man to convince himself that he need not be too strict about sin because there is always a way of cleansing. So Paul warns such not to be deceived. If they behave like those doomed to judgment, they will be doomed to judgment whatever claim they make.
They are to recognise [sic] that such people as practise [sic] these things will not only be expelled from the church and its fellowship in this life, but will certainly be excluded from life under the Kingly Rule of God in Heaven. They will have no inheritance in the future blessings of God. Those who continue blatantly in sin cannot expect mercy.
‘Will not inherit the Kingly Rule of God.’ . . . They are openly and deliberately refusing to obey Him now, and have no intention to do so. Thus they can have no hope of a part in His future Rule, in the blessings of the coming age.
In reference to the same passage of scripture, The Pulpit Commentaries states,
Know ye not; Perhaps the Corinthians thought that they would be saved by the mere fact of having been admitted into God’s kingdom . . . by baptism. St. Paul here lays down, as distinctly as St. James does, that faith without works is dead, and privileges without holiness are abrogated. . . . Religion is not an outward service, but a spiritual life manifested by a holy living.
Be not deceived. The self deception of merely verbal orthodoxy is the most dangerous of all.
Summary of What Bible Commentaries Conclude about I Corinthians 6:9-10
Of the seven commentaries that seem to be most relevant to our discussion about the aforementioned biblical passage, four indicate that the people who commit the sins that are specified must not be genuine Christians (i.e., not truly “saved”). The other three commentaries imply that anyone, even a Christian, who does not repent of their sins will not be forgiven and, therefore, will not have eternal salvation.
Bible Commentaries Regarding Galatians 5:19-21
In reference to these verses of scripture, Calvin says,
The apostle . . . points out to us those sins against which we must fight, in order that we may not live according to the flesh. He does not indeed enumerate them all. . .
[W]ho is there that is not chargeable with some of those sins? I reply, Paul does not threaten that all who have sinned, but that all who remain impenitent, shall be excluded from the kingdom of God. The saints themselves often fall into grievous sins, but they return to the path of righteousness . . . and therefore they are not included in this catalogue. All threatenings of the judgments of God call us to repentance. They are accompanied by a promise that those who repent will obtain forgiveness; but if we continue obstinate, they remain as a testimony from heaven against us.
Clarke explains Galatians 5:19-21 as follows:
Now the works of the flesh are manifest – By flesh we are to understand the evil and fallen state of the soul, no longer under the guidance of God’s Spirit and right reason, . . . . [T]his evil nature that it leads men into all kinds of crimes. . . . [N]o pardon for the guilt and condemnation produced by them.
Shall not inherit – They are not children of God, and therefore cannot inherit the kingdom which belongs only to the children of the Divine family.
With regard to the same scripture passage, Gill states,
Now the works of the flesh are manifest,…. By “flesh” is meant corrupt nature, as before, and by the works of it, not only external acts of sin, but [also] inward lusts. . . . [T]hey are contrary to the Spirit, both to the Spirit of God, and to the principle of grace he forms in the heart; and that such who live in the commission of them are not led by him, nor are under the influence of his grace:
and that they which do such things, shall not inherit the kingdom of God; by which is meant the heavenly glory. . . [N]ow they that do such works of the flesh as before enumerated; that is, that live in the commission of these things, whose whole lives are employed in such work, living and dying in such a state, without repentance towards God and faith in Christ, shall never enjoy eternal life and happiness; though such who have done these things, being brought to a sense of them, and to the blood and righteousness of Christ for pardon and justification, for life and salvation; such, notwithstanding the works of the flesh done by them, shall, through the free grace of God, and the propitiatory sacrifice of Christ, inherit the kingdom and glory of God.
In reference to Galatians 5:19-21, Henry declares,
The apostle [Paul] specifies the works of the flesh, which must be watched against. Of these and such like, says he, I tell you before, as I have also told you in times past, that those who do such things, how much soever they may flatter themselves with vain hopes, shall not inherit the kingdom of God. These are sins which will undoubtedly shut men out of heaven.
Pett asserts with regard to the same scripture passage,
Paul now lists some of the “works of the flesh.”
Then he adds a strict warning so that he cannot be misunderstood. ‘I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God’. For how can men say they are living under the Kingly Rule of God when they so flagrantly disobey Him? And if they do not live under His earthly Rule how can they hope to live under His heavenly Rule? And they can be sure they will not enter His kingdom, whatever their claims, for if they behave like this they have clearly not received the Holy Spirit and are not being led by the Spirit.
[T]hose who indulge themselves in the works of the flesh, and refuse to be led by the Spirit, have clearly no part in the present ‘kingdom’ and will therefore have no part in the future kingdom.
Matthew Poole’s English Annotations on the Holy Bible provides the following assessment of Galatians 5:19-21:
That they which do such things shall not inherit the kingdom of God; that they who ordinarily do these things, and do not only live in such practices, but die without repentance for them, shall never be saved: see 1 Corinthians 6:9, 10; Revelation 21:7,8.
Also, in regard to the same passage of scripture, The Pulpit Commentaries says,
Now the works of the flesh are manifest [The apostle Paul] specifies samples of the vices, whether in outward conduct or in inward feeling, in which the working of the flesh is apparent, as if cautioning them; adducing just those into which the Galatian converts would naturally be most in danger of falling.
Shall not inherit the kingdom of God The like designation of the future felicity is given by St. Peter (2 Peter 1:11), “entrance into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ,” and by St. James. . . “heirs of the kingdom which he [God] promised to them that love him.” . . . . And what is the alternative prospect? This the Apostle Paul does not here specify, though elsewhere he does so with awful emphasis; as e.g. Romans 2:8.
Summary of What Bible Commentaries Say about Galatians 5:19-21
Of the seven commentaries that seem to be most relevant to our discussion about this biblical passage, only one indicates that the people who commit the sins that are specified must not be genuine Christians (i.e., truly “saved”). Three other commentaries imply that anyone, including a Christian, who does not repent of their sins will not be forgiven and, therefore, they will not have eternal salvation. One other commentary refers to people who are no longer under the guidance of God’s Spirit, which suggests that they had been Christians, but were not any longer, although no explanation is given as to why they were no longer Christians. A sixth commentary indicates that certain sins will prevent some people from having eternal salvation, but it is not clear if these people ever were genuine Christians. Likewise, another commentary infers that those who do not love God will not enter the kingdom of God, although there is no indication whether or not these people ever were genuine Christians.
Bible Commentaries Regarding Ephesians 5:5
Barnes provides the following comments regarding this scripture verse:
For this ye know – Be assured of this. The object here is to deter from indulgence in those vices by the solemn assurance that no one who committed them could possibly be saved.
Hath any inheritance – Such an one shall never enter heaven.
Calvin states with regard to the same scripture,
Paul does not say that those who have fallen into those sins, and recovered from them, are not pardoned. . . .
[Paul asserts] When men have repented, and thus give evidence that they are reconciled to God, they are no longer the same persons that they formerly were.
Gill provides the following explanation of Ephesians 5:5:
[No such person] hath inheritance in the kingdom of Christ, and of God: meaning either a Gospel church state, in which persons of such characters, and living in such sins, ought not to be. . . . [N]ow the meaning of these words is, not that all who have been guilty of these sins shall be excluded the kingdom of God, but all such who live and die in them, without the grace of God, and righteousness of Christ.
In reference to the same scripture, Henry offers the following comments:
Consider that these are sins which shut persons out of heaven. Of these persons it is said that they have no inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and of God . . . . In this kingdom the saints and servants of God have an inheritance for it is the inheritance of the saints in light. But those who are impenitent, and allow themselves either in the lusts of the flesh or the love of the world, are not Christians indeed, and so belong not to the kingdom of grace, nor shall they ever come to the kingdom of glory. . . .
Pett says with regard to Ephesians 5:5,
‘You know for certain, of a surety.’ His language could not be stronger. He does not want anyone under any misapprehension. Neither unclean nor covetous people have any part in Christ. . . .
Summary of What Bible Commentaries Say about Ephesians 5:5
Of the five commentaries that seem to be most relevant to our discussion about this biblical passage, at least three and, perhaps, four indicate that the people who commit the sins that are specified must not be genuine Christians (i.e., not truly “saved”). Only one commentary implies that anyone who does not repent of their sins will not be forgiven and that, therefore, they will not have eternal salvation.
Bible Commentaries Regarding 1 John 3:15
Clarke states with regard to this scripture,
No murderer hath eternal life – Eternal life springs from an indwelling God; and God cannot dwell in the heart where hatred and malice dwell. [T]here have been many instances of persons who have been guilty of murder having had deep and genuine repentance.
Gill provides the following comments about 1 John 3:15:
ye know that no murderer hath eternal life abiding in him: he has not the grace of life, or the beginning of eternal life in him; he has no meetness [i.e., propriety] for it, being unregenerate; and no right unto it, being unrighteous; nor has he the earnest and pledge of it, being destitute of the Spirit of God; all which a regenerate man has, and has them abiding in him: not but that the sin of murder may be forgiven; a man guilty of it may truly repent, and have pardoning grace applied unto him, and enjoy eternal life.
Pett explains the same scripture, as follows:
[F]ailure to love those who declare the truth reveals them for what they are, those who reject the truth, those who reject the will of God. And their attitude towards them makes them the equivalent of murderers.
And the result of this is that they cannot have eternal life dwelling in them, for they have within them the seed of murder, they are murderers at heart. And the one who is so ready to continue in such a thought reveals by that fact that he sees and walks contrary to the will of God and is therefore lost. (This refers to the set attitude of mind and not the instant thought. Things can happen that make even the best of us sometimes feel like ‘murdering’ someone).
And, The Pulpit Commentaries asserts in reference to 1 John 3:15,
A murderer is a hater who expresses his hatred in the most emphatic way. A hater who does not murder abstains for various reasons. . . . [E]very murderer is incapable of possessing eternal life. It is the murderous temper, not the act of homicide, that excludes from eternal life. St. John, of course, does not mean that murder is an unpardonable sin; but he shows that hate and death go together. . . .
Summary of What Bible Commentaries Say about 1 John 3:15
Of the four commentaries that seem to be most relevant to our discussion about 1 John 3:15, only one indicates that the people who commit the sins that are specified must not be genuine Christians (i.e., truly “saved”). The other three commentaries imply that anyone who does not repent of their sins will not be forgiven and, therefore, they will not have eternal salvation.
The Bible commentaries that we have cited do not provide a clear consensus opinion as to whom the four scripture passages on which we have focused apply. Most of these Bible commentaries support one of two positions: the passages are applicable to (a) people who are not genuine Christians or (b) Christians who do not sincerely repent for the sins that are mentioned.
With regard to the first of these two positions, we believe it is naïve to think that everyone who knowingly, or even inadvertently, commits any of the sins that are specified in the four focal passages is not a genuine Christian. We believe there is ample reason to believe that many, if not most, Christians commit one or more such sins, at least occasionally, even after they have sincerely trusted in Jesus Christ for eternal salvation.
As for people who committed any of the sins mentioned in the four focal passages before they trusted in Jesus Christ as their Savior, I Corinthians 6:11 indicates that such sins will not be taken into consideration with regard to their eternal salvation. In this verse, which pertains to the two prior verses (i.e., 9 and 10), the Apostle Paul tells the Corinthian Christians, “And such were some of you. But you were washed, but you were sanctified, but you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus and by the Spirit of our God.” In other words, none of the sins a person committed before trusting in Jesus Christ as their Savior will prevent that person from having eternal salvation.
With regard to the second of the two positions, we need to first consider 1 John 1:9, which was written to Christians. This verse states, “If we confess our sins, He [God] is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” In other words, God will pardon Christians for the sins they commit after they have trusted in Jesus Christ for eternal salvation, provided that they contritely confess their sins to God. And, contrite confession necessitates genuine remorse.
But, what if for any reason, deliberate or otherwise, a Christian does not confess his (or her) sins, especially those mentioned in the four focal passages, and they do not repent for those sins before they die? Will they lose their eternal salvation, despite the fact that none of these sins is the so-called “unpardonable sin”? [To see our discussion of the unpardonable sin, click on “What Is the Unpardonable Sin?”]
The answer to these last two questions is: If a person has genuinely trusted in Jesus Christ as their Savior, the Bible provides assurance that that person will not lose his (or her) eternal salvation, despite the fact that they have not confessed all of their sins and repented for having committed those sins. However,, that person may lose some of their heavenly rewards. [For a discussion of how to be assured of eternal salvation, click on “What Must a Person Do to Be Assured of Eternal Salvation?”]
In light of the foregoing considerations, we believe a reasonable case can be made that the people who will not have eternal salvation are those who have rejected Jesus Christ as their Savior and, as a result, they regularly engage in the types of sinful behavior specified in the focal scripture passages and do so without seeking God’s forgiveness. These people include both those who never have trusted in Jesus Christ as their Savior and those who previously had trusted in Him but subsequently rejected Him as their Savior (i.e., people who have forfeited their eternal salvation). [For a discussion regarding forfeiting eternal salvation, click on “Can Christians Forfeit Their Eternal Salvation?”]