The Bible declares that people who continue to engage in the sins mentioned in 1 Corinthians 6:9-10 and/or Galatians 5:19-21 will not inherit the kingdom of God. [For an explanation of what is meant by the term “kingdom of God,” see our article entitled “What Is the Kingdom of Heaven and When Is It Coming?”] But, are these two scripture passages applicable to everyone, including people who have sincerely trusted in Jesus Christ for eternal salvation (i.e. genuine Christians)? First, let’s consider what these two scripture passages state.
[Note: When we quote Scripture in this article, we use the wording in the New King James Version of the Bible, except when we quote a non-biblical source that is using Scripture from a different version of the Bible.]
1 Corinthians 6:9-10: 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: 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.
[Note: The Appendix that follows the basic text of this article defines the types of sins that are mentioned in the preceding two scripture passages.]
Now, let’s consider what Bible commentaries have to say about the two focal scriptures.
John Calvin’s Commentaries on the Bible explains with regard to 1 Corinthians 6:9-10,
By unrighteousness here you may understand what is opposed to strict integrity. The unrighteous, then, that is, 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, . . . he means those who do not repent of their sins, but obstinately persist in them, is too manifest to require that it should be stated. The Apostle himself, too, afterwards expresses this in the words employed by him, when he says that the Corinthians formerly were such. 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.
And, in reference to Galatians 5:19-21, Calvin says,
What can be conceived more dreadful than that men should walk after the flesh, and shut themselves out from the kingdom of God? Who will dare to treat lightly the “abominable things which God hates?” (Jeremiah 44:4.)
But in this way, we shall be told, all are cut off from the hope of salvation; for who 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, “that which they do they allow not,” (Romans 7:15,) 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.
The preceding comments by Calvin reflect the belief that although genuine Christians will often commit sins, including those mentioned in the two focal scriptures, they will seek to return to doing what is righteous, which necessitates true repentance. In any case, Calvin apparently believes that because of their repentance when they became a Christian by trusting in Jesus Christ for salvation, God will allow them to enter His kingdom, even if they don’t repent for subsequent sins that they commit. In contrast, Calvin also believes that people who have never repented for their sins will be excluded from the kingdom of God.
John Gill’s Exposition on the Whole Bible states in regard to 1 Corinthians 6:9-10,
[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. . . .
And, Gill explains Galatians 5:19-21 as follows:
By “flesh” is meant corrupt nature, as before, and by the works of it, not only external acts of sin, but inward lusts; for such are here mentioned among its works, as “hatred”, “wrath”, “envyings”, etc. and both external and internal acts are so called, because they spring from the flesh, or corrupt nature. . . .
[T]hey that do such works of the flesh . . .; 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.
Our assessment of the basic beliefs of Gill with regard to the two focal scriptures is that although they are expressed differently, they are essentially the same as those of Calvin.
David Guzik’s Commentary on the Bible says in reference to 1 Corinthians 6:9-10,
We shouldn’t think that a Christian who has committed an act of fornication or homosexuality (or any of the other listed sins) is automatically excluded from the kingdom of God. Instead, since Paul describes these people by their sins, he means those whose lives are dominated and characterized by these sins. So, is an occasional act of fornication or homosexuality no big deal to God? Of course it is a significant matter, because it goes against everything we have been given in Jesus, and because a lifestyle of sin begins with single acts of sin.
And, with regard to Galatians 5:19-21, Guzik provides the following explanation:
To walk in these works of the flesh is to be in plain rebellion against God, and those in plain rebellion against God will not inherit the kingdom of God.
i. What is at stake here? The kingdom of God, which describes where God rules, and the benefits of His rule are realized. Because Paul speaks of inheriting the kingdom of God, we understand he means “heaven.” Paul says plainly, that those who practice such things will not go to heaven. Neither will they know the wonder and the glory of the kingdom of God on earth.
ii. Who are the people in danger? Those who practice such things. This means more than someone who has committed adultery, or fornication, or sorcery, or drunkenness, or any of these. This speaks of those who continue on in these sins, ignoring the voice of the Holy Spirit telling them to “stop.”
iii. “The tense of the verb . . . indicates a habitual continuation in fleshly sins rather than an isolated lapse, and the point is that those who continually practice such sins give evidence of having never received God’s Spirit.” (Boice)
iv. Practice “represents a present participle, ‘people doing such things’, and it carries the implication that they do them constantly.” (Morris)
v. “The verb . . . [refers] to habitual practice rather than an isolated lapse.” (Stott)
Paul may sound rigid or even harsh here, but he is consistent with the Biblical idea of conversion. When we come to Jesus to have our sins forgiven and our soul saved, He also changes our life. It doesn’t happen all at once, and the work will never be perfected on this side of eternity, but there will be a real change none the less (1 John 3:5-9). As Charles Spurgeon is said to have put it, “The grace that does not change my life will not save my soul.” The idea isn’t that a Christian could never commit these sins, but that they could never stay in these sins.
“Christians also fall and perform the lusts of the flesh. David fell horribly into adultery. Peter also fell grievously when he denied Christ. However great as these sins were, they were not committed to spite God, but from weakness. When their sins were brought to their attention these men did not obstinately continue in their sin, but repented. Those who sin through weakness are not denied pardon as long as they rise again and cease to sin. There is nothing worse than to continue in sin. If they do not repent, but obstinately continue to fulfill the desires of the flesh, it is a sure sign that they are not sincere.” (Luther)
Guzik strongly believes that a person who has become a genuine Christian will experience a generally righteous life. As a result, he also believes that a person who continually commits the same sins never made a sincere profession of faith in Jesus Christ and, therefore, should not expect to enter the kingdom of God. Furthermore, Guzik does not make an exception for Christians who sincerely repent for having committed such sins.
Peter Pett’s Commentary on the Bible expresses the following point-of-view in reference to 1 Corinthians 6:9-10:
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.
Paul . . . expands on the idea that those who are unjust in their dealings will not inherit the Kingly Rule of God by pointing out that this is true of all sinful men and women, whether professing but not practising [sic] believer or pagan.
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.
[S]uch 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.
And, with regard to Galatians 5:19-21, Pett asserts, “[People who engage in such sins] 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.”
Pett, like Guzik, believes that anyone who continually engages in the sins mentioned in the two focal scriptures, including those who profess to be Christians, will be excluded from the kingdom of God. Also like Guzik, Pett does not make an exception for Christians who sincerely repent for having committed such sins.
Matthew Henry’s Complete Commentary on the Bible declares in regard to 1 Corinthians 6:9-10,
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.
And, with regard to Galatians 5:19-21, Henry says,
These are sins which will undoubtedly shut men out of heaven. The world of spirits can never be comfortable to those who plunge themselves in the filth of the flesh nor will the righteous and holy God ever admit such into his favour and presence, unless they be first washed and sanctified, and justified in the name of our Lord Jesus, and by the Spirit of our God. . . .
Henry argues that people who deliberately commit the sins mentioned in the two focal scriptures will not be allowed into the kingdom of heaven. This apparently includes people who have previously trusted in Jesus Christ for eternal salvation (i.e., Christians), even if they sincerely repent for having committed such sins.
Summary and Conclusion
Two of the five Bible commentaries that we have cited express the belief that everyone who repented for their past sins when they were converted to the Lord (i.e., genuine Christians) will be allowed to enter the kingdom of God, despite the fact that they may often sin after having become a Christian. And, both commentaries also assert that people who have never repented for their sins will not enter the kingdom of God.
The other three Bible commentaries argue that if a person continues to commit the same sins, it is probable that person never made a valid profession of faith in Jesus Christ and, therefore, that person should not expect to enter the kingdom of God. None of these three commentaries make an exception for Christians who sincerely repent for their sins.
It is our belief that if everyone who has committed the sins mentioned in the two focal scripture passages is excluded from the kingdom of God, even if they repent for committing those sins, there will not be many people in the kingdom of God. The primary reason for this belief is our supposition that during every year of their life, every person with sufficient mental capacity and maturity, including genuine Christians, is guilty of knowingly or unknowingly committing at least one – and more probably, several – of the sins that are mentioned in the two focal scriptures that we have cited.
Adultery is an example of a sin that may be unknowingly committed, because it may involve just thoughts, rather than necessitating physical action. There probably are few, if any, normal heterosexual men who, even after becoming a Christian, have not committed the type of adultery that Jesus Christ mentioned in Matthew 5:28 when He declared, “I say to you that whoever looks at a woman to lust for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart.” And, several of the other sins mentioned in the two focal scriptures could also be committed without realizing the sinfulness of certain types of thought (e.g., coveting, envy, hate, etc.).
So, if almost everyone – if not everyone – is guilty of committing one or more of the sins that are mentioned in the two focal scriptures, what is the most likely meaning of these two scriptures, especially for Christians?
For anyone who has never sincerely trusted in Jesus Christ for eternal salvation (i.e., those who are not genuine Christians), the Bible does not provide sound reason for them to believe that they will be allowed by God to enter His kingdom. In contrast, we believe that 1 John 1:9 provides assurance that if genuine Christians continue to confess their sins and are truly repentant, God will not hold those sins against them (i.e., they will be forgiven) and, therefore, they will not be punished in any way for having committed those sins. This verse of scripture declares, “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”
Although 1 John 1:9 does not indicate that Christians who fail to repent won’t be allowed to enter the kingdom of God, the verse does infer that unconfessed sins will not be forgiven by God. Therefore, there probably will be some form of punishment for unconfessed sins. However, it is our belief that this punishment is likely to take the form of lesser rewards in heaven, rather than some form of severe punishment.
Furthermore, if professing Christians have sincerely trusted in Jesus Christ for eternal salvation, they will be allowed to enter the kingdom of God, regardless of whether or not they later confess all of their subsequent sins (see John 3:16). If this last statement is not true, then no one could have assurance of their eternal salvation, because a sudden death might prevent them from being able to confess their recent sins. [See our article entitled “What Must a Person Do to Be Assured of Eternal Salvation?”]
Definitions of the Types of Sins Mentioned in the Two Focal Scripture Passages*
Adultery: having voluntary sexual intercourse between a married man and a woman not his wife, or between a married woman and a man not her husband
Contentiousness: being always ready to argue; being quarrelsome
Coveting: wanting ardently, especially something that another person has; longing for with envy
Dissension: causing discord as expressed in intense quarreling or wrangling; dissatisfaction with those in authority
Drunkenness: being intoxicated or habitually intoxicated
Envy: having discontent and ill will because of another person’s advantages, possessions, etc.; resentful dislike of another person who has something that the envier desires
Extortion: getting money, etc. by threats, misuse of authority, etc.
Fornication: having voluntary sexual intercourse engaged in by a man, especially an unmarried man, with an unmarried woman
Hate: having strong dislike or ill will for someone
Heresy: having a religious belief opposed to the orthodox doctrines of a church, especially such a belief specifically denounced by the church; the rejection of a belief that is a part of church dogma
Homosexuality: engaging in behavior to fulfill sexual desire for those of the same sex as oneself
Idolatry: worshipping of idols; excessive devotion to, or reverence for, some person or thing
Jealousy: being resentfully suspicious of a rival or a rival’s influence
Lewdness: showing, or intended to excite, lust or sexual desire, especially in an offensive way
Murder: unlawfully and maliciously or premeditatedly killing of one human being by another
Reveling: engaging in boisterous (i.e., noisy and unruly) festivity
Reviling: using abusive or contemptuous language in speaking to, or about, someone
Selfish ambition: being too much concerned with one’s own welfare or interests and having little or no concern for others
Sodomy: engaging in abnormal sexual intercourse, such as having sex with an animal
Sorcery: using an evil supernatural power over people and their affairs
Thievery: engaging in stealing from others
Uncleanness: being morally impure
Wrathful: being intensely angry
*Source: Webster’s Dictionary