First Corinthians 6:9-10, Galatians 5:19-21 and Ephesians 5:5 are three passages that employ the phrase “shall not inherit” or a similar terminology after cataloguing various sins. There are those who teach that the listed works of the flesh being in your life indicates that you are not saved—but is this the teaching of these passages? Let’s consider each in its slightly broader context and discover who the author is addressing, whether saved or unsaved, and then we can determine the point being made.
Paul, under inspiration, begins 1 Corinthians 6 with a reference to his audience being “saints” (verse 2). Later (and immediately preceding the portion of the text we are investigating), Paul assumes they are among the “brethren” (verse 8). Then, immediately after the verses that are central to our study, Paul again addresses his audience as being saved, “And such were some of you: but ye are washed, but ye are sanctified, but ye are justified in the name of the Lord Jesus, and by the Spirit of our God” (verse 11). Clearly, Paul assumes his audience in the church at Corinth is a body of believers.
Immediately preceding the focus of our study in Galatians 5:19-21 and again soon afterward, Paul challenges his audience to “walk in the Spirit” (Gal. 5:16, 25). Therefore, Paul assumes that among the Galatians he has another saved audience.
In Ephesians 5, Paul calls his audience “dear children” (verse 1) and “saints” (verse 3). Then after verse 5, he warns them, “Let no man deceive you with vain words: for because of these things cometh the wrath of God upon the children of disobedience. Be not ye therefore partakers with them. For ye were sometimes darkness, but now are ye light in the Lord: walk as children of light” (Eph. 5:6-8). Though it is true that verse six makes it clear unsaved people face divine wrath for their sins, Paul challenges his specific audience not to partake in the sins of those going to hell, using an expression that indicates they are no longer in such company. He flat out states they were darkness but now are light.
In each of the three passages, the audience that Paul warns is addressed as believers. Therefore, the warning cannot be to check whether one is really saved (as if there is a difference between being “saved” and “really saved”). So, what then is his warning about?
The passages are similar in content:
“Know ye not that the unrighteous shall not inherit the kingdom of God? Be not deceived: neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor abusers of themselves with mankind, Nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners, shall inherit the kingdom of God.”
1 Cor. 6:9-10
“Now the works of the flesh are manifest, which are these; Adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lasciviousness, Idolatry, witchcraft, hatred, variance, emulations, wrath, strife, seditions, heresies, Envyings, murders, drunkenness, revellings, and such like: of the which I tell you before, as I have also told you in time past, that they which do such things shall not inherit the kingdom of God.
“For this ye know, that no whoremonger, nor unclean person, nor covetous man, who is an idolater, hath any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and of God.”
A series of observations can help bring us to the correct conclusion and the intent of these passages.
(1) In addition to the assumed audience always being saved people, it’s interesting to note that nested among sins regularly viewed as being of the “grosser” variety are sins often “glossed over.” If being covetous, envious, jealous (“emulations”) and strife indicate a person is not saved, then no one is saved. The point of the passages is not to make people doubt their salvation and then get “really saved.” The point must have some bearing on truly saved people.
(2) Unsaved flesh and saved flesh look exactly alike. Fornication looks like fornication, drunkenness looks like drunkenness, envy looks like envy, and so forth. While it is tragic for a child of God to ignore his provision in Christ to access Christ’s overcoming life, we all know this is quite possible for saved people.
(3) None of the passages say, “shall not enter the kingdom of God.” The action word is not enter (as it is in John 3 when Jesus spoke to Nicodemus about the necessity of being born again). Rather, the verb is inherit and speaks to the audience having a potential inheritance.
(4) And finally, the verb tense in Ephesians 5:5 is immensely instructive. In the other two passages, the verb is the future tense of inherit with the negative (“shall not inherit”), but Ephesians 5:5 uses a present tense “to be” verb with the noun, literally making the clause say, “…is not having any inheritance.”
Herein is the big point. When you walk after the flesh and indulge in the works of the flesh, you are not having (you are not taking by faith) your inheritance of the Spirit. You are not yielding to and accessing your provision of the Spirit in you to impart the life of Christ to you, and thus you are missing out on your present inheritance of the ministry of the Spirit. This unbelief will affect your future in the coming kingdom because you will not have as much of Christ’s life manifested that will pass the tests of the Judgment Seat fires.
John Van Gelderen