As we near the end of the church year, our thoughts turn to the end of all things. We instinctively picture ourselves and others before the great throne on that last day. Who will enter that eternal kingdom and who will not? Our own times are awash in what we might call universalism, the sentimental idea that merely dying entitles a person to enter heaven, that ultimately everybody goes to heaven and nobody goes to hell – in fact, that there is no hell. All of this, of course, would make Christmas, Good Friday, Easter, Pentecost and the Bible’s summons to repentance and faith utterly pointless.
“Do not be deceived,” says Paul. Liberty from sin is not license to sin. This is a simple catechism truth that any 5th grader gets – and yet people are deceived by fine sounding arguments that they can impenitently live in sin and still go to heaven. In 1 Corinthians, Paul lists 10 such persistent sins in no particular order – not at all exhaustive, but rather a representative list
“Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived. Neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor males who have sex with males, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor the verbally abusive, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. And some of you were those types of people. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God” (1 Corinthians 6:9-11 EHV).
Amid these hard truths are some grace notes. First, in that twice-repeated word: “Inherit.” That little word, “inherit,” says that believers are the adopted sons and daughters of the King. It says that we stand to inherit all that is His. His perfect life counts for us. His payment for sin on the cross is our payment in full. His resurrection guarantees our own. This inheritance we stand to lose if we turn our liberty from sin into a license to sin.
And then another grace note: “And some of you were those types of people. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.” Do you hear a soothing sermon, a grace note in the tense of a verb? Some of you were.”
Ironic, isn’t it? The grinning, godless world, in the name of love and tolerance, gladly hands us a license to sin. But once we get tripped up by some sin, the world is the first to hang a label on us for the rest of our life. It is the liberating Christ alone who tears off the label with one little word – “were.” “Some of you were those types of people.” But not anymore. You were washed in His baptismal river of pardon. You were sanctified – set apart in a circle with Christ to live with Him and for Him, justified – declared not guilty for the sake of Jesus Christ. What we were we no longer are. That’s a grace note we can sing all the way to the throne of our Savior.