“Do you not know that wrongdoers will not inherit the kingdom of God?” (1 Corinthians 6:9-11)
Lately, I told a friend that it was “thinking like a Jew” that led me to believe in salvation by faith alone (in Christ alone) and that it has nothing to do with works whatsoever. Why do I say Jewish thinking? Because Christians tend to read everything in Scriptures as if they are speaking about eternal salvation (from Hell). Still, I believe most of these verses refer to things other than salvation (and in my book, The Gospel of “Divine Abuse” I have elaborated on a few examples, such as the Torah’s commandments and Jesus’s Sermon on the Mount).
Based on the “Vice Lists” (lists of bad deeds which whoever commits them “…will not inherit the kingdom of God”) in 1 Cor. 6:9-11, Gal. 5:19-21, and Eph. 5:3-5, John MacArthur argues that queer people can only be born again if they stop practicing homosexuality. In other words, MacArthur takes the vice lists to mean that there is synergy between your works and your faith when it comes to salvation. This follows MacArthur’s Calvinistic theology.
But wait a minute! No one is guilty of only one type of sin. Queer people also struggle with all the sins that everyone else does. For instance, a queer person might also struggle with gossip, jealousy, lying, and alcoholism. Then, to be saved, they must not only become celibate but must also cease gossiping, lying, being jealous, and drinking. This is only the logic behind taking the vice lists to be speaking of eternal salvation. If it were about salvation, heterosexuals, too, would need to stop gossiping, being jealous, etc., or else they couldn’t be saved.
But can a jealous person entirely stop being jealous? Can an angry person 100% cease all outbursts of anger? Can a gossiping person stop and never gossip again? If not, then when does God say, “Enough is enough!”? How can we measure to know if we are still saved or not?
So, when we evangelize, we need to go through a list of everything that is sinful so that the person can stop practicing all those things. It would not be enough for queer people to stop practicing homosexuality.
But wait a minute! At the end of his lists in Galatians and Romans, he warns against those who do “things such as these” and “things like these” (Galatians 5:19; Romans 1:32), so this is not even an exhaustive list of all the sins! Besides, Paul does not appear to have a preconceived list that he inserts in his letters, as no term appears in every list.
Here is how one Reformed theologian, James Montgomery Boice, put it in his book “Christ’s Call to Discipleship”:
What must I pay to become a Christian… I must pay the price of those sins I now cherish. I must give them up, every one. I cannot cling to a single sin… (pp. 112-13).
The result is a saving message that cannot save anyone. The only truly saving message is salvation by faith alone in Christ alone. Adding any other condition(s) to the new birth other than faith in Christ means proclaiming a false gospel (Gal 1:6-9).
But Jesus never said, “If you sin no more, then you are good to go”; he said, “go, and sin no more.” Jesus didn’t set the woman caught in adultery free from punishment because she promised never to sin again. He hoped she would stop sinning because she had been freely forgiven.
Calvinists and Arminians mean well, as they want to keep a godly lifestyle. But queer people1 can be born again just as they are, and so can heterosexuals and those who gossip and get jealous. All may get saved the same way:
Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and you shall be saved (Acts 16:31).
So, how, then, does Paul use the Vice Lists?
The answer depends somewhat on what Paul meant by “inheriting” the kingdom of God.
With a future kingdom in view, two views maintain the integrity of salvation by grace through faith alone. One view sees these passages as warning believers about losing rewards in the world to come. In this view, “inherit” means “enjoying rich rewards in the future millennial kingdom of God based on performance or merit in this world.” While all believers will enter the kingdom, only faithful disciples (who avoid the vices listed) will be rewarded.
Another view sees these passages as exhortations to believers not to behave like unbelievers. In other words, the vice lists describe the characteristics of unbelievers that Christians should not emulate. Christians are saved by faith alone, but their behavior should reflect their new identity in Christ.
Ultimately, the interpretation of these passages depends on one’s theological framework and eschatology. Still, it is clear that salvation is by faith alone in Christ alone, and adding any other condition, such as ceasing certain sins, is a false gospel. The Christian life should be characterized by holiness, but it is a result or expectation of salvation and not a requirement for it.
God’s spirit is in the business of turning the worst of sinners — adulterers and murderers — into spiritual leaders. For the Spirit to fix people, they first need to be broken. Moses, David, and Paul were all murderers who God turned into the greatest spiritual leaders in history (other than Jesus). These three prove that no matter how badly you’ve messed up, God can allow you to make it big, even as a leader in his kingdom!
The Bible often emphasizes the sins of its heroes to make a point we tend to miss: all of them (but Jesus) were sinners. Their sins, however, hurt and damaged them, not God. Any biblical character whose sins were recorded, such as Adam and Eve, Noah, Abraham and Sarah, Moses, King David, Jonah the prophet, or anyone else you may choose, was going to spend eternity with God because of their faith in Him, not because they were able to stop sinning. So, in contrast with some modern Christian views on soteriology (the doctrine of salvation), in the Old Testament, salvation was a gift of grace given by God to sinners due to faith alone. It was salvation by faith alone, not faith plus works, not faith that works, just faith. And I don’t believe this changed when Jesus arrived.
In Judaism, we say that Abraham is our great patriarch. In Genesis chapter 16, just after receiving a promise through a covenant from God, Abram got involved in manipulation, scheming, unbelief, and sexual immorality. Yet throughout that entire time, the covenant remained. God saw him as righteous not because of what he did or did not do, but because of his faith:
Abram believed the LORD, and he credited it to him as righteousness. (Genesis 15:6).
In his commentary on Genesis, theologian and a Jewish believer in Jesus, Arnold Fruchtenbaum, explains that Abraham’s obedience to God’s commandment to circumcise immediately after the making of the covenant had nothing to do with God’s promise to fulfill his side of the covenant:
This is not conditional: God does not say that if Abraham fails to do this, then God will not fulfill what He said in verses 1-8. God will fulfill verses 1-8 regardless of Abraham’s response. Nevertheless, in light of God’s blessings for Abraham, He expects Abraham to fulfill certain conditions. But God’s fulfillments of His promises remains unconditional. However, the principle is that unconditional promises set up the expectation of a response. God will do what He said He will would do no matter what; in response, Abraham should do something. It is the same principle in salvation. Salvation is by grace through faith, not based on works. Once saved, believers retain salvation unconditionally; but in response to God’s love for them, believers are expected to keep His commandments. However, whether believers keep them or do not keep them, their salvation is secure.[i]
If the promise of salvation made through the New Covenant is also unconditional, then the way someone is saved today is the same as Abraham, Moses, David, and any other Israelite were saved – by faith alone. While some Christians are finally waking up to this reality, this, I believe, was something already known, thought, believed, and widely accepted even in the times of the Old Testament.
I invite you to farther expand this discussion on salvation, faith and works in with me in my book: The Gospel of “Divine Abuse.”
 Assuming homosexuality in these lists was not in reference to idol worshiping.
[i] Arnold G. Fruchtenbaum, “Ariel’s Bible Commentary: The Book Of Genesis” (Ariel, 2009), p 299.