Washing with water is a great defense against germs. Water is also the element used in the sacrament of baptism–and it also involves cleansing. Your baptism seals your cleansing from sin, as Paul points out in 1 Corinthians 6:9–11.

This what you were! The wicked will not inherit God’s kingdom. God’s kingdom is contrasted with the wicked. The so-called “kings” of 1 Corinthians 4:8 are in danger of being excluded from the kingdom! “God” and “the wicked” are juxtaposed (in Greek) for the sake of contrast. Sin a violates God’s character and nature. When Paul speaks of inheriting the God’s kingdom, he is talking about eternal life, being with God in the new heavens and earth. Will you inherit the kingdom? Paul lists especially notorious sins. He focuses on the extremes, but the Corinthians were moving in that direction. And we live in a culture where these sins have become so accepted that “sin” is an almost unknown term. The culture affects the church. All Christians (this side of heaven) are guilty of sin. The sins Paul lists are sins which tend to control and characterize the sinner.

Do not be deceived. Paul lists various sinners. Sexual immorality includes both heterosexual adultery and homosexual offenses. Paul’s language is explicit. “The sexually immoral” translates the word from which we get “pornography.” Drunkards are among the sinners, see Ephesians 5:18. Today even where these activities are opposed, they are often excused as innate or hereditary problems. It may well be true that a tendency towards some of these sins, or a special susceptibility for them is inherited. But giving in to those tendencies or desires is sin. (After all, as sons and daughters of Adam and Eve we all have an innate tendency to sin.) The Word of God treats these as sin, as behavior which the believer must avoid. Don’t limit what Paul says to sexual immorality. Idolatry is included, and the (what we think of as) “little” sins of slander and swindling. When you remember the penalty for all sin, you are less likely to single out certain sins as being really bad. God excludes these from his kingdom. You cannot violate God’s law with impunity. Don’t make excuses for these or any other sins. Remember that Paul makes a smooth transition from the self-centered “give me my share” greed of the Corinthians who were taking one another to court and cheating one another, to the list of offenses that exclude one from God’s kingdom. Paul makes clear that he is not talking about some theoretical list of sins and offenders.

But you have been washed! You used to be this way. That is what some of you were. Not all of the Corinthians had been characterized by these particular sins — any more than all of you. But some of them had been exactly those kinds of sinners. The church of Jesus Christ is composed of forgiven sinners. God does redeem sinners. The list is not only a warning, but also a comfort, because it is proof that God can and does change the lives of sinners. There is hope in Jesus Christ, see 1 Corinthians 10:13. Do not rob the sinner of hope by making him ill (which he can’t change) if the problem is sinful behavior (which God can and does change). You and I need cleansing. One of the reasons that the story of Naaman is included in Scripture (2 Kings 5), is to demonstrate how God’s redeeming, cleansing grace works even in the most unusual circumstances. Naaman, the respected general of the king of Aram, suffered from leprosy. An Israelite slave girl gave him the news of a prophet in Israel who could heal. Elisha’s command that he wash in the Jordan brought healing and, not only cleansing from disease, but the good news of the living and true God touched this powerful man’s heart. The ceremonial law had many instances of ceremonial washings, for the priests (Exodus 30:17–21) and the people (Numbers 19:17–21), reminding God’s people that sin pollutes. You need to be clean in God’s sight. These all pointed forward to the Messiah who would remove not only the guilt, but also the pollution of sin.

“[W]ater baptism is simultaneously a Spirit baptism, not a baptism with the spiritual gifts of glossolalia and prophecy, but with the Spirit as the principle of a new life. Baptized people are new, spiritual, people…. But this renewal of human beings by the Holy Spirit in baptism is not something detached from and alongside of, nor an accidental addition to, justification by faith. Rather, the two coincide. The Corinthians are simultaneously washed, sanctified, and justified in the name of he Lord Jesus and by the Spirit of our God (1 Cor. 6:11). In baptism all these benefits are joined together and granted to believers….”

Herman Bavinck, Reformed Dogmatics, Vol. 4, p. 506

Although that is what you used to be, you were washed, sanctified, and justified. The word “but” gives you hope. You are no longer what you once were. A change has taken place. The church of Jesus Christ must be willing to accept repentant sinners, without holding their past against them. Ezekiel tells you to what God promises to do. He focuses on the reality to which washing points.

“Baptism… signifies union with Christ, purifying from the pollution of sin by regeneration of the Spirit, and purifying from the guilt of sin by the blood of Christ…. The sign and seal of baptism can be no pledge or guarantee to us of that which baptism signifies except as we are mindful of God’s covenant, embrace its promises, discharge its obligations, and lay hold in faith upon the covenant faithfulness of God.”

John Murray, Christian Baptism, pages. 89–91

You have been washed. Paul may well be thinking of baptism, the external washing which symbolized union with Christ, Romans 6:4–7. That union has both forensic and subjective effects. The change in your life has taken place in the name of Christ and through the Holy Spirit. The entire Trinity is involved in your salvation. Avoid sacerdotalism (this is a union by faith), but also avoid dismissing baptism as “just a sign” of the real baptism. The sign and what it points to are connected. The sign is a seal, authenticating what God has done. You were sanctified. Christ, who was made sin for your redemption, is no longer in sin’s realm. You, too, have been set free from sin’s bondage, Romans 6:6. You, who were slaves to these sins, are free. You were justified. Christ has been declared just as the second Adam. You are just in him. Note the repetition of “but” (in Greek) for contrast and emphasis.

Never forget the glorious truth of your baptism: in it God says that you have been washed, you have been sanctified, you have been justified–in Jesus Christ. Your challenge this week is to live as one baptized into Christ.