“And such were some of you. But you were washed, but you were sanctified, but you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus and by the Spirit of our God” (1 Corinthians 6:11 NKJV).
A lot of substances produce stains which can be difficult to remove, such as blood, grape juice, etc. We spend a lot of energy in Asia removing curry spots, especially from my shirts. First the specific spot will be sprayed with a strong remover, then the dirty garment will be put into a bucket of water and detergent to soak overnight. After this, there may still be considerable scrubbing required to remove the stain completely. I have a few shirts with lingering traces of the spot still visible.
No food stain can compare with the strength or obnoxiousness of the stains of sin which God sees on us, his fallen creation. A typical list of such stains, with their awful consequences, is given by the apostle Paul to the Christians of Corinth: “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” (1 Corinthians 6:9-10).
What a list of sins and crimes! Those are not the kind of people with which most would want much close association. They are certainly not the people we expect to find in church, right? After all, no one wants to go to church with “hypocrites” (sinners), or so we are often told.
That is precisely why Paul’s next verse to the Corinthians comes as such a shock. “But such were some of you.” What? The church accepted thieves, immoral people, idolaters, even homosexuals? Can that be? That is exactly what the text says.
But the fact is that it is not quite so simple. Yes, sinners are in the church. That is why Christ built the church. But once they are saved from sin and added to the church, they must cease being sinners. They have been cleansed, washed, sanctified, and justified. Jesus’ blood and God’s Holy Spirit, acting together, have removed the guilt of sin and made them clean, holy, and pure.
In another passage Paul said, “Christ also loved the church and gave Himself for her, that He might sanctify and cleanse her with the washing of water by the word, that He might present her to Himself a glorious church, not having spot or wrinkle or any such thing, but that she should be holy and without blemish” (Ephesians 5:25-27).
Sin stains, and it stains terribly. But Jesus has removed those stains by his blood. He did the spraying, soaking, and scrubbing two thousand years ago, on the cross. He, and he alone, is the “propitiation” for the sins of the whole world (1 John 2:2), for anyone and everyone who will call upon him in obedient faith.
But we must strive to remain free from further stain. We are cleansed by obedience to the Gospel, which includes the “washing of water” called baptism. But it is repentance which keeps us clean. The inspired message to Corinth reminded them that they must not continue in those sins for which Christ had provided forgiveness. Unfortunately, some were not living as they should. In previous chapters the apostle had described immorality, covetousness, and division among them.
We are quick to recognize that no sinner can enter heaven without confessing faith in Jesus and giving obedience to the Gospel. We may be less ready to admit that we must turn from our sinful ways completely and seek to live as new creatures, made righteous and holy by God (Ephesians 4:24). Those stains must be removed, and we must strive diligently to stay clean. That is God’s intention.