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The Exlusionary Promises

yellow pad

by Dennis Pollock

In the New Testament there are three lists given, which tell us plainly who will not make it to heaven. One is found in First Corinthians 6, and the other two are listed in the last two chapters of the book of Revelation. I call these the exclusionary promises. We often talk about claiming the promises of God, but these are not promises any sane person would ever want to claim. Claim them or not, however, these promises will be fulfilled in the lives of all who fit the qualifications.

 Someone once said that when we get to heaven there will be 3 surprises: who will be there that we thought wouldn't make it, who will be missing that we were certain would surely be there, and the fact that we are there. These three lists tell us definitively at least some of those whom you will never see walking the golden streets or drinking the water of life.

 The first list is found in Paul's first epistle to the Corinthians. He writes:

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 swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. (1 Cor 6:9,10)

 The second listing, found in Revelation 21, declares: 

But the cowardly, unbelieving, abominable, murderers, sexually immoral, sorcerers, idolaters, and all liars shall have their part in the lake which burns with fire and brimstone, which is the second death."  (Revelation 21:8)

 And the third and final list is found in the next chapter, the final chapter of the Bible, where we read:

Blessed are those who do His commandments, that they may have the right to the tree of life, and may enter through the gates into the city. But outside are dogs and sorcerers and sexually immoral and murderers and idolaters, and whoever loves and practices a lie.  (Revelation 22:14,15)

 All three passages are saying essentially the same thing: people who practice certain wicked behaviors will not go to heaven. The First Corinthian passage says they will not inherit the kingdom of God, the Revelation 21 passage says they will "have their part" in the lake of fire, and the Revelation 22 passage says that they will not be allowed into the holy city, New Jerusalem. In short you might sum up what these verses are saying with this idea: don't expect to find wicked people in heaven. 

What about grace? 

Now that hardly seems revolutionary, but it does elicit a few questions. An immediate thought that will occur to some is that it seems kind of surprising to see these lists, given so much emphasis in the New Testament on grace. If we are not saved by what we do, why should anyone be punished for what they do? And what about the idea of "believe on Jesus and be saved?" If these people believe on Jesus, why shouldn't they be saved, even if they do practice these behaviors? If grace really means grace and if believe really means believe, why should it matter what we do? Aren't we all just "sinners saved by grace?" 

We find the reason for these lists clearly declared in the First Corinthians passage, which says, "Do you not know?" and "Do not be deceived…" Paul starts out with, "Do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God?" He seems to be implying that they should know this, but in fact they do not know it. He follows this with, "Do not be deceived…" Here we have the reason the Holy Spirit inspired Paul and John to include these lists in the holy Scriptures: It is easy for many to assume that since salvation is by grace through faith in Jesus, it doesn't really matter how we live, as long as we believe. Paul's words, "Do not be deceived," and these three lists serve as a flashing red light to those trusting in a mental belief which has never transformed their lives. 

By listing specific sins, the Bible grabs the attention of the readers, and forces them to recognize their  perilous situation. Had the Bible merely said, "Bad, nasty, wicked people will never make it to heaven," no one would have ever considered that this referred to them. But when a promiscuous man or an alcoholic, or a homosexual or a swindler reads this, he knows instantly that this is pointing straight at him. Some protest that the Bible was written by men, and that these men were simply expressing their own biases. But try as they might, once these words have been read and understood, they will have a hard time dislodging the barbed arrow of truth from their minds and consciences. 

It is interesting that the 1 Corinthians list, describing people who will not inherit the kingdom of God was written by the apostle Paul, the foremost expositor of the grace of Jesus. Some have decided that salvation by grace means that it hardly matters how you live. Jesus accepts us one and all, as long as we believe in Him. But grace does not mean a free pass to sin as you like. Salvation is not a matter of receiving a Jesus shield to hold above your head while you fornicate, steal from your company, and cheat on your taxes, so that God only sees Jesus and isn't even aware of your wicked, ungodly lifestyle. In Romans Paul writes, "For sin shall not have dominion over you, for you are not under law but under grace" (Romans 6:14). Grace does not free us to sin; grace gives us power over sin! To Timothy Paul writes, "Let everyone who names the name of Christ depart from iniquity" (2 Timothy 2:19). Certainly there is forgiveness when we slip, but forgiveness is not a license to continually trample upon the blood of Jesus. 

Observations from the Exclusionary Lists 

Unrighteous will not inheritAs we review the three lists of people that you will not see in heaven one type of sin stands out as particularly prominent. It is the sin of sexual immorality. In First Corinthians Paul's first five categories of sinners include: fornicators, idolaters, adulterers, homosexuals, and sodomites. He goes on to list others, but it is significant that four out of the first five sins listed are sexual sins. God could hardly have said it any more plainly. Having sex outside of marriage is a big deal to Him; it will keep you out of heaven. 

Some years ago I had a man come to me and ask me to mentor him in the things of God. He was a likeable guy, but it soon became clear that he was something like Reuben of the Old Testament: as unstable as water. We got together from time to time, and then he dropped out of sight and I didn't see him for a while. When I finally saw him again I was eager to find out how he was doing spiritually. He was in a backslidden condition, but he wanted me to not think too badly of him, and he told me, "I'm really not doing anything too wrong… except that when I go out with women on dates I usually sleep with them." I gave him Paul's words and told him the Bible declares that fornicators will not inherit the kingdom of God – that what he was doing was no small thing. 

When you place the three exclusionary lists side by side you discover that sexual immorality is found in all three lists. Some have worried that since they have slipped into the sin of adultery, or had sex with several partners before marriage, there is no hope for them to live with God in eternity. This is most definitely not what the Scripture is saying. These passages are not referring to people who fall under temptation, and then repent and are restored to the path or righteousness, or those who sinned sexually before coming to Christ, but rather to those who regularly, consistently, and flagrantly live in these sins without repentance. A hunter is one who hunts regularly. A fisherman is one who fishes regularly. He does it today, plans to do it tomorrow, and has no thoughts at all about ever stopping. Likewise the fornicators, adulterers, homosexuals, swindlers, and drunkards in these three lists are people who practice these sins regularly, frequently, without feelings of guilt, and with no intention of ever giving up their sins. 


Another sin which makes all three lists is the sin of idolatry. In the days of the New Testament idolatry was common and it was literal. There were literal idols around in those days that men and women worshiped, idols made of stone and wood. Today that type of idolatry is almost non-existent, especially in the western nations, but spiritual idolatry is as rampant as ever. Modern idolatry exists when your major life obsession is with anything other than God. God is very serious about this. He demands that He be our supreme love and receive our foremost allegiance. Christians are permitted hobbies, but they are allowed only one true passion – and that must be our triune God: the Father, the Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, and the Holy Spirit. Our Lord has declared that the first and greatest of all the commandments of God is: "you shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength" (Mark 12:30). Those who refuse to do so will never see that holy city whose streets are made of gold and where pain and sorrow, tears and death are not allowed. 

All Liars 

One surprise we find is that lying makes both of the Revelation lists. In fact the Scriptures seem to put an extra emphasis upon this sin. In Revelation 21 we are told that "all liars shall have their part in the lake that burns with fire and brimstone." And in Revelation 22 it says that "whoever loves and practices a lie" will not enter the holy city. . I was always very careful to emphasize to my children that Christians do not lie and that the Bible tells us that liars will not go to heaven. One of the funniest and most unforgettable scenes from my child-raising days was when my youngest son confronted his brother over what he supposed was a lie. The little guy was furious with his older brother over this, and shouted at the top of his lungs, "Liars go to hell, liars go to hell!" His spirit may not have been exactly right, but his theology was right on. Revelation tells us that hell is exactly where all liars will go. 

Sin or Addiction? 

One sin that makes the 1 Corinthians list runs contrary to our modern thinking about addictions. Paul declares that drunkards will not inherit the kingdom of God. Modern psychology is telling us that alcoholism is a disease and has nothing to do with one's morality. If you drink like a fish it is because you have alcoholism disease, or perhaps an alcoholic gene that makes you do what you do. But God tells us that being a drunk is not a disease; it is a sin. The word of God does not say that people with cancer or heart disease, or smallpox, or cholera, or malaria will not make it to heaven, but it does tell us that drunkards, people who frequently and consistently get drunk, will not inherit the kingdom of God. 

We find some wonderful words of encouragement in the 1 Corinthians exclusionary list. After Paul finishes declaring that fornicators, adulterers, homosexuals, swindlers, and drunkards will not inherit God's kingdom, he adds this postscript: "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). The Corinthian believers had (past tense) been drunkards, fornicators, and idolaters, but now all that was changed. Jesus Christ had come into their lives, forgiven their sins, and lifted them out of their pit of sin. They were now children of God, justified in the sight of God through Christ's blood, and with just as much a hope of heaven as those who had never indulged in those things in their lives. 

Such is the power of the cross, blood, and resurrection of our Lord Jesus. Or as Paul put it: "Therefore, having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ" (Romans 5:1).

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