This is surely one of the bigger buts in the Bible for the context in which it appears. Check out 1 Corinthians 6:9-11. The context begins, Do you not know that the wicked will not inherit the Kingdom of God? It is a rhetorical question–the presumed answer is, Why of course you know this! A list of offenses is given to clarify: the sexually immoral, idolaters, adulterers, male prostitutes, homosexuals, thieves, greedy, drunkards, slanderers and swindlers–no hope for them.
Then these wonderful words: And that is what some of you were, but you’ve been washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.
Let’s be clear. The apostle was being very gracious when he said “that’s what some of you were.” Look back at that list of offenses. I would argue that all of mankind is listed there. I see myself. Do you see yourself in that list? That is why this is a big and beautiful but–Jesus has remedied our situation.
Recognize that this passage calls sin, sin. Those things in the list are not God’s intention and design for us. It is wrong to commit those acts. It’s even wrong to commit those acts in our minds–recall Jesus’ teachings in the Sermon on the Mount: if you’ve looked a member of the opposite sex in a lustful way, you’ve committed adultery, and if you’ve harbored a hateful thought you’ve murdered, and so on. So call it sin. And recognize that we are all alike in this–that we’ve all sinned and have fallen short of God’s glory.
So precious are the words that follow this big but–you have been washed. The word continues–you’ve been sanctified and justified in Christ. You’ve been sexually immoral? Washed! An idolater? Clean! An adulterer or prostitute? Brand new! A homosexual? Jesus paid it all! A thief, greedy or a drunk? Blameless! Slanderers or swindlers? Spotless!
Notice that the text does not say that you need to clean up your own act. If you did, then you could boast, “Look what I’ve done!” This text presents the opposite–Look what God has done! This is good news. This is gospel (the words literally means ‘good news’).
Don’t miss the opportunity to bask in the glow of a big, beautiful but–and to give thanks!