It is easy to take certain words, phrases, or statements of God’s word for granted. Too often we read over them as if their meaning is comprehended by all and appreciated in a way that God intends, when in reality we may be overlooking a great lesson or significant biblical truth.
Consider for a moment the statement Paul employs as he closes his warnings concerning the works of the flesh. “…they which do such things shall not inherit the kingdom of God” (Gal. 5:21). It is certainly stated in such a way as to indicate that Paul expects it to impact the lives of those to whom he wrote. It is presented as a grand incentive which, in Paul’s mind, should cause his readers to mortify their members which are upon the earth (Col. 3:5). The fact that Paul simply gives the warning without any elaboration causes us to think that Paul assumes his readers understand the full impact of such a consequence. This passage is not the only one where we find this type of warning. In First Corinthians, Paul wrote the same warning in the same fashion (1 Cor. 6:9, 10, 15:50). There is even a variation of the same clause in Ephesians 5:5.
As we continue, there are two points we will consider. First, we will consider why Paul would assume the readers understand the phrase and its implications. Then we will consider the phrase itself and the meaning of what Paul is stating.
Why would Paul be able to simply make the statement without any explanation of meaning? It must be remembered that Paul is writing to Christians. These had been taught the gospel and were obedient. Consider for a moment exactly what was taught. In Acts 8 those who had been scattered because of their faith “went everywhere preaching the word,” which was to preach Christ (Acts 8:4-5). It was the same to preach Jesus (Acts 8:35). In this passage, the key verse is Acts 8:12, because it gives a more specific definition of this preaching. It reads,
But when they believed Philip preaching the things concerning the kingdom of God, and the name of Jesus Christ, they were baptized, both men and women.
Notice how this preaching that is referenced throughout Acts 8 included preaching concerning the kingdom. Also notice the closing verses of the book of Acts: “Paul … [was] preaching the kingdom of God, and teaching those things which concern the Lord Jesus Christ” (Acts 28:30-31). This helps us to understand what Paul meant when he said, “For I determined not to know any thing among you, save Jesus Christ, and him crucified” (1 Cor. 2:2). Those brethren converted in the first century were taught the Christ and the kingdom of God in the process of their conversion. Therefore, it is not unrealistic to think that the brethren Paul addressed would be very familiar with the kingdom of God and what it would mean to fail to inherit that kingdom.
Now, what does Scripture teach concerning this warning? As we begin our study we remember that John the Baptist and Jesus preached that the kingdom was at hand. Matthew recorded, “And Jesus went about all Galilee … preaching the gospel of the kingdom” (Matt. 4:23). In fact, Jesus taught that the kingdom would come with power in that generation’s lifetime (Mark 9:1). In Acts 2, Peter exercised the use of the keys to the kingdom (Matt. 16:19) and opened the doors of the church. From that point, the kingdom is not taught as “being near,” but as a reality. So there is a present reality in which we speak of the kingdom. However, the passage under consideration seems to indicate that there is also a future sense in which the kingdom should be considered. That sense is in the context of an inheritance awaiting those that are faithful. When the last enemy is destroyed—which is death—Christ will deliver the kingdom up to God (1 Cor. 15:24-26). This is in reference to that inheritance that God has reserved for the faithful. Peter helps our understanding considerably. Peter said we have been born again unto “…an inheritance incorruptible, and undefiled, and that fadeth not away, reserved in heaven for you” (1 Pet. 1:3-4).
So, to fail to inherit the kingdom of God is to fail to enter into heaven. This is tragic within itself; but to really comprehend the implications of Paul’s warning, we must also realize the alternative. What if we do not enter into heaven? Considering Ephesians 5:5-6, we see exactly what is at stake here.
For this ye know, that no whoremonger… hath any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and of God…. For because of these things cometh the wrath of God upon the children of disobedience.
Failure to inherit the kingdom of God is to experience the wrath of God. That would be eternal punishment in Hell. With this understanding, we realize the force of Paul’s warning. May we consider these matters as we study our Bibles more and more.