In these three verses Paul lists ten sins. The list begins with the rhetorical question: Do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? These ten sins are characterized by unrighteousness. Thus, those who practice these sins are unrighteous.
The result of being unrighteous is that one will not enter the kingdom of heaven. “Kingdom of heaven” refers to the future inheritance all Christians are promised at Christ’s return. Those who practice the ten sins listed do not have any future hope.
Verse 11 also clearly teaches that these types of sins should be in the Christian’s past, not in their present. The Christian community in Corinth was made up of people who were identified as thieves, adulterers, fornicators, etc… because of their practicing such sins. However, these sins are not how they are characterized now, because they have been transformed by the gospel.
The transformation of the gospel is Paul’s main point in this section. It is the best way of understanding how verses 1-8 flow into verses 9-20. The gospel transforms our actions. This is why we do not bring our brothers and sisters in Christ to court. It is also why we no longer practice these listed sins.
Paul emphasizes the change that took place through the gospel by stating that Christians were washed, sanctified, and justified (made righteous). People, who have been cleansed from sin and placed into a right relationship with God, are to now live holy lives, avoiding these unrighteous acts.
For our study of this section two words are important. Those words are translated effeminate and homosexual in the NASB. The NIV takes these two words together and translate it “men who have sex with men.” The words refer to both the passive and active participants in homosexuality. Our best lexicons define the second word as “a male who practices homosexuality” (for example Arndt and Gingrich). It is clear that Paul is condemning homosexual practice with these words.
Some argue that what Paul is condemning is homosexual relationships that are not love-based. However, contextually that is not the case. You have to read that into the text. And if you decide to read that into the text then you also have to be willing to say that adultery, if love-based, is okay, or any of the rest of the sins for that matter. The fact of the matter is Paul condemns the act itself. Therefore the sin is engaging in the act.
The practicing of homosexuality is unrighteous. Christians today have been made righteous (justified). Thus to practice homosexuality is incongruous with the Christian life. This is why those who practice it will not receive the blessing of the kingdom of heaven.
However, there is hope in this passage for people who are practicing these sins. Paul indicates that the transformative work of the gospel is able to aid homosexuals in leaving the lifestyle. It will not be easy, but it can be done.