What does 1 Corinthians 6:9 mean?Between here and verse 11, Paul makes it clear that how one lives reflects their relationship with Christ. At the same time, the gospel offers forgiveness and salvation to absolutely anyone willing to come to God in faith. Paul also makes a reference to sexual sins which modern interpreters sometimes attempt to ignore.
The idea of inheriting the kingdom of God or inheriting eternal life came out of the Jewish culture of the day. Jesus talked about it quite a bit (Luke 10:25; 18:18). The inheritance of a kingdom is not earned; it is passed on to the children of the king. Those who inherit God's kingdom are also receiving eternal life with Him in His glory forever.
Paul asks another "do you not know" question to remind the Corinthian Christians. This one reminds them of one group who will not inherit God's kingdom: the unrighteous—or the wicked, the wrongdoers. In Romans, Paul's clear teaching of the gospel is this: Only those who come to God through faith in Jesus are declared by God to be righteous (Romans 3:21–26). Only they will inherit God's kingdom.
Paul provides examples of those who are unrighteous, identifying them by the sins they embrace. Most of these practices would have been common in the Greek and Roman culture of the day. They include sexual immorality, meaning every kind of sex outside of heterosexual marriage, idol worship, adultery, meaning sex with another's spouse, and homosexual acts.
The words translated as "practice homosexuality" in the ESV include two Greek words: malakoi and arsenokoitai. Respectively, these indicate the passive and active participants in same-sex sexual behaviors. Translations such as the KJV, NASB, and NLT translate these as entirely separate expressions of sexual sin. Some recent re-interpretations claim these words refer only to homosexual prostitution or homosexual sex with children. Such a claim does not fit with consistent translation practices, the context of this passage, the universal interpretation of the passage for thousands of years, or with Paul's other teaching on the subject, such as Romans 1:26–27. In short, this is one of the New Testament's clear indications that homosexual actions—not temptations themselves, but behaviors—are deeply and unmistakably sinful. Embracing such behavior shows a deep rejection of God, just as much as would idolatry or cheating in business.
Paul will expand this list of Christ-denying actions in the following verse.
In verse 11, however, Paul will explain that those identifying labels are removed when a person comes to faith in Christ and is declared righteous by God. A person forgiven in Christ defines those sins as "past tense." They do not define who they are, or will be. Paul has made it clear that his target audience are born-again believers (1 Corinthians 1:2, 9). Some of them used to be known by these labels because of their sin. But that is not who they are any longer. Now, they are in Christ. As such, they must stop participating in any of these sins.