In Ephesians, Paul exhorts the believers there to imitate God and avoid grievous sin:
Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children; 2 and walk in love, just as Christ also loved you and gave Himself up for us, an offering and a sacrifice to God as a fragrant aroma.
3 But immorality or any impurity or greed must not even be named among you, as is proper among saints; 4 and there must be no filthiness and silly talk, or coarse jesting, which are not fitting, but rather giving of thanks. 5 For this you know with certainty, that no immoral or impure person or covetous man, who is an idolater, has an inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and God.
6 Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of these things the wrath of God comes upon the sons of disobedience. (Ephesians 5:1-6; bold added)
I want to draw attention to the three sins Paul names in verse 3. He specifically warns against:
- Sexual immorality (porneia, πορνεία)
- Impurity (akatharsia, ἀκαθαρσία)
- Covetousness/greed (pleonexia, πλεονεξία).
After listing other unbecoming behavior and encouraging thankfulness as a godly alternative, Paul returns to these original three sins in verse 5, now addressing those who are practicing this disobedient behavior.
Paul forcefully clarifies why there should not even be a hint of such idolatry. He writes that no sexually immoral (pornos, πόρνος), impure (akathartos, ἀκάθαρτος), and covetousness/greedy (pleonektes, πλεονέκτης) persons have an inheritance in the eternal kingdom. Anyone unrepentantly living in these sins are not heirs of the kingdom and have no hope beyond this life.
Paul creates a clear parallel between verse 3 and 5, repeating the three sins in the same order, to reinforce and highlight his warning.
He’s practically shouting by using this repetition. Watch out Christians! If you live this way, you won’t have an inheritance in the kingdom of God. You all “know this with certainty.”
Paul is concerned that a false teacher may “deceive” them “with empty words” by downplaying the risk of participating in such sin.
He isn’t writing generally about these sins and their consequences for unbelievers. Rather, this warning is specifically for Christians, so they will stop sinning and thus avoid condemnation. In verse 3, he addresses the Christian saints (“among you”; “among saints”). In verse 5, Paul again specifically directs his warning towards the same believers (“for this you know with certainty”). Finally, he warns Christians against being deceived with any contrary teaching (“Let no one deceive you”).
After these strong words, Paul goes on to encourage the believers in Ephesus to “walk as children of Light” now that they are no longer in darkness. (Eph. 5:8) He’s persuasively presenting two sides of the same coin. He warns of the severe consequences for Christians who return to living in darkness, while also encouraging them to walk in holiness according to God’s will.
If this warning applied then, how much more so today within our immoral culture? Fortunately, we are not left in the battle alone. Jesus has given us His Spirit, to strengthen and guide us until we receive the eternal promises. Yet, the warning remains.