Do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived. Neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor homosexuals, nor sodomites, nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners, will inherit the kingdom of God. And such were some of you. But you were washed, but you were sanctified, but you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus and by the Spirit of our God. (1 Corinthians 6:9-11, N.K.J.V.)
In his commentary remarks on this passage, John Phillips provides us with a wonderful illustration regarding times of backsliding in the life of the saved person. He writes:
People who profess to be saved but who live as though they weren’t are self-deceived. It is not that a saved person cannot fall, and have a need to be restored to fellowship. It is a question, really, of the flow of a person’s life.
For instance, the river Nile flows north from the great lakes of Central Africa to the shores of the Mediterranean Sea. Between the fifth cataract and the fourth cataract the great river turns west and then south. Between the fourth cataract and the third cataract it turns again and heads northwest. At Derr, the river changes direction yet again and heads straight for the delta.
If someone at a point just beyond Derr were to be asked, “Which was does this river flow?” he would say “south,” but he would be wrong. The river flows north. Its various twists and turns are not the normal and general direction of the flow but only temporary aberrations.
The same thing is true of the genuine believer. The great question is, in what direction does his life flow? Is it toward holiness? We see David commit adultery, we see Jonah run away from God’s call, we hear Peter deny his Lord with oaths and curses, we see Elijah run away from Jezebel, and we hear Abraham deny Sarah in Egypt and again in Gerar. The stream seems to be bent. But look! There is David on his face weeping and writing his tear-drenched penitential psalms; there is Jonah heading for Nineveh after all; there is Peter preaching boldly to the multitudes; there goes Elijah confronting Ahab again; and there is Abraham heading for Mount Moriah. The real flow of life has simply reasserted itself. Things have straightened out. The life still flows toward holiness. The main direction of life has again become clear.
It is not that saved people cannot fall into the kinds of sins which characterized them in their unregenerate days. However, they do not continue in those sins. They bitterly repent of their fall and seek cleansing and a fresh filling of the Holy Spirit. They continue on their way toward heaven. The unregenerate have no such current toward holiness in their lives. They habitually sin and excuse themselves for it.
Can a truly born-again Christian ever commit any of the sins on Paul’s list from 1 Corinthians 6:9-10? Yes. Whether the sin be adultery, homosexuality, some other type of sexual sin, idolatry, theft, covetousness, drunkenness, reviling (being loudly abusive toward another), or extortion, the genuine Christian is not exempt from committing it. This is particularly true if that Christian showed a penchant for that sin during pre-conversion days.
But what a truly born-again Christian can’t do is commit any such sin without being brought under the indwelling Holy Spirit’s conviction over it. This means that the Christian can’t honestly enjoy the sin in any kind of consistent way. He or she can feel the sensation of the fleshly pleasures of the sin for a brief amount of time (Hebrews 11:25), but those pleasures will always be temporary. Soon afterward will come the conviction, the guilt, the shame, and the remorse. Then will come the confession, the repentance, and the restored fellowship with God. The relationship won’t need to be restored because, once that relationship has been established through the salvation experience, no amount of sin or backsliding can ever sever it.
Just as a pig can wallow in a mud hole for hours on end and love every second of it, a lost person can wallow in a sinful lifestyle for years and enjoy it thoroughly. By contrast, the Christian who is born again, regenerated, and indwelt by the Holy Spirit simply doesn’t have the spiritual stamina to unashamedly maintain such a lifestyle. To use John Philipps’ illustration, the flow of that Christian’s life will eventually correct itself and get headed back in God’s direction. Really, we might say that when God saves a person, He ruins that person’s ability to enjoy sin. He doesn’t tell you that when He saves you, but it certainly doesn’t take you long to figure it out once you are saved.