I received the following question:

“Galatians 5:19-21.  What happens to the unbeliever who practices these sins?”

To answer this question, first of all, let us examine the passage in question. 

19. Now the works of the flesh are evident, which are: adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lewdness, 20. idolatry, sorcery, hatred, contentions, jealousies, outbursts of wrath, selfish ambitions, dissensions, heresies, 21. envy, murders, drunkenness, revelries, and the like; of which I tell you beforehand, just as I also told you in time past, that those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.

We have a lot of difficulty here because so few have even the remotest idea of what the Kingdom of God really is.  Kingdom is an antiquated word in many ways.  The Greek word that it translates means exactly what we mean when we use our modern word “government.”  The Kingdom of God is the government of God.

In our government of the United States, we have many positions that a man could hold.  It is said that the lowest position in the U.S. government is that of notary public.  A notary public has the right to sign documents to make them official.  This is the only right he has.  And yet he has a place in the U.S. government.  Then we can go up the ladder, all the way up to the President of the United States, who has the greatest authority in our government.  Yet each of these people, high or low, has a place in the United States government.  I have no such place.  I am under the U.S. government, it is true, but I have no place in it.  I don’t even have the authority of the notary public.  I am simply not a member of the government.

The word inheritance here means to have a place or to enjoy a portion.  In the governments of our day, there are many who hold a position who are adulterers, fornicators, unclean, lewd, idolatrous, and all the rest.  Yet you will not find such men in God’s government.  When His government takes control of the world at last, not one person who is privileged to enter that government will display even one of these characteristics.  David in speaking of his place in that government suggested that he would rule righteously, and no one would ever be able to accuse him of any wrongdoing.  That was not true of his rule in the past, for he was very blameworthy in several instances, most notably in his sin with Bathsheba and murder of her husband Uriah.  In the future, though, when he is the Prince of Israel in the Kingdom, he will never act in any way unrighteously.  He will never be guilty of even one of these sins.  Likewise, no one else in God’s government will either.  There will be no scandals in His government.  All His rulers will be righteous.

Now there will be many people who will be subjects of God’s Kingdom who will not hold a place in His Kingdom.  Like my relationship to the U.S. government, they will be under God’s government, but they will have no authority in it.

I believe that Paul is talking to men here who hoped, not to be subjects of God’s Kingdom, but rather to have a place and to hold a position in it.  Thus, he admonishes them that they know that these sins are not worthy characteristics of one who hopes to have a position in God’s government in the future.  I do not believe salvation is in view here, or any kind of works-based eternal life.  There are many who will have eternal life, and yet who will never have an inheritance in God’s kingdom.  There are many others who will not only not have an inheritance in God’s kingdom, but who will also not have eternal life either.  Yet I believe that Paul’s statement here has to do with how those who rule in God’s Kingdom will behave, not with how one gets a place in it.