Thursday, September 25, 2014

Will be saved but as one who has passed through fire

Today, we will look at 1 Cor 3:15, a verse commonly used to defend righteous living [and that includes good works] is NOT material when it comes to salvation. 

1 Cor 3:15 (Amplified Bible):
“But if any person’s work is burned up [under the test], he will suffer the loss [of it all, losing his reward], though he himself will be saved, but only as [one who has passed] through fire.

A cursory glance of the above verse tends to suggest to us this: “There! It is written right in there – he [who did a lousy job] will suffer loss but he will be saved”.  It appears to be works does NOT matter [what you believe rightly, is what matters]”; and erroneous teachings put it like that, to us.

However, if we place another similar context verse, 1 Tim 4:16, also by the Apostle Paul, next to it, we will find that there is something amiss if we just argue that this 1 Cor 3:15’s “he himself will be saved, ….” was meant to say “he himself would definitely be saved  or God MUST save him.”

What does 1 Tim 4:16 read?  This:

Look well to yourself [to your own personality] and to [your] teaching; persevere in these things [hold to them], for by so doing you will save both yourself and those who hear you. – 1 Tim 4:16 Amplified Bible.

[NIV reads: Watch your life and doctrine closely. Persevere in them, because if you do, you will save both yourself and your hearers.]

Now, who is the “you” there, in the 1 Tim 4:16? 

Timothy; the epistle (letter) was written to Timothy.  Who was Timothy?  An unbeliever?  Non-believer? A pre-believer? 

None of that.  He was the disciple of the Apostle Paul, whom the latter treated like his son.  Timothy was NOT just a believer; he was a minister of God, mentored by Paul, and commissioned by the church (1 Tim 4:14 – elders laid hands on him). 

Well, some of Timothy’s audience could be non-believers, and so they would need to be saved or could be saved (“save ….. those who hear you”), but why was Timothy included in the verse (“save both YOURSELF and those who hear you”)?  

Inadvertent mistake made by Paul in wording his sentence, or translation error? 

No, it could NOT be, many bible translations actually have the word, “both” in the verse, making it unmistakable that Paul meant to include Timothy as one that needed to be saved, too. 

The verse actually meant that it was possible that Timothy could end up eventually NOT saved; or para-phrasing it in the negative, if Timothy did NOT watch his life and doctrines closely and persevere in them [looking at the NIV translation], including his teaching them, Timothy could end up NOT having himself saved, and neither would those who heard him [be saved].

Was there something wrong with Paul or what?!  How could Paul even talk about “saved or NOT saved”, in regard to Timothy’s state? 

Timothy was like your pastor, already; and Paul could still talk about “he could end up, not being saved, subsequently!”

If you are having such questions, it is likely that what motivated you to think of these [questions], is that you have internalised the teaching that “once you are a believer, you are saved; no matter what happens, that God got you into salvation [by grace], God got to get your butt to Heaven, regardless of what you do or NOT do, or whatever!”

It is only when you are like me, understanding that when we converted, we have entered into salvation, and NOT we are saved consummated, you can understand there is still a possibility that a believer can end up NOT making it to eternal life in Heaven. 

The possibility is there, even though Scripture painted for us that God is faithful.  “God is faithful” does NOT mean “God MUST get your butt and my butt, to Heaven, regardless”.  Why is this so?

It is so, that there is a possibility of you and I NOT making it, because you and I still have what is called volition (free-will).  When we convert, our volition is still NOT taken away from us.

Sure, God can, sovereignly, still to break your volition, but it is also His prerogative NOT to do that!  The general way of God is that He leads (The Lord is the _____? Shepherd; Holy Spirit _____? leads), NOT He forces you [as a matter of norm].

In other words, there is no mistake in the 1 Tim 4:16 verse; Timothy had to watch his life, his doctrines and his teachings, persevere in those things, otherwise he could be risking his own salvation and those who hear him. 

For those who would hear him, they could be (i) those already converted (believers); if Timothy could lose his salvation, they could, too; and (ii) those NOT yet believers; they might NOT get into salvation and so, no eventual salvation, if Timothy stumbled them badly enough.

So, we have understood for 1 Tim 4:16, there is no mistake; rather Paul indicated possibility of losing salvation. Now, we come back to this 1 Cor 3:15 verse, which is the concern of this article.

I repeat: 1 Cor 3:15 (Amplified Bible):
“But if any person’s work is burned up [under the test], he will suffer the loss [of it all, losing his reward], though he himself will be saved, but only as [one who has passed] through fire.

The contexts of both 1 Cor 3:15 and 1 Tim 4:16 are similar, and that was that Paul was addressing how a minister of God was to carry himself and teach, and so, build [increase the size] and build up [feed] the Church. 

In 1 Timothy 4, Paul addressed that there were heretic and apostate teachings and doctrines, and asked that Timothy watched it that he did NOT take to those teachings, and he himself was to teach the right things.  In Timothy’s context, Paul said of the foundation being “….godliness has value for all things, holding promise for both the present life and the life to come.  This is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance.” – 1 Tim 4:8-9 [Who epitomized godliness? Yes, Jesus; Jesus, the foundation].

In 1 Cor 3, Paul was on the same theme of ministers of God as builders, building on the foundation he had laid [Jesus, the foundation], and he, Paul, said, just as he also did, for 1 Timothy 4, that there would be consequences, depending on what ministers taught. 

Why do we consider 1 Cor 3:15 together with 1 Tim 4:16? 

Because Paul could expected to be consistent and NOT contradict himself when he was writing on the same theme or in similar contexts.

Here, in 1 Cor 3:15, Paul used the metaphor of physical construction to represent the building of the Church, and so, too, of the individuals. Paul was saying if the Church or the individuals were built up with NOT the right stuff (gold, silver and precious gems, but wood, hay, etc), the resultant structure, the church and the individuals [the ministers’ works] won’t hold up when God subjects them to testing by fire. 

Paul said if the minister’s works (his building of the church or individuals) burned up under test, the consequences would be (i) the minister would suffer the loss, and (ii) “though he himself would be saved, but only as [one who has passed] through fire”.  I will address these 2 consequences in turn.

The minister would suffer the loss.  What is the “the loss”? 

The Amplified Bible puts it as the minister would lose his reward.  What is this reward?  Is it the reward in Heaven?  Is it the reward on earth?  Or is it, it can be either or, or both? 

Scripture does refer to reward being built up in Heaven from what we do, now, in our earthly living; and so, for the minister, it is reasonable to say that he can be building reward in Heaven from his work in building and building up the church.  So, if his works failed the test, he could be losing the reward from the works. 

Next, I address the issue of whether or NOT there is a question of reward on earth being lost.  But NOT before we ask ourselves, the question of whether or NOT, God does subject our works to test currently [NOT waiting until the “last moment” like the point of death or the Judgment Day].  

My discernment is that God, through His Holy Spirit, judges/discerns all the time; it is what He does with what He has judged, that is wide open.

God could pound you up, but maybe He wouldn’t; maybe He could give you more time, or maybe he could let you lose some reward you are enjoying [when your works is wanting].

My understanding of our reward and treasure in Heaven, is that some of them is “translatable” to that which we could use, in earthly living.  It is NOT all is of Heaven use, and we are pauper in our earthly living; or all of Heaven good, none of earthly good!  God’s raising up platform for your ministry, for example, is a reward God translated for you, in your earthly living.  Favour with men, for example, is another reward in Heaven, God translates it for you, in your earthly life.

With this understanding, yes, it is possible that some reward of the minister, on earth, would be lost.  For example, we have already seen, in various countries, big-named ministers of God of such, and such a church, fell, because their works of building and building up the church failed the test of fire.  Such ministers would suffer the loss – the loss of credibility, the loss of favour, the loss of ministry platform, etc.  In summary, the loss, it can be either loss on earth or loss in what was built in Heaven, or both, and the loss could manifest presently, NOT always have to be, at the “last moment” or end of age.

Next, let me address the centre piece of this article, the “though he himself would be saved, but only as [one who has passed] through fire.”

Now, some teachings tell us this: it simply means, regardless of works [and so, even when there is no works, it matters NOT], a believer is saved [a fact, consummated, God guaranteed; even God cannot change it]; or conversion = saved, irrevocable, cannot be revoked by you or by God. 

We have already looked at 1 Tim 4:16, where Paul clearly referred to the possibility of a minister of God, Timothy, be losing his salvation, if he was NOT careful about his life, his doctrines and his teachings or his building works; there is no reason to believe Paul would have a contrary perspective when he wrote on the same theme, to the Corinthians.

Also, now, let me ask the question, if that was the understanding of Paul, that the minister [or believer-worker] could NEVER lose his salvation, why did he bother to add “but only as through fire” or “but only as [one who has passed] through fire”.  In other words, Paul could have just worded this verse, 1 Cor 3:15, as follows:

“But if any person’s work is burned up [under the test], he will suffer the loss [of it all, losing his reward], though he himself will be saved.

Or why talk about salvation when salvation is NOT at stake, which means Paul could have worded it even shorter, as this:

“But if any person’s work is burned up [under the test], he will suffer the loss [of it all, losing his reward].”

So why did Paul word the verse that way, talking about the minister would be saved but only as [one who has passed] through fire? 

There can only be 2 possibilities.  One, “He wanted to stress still, that the salvation of the minister was NOT affected in anyway at all”, or two, “He was trying to say, the salvation of the minister could be at stake”. 

Was he stressing the former; overly grace or hyper-grace teachings want us to believe it so?!”  But I tell it is NOT consistent with what Paul next said, in the passage; and this is what Paul said (the next 2 verses, v16-17):

16 Don’t you know that you yourselves are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in your midst? 17 If anyone destroys God’s temple, God will destroy that person; for God’s temple is sacred, and you together are that temple.

Paul was saying the builder or minister, he built the church or the individuals of the church, and he built upon the foundation [Jesus, the foundation].  Once the [right] foundation is laid, the individual is God’s temple; and collectively as the church, it too, is the temple of God.  So, what was built up, if it gets burned up [under the test of fire], it is destroyed; God’s temple get destroyed. Who destroyed it?  The minister/builder who did NOT build with the proper stuff [of gold, silver and precious gems]. 

Paul said, in verse 17, God will destroy that person [the person who destroys the temple]!  How could teachings still imply Paul was saying “It is perfectly alright; works got burnt up, you are safe - you remain saved”; purporting that Paul meant to emphasize salvation would NEVER be at stake.

No, rather, Paul was trying to say, the minister’s salvation was at risk!  It was just that Paul did want to be judgmental [some ministers were referred to, in his letter (in the same chapter)] and so, did NOT put it down “so absolutely”; he still left room for God to judge [elsewhere Paul did exhort that we do NOT judge another’s ministry as it is only God who knew (and knows) what exactly He gave to His servant to do, we don’t (However, we are to judge teachings we hear or receive)], but he emphasised it by saying “though he himself would be saved, but only as [one who has passed] through fire.”  And so, what this phrase was saying is that the person, minister in this case [or builder, metaphorically speaking], his salvation was at risk; he could still be in salvation, but NOT before he was subjected to, and pass a rigorous test.

Why did I say “he could still be in salvation”, instead of saying “he could still be saved”? 

One could say that, provided you have the correct perspective.  As in the case of the loss which we have discussed above [that reward is being built up], for the case of salvation, it is the same, it [salvation] is being progressed (Phil 1:6 – … He Who began a good work in you will continue until the day of Jesus Christ [right up to the time of His return], developing [that good work] and perfecting and bringing it to full completion in you. [I add: most assuredly, assured if you work with Him]); until the “last moment”, you are in salvation; after the “last moment”, you are saved consummated [when your name is still in the Book of Life].  Salvation is NOT a one-off event.

[Notice what God is doing as said in Phil 1:6, and notice what the minister (like that of 1 Cor 3:15 or Timothy) was doing.  Yes, both, God and the minister are building up the temple of God.  To build and build up the temple of God (the church or the individuals – the congregation) is consistent with the will and desire of God.  The only thing is that the minister has to build up rightly or he would in fact be destroying the temple, started up.]

As I have stated above, God judges all the time, and so, in our on-going life, when God judges a particular episode of our life, and finds our works failed (under fire test), and subjects us to test (rigorous test), and still “ok” us, it is we are still in salvation.  You want to say “we are still saved”, it is alright, provided you know you are referring to “you are in salvation”. 

Paul’s understanding of salvation is a hope (Romans 8:24-25), NOT you and I (as believers) already have it as a fact (as in it can never be, that you don’t make it).  Paul said you don’t hope for something you already have it; salvation is a hope. 

Romans 8:24-25 - 24 For in this hope we were saved. But hope that is seen is no hope at all. Who hopes for what they already have? 25 But if we hope for what we do not yet have, we wait for it patiently.

Paul being consistent, in 1 Cor 13:13 also said that when we “strip everything else away”, we are left with 3 things – faith, hope, and love.

You think about it, if it is fact, there is no faith to talk about, is there?!  So, it is, when it is at the “last moment” [point of death (?)/Judgment Day (?)], that the phrase could then be a finality question of whether or NOT, the person is saved, finally - made it to eternal life in Heaven [When I say, “If I die tonight, I will go to Heaven”, it is NOT my statement of fact, but my statement of faith; by faith I believe I will make it to Heaven; ultimately, it is God judges].

Possibly, “heavenly book recordings” works this way: it is NOT at the end of age or the “last moment”, that the works of a person is recorded, in some sort of books of works, but it is on-going recording being done. At the “last moment”, it was an opening of the books to see what is inside.  That is the picture that Scripture painted for us.  Now, what about the Lamb’s Book of Life?  When does your name get recorded?  When you accept Jesus Christ as your Lord and Saviour.  Your name stays in there, unless it is blotted out.  Does Scripture mention the blotting out of names in the Book of Life?  The answer is yes.  Is it easily your name be blotted out? No.  When your works point contrary to your faith, a red light may be flashed from the recording of your works, and where necessary, you be put to a rigorous test [test of fire] to see if you are indeed still in the faith [NOT according to you, but according to God], if you pass, your name stays in; in the extreme situation that you failed, you are out – blotted out!  So, as with the works recording, it too, is an on-going thing, that your name is or is NOT in the Book of Life; at the “last moment”, it is again just a matter of flipping open the Book of Life to see if your name is in it or NOT.  In other words, at Judgment, it is more of a ratification than a “court proceeding”. 

The revelation is that it is NOT good works get you to eternal life in Heaven; but good works testify your faith.  When good works isn’t there, you will be subjected to test, still, and it would be a rigorous one where you are “striped to the core for checking” [“by fire”], and you have to pass that, to remain in the Book of Life.  From now to our last reckoning [“last moment”], we are being judged all the time by God; it is just that God so very often still pass you and I (assuming you are a believer) as “still in salvation” [and so, we remain in the Book of Life].  Be thankful and grateful to God, and do NOT profane His grace and mercy, lest in His prerogative, He lifts off His hand of protection for you and I, and we are left to stray back to the path of destruction, instead of being in salvation.

[An after-thought analogy is this: Good tree bears good fruit; so if you get a bad fruit from a supposedly good tree; you check the tree thoroughly.  First, the fruit is subject to test to see if it is indeed good [and so, to be recorded in the “books [of works]”]; since the fruit failed the test, the tree must be checked, for it was last assessed as good tree [and so, was recorded in the Book of Life].]  

I hope this exposition has helped us to understand that we can put ourselves at risk of losing our salvation, and that the Apostle Paul has said nothing about “It is perfectly alright; works got burnt up, you are safe - you remain saved, regardless”.  Rather, he has warned us (such as in 1 Tim 4:16 and 1 Cor 3:15) that our works would be tested, and if they are found NOT testifying our faith or attesting to our faith, we will be subjected to fundamental testing by God.

By the way, I believe the Spirit has just pointed that there is another Paul’s verse on this, and consistent with this – 2 Cor 13:5 (Amplified Bible) - Examine and test and evaluate your own selves to see whether you are holding to your faith and showing the proper fruits of it. Test and prove yourselves [not Christ]. Do you not yourselves realize and know [thoroughly by an ever-increasing experience] that Jesus Christ is in you—unless you are [counterfeits] disapproved on trial and rejected?  In this instance, Paul was also on the issue of building up the church, the Corinth church [The Corinth Church was founded by Paul; because Paul needed to do his missionary work at other locations; necessarily other ministers built upon his foundation; and the church was NOT built up as he had wanted, it looked like many unacceptable things (sins) were being practised/done by members; perhaps even condoned]; 2 Cor 12:19b – “We have been speaking in the sight of God as those in Christ; and everything we do, dear friends, is for your strengthening. 

And in this instance, Paul was even saying the hearers, the congregation of the Corinth church, they too, ought to examine, test and evaluate themselves to see if they are still in the faith.  Now, if Paul had been having “once saved [converted] always saved”, he wouldn’t be exhorting self-examination [of this kind], would he?!  If you looked at the Amplified Bible version of 2 Cor 13:5 [given here], it has in it, “unless you are disapproved on trial and rejected”; and to me, that included, you can be out because you failed the test of fire by God [what we talked about, earlier]. When you have been disapproved on trial and rejected, you are really counterfeits [NOT really in salvation!].

I want to end by saying that although the 2 scripture verses, 1 Tim 4:16 and 1 Cor 3:15, were directed to formal ministers or builders of the Church, it applies to all believers [additionally, 2 Cor 13:5 pointed to that], as we are all called to the Great Commission, and so, are builders of the Church.   It is also my hope that this exposition will provide you the backdrop to understand the Parable of Sheep and Goats given by Jesus (Matt 25:31-46), and to discern correctly the overly skewed teachings of grace prevalent in the world, today (dated this September, 2014).

Anthony Chia, high.expressions

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