Summary: Paul tells us that some will enter heaven even though their life work was basically worthless spiritually. This is both good news and bad news.


Warsaw Christian Church, 1/9/05

Richard M. Bowman, Pastor

Texts: 1 Corinthians 3:10-15; 2 Corinthians 5:10

According to the grace of God given to me, like a skilled master builder I laid a foundation, and someone else is building on it. Each builder must choose with care how to build on it. 11 For no one can lay any foundation other than the one that has been laid; that foundation is Jesus Christ. 12 Now if anyone builds on the foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw-- 13 the work of each builder will become visible, for the Day will disclose it, because it will be revealed with fire, and the fire will test what sort of work each has done. 14 If what has been built on the foundation survives, the builder will receive a reward. 15 If the work is burned up, the builder will suffer loss; the builder will be saved, but only as through fire.

For all of us must appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each may receive recompense for what has been done in the body, whether good or evil.

The foundational message of the Christian faith answers the question, “How can sinful, fallen human beings find peace with God?” The answer, of course, is found in the Gospel. Salvation is given as a free gift to all who put their faith in Jesus. In this congregation I believe we all understand the Gospel messag,e and are persons who do place their hope in Jesus Christ alone. Our text is addressed to Christians whose feet are firmly planted on the foundation, which is Jesus Christ. Paul reminds us that there is no other foundation upon which we can stand.

If Jesus Christ is the only foundation, the one who alone freely bestows divine pardon and eternal life to all who trust in Him, this very truth raises a critical question. Since salvation is a free gift, unrelated to any good works we do, why should I concern myself with serving God? Why should I strive to do good works since faith is all I need to enter heaven? The answer lies in our two texts and I find the answer to be kind of amazing.

Paul makes it very clear that all who are on the foundation - - - all who trust in Christ alone as Savior, will finally be redeemed. They will enter heaven and enjoy eternal life. This is true for those who worked hard to serve the Lord Jesus, and for those with nothing to commend them except their faith. Thus, we might expect to find hard working Christians like Martin Luther in heaven, as well as John Does who accomplished nothing for the Kingdom of God. We expect to find Paul in heaven, a man whose accomplishments for the Kingdom of God are enormous, as well as the thief on the cross who did nothing for the kingdom. All he had was bare faith, a faith which came to him at the very end of his life.

Our text teaches clearly that salvation is by faith alone, having nothing to do with our good works or lack thereof. We have probably all lost friends or relatives who gave little if any evidence of having done much in the way of service to God. This text gives us hope, that in spite of their lack of good works, perhaps there was a bare faith in Jesus which will take them to heaven.

Again, then what is the motivation to work hard in service to our Lord Jesus? One answer is that we serve God out of gratitude for the gift of eternal life. Our text provides a second answer. The good works that we do in the name of Jesus will earn eternal rewards. Salvation is free to all who trust the Savior, but heaven will not be a society where all are treated alike. Paul says some of those who are redeemed will learn that they have wasted their lives doing works having no eternal value. He uses a figure of speech to make this point. Some of the redeemed in heaven will find that that their life effort is made of wood and hay, fit only to be burned in fire. They had faith, but they lived for self, and they will enter heaven realizing that they wasted their lives on trivialities. If all we have to show at the end of life is our fine homes, our high priced cars, and all the other worldly signs of success, all of that will go up in smoke. It has no eternal value.

Granted, I would rather enter heaven unrewarded than not at all. The text holds out hope for every human being who has lived a wasted life. All who reach out to Jesus Christ with faith will be saved. They will receive none of the special rewards promised to the faithful. They have not laid up treasures in heaven, and for all eternity they will lack the rewards reserved for faithful service.

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