Monday, April 10, 2017

refined by fire

In my reading this morning, I ran into 1 Corinthians 3:12-15

Now if anyone builds on the foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw- each one's work will become manifest, for the Day will disclose it, because it will be revealed by fire, and the fire will test what sort of work each one has done. If the work that anyone has built on the foundation survives, he will receive a reward. If anyone's work is burned up, he will suffer loss, though he himself will be saved, but only as through fire. - 1 Corinthians 3:12-15

Through the first couple of chapters in his first letter to the Corinthians, Paul is repeating a theme to this young church about the importance of the centrality of Jesus in the teachings they have received from him, as well as other teachers. We find in these chapters common verses concerning Paul's decision to know nothing among them except Christ and him crucified, as well as warning against focusing on those who were teaching rather than the object of the teachings. and then we come to this parable-like teaching from Paul. We know from the preceding verse that the foundation Paul is speaking of in this passage is Jesus himself, so we are seeing here a restating of subtler points in Paul's letter. Our lives, the works we do, must stand on the firm foundation of Jesus Christ. In this way, on the final day, we stand to either gain reward for those things accomplished by Christ through our works or our fruitless attempts will be burned away as dross. Paul has been warning these Christian infants, through spiritual milk, against adding anything to the work of Christ for their salvation, or attributing the works of any other teacher to their salvation, Christ alone was their sure foundation. So here, Paul is answering questions we don't see being asked, but that he anticipates are running through the minds of his readers. Paul explains that there is a difference between works being done by the power of the flesh and those works being done by the power of the spirit. Paul assumes that the Christian life is a life of works being built upon the unshakeable foundation of Jesus. He is showing the distinction between the bedrock of salvation through Christ alone, and a salvation sought after through human effort and things added on top of Christ's foundation. 

For the Christian, it is true, known, and eternally sure that our salvation is found only in the life, death, and resurrection of Hesus Christ. Our life, then, is a series of works done upon that foundation thatcare fueled by the spirit and performed by the spirit to be used for the advancement of the Kingdom. Our works are the voice of crying out in the wilderness by which the Shepherd is calling out to His sheep that they may come to Him and find their rest. The good works we Christians are called into are not fleeting, unimportant efforts of our will, but rather are the works of God that He graciously allows us to be a part. And the promise of this passage is that those works done by God in His people are not burned away off of our foundation, but are rather refined on that day and their true, eternal reward is revealed for us. We find, remaining after the fire, the purified, perfect remains of the truth of our works, the glory of God's reward to His servant.
The other side of this coin is a Christian who never moves on from an infantile understanding of his faith. This Christian has spent life doing works, trying to gain salvation through effort and works. This Christian enters that final day feeling tired, weary, and in need of rest. He arrives at the house he has built in life to find his effort piled upon the foundation. At first, his dwelling looks awfully similar to the other, it's foundation is just as secure, it's dwelling rests upon it in the same security. But then the fire comes, and all the works are burned away. When the smoke clears, all that remains is the foundation. The life has been fruitless, without reward, wasted. In the immense sense of loss and regret, this Christian wipes away the sadness to see the last glorious reality, the foundation remains, his salvation is secure. His dwelling no longer looks like that of his neighbors, but it remains. 

Both scenarios given to us by Paul here show Christian realities, two ends of the spectrum of true Christianity. Both ends show eternal security for the believer, but a much different eternal dwelling. The reality is that our eternal dwellings are still being built throughout our lives, and on this last day, will be a combination of these two realities. We will come to realize that much of the effort and work we put into our faith are fruitless and wasted endevours, but we will find that much of what we have done have been Spirit-wrought true works having been prepared for us with eternally lasting significance. Our dwelling will be a mixture of purified gold and burned up waste. Your dwelling may not look the way you imagined it, and it surely will not look the same as everyone else's. But your address is secure, your foundation has been poured, if you are in Christ Jesus. 

What you do in this life matters, how you do it, why you do it, and by what power it is done, each of these gave eternal importance in the life of others, and in your eternal existence.

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