“Now we are ready to ask whether the apostle Paul fears that he might lose his salvation. Before we answer, it is important to note that this passage [1 Cor.9:23-27] is distinctive because Paul has plainly placed himself in the midst of his warning metaphor. The significance of this should not escape us, for this passage should function as a paradigm for understanding all similar warnings in Paul’s letters. Here is the question: Does the apostle Paul fear that it is possible that God will reject him as a reprobate on the day of judgment? IF WE ANSWER YES, WE MUST BE PREPARED TO DEMONSTRATE THAT PAUL ALSO DOUBTS GOD’S FAITHFULNESS TO HIS PROMISE TO PRESERVE HIS PEOPLE TO THE END...HE MUST DOUBT GOD’S FAITHFULNESS SO THAT HE CAN BELIEVE GOD’S WARNING. OF COURSE, THIS IS INCORRECT, for Paul is the one who calls on the Corinthians to believe in God’s steadfastness to confirm his own children to the end (1 Cor. 1:8-9). Yet this is precisely what we must affirm if we hold that Paul fears that God might reject him as a reprobate on the day of judgment” (Thomas R. Schreiner, “The Race Set Before Us: A Biblical Theology of Perseverance and Assurance.” Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2001, pages 182-183).
Schreiner gives us what I call “the classic defense of God.” This is what happens when a person claims God’s promises and focuses all on God instead of God and mankind. I’ve made it known here at the site that Schreiner seems to place such a major emphasis on the positive connotations of every warning—although he claims theological objectivity. He’ll tell us that “once saved, always saved” is wrong; but then, he’ll argue “once saved, always saved” in his conclusions.
In the quote above, Schreiner does what all Calvinists do: they point to verses about God and say, “See, we’ll go to heaven because God will do this and that.” The problem here is, however, that Paul also says in chapter one of 1 Corinthians that “God is faithful” (1 Cor. 1:9, NKJV).
God’s faithfulness, however, has nothing to do with man’s faithfulness. The “God who is faithful” not only tells us of His nature in Scripture, but also requires us to be faithful (Revelation 2:10).
Paul, writing about the Jews and his anguish over their salvation, records the following in his letter to the Romans:
“For what if some did not believe? Will their unbelief make the FAITHFULNESS OF GOD without effect? CERTAINLY NOT! Indeed, let God be true but every man a liar. As it is written:
‘That You may be justified in Your words, and may overcome when You are judged.’
But if OUR UNRIGHTEOUSNESS demonstrates the RIGHTEOUSNESS OF GOD, what shall we say? IS GOD UNJUST WHO INFLICTS WRATH? (I speak as a man.) CERTAINLY NOT! FOR THEN HOW WILL GOD JUDGE THE WORLD?” (Romans 3:3-6, NKJV)
Paul asks the question, “if some did not believe...will their unbelief make the faithfulness of God without effect?” If some of the Jews fail to believe, is God’s faithfulness absent? Paul responds, “Certainly not!” He seems to DIVIDE man’s faithfulness from God’s faithfulness, man’s unbelief from God’s faithfulness.
Next, he talks of the fact that although Israel has failed to believe, God is still faithful to her regardless. His faithfulness is unconditional; but does this “erase” man’s need to be righteous before God? Paul’s response is “Certainly not!” Is God unjust to punish if He is magnified through Israel’s unbelief? Paul says that God is just; for if He isn’t, “how then will God judge the world?”
God’s faithfulness is the standard BY WHICH HE WILL JUDGE THE WORLD! His faithfulness will convict the world because of their unbelief and unfaithfulness to Him.
Here is what Schreiner wrote a few paragraphs before the current quote above:
“The whole context makes it clear that to be ‘adokimos’ (reprobate) is the OPPOSITE OF BEING A ‘FELLOW PARTAKER’(SYNKOINONOS) OF THE GOSPEL...for the apostle, then, ‘adokimos’ METAPHORICALLY REPRESENTS REPROBATION, ETERNAL LOSS. Paul uses the athletic imagery, therefore, to make it clear to the Corinthians that FOR HIM ALSO THERE IS NO SALVATION WITHOUT PERSEVERANCE” (181).
At the time Paul writes 1 Corinthians 9, he realizes that even he can be cast away into eternal damnation if he didn’t stay the course and keep enduring. If there wasn’t a real actual possibility of Paul being “disqualified” from the heavenly reward, why write this? Was it just “hypothetical,” for the purpose of scaring the Corinthians into doing the right thing?
Paul uses the word ‘adokimos’ elsewhere in his letters, particularly his letter to the Romans:
“And even as they did not like to retain God in their knowledge, God gave them over to a DEBASED mind, to do those things which are not fitting” (Romans 1:28, NKJV).
The Greek word for “debased” here is “adokimon,” from “adokimos,” meaning “reprobate.” So we find here that it is the same word that Paul uses in 1 Corinthians 9 to talk about a very real possibility of eternal loss.
I want to point out something else, though. Romans 1 tells us that such people “suppress the truth in unrighteousness” (Rom. 1:18) and, although knowing God, refuse to give Him the glory He deserves (v.21). They decide to serve the creature rather than the Creator (v.25), and what does God do? “Therefore God ALSO GAVE THEM UP TO UNCLEANNESS...” (v.24). These ungodly people begin to worship anything except for God Himself, and what does God do? “God GAVE THEM UP TO VILE PASSIONS” (v.26). They begin to commit all sorts of immorality, with no limit in sight. If that isn’t bad enough, we find that such people reject God to the point that they don’t even wanna keep the knowledge of God (for this is what convicts them, v.28); as a result, “God gave them over to a debased mind” (v.28).
We see here in Romans 1 that God does “give people over” to their choices, despite their knowledge of right and wrong. God does this because they know God through the things He has made, being without excuse (Rom. 1:19-20).
There are those who sin willingly after receiving the knowledge of the truth (Hebrews 10: 26). For those who do so, however, “there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, but a certain fearful expectation of judgment, and fiery indignation which will devour the adversaries” (Heb. 10:26-27, NKJV). And it is true as it is written: “The Lord will judge His people” (Deut. 32:26, Heb. 10:30b).