Thursday, January 7, 2010

"E is for Eternal Life"

“Fourth, there are rewards that are subsequent to salvation for the believer to win or lose. One of the great weaknesses of the Schreiner and Caneday proposal is the necessity to deny that there are any subsequent rewards available for the believer and that all promises of reward must be references to salvation itself. Their position is difficult to reconcile with many biblical passages. For example, 1 Cor. 3:12-15 speaks of the Christian’s work remaining while another Christian’s work burns. The believer whose work remains receives a reward while the other believer suffers loss. Schreiner and Caneday admit the passage teaches ‘some will be saved that have done shoddy work.’ This admission undermines the major plank of their position---that persevering in good works is a necessary means by which our salvation is completed. A better understanding of the role of works in believers’ lives is to hold that we will be judged and rewarded according to our service” (Kenneth Keathley, “Salvation and Sovereignty: A Molinist Approach.” Nashville: Broadman and Holman, 2010, pp. 189-190).

The passage of 1 Corinthians 3:12-15 is one that I’ve encountered prior to the statement above. While I was reading Zondervan’s Counterpoints book titled “Four Views on Eternal Security,” this passage came up in Norman Geisler’s chapter on Moderate Calvinism. And now, it appears here, once again.

Something must be done with this verse. This verse has some significance as related to eternal reward, so believers must incorporate this text into whatever it is they believe about eternal life and the coming Kingdom.

Keathley points out this passage as a troublesome passage for Schreiner and Caneday; but there are other passages that pose problems for 1 Corinthians 3:12-15. One of these “trouble” passages would be 1 John 2:24-25---

“Therefore let that abide in you which you heard from the beginning. If what you heard from the beginning abides in you, you also will abide in the Son and in the Father: and this is the promise that He has promised us----eternal life” (1 John 2:24-25, NKJV).

We are told in 1 John 2 by John himself that there is one reward God has promised us, and that is eternal life. Now this is problematic if other rewards are promised as well.

So 1 Corinthians 3 poses a problem not necessarily for Schreiner and Caneday’s argument as it does for itself. After all, 1 Corinthians 3:12-15 is the only passage in the Bible that speaks of a reward being lost and the person still being saved.
There is no other passage in Scripture that speaks in this manner.

So what are we to do with 1 Cor. 3:12-15? When Paul talks about “the Day” manifesting every Christian’s work, he is talking about what will happen in the future. However, he cannot be talking about “eternal life” itself because the Christian whose work is destroyed “will be saved” (1 Cor. 3:15). I propose to the readership that Paul is talking about being rewarded for work pertaining to Christian ministry. The reward of 1 John 2 is eternal life, and this is based on our endurance in faith and holiness. This is why John tells us, “and now, little children, abide in Him, that when He appears, we may have confidence and not be ashamed before Him at His coming” (1 John 2:28, NKJV). The writer of Hebrews echoes this sentiment:

“Therefore do not cast away your confidence, which has great reward. For you have need of endurance, so that after you have done the will of God, you may receive the promise” (Hebrews 10:35-36, NKJV).

Notice that Hebrews tells us we “may receive THE promise.” There is only one promise made to those who believe in Christ---and that is, eternal life.

Paul’s words refer to future reward in the new heaven and new earth. In order to experience life in the coming Kingdom, however, we must continue to have faith and perseverance (Rom. 8:24-25; Hebrews 11:6). Only those who receive eternal life first, will be given future reward for their service to Christ. 1 Corinthians 3:12-15 then, does not cancel out the importance of a passage like 1 John 2, or a passage such as Revelation 2:10 where Jesus tells the church of Smyrna that for their faithfulness they could receive “the crown of life.” What 1 Corinthians 3:12-15 does tell us is that, in the coming Kingdom, God’s faithful servants will be further rewarded. Faith and perseverance are required for eternal life; but future reward is based on work done in Christian ministry. Both are important in their own right---but future reward cannot come without faith and perseverance. Having “just faith” will not do.

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