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1 Corinthians 3:15

ESV If anyone’s work is burned up, he will suffer loss, though he himself will be saved, but only as through fire.
NIV If it is burned up, the builder will suffer loss but yet will be saved--even though only as one escaping through the flames.
NASB If anyone’s work is burned up, he will suffer loss; but he himself will be saved, yet only so as through fire.
CSB If anyone's work is burned up, he will experience loss, but he himself will be saved--but only as through fire.
NLT But if the work is burned up, the builder will suffer great loss. The builder will be saved, but like someone barely escaping through a wall of flames.
KJV If any man's work shall be burned, he shall suffer loss: but he himself shall be saved; yet so as by fire.

What does 1 Corinthians 3:15 mean?

A fiery test is coming that will reveal the quality of the work of everyone who helps to build the church of Christ on earth. Paul's metaphor pictures the church, the community of believers, as a structure that may be raised with either high-quality or poor building materials. He seems to equate these building materials with teaching that is true and helpful about the way of God versus that which is distorted and misleading (1 Corinthians 3:12–13).

Even structures built from cheap, weak materials may appear good and strong to casual view. Fire will reveal what the building is really made of. That fire will come with the judgment of Christ on the day of the Lord. This is a judgment of the work of Christians, not the Christians themselves (Romans 8:1). Non-believers must face a very different judgment (Revelation 20:11–15). Scholars disagree whether, in this case, Paul is describing the works of all believers or only of Christian leaders (James 3:1). In either case, all Christians will experience some judgment of their works (2 Corinthians 5:10).

We know this is not a judgment of whether a person is saved or not (Titus 3:5). It's not God's judgment on sin. Those who trust in Christ have been forgiven for their sin. Jesus already received God's judgment for it. Paul made it clear at the very start of this letter that the Christians in Corinth, though many were still living "of the flesh" (1 Corinthians 3:3), would stand guiltless before God in the day of the Lord (1 Corinthians 1:8).

There will be loss, however. Those whose work is burned up, found to be worthless by Christ's judgment, will suffer some unspecified loss. No detail is given, but it may be the simple loss of seeing all of one's effort in this life revealed as nothing more than selfishness and wasted potential.

Even that person, though, with his or her sins covered by the blood of Christ, will be saved by God's grace because of faith in Christ. Paul adds, though, that it will be as if they have gone through fire. Again, there is room for uncertainty about what this means.
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