Unfortunately, it is almost common knowledge in the church that when we get to Heaven or when Jesus comes back again, we will all be rewarded for our actions. Supposedly, all of our actions will be tested by fire, and we will be rewarded for the good ones that we’ve done. None of this is even close to being true.
There’s so much to say so let’s just jump right into this. Here is the main passage that people quote. Please read it carefully. Everything we will say is based on this passage:
1 Corinthians 3:11-13 (NKJV) For no other foundation can anyone lay than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ. 12 Now if anyone builds on this foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw, 13 each one’s work will become clear; for the Day will declare it, because it will be revealed by fire; and the fire will test each one’s work, of what sort it is. 14 If anyone’s work which he has built on it endures, he will receive a reward. 15 If anyone’s work is burned, he will suffer loss; but he himself will be saved, yet so as through fire.
Paul is talking about building blocks here. He says that all of these building blocks that we have built will be tested. If our work on this building is found to be gold, silver, and precious stones, those works will remain. But the works that are wood, hay, and stubble will be burnt up.
The popular interpretation of these building blocks is that they represent our good and bad deeds. And supposedly, God will test all of our good and bad deeds with fire on the last day and we will be rewarded accordingly.
Here is the enormous problem with thinking these building blocks represent our good and bad deeds: If you were to read just a few verses before this, Paul says clearly that the building blocks are actually PEOPLE, not our behavior.
1 Corinthians 3:9 (NKJV) For we are God’s fellow workers; you are God’s field, YOU are God’s building.
This couldn’t be more clear. Paul says he and his fellow preachers are the workers and the PEOPLE he was ministering to are the building.
[Continued] Verse 10: According to the grace of God which was given to me, as a wise master builder I have laid the foundation, and another builds on it.
Paul calls himself the wise master builder. He laid the foundation that is Christ. And the PEOPLE are the building blocks that he desires to build upon Christ!
The gold and wood building blocks here are NOT Paul’s good and bad deeds. Absolutely untrue! All of these building blocks are simply representing PEOPLE that Paul was trying to build upon the foundation of Christ.
Revealed By Fire
In the last day, when Jesus comes back, every person that Paul ministered to will be tested. There will be people that are in fact saved (gold, silver, precious stones) and those will remain to enjoy the new age! There are unsaved people (wood, hay, stubble) that will also be tested by fire, which will be burnt up.
The building blocks that will be tested (Paul’s work) is a reference to the people that Paul was attempting to build into the house of God. Some of the people that Paul ministered to would truly accept the gospel and others would not. Paul is simply saying that all of his work (the people he ministered to) would be tested and revealed in the last day to show whether they truly accepted Christ or not!
This is a fact, that in the last day all PEOPLE will be tested by fire.
Mark 9:49 (KJV) For every one shall be salted with fire…
And the Lord clearly refers to unbelieving PEOPLE as the stubble that will get burnt on the last day (not anyone’s behavior).
Malachi 4:1-2 (KJV) For, behold, the day cometh [the last day], that shall burn as an oven; and all the proud, yea, and all that do wickedly, shall be stubble: and the day that cometh shall burn THEM [people] up…
On the last day, Jesus will destroy with fire the earth and all of those who dwell in it (2 Pet. 3:10). Everything will be burnt up except those who are saved (the gold, silver, precious stones — Heb 12:27).
So all in all, Paul is saying “My fellow preachers and I have worked hard to build all of you upon Christ. Some of our workmanship (the people) will be proven to be saved in the last day and others will be proven to be unsaved. But even if I suffer the loss of some of my workmanship (some people), I myself will be saved through that fire.”
Knowing that Paul is the builder, and the people are the building blocks, re-read the passage and it will make a lot more sense:
1 Corinthians 3:9, 12-15 (NKJV) For we are God’s fellow workers; you are God’s field, YOU are God’s building. [Skipping to 12] Now if anyone builds on this foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw, 13 each one’s work [the people] will become clear; for the Day will declare it, because it will be revealed by fire; and the fire will test each one’s work [the people], of what sort it is. 14 If anyone’s work which he has built on it endures, he will receive a reward. 15 If anyone’s work is burned, he will suffer loss; but he himself will be saved, yet so as through fire.
The fact that we make the gold, silver, and precious stones out to be our good deeds is an atrocious mischaracterization of this passage. This chapter never says that those building blocks are our good deeds. Not one time!
Rewards Or Loss
OK, so the works of Paul that will be tested on the last day, are simply the people that he had ministered to. They will either pass the test or they will be burnt up when Jesus comes back. But what about the rewards that it speaks about?
1 Corinthians 3:14-15 (NKJV) 14 If anyone’s work which he has built on it endures, he will receive a reward. 15 If anyone’s work is burned, he will suffer loss; but he himself will be saved, yet so as through fire.
In the last day, if the people that Paul (or his fellow workers) built upon Christ turn out to be saved, Paul receives a reward for his work. What’s the reward? That person! The reward is the person themself! But if anyone that Paul took time to minister to is burnt up in the last day, Paul will suffer loss of that person, but HE HIMSELF will be saved!
As we preach to people about Jesus, some of that labor will be found to be in vain. And some of that preaching will have reward (of that person). If we minister to someone, but it turns out at the end of the age that they were wood, hay, or stubble (corruptible), then we will suffer loss of that person, but we ourselves will be saved through that fire.
Paul was the builder. Jesus is the foundation. Paul’s “works,” his building, are the people he is building upon Christ. This is in no way referring your actions being tested by God in Heaven. That will never happen!
In closing, there is a much deeper issue with our mentality if we are interpreting this chapter as good and bad deeds. It shows that we feel we even HAVE good deeds to be rewarded.
Romans 3:12 (NKJV) There is none who does good, no, not one.
If you want to see what the reward for all of our so-called “good” works looks like, look at the suffering of the cross. That is where Jesus was being rewarded for all of our “righteousnesses.” Let’s not insult God, by claiming that we even have a single good work (of ourselves) to be rewarded for. All of our so-called “good” works are like filthy rags and they were all rewarded at the cross in full (Isa. 64:6).
Trust me, you don’t want to be rewarded for your works. And thanks to Jesus, you’ll never have to know what that’s like — not in this earth and not in Heaven — not in this age or in the one to come. No person will EVER be rewarded for their deeds ever again. Jesus took that already.
An Extra Note (If You’d Like)
But what about all of the other verses in the Bible that talk about people’s works being rewarded or judged on the last day?
That’s easy. It would do you well to realize that the only “works” of ours that will be rewarded or judged on the last day is our faith or unbelief — not our actions. That is why the Bible says that the Lord will search peoples HEARTS (minds) and inwards, to give them according to their works. If the works were referring to our actions, why would God have to search your HEART to give you according to your works?
Jeremiah 17:10 (KJV) I the LORD search the heart, I try the reins [inwards], even to give every man according to his ways, and according to the fruit of his doings.
Revelation 2:23 (KJV) …I am he which searcheth the reins and hearts: and I will give unto every one of you according to your works.
Colossians 1:21 (KJV) And you, that were sometime alienated and enemies in your mind by wicked works…
This could only be explained thoroughly with a completely separate article. Read or listen to our “Obedience Is Faith Audio Article“ for more about the works that will be tested in the last day.