For no one can lay a foundation other than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ. 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.
Do you not know that you are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in you? If anyone destroys God’s temple, God will destroy him. For God’s temple is holy, and you are that temple.
Let no one deceive himself. If anyone among you thinks that he is wise in this age, let him become a fool that he may become wise.
For the wisdom of this world is folly with God. For it is written, “He catches the wise in their craftiness,” and again, “The Lord knows the thoughts of the wise, that they are futile.” So let no one boast in men. For all things are yours, whether Paul or Apollos or Cephas or the world or life or death or the present or the future—all are yours, and you are Christ’s, and Christ is God’s. 1 Corinthians 3:11-23 (ESV)
The apostle Paul makes it clear that we aren’t saved by the things we do but by who we ARE in Christ, which is a good thing. God has made us for doing good works – as we learn in Ephesians 2:10. But the doing is the result of being– that old analogy of “cats meow because they’re cats,” “dogs bark because they’re dogs,” and good works are the fruit of Christ within us.
We also know that we fallible humans are also sinners. We sin because we are sinners- even though we are living the paradox of being saints as well as sinners at the same time. Even our good works- apart from the grace of God- have no goodness in them.
We are – collectively as the body of Christian believers, and individually as those named and claimed as Christ’s own in baptism- are temples of the Lord. This is not due to anything inherently great about us, but because the Holy Spirit lives in us.
Our works will be tested by fire, and only that which lasts and that which is valuable will stand. Paul, as he always does, points us to Christ, the foundation of all things. Our works can only build upon His foundation.
God speaks to us in the Bible- He tells us what is good and what is evil. He reveals to us what is good doctrine and practice, even while knowing that none of us can observe perfect doctrine or practice. God is patient with us and our shortcomings even as the Holy Spirit is working in and through us here and now. In Christ we can see beyond different teachers and different traditions and know that it is in Him alone that we stand or fall.
It’s a fine line we walk between knowing that our efforts fall short, and seeking our own will versus submitting to God’s will. What it does mean is that God is in control of the results, and even though we might get a little bit scorched and a little bit worn along the way, God will get us through.
God is trustworthy and His words are true.
Remember Jesus Christ, risen from the dead, the offspring of David, as preached in my gospel, for which I am suffering, bound with chains as a criminal. But the word of God is not bound! Therefore I endure everything for the sake of the elect, that they also may obtain the salvation that is in Christ Jesus with eternal glory. The saying is trustworthy, for:
If we have died with him, we will also live with him;
if we endure, we will also reign with him;
if we deny him, he also will deny us;
if we are faithless, he remains faithful—
for he cannot deny himself.
2 Timothy 2:8-13 (ESV)