Bible Answer

Will my "good works" burn?

Concerning 1 Corinthians 3:11-15, if I don't do good works will everything I do burn up?

Let's begin by looking at the passage:

1 Corinthians 3:11 For no man can lay a foundation other than the one which is laid, which is Jesus Christ.
1 Corinthians 3:12 Now if any man builds on the foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw,
1 Corinthians 3:13 each manʼs work will become evident; for the day will show it because it is to be revealed with fire, and the fire itself will test the quality of each manʼs work.
1 Corinthians 3:14 If any manʼs work which he has built on it remains, he will receive a reward.
1 Corinthians 3:15 If any manʼs work is burned up, he will suffer loss; but he himself will be saved, yet so as through fire.

In v.11 Paul says every good work we set out to accomplish must begin with the Gospel itself. The Gospel message is the foundation of every good work in the Church body. In fact it is the foundation of the Church itself. If our work doesnʼt begin with the advancement of the Gospel, itʼs useless from the start. Every good thing done on man's own intuition, for example social works, charity, various other good works, are not the mission and purpose of the church without Christ at the center and core reason for the acts of service. These acts of service are tools we use to support the mission but the mission is the Gospel of Jesus Christ. So we cannot begin our work for Christ on any foundation other than on the mission to spread the testimony of Jesus and Him crucified.  

Then Paul says we may build in one of two ways, on the foundation of Christ using valuable materials like gold, silver, and valuable jewels. Obviously, these materials are not your ordinary construction materials; they are precious and durable. Paul compares these valuable materials to the good works that please the Lord as they are valuable in building the Church body through believers, not an actual building.

On the other hand these scriptures indicate that we could build our metaphorical structure with ordinary materials like wood, hay and straw as these materials have no value long term.

Then in v.13, Paul describes that our work will be evident in a day to come, testing the quality of our work for the Lord. The day Paul is describing is judgment day, the day Christ assesses our life in service to Him. Judgement comes the day we die and face the Lord as Hebrews says:

Hebrews 9:27 And inasmuch as it is appointed for men to die once and after this comes judgment,

Paul says that our work will become evident on judgment day. The word evident in Greek is phaneros, which means obvious. The quality of our work will be obvious to everyone, including us. Somehow the Lord will make it very plain what we did, whether good or bad. All the games we played and lies we told ourselves will end and in their place will be truth. The purpose of every test ultimately is to reveal truth.

Paul compares this test to a fire that burns away the worthless things and leaves behind only the sturdy, valuable things. Fire is commonly used to test the quality of metals as impurities are burned away leaving only the pure elements. In this same way our work will be evaluated on the day of judgment. 

Paul says in v.14 that if our work stands up to Christʼs scrutiny, we will receive a reward. The Lord is a righteous judge and He is also a good Father Who knows how to give good gifts. We can expect that our reward will exceed anything we might have gained for ourselves here on earth.

But for some, that judgment will not go well.

Paul says in v.15 that if a man comes into that moment without a proper legacy of service to Christ, then all that he brings will be burned up. While he may have been a Christian all his life, attended church a Sunday here or there, prayed when he thought about it, threw a few bucks in the collection plate from time to time but not much else concerning a walk with Christ or service to Christ. Whatever he did, the test of his life reveals a wasted opportunity. As mentioned, the fire of Christʼs judgment consumes everything the man accomplished.

He may have built a Fortune 500 company, had a fortune in the bank, he may be beloved by millions and done many great things…but they werenʼt things that mattered to Christ and the Kingdom.

Paul says that man fails his test…so what happens to him?

At the end of v.15 Paul says the manʼs entrance into the Kingdom isnʼt at risk! Salvation is not on the line, praise God! Paul says he is saved, but he comes through like someone walking through a fire. 

We should all be working today for a better outcome on that future day as we want to receive a good result. This test comes but once, and we have only one lifetime to prepare and those results last 1,000 years.

Our rewards (or lack thereof) will be ours to enjoy for the thousand year Kingdom. 

For a more in-depth study of 1 Corinthians, we suggest you listen to our 1 Corinthians Study, specifically Lesson 3B.


In addition, our Ephesians Study, specifically Chapter 2 gives an in-depth theologically explanation on salvation by grace, through faith. It is solely the work of God (by grace) that an individual is saved.