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This question is aimed at those Christians who believe that someone saved can't become "unsaved" later.

At least in 1 Corinthians 9:27 apostle Paul says he is not sure whether he will be saved or not (AFAIK there are other verses like this, and of course other places where Paul expresses his hope he will be saved). Here it is:

27 No, I beat my body and make it my slave so that after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified for the prize. (NIV–1984)

Question is simple: how do those Christians interpret this?


Related:

  • If I may suggest an edit to the question: 'for the prize' isn't anywhere in Greek. It's a heavy interpretative addition. "ἀλλὰ ὑπωπιάζω μου τὸ σῶμα καὶ δουλαγωγῶ, μή πως ἄλλοις κηρύξας αὐτὸς ἀδόκιμος γένωμαι." means "But I punish my body, and bring it into subjection, lest having preached the gospel to others, I myself might become disqualified/reprobate." St. Paul uses the Greek work adokimos to mean reprobate. Romans 1:28 etc. Most neutrally it means not-judged-proper or not-judged-to-be-fit. Also, "that they may receive a corruptible crown" Jesus calls "the crown of life.salvation. – Sola Gratia Jul 5 '17 at 12:56
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It's clear from your question that you are assuming "the prize" to be salvation, and that you believe that this verse speaks of our works earning our salvation, or at least our bad works possibly leading to the loss of our salvation.

However, to most reformed theologians, this is not the case. A deeper study of the original Greek, as well as application of sound principles of interpretation clears this up.

First, the principles of Biblical interpretation include the fact that Scripture cannot contradict itself. Paul is on record all throughout the New Testament as stating that salvation is by faith through grace, apart from any works or worthiness of man. It would make no sense for him to be saying so here, so we need to dig deeper.

Taking a look at the various commentaries on this verse, most are in agreement that the prize is not salvation. For example:

From Scofield Reference Notes

1 castaway

Gr. adokimos, "disapproved." Dokimos, without the private a, is translated "approved" in Rom 14:18 16:10 1Cor 11:19 2Cor 10:18 2Tim 2:15 Jas 1:12, by the word "tried." The prefix simply changes the word to a negative, i.e. not approved, or, disapproved. The apostle is writing of service, not of salvation. He is not expressing fear that he may fail of salvation but of his crown. See "Rewards" Dan 12:3 1Cor 3:14.

Another view from Gill's Exposition of the Entire Bible hints that the prize is simply faithfulness and remaining a faithful servant so that he can achieve the ultimate prize of expanding Christ's kingdom - avoiding becoming a "useless preacher".

I myself should be a castaway, or rejected, or disapproved of; that is, by men: the apostle's concern is, lest he should do anything that might bring a reproach on the Gospel; lest some corruption of his nature or other should break out, and thereby his ministry be justly blamed, and be brought under contempt; and so he be rejected and disapproved of by men, and become useless as a preacher: not that he feared he should become a reprobate, as the word is opposed to an elect person; or that he should be a castaway eternally, or be everlastingly damned; for he knew in whom he had believed, and was persuaded of his interest in the love of God, and that he was a chosen vessel of salvation, that could not be eternally lost: though supposing that this is his sense, and these his fears and concern, it follows not as neither that he was, so neither that he could be a lost and damned person: the fears of the saints, their godly jealousies of themselves, and pious care that they be not lost, are not at all inconsistent with the firmness of their election, their security in Christ, and the impossibility of their final and total falling away; but on the contrary are overruled, and made use of by the Spirit of God, for their final perseverance in grace and holiness.

Calvin put the same thought this way:

Accordingly, I strive to conduct myself in such a manner, that my character and conduct may not be inconsistent with my doctrine, and that thus I may not, with great disgrace to myself, and a grievous occasion of offense to my brethren, neglect those things which I require from others.

Finally, if you're interested, there's no shortage of commentaries from the great thinkers here: http://www.preceptaustin.org/1_corinthians_927_commentary.htm

  • salvation is by faith through grace: did you mean “by grace through faith” by any chance? I think that usually when that combination of prepositions and nouns is used (especially in a Pauline context, especially from a reformed perspective), it’s echoing Ephesians 2:8. – Susan Mar 21 '15 at 20:38
  • This is certainly one approach, but from what I can tell not the most common one among Reformed theologians. Scofield is not one I'd typically associate with Reformed theology, and I don't think that Calvin, read in context, lends much support to this approach. – Nathaniel is protesting Jul 27 '16 at 16:13
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    Whoah it is a first time Scofield is identified with reformed :) – pehkay Feb 11 at 23:56
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Reformed theologians approach this verse in two ways:

  • Paul is striving for a prize other than salvation
  • Paul is proving, through his actions, that he is truly saved

Striving for a prize

John Gill and Charles Spurgeon are among those who argue that Paul here does not have his own salvation in mind. Instead, they see him to be striving for a prize above and beyond salvation. Spurgeon writes:

Paul was not afraid of being cast away by God at the last. What he aimed at was this, — as he had entered the lists, as a Christian minister, to fight for Christ, to wrestle against principalities and powers, to seek to win souls for Christ, he must keep his bodily powers and passions so in subjection that, at the last, when the prizes were distributed, he would be found to have won his. This is quite another matter from being “a castaway” from salvation and eternal life. (source; cf. John Gill)

Proving his salvation

Many Reformed commentators, however, take a different approach. They see Paul as engaged in an effort to prove that he is truly saved – he does not want, in the final analysis, to be found to be the seed that fell amidst the thorns and told "Depart from me" at the last day.1 John Piper explains the difference between "salvation by works" and Paul's striving here:

The race of life has eternal consequences not because grace is nullified by the way we run, but because grace is verified by the way we run. [...] Eternal life hangs on the way we run and the way we fight not because salvation is based on the merit of works, but because faith without works is dead (James 2:26). Life is a proving ground for whether faith is alive or dead—a proving ground for whom we trust. (source)

Wouldn't this imply, then that the apostle Paul doubted his eternal destiny? Reformed theologians typically hold that assurance of salvation is possible on earth, and surely if anyone had confidence in his own salvation, it was Paul. The Reformed Study Bible explains:

Paul was confident that absolutely nothing would be able to separate him from God's love (Rom. 8:38–39), but he never presumed that he was saved regardless of what he did. No Christian can afford to take lightly the warnings of Scripture.

Charles Hodge argues that only those "engaged in a life-struggle" against sin can have assurance:

The one state of mind is the necessary condition of the other. It is only those who are conscious of this constant and deadly struggle with sin, to whom this assurance is given. In the very same breath Paul says, "O wretched man that I am;" and, "Thanks be to God who giveth us the victory." (source)

Along with other Reformed commentators, Hodge sees Paul's main concern here to be the Christian walks of the "reckless and listless Corinthians" who "thought they could safely indulge themselves to the very verge of sin." Jamieson, Fausset, and Brown summarize:

Paul implies, if such earnest, self-denying watchfulness over himself be needed still, with all his labors for others, to make his own calling sure, much more is the same needed by the Corinthians, instead of their going, as they do, to the extreme limit of Christian liberty. (source)


1 In addition to the theologians quoted above, the following Reformed theologians take this approach:

  • If Paul is doing 'someting' lest 'something else'. If he doesn't do 'something', he will 'something else'. Unless St. Paul was compelled helplessly to 'chastize' his body? – Sola Gratia Jul 5 '17 at 12:58
  • @SolaGratia Sorry, not sure what you are getting at? – Nathaniel is protesting Jul 5 '17 at 13:00
  • St. Paul chatizes his body so he 'might not become reprobate'. He clearly doesn't do it for the fun. – Sola Gratia Jul 5 '17 at 13:34
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As I read this passage, If I did not at least question my understanding of "one saved always saved", I would be intellectually dishonest. And there are quite a few verses in the bible that on face value can rightfully challenge that doctrine. This passage is one of them.

If I believe all of God word is true and without error, this verse in particular sure seems to say, "Hey, maybe salvation is a free gift, but we need to work (and work really hard!) to keep it." Sure seems to say that a great man of God like Paul is also in jeopardy of losing that gift. (wow... what hope have I?)

But then a multitude of verses come to mind written by the same man that really make him seem out of character here. And if I'm honest I would have to say it makes the whole bible look like it really is a bunch of contradictory fables.

So this is where faith comes in, as one is tested. One must trust that the spirit will guide to truth as we seek wisdom and His answers like we would search for gold and silver.

As I seek to understand this, I first look at the context of the chapter and ask what point is Paul trying to make in all those paragraphs together. What is his point in writing this section of the letter. Here is how I see it thus far.

Paul doesn't want to take money or anything from the congregation even though he is worthy and has the right to. (v1-12) A God ordained right I may add.(v14) He is making a defense to those who are examining (judging) him.(v3) He seems to be rather adamant in these verses to make sure everyone knows that he is deserving of these things and no could accuse him of wrong for taking these things but he list all these things he sacrifices (endures), he endures so these things won't be a stumbling block for any coming to an understanding of Christ(v12)

12 ...we endure anything rather than put an obstacle in the way of the gospel of Christ.

I ask myself does the suffering here have any relation to what he is saying in verse 27 (discipline my body keep it under control)?

He goes on to talk about talking about how important preaching is to him and he would do whatever it takes to win others (v15-23)

Then we go onto running the race in verse 24. I ask myself what is the race? This is of course an metaphore so you have to read into it. The word race here is only used twice in the new testament. Here in 1 Co. and Hebrews 12. Neither which explain clearly what "the race" is.

Closest I could find at this point is the word "course" which might be related to the metaphore of "race". I assume it is safe to say Paul was not talking about a literal race but instead the path or "course" taken to get to the end of life.

Timothy actually uses "Course" and "Crown" in the same overall thought. Similar to the way 1 Co. 9 uses "Race" and "Wreath" in 24 and 25.

I really find it hard to believe how these two writers might be talking about different things. It seems to me they are just using different but similar words to express the same thing.

2 Ti 4:7-8

I have fought the good fight, I have finished the course, I have kept the faith. 8 Henceforth there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, will award to me on that day, and not only to me but also to all who have loved his appearing.

So in Timothy does "the race" have something to do with keeping the faith?

And according to Acts, is it to "testify to the gospel of the grace of God"? Acts 20:24

...if only I may finish my course and the ministry that I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify to the gospel of the grace of God.

I guess I can argue that course and ministry are two separate things independent of each other, therefore course/race is not "to testify to the gospel of the grace of God." But I don't know.

It seems that all the verses in this chapter prior to 26 are building up an argument to help support his main point here in verses 26 and 27 So putting this chapter together with the others found in the bible I ask, Could I summarize this chapter into a paraphrase of verses 26 and 27 as

So I do not (run) testify to the gospel of the grace of God aimlessly; I do not box as one beating the air. But I discipline my body and keep it under control. I beat it and make it a slave, (lest) so that after preaching to others I myself would not be a castaway, disapproved, disqualified from preaching the gospel, because I put an obstacle in the way of the gospel by giving those who are judging me an opportunity to discredit me by taking all your things.

Then in the very next chapter the very next sentence he says,

And I do not wish you to be ignorant, brethren,

It seems the greek word "de" is connecting verse 27 to 10:1 and forward. It is translated "and, moreover, for, now , when". In a sense saying

I do not want to be disqualified from preaching to you because I don't want you to be ignorant and here are some of the things I want you to know. He goes on to teach them about the lessons from Israel in the wilderness ect..

I'm sure I am not 100% correct here but I think I am on the right track. It still troubles me how part of the metaphore in v24 ties in spiritually "but only one receives the prize". But that's OK for now. I'm gonna keep digging because these gold in them there hills :-)

I would love to hear any of your thoughts or corrections.

  • As this is not an internet forum, I am not sure what to make of this answer, however intriguing your understanding is. Please see how we are different from other sites. – KorvinStarmast Jul 4 '17 at 23:23
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    Welcome to Christianity.SE! Please take a few minutes for the tour. This is a really intriguing point of view, but do you know if that position aligns with any doctrine by your or any other denomination or group or is this merely your personal reflection on the subject? – Wtrmute Jul 5 '17 at 15:13

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