“If anyone’s work is burned up, it will be lost, but he will be saved; yet it will be like an escape through fire.”
Without holiness, no one will see God. One might say that our works reflect our holiness. If our works are “stubble” — i.e. worthless, then our holiness is lacking. If our holiness is lacking, then how is it we will see God?
Some say that without obtaining complete perfection here on earth, we will not pass to heaven. We will wind up in some sort of limbo or purgatory. Others say we will not be accepted into heaven at all, ever. Some say this perfection here on earth is possible and demanded because of the power of the Holy Spirit who works in us. Others say sin is inevitable — because it is in our very nature which is being changed over time by the power of the Holy Spirit.
Paul implies, in my mind, that the latter is true — that we are being altered, perfected slowly over time. A slow roasting, so to speak. That judgment day is so often, perhaps even always, referred to as a day of fire lends some credence to the idea that we will go through fire at our deaths. I think this is the only logical explanation of how we can remain sinful human beings and yet be holy as we stand before the throne of grace and judgment.
Some of us will have exceeding painful deaths, I believe as the ‘stubble’ of our lives is burned away. Every last sinful desire, every evil impulse, every sadness, bitterness, hatred, self-loathing, mental illness, emotional disturbance will be ignited in a blaze so hot as to defy imagination.
But, each one of us who calls Jesus Christ Lord and Savior, will be saved, “yet it will be like an escape through fire” for some of us — perhaps for most of us.