A friend sent me this excellent question:
I am teaching on 1 Cor 3:10-17 Sunday. What is weird is I have not seen anyone handle the part of 3:15 that says, “but he himself will be saved, yet so as through fire.” Everyone comments on “suffer loss.” My problem is that everyone, no matter how godly or ungodly, is saved the same way. Why is the guy with no works saved as through fire? It makes it sound like he barely made it, but we all make it the same way no matter how obedient we are. It seems to me that he might be talking about our entrance here as opposed to just our justification. What do you think?
My view is that the words “he himself will be saved” in 1 Cor 3:15 means “he himself will be spiritually healthy at the Bema.” Compare 1 Cor 5:5.
I will give another blog that gives more explanation. In light of 1 Cor 3:5-10, Paul is not discussing carnal believers in v 15. He is talking about “wise master builders” who remain such until they die or are raptured. His point is that even wise master builders who will be highly rewarded will suffer loss for things they did that lacked eternal value. Yes, they will be spiritually healthy at the Bema. But how full their reward will be will depend on how much of their works had eternal value (gold, silver, and precious stones).
When I was discussing 1 Cor 5:5 with Zane Hodges one day, he told me it means that Paul was turning the man over to divine discipline so that his fleshly inclinations would be destroyed but that he would be spiritually healthy at the day of Christ, the Bema. Zane pointed out that the Greek word for save (sōzō) often carries the sense of being healed/healthy in the NT. I applied that to 1 Cor 3:15.
Compare also 1 Cor 15:2. We are currently “being saved” if we hold fast to Paul’s Gospel. That is, we are currently spiritually healthy if we hold fast to Christ and His death and resurrection.
Remember that when Paul uses the word save to talk about regeneration, he uses the past tense, not the future (1 Cor 3:15; 5:5) or the present (1 Cor 15:2). Remember Eph 2:8-9. Paul, writing to believers, says “by grace you have been saved through faith…” That is a perfect tense, which refers to something which occurred in the past and that has an abiding result.
So, I think my friend is right. First Corinthians 3:15 is not about justification/regeneration. It is about an abundant entrance (like 2 Pet 1:10-11).