1 Corinthians 9:27: Can a True Believer be "Disqualified"?
The apostle Paul describes how he is careful to be self-disciplined and to bring his body into subjection “lest possibly, after I have preached to others, I myself should be disqualified.” Does this word translated “disqualified” (NASB) suggest that Paul feared losing his salvation? Once again, as we see also in Rom. 11:22, it may be that Paul is echoing a theme found elsewhere in his letters and throughout the NT, namely, that ultimate salvation is dependent on perseverance in faith (cf. Rom. 8:13; Col. 1:23; Heb. 3:6,14; 1 Peter 1:5; 1 John 2:19), a faith which Paul believes God graciously preserves and sustains within us (see, e.g., Phil. 2:12-13).
More likely, however, is Paul’s concern that he not become slack or indifferent in his ministry lest he forfeit God’s approval on his apostolic endeavors (and perhaps the power of the Holy Spirit that energized his work). He fears not hearing God say: “Well done, good and faithful servant,” and thereby forfeiting the divine blessings and rewards he otherwise would receive (a theme he earlier addressed in 1 Cor. 3:10-15). The Greek word adokimos (translated “disqualified”) does not pertain to the test of faith but to the test of apostleship. In 2 Corinthians Paul applies the terminology of testing (adokimos and its cognates) to himself as an apostle, not as a professing Christian (see 13:6-7; cf. 1 Thess. 2:4; 2 Tim. 2:15. Gundry-Volf concludes:
“The fact that no instance of the use of adokimos or a cognate referring to Paul relates to the test of faith or salvation, rather, that every instance has to do with his fitness as an apostle raises doubts about the view that adokimos in 1 Cor. 9:27 means rejected from salvation and suggests instead that it means rejected as an apostle” (236-37).