If the Righteous will scarcely be saved where does that leave me?

Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice insofar as you share Christ’s sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed. If you are insulted for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the Spirit of glory and of God rests upon you. But let none of you suffer as a murderer or a thief or an evildoer or as a meddler. Yet if anyone suffers as a Christian, let him not be ashamed, but let him glorify God in that name. For it is time for judgment to begin at the household of God; and if it begins with us, what will be the outcome for those who do not obey the gospel of God? And

“If the righteous is scarcely saved,

    what will become of the ungodly and the sinner?”

Therefore let those who suffer according to God’s will entrust their souls to a faithful Creator while doing good.(1 Peter 4:12-19)

I received this thoughtful question concerning the text quoted above this week, particularly verse 18. The following is the question followed by my response. 

Question

Could you please help me understand why the bible says the righteous shall scaresely make it in to heaven in  1 Pet. 4:18?

If people like my grandfather whom dedicated his whole life walking with the Lord, spreading his word, faithfully praying on his knees every night ….if he will scarcely make it in…where does that leave me? I’m no where near being righteous.

Answer

This is a really great question, here’s my understanding of the passage:

First, as always, note the context of the verse. In 1 Peter 4:12 and following Peter is addressing the issue of suffering for the Christian, “do not be surprised at the fiery trial …” This entire section is dealing with Christians being persecuted for the sake of Christ. They are being insulted verbally (verse 14) and possibly physically (verse 15). Thus, verses 12-16 have everything to do with a Christian’s endurance through suffering. The question is what good comes through suffering? Peter says in verse 16 that those who suffer should “not be ashamed” but “glorify God!” So, whatever Peter is trying to communicate in this passage it CANNOT BE SOMETHING THAT WOULD DISCOURAGE THEM OR MAKE THEM QUESTION THEIR SALVATION. EVERYTHING HE IS SAYING IS TO ENCOURAGE THE CHRISTIAN. 

Now to verse 17. Notice verse 17 begins with the word “for.” This connects us to verse 16. Why are we to glorify God under suffering Peter (verse 16)? Peter answers it in verse 17. “For it is time for judgement to begin in the household of God.” Judgement cannot mean punishment for disobedience, because everything he has said up to this point has been about enduring suffering FOR CHRIST! Judgement here should be taken to mean PURIFICATION THROUGH SUFFERING. That is, God purifies us (judges us positively) through suffering. Hebrews 12:3-17 serves as a helpful cross reference. There it says God “disciplines the ones he loves.” Suffering for Christ’ sake is a means by which God purifies us and draws us closer to Himself.

Now, if suffering comes upon those who obey God and serve him and believe in him HOW MUCH WORSE WILL IT BE FOR THOSE WHO DO NOT OBEY GOD? This is how I understand verse 17b. The answer to Peter’s rhetorical question is obvious—much worse! If Christians endure suffering for obeying God what is in store for those who do not obey God? A horrid thought. 

Verse 18 repeats basically the same idea in verse 17, but he does so by quoting Proverbs 11:31. “Righteous” does not refer to a “more spiritual person.” It refers to ALL CHRISTIANS (see 1 Peter 2:9-10). “Scarcley saved”in verse 18 should not be understood as “barely getting into heaven” but as those who  “will be saved through tremendous persecution and suffering (recall Paul’s words in 2 Timothy 3:12).” The word “scarcley” in the original Greek means “with difficulty.” Thus, Peter means Christians will be saved with “much difficulty,” which makes sense in the context. So, he does not mean that only really good Christians will barely get to Heaven; he means ALL CHRISTIANS WILL GET TO HEAVEN, BUT IT WILL NOT COME WITHOUT DIFFICULTY. As Jesus told us “In this world you will have trouble.”

Verse 19 makes sense then—“Therefore (i.e. in light of verses 12-18) let those who suffer (Christians, the righteous mentioned in verse 18) suffer according to God’s will (that is, suffer with the understanding that God is purifying us through the suffering—making us and drawing us closer to him)….

So, rather than this text offering doubt and anxiety of our salvation it actually assures us of it! When we as Christians go through suffering and persecution for Christ God purifies us in it. Christians are unique because we embrace our trials and rejoice in them! Why? Because God is doing a great work through them. He is saving us through them! So Christian, lift up your drooping head and rejoice for the benefit of suffering in Christ. God is doing a good work in you ! 

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