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 ! 

The Bridge that Leads Us from Anxiety to Peace.

An Anxious People

We are an anxious people. As I reflect on my small ministry at Sonrise it is consumed with conversations dealing with the anxieties people have over various circumstances in their lives. I think if Jesus were in many of our churches we would hear him say the words he told Martha on a regular basis, “Martha, Martha, you are anxious and troubled about many things. . .(Luke 10:41)”

In fact I am an anxious person by nature–I do not handle stressful situations very well. For example, it was Easter Sunday and I had decided to arrive early, before anyone had arrived so I could edit a few things on the church computer for the service later that day. My plan was to slip in, get what I needed done, and be back home before any of my kids had woken up. However, in just a few minutes I had managed to make everything that was supposed to be displayed on the screen at the front of the auditorium disappear. What button had I hit!? And how do I get everything back where it was!?

For the next hour and a half, in my pajamas, I stressed, wined, complained, kicked, and screamed as I frustratingly tried to fix the problem. But I only seemed to make things worse. My wife called me wondering where I was because now all of the kids were jumping on her bed wanting breakfast—what a morning! And the sad reality was, all of this was concerning me on the greatest day of the year—resurrection day! When I arrived a few hours later, with my family (and a not so happy wife!) I noticed everything was back on the screen just like normal. “How did you fix the screen!” I asked the sound guy. His reply—“the projector chord to the back of the computer was not plugged in.”

If the results of a simple google search is any evidence of how our culture handles anxiety than I’m not alone. Anxiety is most definitely an issue we all can relate to in one way or another. I’m sure if I were to write a book titled “the guaranteed cure for anxiety” It would sell millions!

Well, no need to hunt down any such book because there is a text of scripture I believe has that very answer. It’s found in two simple verses:

“Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus (Philippians 4:6-7).”

In this text I see a bridge that leads us from the troubles of anxiety to the protection of peace.

The Troubles of Anxiety

On the one side of this bridge is Paul’s negative command in verse 6–“Do not be anxious.”

I think it goes without saying that anxiety is inevitable because anxiety is the result of both unavoidable and avoidable circumstances. It should be said from the start that anxiety resulting from our various circumstances is going to creep up. The issue I think in Paul’s command to “not be anxious” has to do with our continual consuming and fretting over our circumstances; that we allow anxiety to overtake us, and we have no intention to resolve it. It’s interesting to notice that this command to “not be anxious” is in the present tense. This suggests a continual state of anxiety–“Don’t continue in a state of anxiety…”

Now Paul had every reason to be anxious:

  • He was in prison (And yet “Joy” is mentioned around 12 times in this small letter!)
  • He is being afflicted by his own Christian brothers as they preach out of selfish ambition ( Philippians 1:15-20)
  • He has some who are becoming enemies of the cross which has brought him to tears (Philippians 3:18)

And the Philippian Christians whom Paul was writing to had every reason to be anxious as well:

  • There was external persecution being placed on the church (For example Philippians 1:27-29)
  • There were Internal struggles happening within the church (For example Philippians 4:2. Could you imagine this being read out loud in church!)

And yet, while all this is in the background Paul commands the church: “do not be anxious!.”And as it is for the Philippians it is for us who follow Christ as well! So what is the cure to anxiety, what is it that will take our fears and worries away? Verse 7 points us to the other side of the bridge.

The Protection of Peace

Paul says that on the other side of the bridge we discover the “Peace of God.” I take this to mean the very peace that resides in the nature of God himself. It’s similar to how Jesus himself described it in the Gospel of John.

“Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid (John 14:27).”

This Peace Paul says, “surpasses all understanding.” I take this to mean  it is a peace that is incomprehensible; that when we face these anxieties because of our struggled circumstances we can’t explain the peace we have. We experientially know it’s there. It’s a “you know it when you see it” type of peace.
And then Paul says this peace that surpasses all understanding will “guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.” What does Paul mean by peace guarding us? What does peace guard us from? I think he means the peace we receive will guard our hearts against anxiety. It will keep us from going back over to the other side of the bridge again. This is why I say it is the “peace of protection.

So, if anxiety is on one side of the bridge and peace is on the other what is the bridge between the two? How do I get from anxiety to this incomprehensible peace that guards me from anxiety? That answer is tucked away in verse 6

And here’s what we discover:

PRAYER IS THE BRIDGE THAT LEADS US FROM THE TROUBLES OF ANXIETY TO THE PROTECTION OF PEACE.

Paul says “do not be anxious but pray! –not don’t worry be happy, but don’t worry be prayerful! When anxiety arrives in our lives we need the peace of God, and to get to the peace of God we must go to our knees and take our anxieties to our gracious father!

And notice how he defines prayer, he uses four terms that point to four different aspects of prayer

  • Prayer— a general term that simply means to speak to God.
  • Supplication—emphasis on a sense of need.
  • Requests—to beg or plead with a sense of urgency.
  • Thanksgivingthis is important! when we pray with thanksgiving we are in essence saying “God I believe that you are a good father who desires to take care of your children!” Anxiety says “God I don’t think you are a good father and I don’t believe you will take care of your children.”

Prayer then is the bridge that leads us from the troubles of anxiety to the protection of peace. You want peace from anxiety? Pray.

What a Friend we have in Jesus,
  All our sins and griefs to bear!
What a privilege to carry
  Everything to God in prayer!
O what peace we often forfeit,
  O what needless pain we bear,
All because we do not carry
  Everything to God in prayer!