Our Great Salvation, 1

St.-Peter-at-the-Pearly-GatesBarely Saved!

Text: 1 Peter 4:18

If the righteous are barely saved, what chance will the godless have? (1 Peter 4:18 TLB)

This verse is way simpler to understand than you may think. But then Bible scholars tend to think too much, meaning sometimes they get it all wrong. Many Bible scholars look at this verse and believe it to be a prophecy. Peter wrote this letter roughly a decade before the great fall of Jerusalem in 70 AD and these very smart scholars believe Peter is referencing that devastating event. When Cestus Gallus began his siege against Jerusalem, many believers were stuck in town—they were prevented from escaping. For some reason, the siege was halted for a brief time and many, though not all, Christians slipped out of town and headed for a place called Pella, in King Agrippa’s sphere of influence. These expats were “barely saved,” because the Roman army soon returned under the command of Titus, who decimated the Temple and its grounds and basically razed Jerusalem to the ground. In all, some one million citizens of Jerusalem were slain.

This is why some scholars see Peter making a short prophecy: during the siege of Jerusalem, some Christians were “barely saved” by leaving Jerusalem, but unbelievers remained and many were killed; they had “no chance.” But is this what Peter was getting at? Think about this: the word translated “barely” in The Living Bible and “hard” in the NIV does not mean there is any degree of uncertainty surrounding our salvation. Our salvation is absolutely assured in Christ; we are currently enjoying our great salvation and because we are saved, there is a 100% chance we will end up in Heaven when we die. There is NO chance we won’t make it. It does not mean that Christians will just barely squeak in through the pearly gates, either. Now, there may be some believers that will enter Heaven that way, but it’s not God’s ideal for any us.

And God will open wide the gates of heaven for you to enter into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. (2 Peter 1:11 TLB)

God wants to see all of us rushing the gates of Heaven, which will be open wide in joyous expectation of our arrival. He wants us to sweep through the gates, not crawl through.

No, the word “barely” really means “with difficulty.” So, according to Peter, believers are saved “with difficulty.” That’s still a bit cloudy, isn’t it? So a look at context is needed.

Suffering: Common

We need to go back to 1 Peter 4:12 to understand why Peter wrote verse 18—

Dear friends, don’t be bewildered or surprised when you go through the fiery trials ahead, for this is no strange, unusual thing that is going to happen to you. (1 Peter 4:12 TLB)

Of course, Peter is not writing us US, he is writing to his “dear friends,” which is from the Greek agapetoi, meaning “beloved.” His beloved friends were going through a rough patch with no end in sight, so he’s trying to encourage them by telling them that they are not alone in their suffering. Fiery trials, according to Peter, are the norm in life for all believers, including YOU. Suffering should never, ever, be regarded unusual, but rather as a “refining test.” This idea was already floated by Peter a few chapters back:

So be truly glad! There is wonderful joy ahead, even though the going is rough for a while down here. These trials are only to test your faith, to see whether or not it is strong and pure. It is being tested as fire tests gold and purifies it—and your faith is far more precious to God than mere gold; so if your faith remains strong after being tried in the test tube of fiery trials, it will bring you much praise and glory and honor on the day of his return. (1 Peter 1:6, 7 TLB)

But the “trials” are not the results of dumb things you may have done. That speeding ticket you deserved is not a trial and it’s not persecution. The headache you are enduring is probably not a test of your faith, it’s the result of, say, not getting enough sleep.

Don’t let me hear of your suffering for murdering or stealing or making trouble or being a busybody and prying into other people’s affairs. (1 Peter 4:15 TLB)

No, what Peter means is what John meant:

So don’t be surprised, dear friends, if the world hates you. (1 John 3:13 TLB)

It should not surprise any Christian anywhere in the world when they are “persecuted” in any way. It ought to be expected, though not necessarily sought after.

Suffering: Response

Instead, be really glad—because these trials will make you partners with Christ in his suffering, and afterwards you will have the wonderful joy of sharing his glory in that coming day when it will be displayed. (1 Peter 4:13 TLB)

Whenever we face a trial not of our making, we are usually bewildered and surprised and shocked; we may rail against this person or that organization or even God. Here, Peter tells us how we ought to react to unprovoked suffering: “be really glad,” he says!

Be happy if you are cursed and insulted for being a Christian, for when that happens the Spirit of God will come upon you with great glory. (1 Peter 4:14 TLB)

This is one of those verses that is difficult to translate from Greek to English. Essentially Peter wants us to understand suffering (“cursed and insulted for being a Christian”) is a token—an evidence—that you really are a Christian. But he tacks an important phrase that needs to noted: “for when that happens the Spirit of God will come upon you with great glory.” In other words, it’s not really the suffering that does it, it’s standing up and enduring that suffering; it’s your response to the suffering that demonstrates to God and everybody else that your faith is real. Stephen is a dramatic real-life example of what Peter is writing about here:

But Stephen, full of the Holy Spirit, gazed steadily upward into heaven and saw the glory of God and Jesus standing at God’s right hand. (Acts 6:55 TLB)

In the midst of his own martyrdom, Stephen stood up, stood firm in his faith, and was given this incredible vision of God’s glory. Now, it’s an extreme example to be sure, but we may be sure that when we maintain our faith when it is tested, God will similarly bless us by allowing us to experience a side of Himself we may never experience otherwise.

Suffering: No shame

But it is no shame to suffer for being a Christian. Praise God for the privilege of being in Christ’s family and being called by his wonderful name! (1 Peter 4:16 TLB)

You have to admire Peter for writing verse 16 because you know he wrote it out of his own experience. It’s common to beat yourself up when you encounter trials. It’s common to question yourself or God and to feel embarrassed; like you did something wrong. A Christian should never feel this way if they are enduring any kind of “persecution” on account of their faith. It’s nothing they’ve done. They aren’t being punished. On the contrary! If you are encountering difficult times because of your faith, realize it’s a privilege! It’s proof that you are part of His great family.

Now, if you are suffering on account of your own sinful actions, that’s not glorifying to God and it’s not a privilege. It’s merely reaping what you’ve sowed. But, if you are, for example, tossed into prison because of your faith, then you can glorify God and be a tremendous witness for Him in how you handle that situation.

Suffering: Ultimate Purpose

The crux of Peter’s argument comes here in verse 17—

For the time has come for judgment, and it must begin first among God’s own children. And if even we who are Christians must be judged, what terrible fate awaits those who have never believed in the Lord? (1 Peter 4:17 TLB)

This is a chilling verse, so let’s discuss what it really means. In Acts 14, Paul wrote this:

We must go through many hardships to enter the kingdom of God… (Acts 14:22b NIV)

Both men, Peter and Paul, seemed to understand that their present trials and tests were just the beginning of a long period of judgment. Now, in the Old Testament, the prophets often spoke about the judgment those who sinned against God would face, both in this life and the next. What Peter wrote sounds like what these OT prophets wrote but it’s not the same thing at all! The people of Israel continually sinned against God in spite of the prophet’s warnings and in spite of their difficult times. They were hard-hearted and stubborn and eventually faced grievous judgment when the Lord punished the house of Israel and the house of Judah.

But Peter is not talking about judgment in the sense of “punishment.” The community of believers is not the same thing as Israel. Israel was punished on account of their sin; we, however, are being “judged” at this present time. We can look back at the way God dealt with Israel and we can see a pattern even though the Church is not Israel. God always disciplines and judges His own people before He passes judgment on others for the purpose of revealing who will stand the test. In Peter and Paul’s day, the terrible suffering the Church was going through was a true “ordeal by fire,” revealing who the true believers where and which ones were just “hangers on.” The trials the early Church endured were for the purpose of purging it from troublemakers and religious rascals thus enabling them to glorify God. In our day, that purging is still occurring. Trials and tests come along personally to test our faith; to reveal to us and to others what our faith is made of. God is not punishing we true believers by allowing difficult times to descend upon us; He is giving us a chance to grow in our faith; to engage in a time of self-examination. Rarely do we ever see ourselves the way we really are; a rough patch can serve as mirror, showing us how weak or how strong our faith may be.

And that beings us to our text:

If the righteous are barely saved, what chance will the godless have? (1 Peter 4:18 TLB)

Now, here we see the two groups of people God sees when He looks at planet Earth: the righteous and the ungodly. Both groups face and will face God’s judgments. As Peter noted, God’s judgment comes first to His people, later it will come to those who don’t know Him. Verse 18 did not originate with Peter; he’s really quoting a verse from Proverbs:

Behold, the righteous shall be recompensed in the earth: Much more the wicked and the sinner. (Proverbs 11:31 KJV)

Peter actually quotes from the Greek version of the Old Testament which reads a little different and looks more like this:

If the righteous receive what they deserve on earth, how much more the ungodly and sinner!

In other words, both groups, the saved and the unsaved, get what they deserve. Now, looking at 1 Peter 4:18, we see that Peter is simply stating a fact: getting saved is difficult and sometimes staying saved is difficult. But then Jesus said pretty much the same thing, didn’t He?

But the Gateway to Life is small, and the road is narrow, and only a few ever find it. (Mathew 7:14 TLB)

It takes effort to get saved—to stay on a very narrow road, and it’s hard to even find the way to it–some barely find it at all! Peter’s intent here is to show in a simple way that the life of the believer is not supposed to be easy, it was never easy, and it never will be because it wasn’t designed to be. So, suffering Christian, don’t get discouraged. Don’t lose heart. Don’t doubt God. If you, as imperfect a specimen of Christianity you may be are “just” saved, realize that everybody else—all those unbelievers you envy and wonder about because they don’t have the problems you have—come up far shorter than you ever did, or ever will, and they have no chance whatever.

Suffering: The Final Word

So if you are suffering according to God’s will, keep on doing what is right and trust yourself to the God who made you, for he will never fail you. (1 Peter 4:19 TLB)

You need to read this verse correctly. It is not saying that God plans specific suffering for every individual Christian, for that would make Him no better than a great cosmic joker.  Rather Peter is simply restating what he’s been saying all along: you will suffer on account of your faith in God. God knows it, He didn’t hide this fact from you, and He warned us many times ahead of time what we may expect.  That suffering may take many forms and is always relative to the culture and society believers find themselves in.  That being the case, what do we do? We keep on living and doing right.  We don’t change and we don’t compromise.  We don’t give up on God; we trust Him even more. He will never fail us.

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