Devoted to the Propagation and Defense of New Testament Christianity
October 27, 1966
NUMBER 25, PAGE 11-12a

Will The Righteous Barely Be Saved

Glenn R. Burt

"For the time is come that judgment must begin at the house of God: and if it first begin at us, what shall the end be of them that obey not the gospel of God? And if the righteous scarcely be saved, where shall the ungodly and the sinner appear?" (1 Peter 4:17-18)

"The 'righteous' are those who have submitted themselves to the righteousness of God, i.e., conformed their lives to the revealed will of God, the "word of righteousness." (Romans 10:3; Heb. 5:13) They, therefore, stand right or just before God.

Peter is not referring to those who let sin reign in their mortal bodies, or who present their members unto sin as instruments of unrighteousness; but rather, he is referring to those who have presented themselves unto God, as alive from the dead and their members as instruments or weapons of righteousness unto God. (Romans 6:12-13) They are not serving sin; but are the servants of righteousness, faithful in service to God.

The apostle says that those who are of such character as mentioned above will SCARCELY be saved. Seeing that scarcely means, "hardly, or with difficulty," we understand that the apostle Peter is saying that the righteous shall hardly or with difficulty be saved.

Now what about the matter of being saved as Peter speaks of it? Saved in what way? The word saved as used here is used throughout the New Testament in several different ways. It is used with reference to (1) salvation from past sins; (2) eternal salvation; (3) salvation from material or temporal danger and suffering; etc. The only way to correctly determine what salvation is under consideration is by a study of the context.

In all the numerous times that I have heard this passage used in sermons and taught in Bible classes, the teacher or preacher has used it with reference to eternal salvation. I am convinced that such is not the case.

Now notice: most assuredly I will agree that a man scarcely, hardly or with difficulty will live so as to be righteous before God, (Matthew 7:13-14) but that is not what the verse is talking about. It is talking about the man who IS RIGHTEOUS and the difficulty of his being saved, not the difficulty of his being righteous.

If "saved" in this passage has reference to eternal salvation, then it is talking about the difficulty involved in bringing the man who is righteous into eternal life, and such would breed doubt in the power of God as well as contradict other passages of scripture. One, for example, would be the statement of the apostle Peter himself in 2 Peter 1:11: "For so an entrance shall be ministered unto you abundantly into the everlasting kingdom of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ." (King James Version) "for thus shall be richly supplied unto you the entrance into the eternal kingdom." (ASV) Yes, the righteous man shall have an abundance entrance into eternal life. This, with numerous other verses which teach the sureness and certainty of eternal life for the righteous, as well as the context in 1 Peter 4, lead me to discount the idea that Peter is here referring to the difficulty of bringing a righteous man into eternal salvation.

Let us briefly note the context of 1 Peter 4:18. Beginning in verse twelve we find that Peter introduces the subject of physical suffering and danger, when he speaks of the "fiery trial" which was coming upon them. He continues with this line of thought throughout the remainder of the chapter.

The "judgment" which is to come on all men, as spoken of in verse seventeen, is the same as the "fiery trial" mentioned in verse twelve and certainly shows the extent of the fiery trial.' or judgment. Likewise their "scarcely" being saved has reference to the difficulty in their being saved from this "fiery trial" which was to come upon them. It was of such nature and calamity that it would affect both the righteous and the disobedient — the house of God and those who had not obeyed the gospel — the righteous and the ungodly and sinner. And the apostle concludes that if the righteous, who stand in the grace and comfort of God, shall scarcely be saved, then what about those who are separated from the love of God, enemies of God by virtue of their disobedience?

But someone desires to know what calamity could the apostle possibly have reference to, where the righteous and the disobedient would both suffer so. Well, I believe that all will concede that this epistle was written before the awful distress surrounding the destruction of Jerusalem. With this in mind, I believe that the statement of Jesus in Matthew 24:134, concerning the destruction of Jerusalem, depicts the "fiery trial" and "judgment" which Peter speaks of. Likewise we find in Jesus' statement the fact as spoken by Peter that the righteous would scarcely be saved from this great calamity. "But he that shall endure unto the end, the same shall be saved..." (Matt. 24:13) and "except those days should be shortened, there should no flesh be saved: but for the elect's sake those days shall be shortened." (Matt. 24:22) does not have reference to eternal salvation but, as in our passage from 1 Peter 4:18, it has reference to being saved from this great physical catastrophe.

Therefore, I believe that Peter has under consideration the physical suffering and trials that took place during the time surrounding the destruction of Jerusalem and in the eighteenth verse he is speaking of the difficulty of the righteous being saved from this temporal judgment or condemnation. We, therefore, do err when we use these verses to teach concerning the eternal salvation and condemnation of men; though we may justifiably show the condition of the disobedient relative to the righteous as contrasted in these verses.

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