It’s hard for people to get saved. I’ll say that again. It’s hard for people to get saved. Yes, in one sense salvation is simple. The gospel message is clear enough for a child to understand – repent (turn from your sins) and believe (put your trust/faith) in the Lord Jesus Christ. But in another sense salvation is totally impossible without the miraculous work of God’s Holy Spirit. The human heart without Christ is hardened and dead and the mind of the lost person is spiritually blinded by sin and Satan (see for example Ephesians 2:1-3). It’s takes the power of God to bring the unsaved person out of the darkness and into the light. That’s what Jesus was talking about when He addressed the disciples as the rich young ruler walked away crying bitter tears. The young man was religious and wealthy and had come to Jesus seeking eternal life. He really thought that he had totally kept the Ten Commandments but still felt something missing inside. Jesus told him to give up all his stuff and follow Him, but the man would not; he realized that his wealth was his god and his love of his money was THE obstacle to him having a saving relationship with God. As the man walked away, Jesus commented twice about how hard is was for the rich to enter the kingdom of God. This blew the disciples away, and they naturally asked Jesus if anyone could be saved. Jesus replied, “With men it is impossible, but not with God; for with God all things are possible” (Mark 10:27). In a different conversation with a similar but older man, the Pharisee Nicodemus, Jesus again emphasized the supernatural work of God that must occur for someone to be saved. “Do not marvel that I said to you, ‘You must be born again,’” Jesus told him. “The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear the sound of it, but cannot tell where it comes from and where it goes. So is everyone who is born of the Spirit” (John 3:7-8). And I believe that this is what Peter means in verse 18 of today’s passage, where he expands on Proverbs 11:31 under the guiding influence of the Holy Spirit and writes, “If the righteous one is scarcely (barely / with great difficulty) saved, where will the ungodly and the sinner appear?” (1 Peter 4:18).
It is uncomfortable and painful to think that many of our loved ones may not have experienced true conversions. We want to believe that people who act nice, go to church sometimes (or at least to a Christian school), and know some Bible stories and verses must surely all be born again Christians. But when we really dig deep into the Word of God, we continually see these warnings from God about the dangers of false believers, those who have the “form (appearance) of godliness” but not the real “power” of godliness that can only come from the Holy Spirit living inside a person. This reality was certainly in Peter’s mind when he wrote that “the time has come for judgment to begin at the house of God” (1 Peter 4:17). Apparently, some great persecution of Christians was about to hit his first century Roman Empire readers, and this upcoming trial would test the church’s faith to the point that the false believers might be separated from the real followers of Christ. The real Christians would hang tough and persevere through the hardship, while the fake ones would give up the faith when it cost them too much. Peter thus called upon all of his audience to remain faithful to the Lord in their suffering and holy living and “commit their souls” to Him (1 Peter 4:19), trusting that even if they had to die for their loyalty to Jesus Christ, that would be okay because they would be saved and have the hope of living with Him in heaven forever. Better to suffer for Christ now and have the joys of heaven forever than to escape temporary pain by failing to “obey the gospel of God” but later suffer the fires of hell for all eternity.
Today’s passage is short but deep and the applications are strong. First, “Examine yourselves as to whether you are in the faith. Test yourselves. Do you not know yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you?—unless indeed you are disqualified” (2 Corinthians 13:5). Is there any evidence of faith in your life besides a childhood experience or prayer? Consider these evidences of real faith from Hebrews 10:19-26: 1) A confidence in approaching Jesus in prayer, 2) A new heart and a clean conscience before God, 3) Telling others about your faith in Christ, 4) Genuine love for other Christians, 5) A desire to do good deeds for others that comes from a growing relationship with Jesus, 6) A desire to spend time with other Christians, especially by worshipping and serving God in a local church, 7) A longing for Jesus’ return for His church, and 8) Turning away from sin (not perfection, but progress). Do at least some of these traits describe your life? If not, then I urge you to be honest with where you might really stand with God. Seek the Lord now, while He may still be near; don’t wait for life to punch you in the stomach before you really turn your life over to God. Every time the Bible talks about salvation, it is always with urgency and fervency, as if there may not be another chance tomorrow: “Today, if you will hear His voice, do not harden your hearts” (Hebrews 3:7). True believers will emerge stronger in the assurance of their salvation after examining their lives, but false converts will either wake up and really get saved (Amen!) or walk away from a faith that was never real, sometimes with anger and bitterness. My prayer is that you we would all find that we are safe in Jesus before the great trials of life come.
The second and third applications of today’s passage would apply to those who know that they have really been converted to salvation. True believers are challenged in this text to never get over the miracle of their own salvation and to pray hard for God to convert their lost family and friends. When I read that “the righteous one is scarcely saved,” I am totally broken and thankful that God busted through my self-righteous, proud, and sin-hardened heart in the spring of my junior year of college to give me the gift of salvation. I am even thankful for the painful months of guilt and agony over my sinfulness that led up to the moment of my conversion, when I became totally exhausted from resisting the conviction of God’s Holy Spirit and prayed in my car, “God, I surrender.” When you look at your own salvation, recognize that it was a miracle of God. You did not get saved because you simply made an intellectual, logical decision to go a new direction in your life. You were “born from above” by an amazing act of God’s mercy and grace; never get over that! Which means that we should not judge our family and friends whom we suspect are not converted. Instead, we should be urgent and fervent in our love and prayers for them, as God commands us, laboring hard in the hope that God would give them the salvation that He has given us.
The Text (1 Peter 4:12-16)
17 For the time has come for judgment to begin at the house of God; and if it begins with us first, what will be the end of those who do not obey the gospel of God? 18 Now
“If the righteous one is scarcely saved,
Where will the ungodly and the sinner appear?”
19 Therefore let those who suffer according to the will of God commit their souls to Him in doing good, as to a faithful Creator.
Questions to Think About
1. What evidences do you see in your life that you really have been converted and saved by God’s Holy Spirit? Assurance of your salvation is the most important issue you can ever settle in your life. Seek Christ until you find Him – He has promised to never turn away any who come to Him with honest pleas for salvation (John 6:37)! And don’t hesitate to seek out counsel from a mature Christian adult in your life like a parent, teacher, or Bible study leader.
2. How can you talk about your faith with someone who says they are a Christian but shows little evidence that they have really been converted / born again?
3. If you have trouble with developing a faithful and deep prayer life, try this. Make a short list of 2-5 people in your life whom you suspect may not be converted. Imagine them being separated from God and suffering in hell for all eternity. Now start praying!