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Online Text Sermon - The Righteous Scarcely Saved, 1 Peter ch.4 v.18

Date05/11/2000
Time18:30
PreacherRev. Maurice Roberts, Inverness
Sermon TitleThe Righteous Scarcely Saved
Text1 Peter ch.4 v.18
Sermon ID204

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"And if the righteous scarcely be saved, where shall the ungodly and the sinner appear?" (1 Peter 4, 18).

One of the reasons why some people are afraid to become Christians is because they know they will have to suffer. The man who lives according to the world can get away with many things as long as he lives in this life. People will not trouble him very much because he doesn't conform to any particular standard; as long as he is alive and in this world, the worldly man can pretty well do what he likes. However, we all know that when a man or a woman becomes a Christian they immediately start to suffer for their faith. You cannot be a Christian in this life but you have to suffer in one way or another. I believe there are people, young people and others, who do not want to become Christians for that very reason. They argue like this: "Why should I suffer when other people have an easy life? Why should I expose myself to ridicule when most people are taking it easy? Why should I be singled out for the kind of reproaches that Christian people are made to go under?" That's the problem I want to look at with you now.

I begin where our text begins, to ask why it should be that Christians have to suffer - after all they are usually the kindest people that you will meet; they are patient, smiling, affectionate, well-intentioned and generous. Because of these reasons you would expect that everyone would think that they were the best people around. But, as a matter of experience, all who follow Christ must suffer in this life. We are told in my text the reason for that. Listen: "if the righteous scarcely be saved, where shall the ungodly and the sinner appear?" (text). The main reason why the Christian suffers is because he is a righteous person. Ever since the fall of man at the very beginning of history, there have been two types of human beings living side-by-side in this world; they are the righteous and the wicked. They are both mentioned, you notice, in my text: "if the righteous scarcely be saved, where shall the ungodly and the sinner appear?" And so the Bible recognises that there are just two kinds of people. You might say there are many more kinds of people than that: clever people and people that aren't clever; rich people and poor; black people and European. There are lots of different kinds of people but the Bible doesn't look at the world in that way. The Bible only recognises two kinds of people - the righteous and the sinner, or the wicked. The reason why the righteous and the Christian has to suffer in this life is because he is a righteous person.

Early on in the book of Genesis, God shows us what is involved in the righteous and the unrighteous living side-by-side. You recall the first children who were born to Adam and Eve - Cain and Abel. As they grew to become men they both went to worship God. God accepted Abel's sacrifice because it was the sacrifice of a righteous man. We are not quite sure how it is that God accepted the sacrifice and showed that He did; perhaps He made the smoke of the fire, in some way, to ascend acceptably to heaven. What we do know is that his brother, Cain, was furious that his brother's sacrifice was acceptable to God and his own was not. It wasn't long before he took his brother out quietly into the field and struck him dead. That is an illustration of what happens because the righteous and the wicked are living in this life side-by-side. It is not a unique case - far from it. When you go a little further into the book of Genesis you get the case of Isaac and Ishmael; they were both sons of one father - Abraham. When they were still children, Ishmael - a worldly man, even in his childhood - he scoffed, he sneered, and he jested and joked about his brother Isaac, which is a kind of persecution. He scorned this young man because he was a child of promise - a child of God; he was going to become a righteous man. Exactly the same is seen in these two twins who were born later on to Isaac - Jacob and Esau; precisely the same. When Esau noticed that his brother got both birthright and the blessing - what did he do? He said in his heart, "The days of mourning for my father are at hand; then will I slay my brother Jacob" (Genesis 27, 41). There was a special intervention in the family, to send him away from home and save his life.

The reason why these men suffered - and it would be equally true of women - is because they were righteous. That is why all the Lord's people suffer. Here is the mark of a genuine Christian - he is righteous person; in the depths of his soul he is different from those who are not righteous. In what ways do they differ? Like this - the Christian who is righteous, truly and genuinely loves God as He is - as God is; the worldly man does not. He may pretend to love God - he may be religious in his own style of things - but he doesn't love God as God genuinely is. No one except a true Christian loves God for what He is. This is why, in religious circles, you meet many people who not like a strict religion. They do not say so outright but they say it is 'old-fashioned' to think of God as being holy, righteous and just. They don't like that. They want to do away with that and make God loving, kind and gentle - a much softer view of God. Of course, both of these things are true; God is loving and just, light and love. However, the man who is not genuinely a Christian will always try to play down the strictness of God's character - he doesn't like that emphasis upon the righteousness of God. Certainly he doesn't, because in his conscience he knows full well that he is not right with God, so he tries to hide this side of God's character from himself. This is the reason why we have amongst, so called, scholars of the Bible, what we call 'liberalism' and 'higher-criticism'. They don't like God as He is; they don't like the truths of God's Word. They don't like the idea of an infallible Bible which tells us how to behave and what to do. Because that is the case, inevitably, they try to change the Bible; they try to soften it down. They never make it more strict, you understand. They never improve on what the Bible teaches. They don't add to the holiness of the Bible. Uniformly, universally, always and in every generation, what a liberal man does is to try and drag God down to his own level. The reason is that he does not like the strictness and awesome authority of God, and he resents the thought of being entirely under God's law, control and sovereignty.

There is, in every unconverted man, a deep well of idolatry. If the non-Christian could do so, he would change God, he would alter God; he would love to do that. He would love to, as it were, bind God's hands so that He could never punish anyone. He would like to bind God's lips so God could never command anyone. He would like to make God blind so God never saw what men do in secret. He would like to make God deaf so He couldn't hear what they say about Him and about His people. There is always this terrible temptation and tendency in the non-Christian to alter God, to change Him. Not so the Christian! The Christian knows God - he has the law of God written into his heart and he loves it. If the Christian could have his way, he would never commit sin again. That is not the way the unbeliever is. If the unbeliever had his way, he would commit all kinds of sin and the only thing he would safeguard is, he would make sure he was never found out. That's what the unbeliever calls the eleventh commandment: thou shalt not get found out - but it's not part of God's law. God's law doesn't have that because all sinners, in the end, will be found out. The unconverted who don't love God, would very much like to add an eleventh commandment whereby he can commit his sin and enjoy it but never be found out.

The things I have said are not true of the Christian by birth. Not that the Christian is any different from anybody else by birth. No, it is the work of God in his soul at his conversion and new birth, which has made him like this. He was once like others; we were all the same. We were all made of the same fallen, rotten, corrupt human nature. We all had poor views of God, but when we were converted and brought into the kingdom of grace by the mercy of the Lord then, as Christians, this new birth gave us an entirely different attitude to God. It gave us a respect and fear for Him, a desire that He should be glorified, a wish that His will should be done and a prayer that God will assert His righteousness - put forth His power and control sin. That is the very last thing that the unbelieving world wants to happen. They want to have perfect freedom and equality. They don't want to be tied down to this one woman all their married life. They see the state of wedlock as being a kind of padlock, chaining them up to one person. They want to be free to get rid of one husband or wife and get another one - younger or better looking. Complete freedom is what the unbelieving man wants to have; but not so the Christian. The Christian's conscience is captive to the Word of God; he is a righteous man. Any man who claims to be a Christian and his character is not righteous, then he is deceiving himself because this is the way the Word of God describes his own converted people. He says, "if the righteous scarcely be saved, where shall the ungodly and the sinner appear?"

Am I talking to people here, and you are all too conscious of the fact, that the reason why some people in this world are unkind to you, is because of your faith in God. There is no other reason; you are otherwise kind to your family, friends and neighbours but you are very conscious that these people have something against you, quite unreasonably, just as King Saul did against David. David never did him a moment's harm but Saul persecuted him from pillar to post. Why? Because Saul saw that God was with David and David was a godly, righteous man. It has always been the same and I give you this comfort from the Word of God: "Yet if any man suffer as a Christian, let him not be ashamed; but let him glorify God on this behalf" (v. 16). This is the evidence of a truly changed life. Here is a sign that you belong to the Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ. Here is the evidence that you are an heir of God and of glory: if you suffer reproach and shame from men who are of this world because your character is of a man or woman who is righteous.

That is the first thing and the second thing is that in spite of the fact that the Christian is righteous and good and godly, he is going to undergo many sufferings in this world - "if the righteous," says Peter, "scarcely be saved, where shall the ungodly and the sinner appear?" (text). What does it mean when Peter says that the righteous are scarcely saved? I must explain that in case anyone fails to recognise the meaning. Peter, of course, does not mean that the Christian is in such a precarious position of uncertainty that he never really knows at the end of his life whether he is going to go to heaven or not. No, no! He doesn't mean that. He doesn't mean that the Christian is, as it were, so uncertain of his position and standing with God that he is always in doubt as to whether he is going to go to heaven. I have to say by the way that that is the view of Roman Catholicism. That is exactly what Catholicism teaches. It doesn't matter how many times you go to the priest and confess your sin, it doesn't matter how many times you go to mass and watch the transubstantiation take place by the wonderful words of the priest - the Roman Catholic Church never gives you any assurance. You can never be certain, even though you be a priest, cardinal or the pope himself, if God has accepted you. The whole essence of Roman Catholicism is built upon this presupposition: nobody is ever sure of salvation here and now. That is not biblical Christianity. A biblical Christian is sure, and needs to be sure - and should be certain of his salvation. God has promised that if we are believers in Christ, then all our sins are blotted out. When he says here, therefore, that "the righteous are scarcely saved" he is referring to the fact that the Christian will go through many, many difficulties before he gets to heaven.

I shall use an illustration of a ship travelling across the ocean. When she sets out she has masts and beautiful sails, streamers and flags. She looks very elegant going out from the harbour. People clap and sing and the band plays as the ship leaves to go across the ocean to anther continent. On the way there are tremendous winds and storms, such as were seen just a few days ago in the south of this country. Down come the sails and off fly the flags; one or two of the masts are shattered. By the time she gets to the other side, she's scarcely able to stay afloat. That is the picture. The Christian is not going to get to heaven with all his bunting flying. No! His masts will be shattered; he will have gone through temptations and trials, sufferings, persecutions and reproaches for Christ's sake. It is in that sense that Peter says the righteous scarcely will be saved.

Yet, it is not the inward part which is going to be troubled so much, as his outward life. Here is the great mystery of the Christian faith. His soul is at ease within but his outward life is troubled by many external trials. A perfect picture of this is when you see Paul and Silas in prison in the town of Philippi where they were preaching the gospel. They were arrested and put in the dungeon - in the stocks. At midnight, what were they doing? Were they complaining about all their trials? Were they saying it was a terrible thing to be a Christian and to suffer for Christ's sake? No, no! They were singing the praises of God in prison. Then there was an earthquake "and every one's bands were loosed" (Acts 16, 26) and you know the rest of the story. It led to a wonderful transformation, by the grace of God, in the very jailer himself. That's how it is with the Christian: his inward heart is full of joy and he has a feast all the time, more or less. Even so, his outward life is buffeted; he is blown about and tossed to and fro by the trials of life. Why should this be? It is because of the opposition which he has from two sources especially. The first form of opposition is the hatred of the people of this world. There are at least three things about the believer which are very offensive to the people in this world who are not believers. The first thing which offends the world about a Christian is his very character, his very profession and confession of God. His very life is offensive to the world. How should that be, when a Christian is so innocent and harmless. It is because the Christian's life condemns the world. They can see the difference between themselves and the Lord's people and they feel thrown in the shade by the character of His people.

My friends, let us never minimise the difference between the Christian and the non-Christian. It is not a tiny difference like the difference between three and a half and three and three quarters. It is not some tiny difference like that. It is not the difference between half a pint of milk and three quarters of a pint of milk - which is a small difference. No, no! The difference between a Christian and a non-Christian is the difference between light and darkness, the difference between life and death, the difference between one who loves God and one who hates him. It is an absolute, total, diametrically opposed difference - a total and universal difference. The reason why that has come about is because of his conversion; he has been born again; he has been new-created in Christ. God's Holy Spirit has changed his heart and directed him in such a way that his life now is lived for the glory of God.

The second thing which is offensive to the world, of course, is what a Christian believes: his creed is offensive to the world. Of course it is; you know that very well. The world does not like to hear it when we tell them that God created the world in six days. They might ask what it matters if the world was created in six days or whether it took fifty billion years. Who cares, after all we are only here for about seventy years? The answer is very simple. If the world was created in six days then there was a personal God who created it and to whom we are answerable. That is very offensive to the unbeliever; he does not want to know that there is a personal God to whom we are going to give our account. The men of the world do not like to hear that, in the judgement of God, we are all wicked. It used to be my occupation to teach children and to teach from the Bible in schools before I began to do something else. The first question I put to every new class was, "Do you think the Bible tells us that we are born good or that we are born evil?" The hands shot up. "We are all born good," they said. When they had had their say, then I told them the terrible truth: the Bible says we are all evil. You could see that that single lesson, quite apart from all the rest you had to teach them, that single lesson was a life transforming thought. It is very offensive to people to say that they are sinners.

When I was a student, newly converted and very brash, I made a point of sitting beside some of the wickedest people in the college where I happened to be taking my meals. On one occasion I tried to get some gospel to these men. I remember saying to one of them who was a bit of a fighter, "Do you realise the Bible tells you that you are a sinner?" He said, "If you tell me that again I will hit you!" He didn't like it. He didn't want to know it. That is true of all the world. Man does not like to know that he is born evil from his youth and the creed of the Christian is offensive to him. He doesn't like to be told there is only one narrow way that leads to heaven and that is Christ, the Saviour - His death, His blood, His agony. His work on the cross is the only hope we have. "No," says the worldly man, "I believe in agnosticism and humanism. I believe in this religion and that religion. They are all roads that lead to the top of the mountain." "Not at all," says the Christian. "None of them leads anywhere but to hell, apart from Christ." They don't want to hear it. What you believe as a Christian, if you are one, is very objectionable to the unbeliever; it is called the offence of the cross. It makes people stamp their feet.

A university student I heard about some years ago was being interviewed by Dr. John Stott. Dr. Stott told him that if he was going to be saved, he could be saved in one way only. "What way is that?" asked the student who didn't know very much about the gospel. "You must be saved by the blood of Christ," Dr. Stott said. This student turned to him and said, "How perfectly horrid." That is the way man thinks of it - "Saved by the cross; how perfectly horrid!" But that is the only way.

The third thing which upsets the world about the Christian is the way in which the Christian wants to live his life according to the rules. That's the difference between the Christian's life and the non-Christian's life: the Christian has rules; they are not his own, of course, they are the rules of God. He wants to live in a certain way. He wants to love his neighbour as himself. He doesn't want to do anything to others that he would not have them do to him. He wants to live in the sight and in the light of God and his knowledge of the character of God. He doesn't do it perfectly. He is very conscious that he comes far short in everything. He knows that there are many times when he sins grievously against the God whom he loves but in his heart-of-hearts, if he could do, he would never sin again. If he could do, he would keep the laws of God to perfection. The world does not like that. They don't enjoy living according to rules. The world is always anxious for more and more freedom, as they call it; which isn't freedom at all but bondage.

It is for this reason, in addition to the hatred of the world, the Christian has to go through the temptations of the devil who hates him, because the devil realises that Christians can see through him. The devil, of course, is extremely cunning and he loves people not to believe in him. That is why there are so many books and programmes that make light of the supernatural. Some books tell us that the devil is just a joke - he has horns, a forked tail etc. The world thinks it is all just an old joke. The devil loves that because if people don't believe in him, then how easy it is for him to seduce them. If people don't take him seriously then he has got them by the nose and he can lead them anywhere he wishes to. The Christian realises from the Bible and from his own experience that there is indeed an evil tempting devil. You can't see him but, for all that, he is very real and makes terrible mischief putting ideas into our minds, leading us astray from the paths of God, endeavouring continually to make difficulties for us and stirring up opposition to us. The Christian knows that and can see through the devil. Because of that the devil hates Christians with fervent hatred and, wherever he can, makes trouble for them in this life.

This, my dear friends, is why my text reads as it does: "the righteous scarcely be saved" (text). That is to say they are saved with difficulties. Everything about the Christian life has a certain difficulty to it. It is a difficult thing to come to Christ in the first place. When you have come to him, it is a difficult thing to continue following Him. It is a difficult thing to live according to the rules of God's Word. In that sense, the Bible tells us - "the righteous scarcely be saved" (text).

Very dear Christian people, let me say to you if you are going through a hard time that, far from being discouraged by your problems, you should only rejoice that you discover in your own experience the exact, identical marks and evidences of being a child of God. This is how the Christian really is. Read Bunyan's Pilgrim's Progress again if you have forgotten. Did Pilgrim fly by aeroplane from the City of Destruction into the heavenly kingdom? Not at all! Every day was a painful journey: temptations, trials, persecutions and his companion was killed in Vanity Fair. On he went, sometimes sinning against God, other times forgetful of what He had said and trespassing on forbidden ground but eventually getting there - "the righteous scarcely be saved" (text). However, they are saved - every single one! Every believer will certainly be saved; God will keep them. No one will pluck them out of His hand. They are secure; they are watched over, guided and guarded. Thousands of angels are ministering to them - all unseen. We don't see these angels but they are always there. Our heavenly Father sends them down - sometimes in remarkable ways. Then we have the help of God's Holy Spirit. Sometimes when we are at our wit's end and don't know what to do, the Spirit gives us insight into the teachings of the Bible. Suddenly a verse can leap out at us and we say, "That is exactly what I needed to know." We have all had these experiences as Christians but, even so, we must press on through the difficulties; as Paul says to a certain group of Christians: "we must through much tribulation enter into the kingdom of God" (Acts 14, 22).

If that is the case, what is the conclusion that Peter draws from his statement? That is what concerns us as we close. "And if the righteous scarcely be saved, where shall the ungodly and the sinner appear?" (1 Peter 4, 18). This is an argument. We are now thinking of the Judgement Day. If it is such a difficult thing for the Christian to get through this world and if he is continually oppressed with trials, what do you think is going to happen to the wicked when they meet God in the end? If those who love God in this life find it so hard to get through, what's going to happen to the wicked when they meet God face-to-face? He puts it another way. He says, "For the time is come that judgement 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?" (v. 17). It is the same argument; he is repeating it. He says that the judgement begins at the house of God - what does it mean? He means God is judging His people now in this life. That is what is happening to Christians - they are being judged by God. In what sense? They are being tried and tested to see whether they are the real thing. In this life a judgement is going on all the time amongst Christians. God is putting us all in situations which prove our character and our faith - whether it is real or false, whether we are obedient or disobedient. God is trying our character and that is called a judgement; it's beginning with the people of God. Christians' judgement ends when the Judgement Day comes. Our judgement finishes when the judgement of the wicked begins, in the great day when Christ will summon the dead from their graves and marshal the universe of men, women and angels before Him for final judgement.

That is what he is talking about. The argument, then, becomes very simple: "if the righteous scarcely be saved" (text) - what is going to happen to the ungodly and the wicked in the day of judgement? You see the point he makes. There is a tremendous difference between the judgement which God's people will have now and the judgement which the wicked will have in the end. The judgement which God's people have now is just for a time. The judgement which the wicked will have when they meet their Judge, Jesus Christ, will be for eternity. The judgement which God's people have will be the trials of the Christian life. The judgement of the wicked in the end will be fire and brimstone and darkness in hell: eternal, conscious, terrible pain and suffering.

So you see Peter's argument is like this. You have to make a judgement, my friends. Are you going to choose to suffer now in this life with the people of God or are you going to avoid all that and live like the world. If you do, you know what's going to happen in the end: you are going to suffer an eternity of misery - everlasting death, everlasting banishment from the presence of the Lord. A wise old man put it like this. He said, "This life and all its troubles, is the only hell God's people will ever have; but there is a hell, ten million times worse, to which the wicked will go. "And if the righteous scarcely be saved, where shall the ungodly and the sinner appear?" (1 Peter 4, 18). In the end, those that have hated Bibles, churches, Christians, God and Christ - where are they going to appear when they are summoned to stand before Almighty God? Am I talking to you, friend, tonight, here in this room - man, woman, boy, girl? Do you realise what will happen to you if you go on without the Lord Jesus Christ as your Saviour; if you don't get Him in this life, it will be too late in the next. What will He say to you when you stand before Him, if you are not clothed upon with His righteousness? What is He going to say to you, if you are not washed in His blood? What is He going to say to you, if you have not been a lover of His truth and gospel? I'll tell you. Though He is the loving Saviour, He will say to all those who have hated Him, "Depart from me, ye cursed, into everlasting fire" (Matthew 25, 41) and the door to heaven will be shut.

This is the choice that every man and woman must face in this life. Will we take Christ and the troubles that go with Him? Or, will we avoid the trials of Christ's kingdom? Will we live like the world - laughing at their jokes and scoffing at the Lord's people? You know what is going to be the end of that - the wicked shall be judged eternally.

I have to say as I close that this is the way the apostles presented the gospel to their hearers. There is a strange new kind of gospel coming in these days; it goes like this. If you believe in Jesus you will have a better life and a happier time. If you believe in Jesus you will be protected from this, that and the other. It even gets worse than that at times. They say if you are a churchgoer it will put your foot on the ladder of promotion - you will get on better in life. That is not the gospel of God. The gospel of God says, according to the apostles who preached it to us, we come to Christ for our life.


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