Will The Righteous Scarcely Be Saved?

by Douglas Hoff


Some verses in the Bible are easily misunderstood.  I Peter 4:18 is definitely in this category.  It says, “Now if the righteous one is scarcely saved, where will the ungodly and the sinner appear?” (NKJV).  At first glance it might sound like Peter was discussing the Day of Judgment.  If that were true, then Christians who make it into heaven would do so by the ‘skin of their teeth.’  This view would mean there could be little or practically no assurance of one’s salvation.

In stark contrast to this, the Bible affirms that a person can be sure he is saved, John wrote, “These things I have written to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, that you may know that you have eternal life, and that you may continue to believe in the name of the Son of God” (1 John 5:13).  What is the basis for this assurance?  If the Christian continues to live faithfully then he is walking in the light and the blood of Jesus cleanses us from all sins (1 John 1:7).  Thus John was able to write “And now, little children, abide in Him, that when He appears, we may have confidence and not be ashamed before Him at His coming” (1 John 2:28).

Peter also had something to say about being sure of going to heaven at the end of this life.  In his second epistle he wrote about developing spiritual qualities.  The member who truly works on his spiritual maturity is making his calling and election sure (2 Peter 1:10). Through the Holy Spirit Peter even said that such Christians will “never stumble” and that “an entrance will be supplied to you abundantly into the everlasting kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ” (2 Peter 1:11).  Thus, faithful Christians can be certain they will enter heaven at the end.

Since the Bible is the product of divine inspiration it does not contradict itself (2 Timothy 3:16-17).  Peter would not say in his first letter that Christians will scarcely make it into heaven and then reverse his position in his second letter.  So, what did Peter mean about the righteous scarcely being saved?  To find out we should consider the context of 1 Peter.


Please read the following passage in its entirety:


(1 Peter 4:12-16; NKJV) “Beloved, do not think it strange concerning the fiery trial which is to try you, as though some strange thing happened to you; {13} but rejoice to the extent that you partake of Christ’s sufferings, that when His glory is revealed, you may also be glad with exceeding joy. {14} If you are reproached for the name of Christ, blessed are you, for the Spirit of glory and of God rests upon you. On their part He is blasphemed, but on your part He is glorified. {15} But let none of you suffer as a murderer, a thief, an evildoer, or as a busybody in other people’s matters. {16} Yet if anyone suffers as a Christian, let him not be ashamed, but let him glorify God in this matter. {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?”


Peter was saying first century Christians were going to experience some trial of their faith (cf. 1 Peter 1:6-7).  The apostle was reminding his readers that every faithful member will suffer persecution, just as Paul did (2 Timothy 3:12). Notice verse thirteen points out that those who suffer for the sake of righteousness will be rewarded when Jesus comes again (cf. I Peter 5:9-10).

Verse seventeen needs to be read carefully. Peter said that in his day judgment would begin with the church.  Clearly, this is not referring to the Final Judgment.  This trial was going to affect Christians as well as non-Christians.

Generally, government punishes evil doers more harshly than the righteous.  So, in other words, if Christians barely escape this punishment (probably at the hands of corrupt rulers like Nero), what can the wicked expect?  Their suffering will be more severe than that endured by Christians for their faith!