by Al Maxey

Issue #625 ------- July 18, 2014
I hear many condemn these men
because they were so few. When were
the good and the brave ever in a majority?

Henry David Thoreau (1817-1862)

The Righteous "Scarcely Saved"
Pondering Peter's Puzzling Pronouncement

On March 23, 1775, in Richmond, Virginia, Patrick Henry (1736-1799) gave a powerful speech at the Virginia Convention. It was during this speech that he uttered those famous words, "Our brethren are already in the field! Why stand we here idle? Is life so dear or peace so sweet as to be purchased at the price of chains and slavery? Forbid it, Almighty God. I know not what course others may take, but as for me, give me liberty or give me death!" He went on to say, "It is natural for man to indulge in the illusions of hope. We are apt to shut our eyes against a painful truth, and listen to the song of that siren till she transforms us into beasts. Is this the part of wise men, engaged in a great and arduous struggle for liberty? Are we disposed to be the number of those who, having eyes, see not, and having ears, hear not the things which so nearly concern their temporal salvation? For my part, whatever anguish of spirit it may cost, I am willing to know the whole truth; to know the worst, and to provide for it."

As we step beyond the binding walls of sectarianism, with its many dogmatic deceptions and delusions, we will quickly perceive that our religious seclusion has sheltered us from a great many truths that we need to know if we expect to grow. Patrick Henry sought to know "the whole truth," even if it resulted in an anguished spirit, rather than "indulge in the illusions" too often promoted by blind partyism. The Bereans certainly understood this principle, as they "examined the Scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true" (Acts 17:11). Unlike the Thessalonians, who, when confronted with the message of grace, stopped up their ears and sought to bring harm to the messenger, there was "a more noble character" among the Bereans, who were willing to know the whole truth. One of the painful truths for disciples of Christ in every generation (regardless of time or place) is that devotion to the Lord will inevitably lead to seasons of affliction as we seek to walk with Him. Journeying through life as a child of God can be very difficult and painful, yet we embark upon this journey in faith, knowing the victory is already won by Jesus, and trusting Him to bring us ultimately into His presence at the end of our earthly journey. The Lord didn't promise us "smooth sailing." He promised us that He would bring us through the storms of life to the heavenly harbor. The journey will be perilous, and at times painful, but, like the apostle Paul, we "do not lose heart, ... for our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all" (2 Cor. 4:16-17). Jesus said, "In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world" (John 16:33). The Lord did not hide from us the fact that our spiritual journey will at times be painful. "No servant is greater than his master. If they persecuted Me, they will persecute you also" (John 16:20). Indeed, our walk with Him can at times be so perilous, that, were it not for His aid, we might find the path too difficult.

The apostle Peter, in his first epistle, had much to say about our sufferings and afflictions as we follow the pathway that leads to our eternal abode. "Dear friends, do not be surprised at the painful trial you are suffering, as though something strange were happening to you" (1 Peter 4:12). "If you suffer as a Christian, do not be ashamed" (1 Peter 4:16). It was in the context of this discussion about the certainty of our suffering for our faith that Peter inserts a quote from Prov. 11:31 -- "If the righteous is scarcely saved, what will become of the ungodly and the sinner?" (1 Peter 4:18, ESV). "St. Peter is quoting the Septuagint version of Prov. 11:31, which departs considerably from the Hebrew" [The Pulpit Commentary, vol. 22, p. 176]. The latter text reads, "If the righteous receive their due on earth, how much more the ungodly and the sinner" (Prov. 11:31, NIV). Most biblical scholars believe Peter is primarily speaking of temporal afflictions and judgments, rather than the final judgment of the living and the dead at the return of Christ Jesus. In other words, if the Lord punishes His own children as they sojourn here on earth, what can the wicked expect to receive from the hand of God? The Hebrew text speaks of God's temporal judgments against His people for the purpose of purging the dross that they might be pure. It is the refining fire of divinely directed trials and tribulations. On the other hand, as the Septuagint suggests (and this is the point Peter seeks to make), these afflictions can be so severe that, were it not for the helping hand of the Lord in our lives, we might very well be overcome by them. I like the way "The Message" renders Acts 14:22 -- Paul urged the disciples of Christ "to stick with what they had begun to believe and not quit, making it clear to them that it wouldn't be easy: 'Anyone signing up for the kingdom of God has to go through plenty of hard times.'" In other words, "Through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God" (Acts 14:22, NASB). Because of the obstacles that lie ahead, it will take earnest, eager, forceful, determined men and women of great faith to face such opposition as they journey through this life. Thus, although our salvation is free, it is nevertheless quite costly. It cost Jesus His life, and it may well cost us ours as well.

Therefore, in 1 Peter 4:18, the apostle, using the wording of the Septuagint, emphasizes the many difficulties that attend our salvation. NOT in the sense that our salvation itself is difficult, but that those who are saved will have to face in this life tremendous afflictions. Peter seeks to paint a realistic picture of the challenges that face the redeemed. If you embrace the Lord Jesus, it can prove costly, in the sense that it opens you to difficulties that will daily challenge your faith. We are not called to a life of ease; we are called to a war zone, where we will daily face the enemy, and where we will also experience daily the divine refining of our hearts and minds. These are perilous times, and not for the faint of heart. It takes courage to walk with Him in this life, and not a few find it so difficult that they abandon the journey altogether. Thus, "it is with difficulty that the righteous is saved" (1 Peter 4:18, NASB). Some translations say the righteous "are scarcely saved" or "barely saved," which I believe misses the point Peter is making. "The context in First Peter speaks of the persecutions which were allowed to come by God as a disciplinary judgment, the purpose of which was to purify their lives. They were being saved with difficulty in the sense that if it was necessary for God to purify the lives of saints by these drastic means, namely, persecution and suffering, what can one say as to the position of the unsaved in relation to God? If the righteous need disciplinary judgments, how much more will the unrighteous merit the wrath of God whose offer of righteousness they have rejected" [Dr. Kenneth Wuest, Wuest's Word Studies from the Greek New Testament, vol. 2, p. 122-123].

The word in this phrase that some find troubling is "scarcely," for it suggests to them that Christians "just barely make it" (with respect to being saved); we just manage to "squeak into heaven" by the slimmest of margins. Thus, we're never really sure of our salvation, as it is perceived as tenuous at best; we're hanging on by a thread, one which might break at any moment and send us hurtling into hell. Thus, "scarcely saved" is a very misleading rendering of what Peter is seeking to convey. The Greek word in question is "molis," which means "with difficulty" [Strong's Expanded Dictionary of Bible Words, p. 1243], and "refers to the hard times that persecution causes the Christian. Our versions have 'scarcely,' which leaves the wrong impression" [R. C. H. Lenski, The Interpretation of the Epistles of St. Peter, p. 212-213]. "Molis here means 'with difficulty' rather than 'scarcely'" [J. Ramsey Michaels, Word Biblical Commentary, vol. 49, p. 272]. "'Scarcely' (molis) denotes that which is accomplished only with great difficulty; it does not suggest doubt as to the outcome" [Guy N. Woods, A Commentary on the NT Epistles of Peter, p. 119-120]. Our salvation by grace through faith is certain, but equally certain is the fact that the saved will experience great difficulties as a result of their faith. Yet, our God will get us through them all. With every trial and tribulation experienced in this life (even physical death itself) we have the blessed assurance that in Him we are already victorious.

John Gill (1690-1771), in his Exposition of the Entire Bible, writes, "Though their salvation is certain and complete, being finished by Christ, yet their enjoyment of it is attended with many difficulties: by reason of the corruptions of human nature, the frequent temptations of Satan, who seeks to devour them, and their wrestlings with the principalities and powers, which are above their match." Daily facing such trials and tribulations, not to mention countless temptations, one can see how some might despair of their salvation, perhaps thinking IF they make it at all, they will barely (scarcely) do so. The Scriptures, however, seek to bring us assurance that, in the face of such daily difficulties, we are nevertheless secure in the loving embrace of our Redeemer. "The frequent repetition of counsel and comfort to Christians, considered as sufferers, in every chapter of this epistle (1st Peter), shows that the greatest danger these new converts were in arose from the persecutions to which their embracing Christianity exposed them" [Matthew Henry, Commentary on the Whole Bible, e-Sword].

Dr. Charles Ellicott sums it up well: "The fact that they are 'scarcely' saved imports not any uncertainty or hazard in the thing itself to the end, in respect of the purpose and performance of God, but only the great difficulties and hard encounters in the way. Doubtless, when the best of us looks back, in the light of the last day, upon all that he has been through, he will be amazed that he ever could be saved at all" [Commentary on the Whole Bible, vol. 8, p. 431]. Yes, the course we are called to follow, the path we are called to take, is filled with obstacles of every kind, and if successfully reaching the end of our journey depended on our own strength, we would all likely fall along the wayside at some point. Our salvation, however, is sure -- for it based upon what HE did, not what WE do. Yes, the journey is difficult, it is dangerous, and it can be deadly if we lose faith in the One who sustains us in this sojourn. But, with our eyes fixed upon the Savior, we reach the goal of life everlasting, having come safely through every obstacle and difficulty. It was this assurance Peter sought to instill within the hearts of a persecuted people; a message of assurance we need as much today as they did 2000 years ago.

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Please send me a signed copy of your book titled "Immersed By One Spirit" -- Rethinking the Purpose and Place of Baptism in NT Theology and Practice. I regularly read your Reflections articles, and I am convinced that I need to study further the act of baptism. When I finish my present adult Bible class on 2nd Timothy, I will consider leading the class (70+ members in the class) in a study of baptism. Ours is a very active and thoughtful congregation. Our mission statement is: "Glorify Jesus and show Him to others."

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This morning I placed a check in the mail to you for your new book on the nature of man and his eternal destiny: "From Ruin To Resurrection." I really look forward to reading this new book and getting deeply into this study.

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We have been studying the epistle of James in our small group on Sunday nights. This Sunday we will study part or all of chapter 4. That includes verse 5, which has long perplexed Bible students. Today I ran across your very thoughtful and reasoned essay on James 4:5, "The Spirit Lusteth To Envy" (Reflections #295), and I will be sharing this with the class.

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Bro. Al, I have to say that I find myself thinking about you a lot. I admire your stand against the legalism of our Movement. I admire the amount of research and writing you do in your weekly Reflections (that is a Wow! factor all by itself). Writing books on top of all that, and keeping an online library of all your articles, and responding to all those who write to you asking questions -- double Wow! I have shared your articles many times with others. Al, I think about the unity that Jesus wanted for His church and your grace-filled attitude, your giving spirit, and your love for the Lord and His Word -- yet, we differ on baptism. I don't lose sleep over it, but I do find myself thinking about it a lot. I am also thankful that I found Edward Fudge through you. I have now become a Conditionalist and an Edward Fudge fan! God bless you, Al.

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I just listened to the CD of your talk at The 2014 Tulsa Workshop -- "Calling for Reformation: Spirit-led Love." What a powerful message!! I was saying "Amen!" all the way through it. By the way, you have a wonderful speaking voice. You should consider being a radio announcer or preacher! (LOL)

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