The Struggle for Salvation
Peter teaches that it is hard for the righteous to be saved. Since good Christians struggle to reach Heaven, it will be nearly impossible for evil people to get in. Here is 1 Peter 4:18 in two versions. Most versions are similar.
‘If it is hard for the righteous to be saved,
what will become of the ungodly and the sinner?’“– NIV
‘If the righteous one is scarcely saved,
Where will the ungodly and the sinner appear?’” – NKJV
But wait…Isn’t salvation supposed to be of grace alone by faith alone? Why is Peter saying it is hard?
What Peter is Actually Saying
To understand what Peter is actually trying to say, we need to first look at context. The context of the Body of the New Testament letters is pretty clear that salvation is by grace (for example: Ephesians 2:8-9, Romans 3:20-24, Romans 6:14, Romans 11:6, Galatians 2:21, 2 Timothy 1:9, Titus 2:11). Therefore, Peter cannot be saying that we need to work hard to obtain salvation.
Reading the entire letter of 1 Peter, we learn Peter is encouraging those who are being persecuted. When we study the surrounding verses (1 Peter 4:12-19), we find this persecution is the subject of this section.
Verse 16: but if anyone suffers as a Christian, he is not to be ashamed, but is to glorify God in this name.
Verse 19: Therefore, those also who suffer according to the will of God shall entrust their souls to a faithful Creator in doing what is right.
Notice that both verses, as well as the entire passage, have “suffering” as its theme. It is pretty obvious that verse 18 must also be about suffering. This is the struggle Peter is writing about.
Underlying Verse 18
This verse teaches us a lesson in reading the Bible in context and not pulling out single verses. Review the verse at the beginning of this post. See anything? Hard to tell. But when we read the whole paragraph in our Bibles, it becomes more noticeable. Verse 18 sticks out from the rest of the verses. Most Bible versions have put quotes around the verse. Others have CAPITALIZED the entire verse.
What this tells us is that this verse is a quote from the Old Testament. Looking at the cross references, we find that this verse comes from Proverbs 11:31.
If the righteous will be rewarded in the earth, How much more the wicked and the sinner!
“Wait! That doesn’t look like what Peter wrote!” You’re right. That’s because our Old Testament is based on the Masoretic Text. However, Peter is quoting here from the Septuagint, a Greek translation of the Hebrew Scriptures
If the righteous scarcely be saved, where shall the ungodly and the sinner appear?
Peter has quoted it exactly. He knows this Proverb is speaking of repayment for our struggle. Today, we might quote our own proverb, which says, “We reap what we sow”. While the Proverb makes Peter’s point, he realizes that the Septuagint version uses words that add an eternal point of view.
So What Is Peter Actually Saying?
Peter’s point is not that it is hard to be saved.
He is using a version of a Proverb to support his teaching that Christians will suffer but we should not be looking at the suffering. Instead, we should be looking at the reward.
- A couple of verses earlier, in 1 Peter 4:13-14, he teaches that we can rejoice now because at the revelation of His glory (in the future) we will be rejoicing. Also that we are blessed because of our suffering for Christ.
- In 1 Peter 1:6-7 he tells us we can rejoice because our suffering results in praise and glory to God.
- In 1 Peter 2:20-21, he writes that we find favor with God when we suffer and that we are walking in Jesus’ example.
Peter matches James and Paul in this teaching.
- James 1:2-4 reminds us to rejoice in our suffering.
- Paul’s point in Philippians 3:7-12 is that his own goal is to share in Christ’s suffering.
Peter is encouraging the persecuted Church. He is telling them to suffer well because Christ also suffered for the Gospel. We do not live for this world but we are ambassadors of Heaven. Peter is reminding us of the prize – the Glory of God in Eternity. When we glorify God, we accomplish the objective of life.
Any of you suffering for Christ? Please share this with us so we can pray, encourage you and rejoice together.
 From the “English Translation of the Greek Septuagint Bible”, Compiled from the Translation by Sir Lancelot C. L. Brenton 1851, http://www.ecmarsh.com/lxx/Proverbs/index.htm