If the Righteous Be Saved
Dr. Joe Temple

Introduction

I have been pursuing with you a study of the questions which the Spirit of God led the writers of the Word of God to record in the Word so that our minds might be provoked to the right kind of thinking, that we might be able to understand the answer to the question. The question which we are going to consider together today is, “If the righteous scarcely be saved, where shall the ungodly and the sinner appear?”

I do not believe that we can understand that question without examining the question in the light of its context, so I would suggest we turn in our Bibles to I Peter, chapter 4, noticing the paragraph which begins with verse 16-18:

I Peter 4:

16 Yet if any man suffer as a Christian, let him not be ashamed; but let him glorify God on this behalf.
17 For the time is come that judgment 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?
18 And if the righteous scarcely be saved, where shall the ungodly and the sinner appear?

We want to notice particularly verses 17-18:

I Peter 4:

17 For the time is come that judgment 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?
18 And if the righteous scarcely be saved, where shall the ungodly and the sinner appear?

Let me read those words for you again and fix them firmly in your minds today. Notice:

I Peter 4:

18 And if the righteous scarcely be saved, where shall the ungodly and the sinner appear?

These words, forming the question which we are going to consider together today, are found in the midst of a discussion concerning the difficult times which Christians are going to have, according to the words of the Apostle Peter. Peter was exhorting the children of God to recognize that these difficult times would come; and he was telling them that when they came they should rejoice in the suffering that was theirs, realizing that God in His infinite wisdom had ordained that if we reign with the Lord Jesus Christ, we must suffer with the Lord Jesus Christ, that these sufferings for this present hour are outweighed by the exceeding eternal weight of glory that God is going to bestow upon those who have learned to suffer for the sake of the Lord Jesus Christ. “But,” said the Apostle Peter in verse 14, “we need to be careful that we are not suffering wrongfully, in the sense of being disobedient in the sense of sinning. If we suffer as a Christian, then we can rejoice.”

Two Classes of People

In the midst of that discussion of the expectancy of suffering in the life of the believer, the Apostle Peter said, “The time is come that judgment must begin at the house of God.” Peter was not thinking particularly of a specific time, a date on a calender. What he was thinking about was that from time to time, it is necessary for Christians to face the judging hand of God. Actually, as we read the passage of Scripture, we noticed that there are two classes of people who are mentioned in the paragraph: the house of God, who is termed the righteous, and the ungodly and sinner. Those two words are used in apposition. In reference to the house of God, the righteous. If judgment must begin at the house of God, where shall the ungodly appear? If the righteous scarcely be saved, what will the end of the sinner be?

The House of God

I think it would be wise for us to recognize just what we are talking about when we are talking about the house of God. In the Old Testament that phrase referred to a building; but after the Lord Jesus Christ died and rose again, the phrase was used to refer to people, to the Church of the living God. Turn to the book of Hebrews, chapter 10, and see exactly what I mean when I say that the house of God is a reference to the Church of the living God—to people, if you please. In verses 21-22, we read:

Hebrews 10:

21 And having an high priest over the house of God;
22 Let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled from an evil conscience, and our bodies washed with pure water.

We pause in our reading there in order to notice particularly verse 21:

Hebrews 10:

21 And having an high priest over the house of God;

Related passages of Scripture teach us that the Lord Jesus Christ is our High Priest. The Lord Jesus Christ is the High Priest over the house of God. You and I, then, represent the house of God today. The Apostle Paul, when he was writing to Timothy about a number of things, emphasized the importance of the correct behavior in the house of God. Turn with me to I Timothy, chapter 3, and notice verse 15. The Apostle had been writing about a number of things and then he said:

I Timothy 3:

15 But if I tarry long, that thou mayest know how thou oughtest to behave thyself in the house of God,[notice carefully now] which is the church of the living God, the pillar and ground of the truth.

The house of God is indeed the Church of the living God. Back again to I Peter, the house of God refers to believers as does the word righteous refer to believers. It is important for us to understand what we mean when we say that believers are righteous, so we emphasize to you that when believers are referred to as righteous , primarily the emphasis is on the standing of the believers. Believers are made righteous through the finished work of the Lord Jesus Christ upon the Cross.

In II Corinthians, chapter 5, verse 21, you read the words:

II Corinthians 5:

21 For he hath made him to be sin for us, who knew no sin; that we might be made the righteousness of God in him.

The house of God, the righteous, are the individuals who need judgment from time to time because our state does not always measure up to our standing. We recognize, we accept by faith, that we are made righteous in the Lord Jesus Christ; but when we look at our lives, we might well wonder if we are righteous, for our righteous acts are not as evident as they ought to be. Our state, we emphasize, does not measure up to our standing; therefore, we are reminded that judgment must indeed come into our lives as believers. The state in which we find ourselves from time to time necessitates the judgment of God.

Need for Discipline

Turn to I Corinthians, chapter 11, verse 30. This is a passage of Scripture to which reference has often been made, but then you will remember that when the Lord Jesus Christ, through the Apostle Paul, was emphasizing the need of discipline in the lives of the believers, he said:

I Corinthians 11:

30 For this cause many are weak and sickly among you, and many sleep.

The word sleep here refers to death . Sometimes it is necessary to visit the house of God, for God to visit the righteous, for God to visit believers with judgment, because our lives are not well-pleasing to Him. The principle of discipline is more clearly enunciated in the letter to the Hebrews, chapter 12, verses 6-7:

Hebrews 12:

6 For whom the Lord loveth he chasteneth, and scourgeth every son whom he receiveth.
7 If ye endure chastening, God dealeth with you as with sons; for what son is he whom the father chasteneth not?
8 But if ye be without chastisement, whereof all are partakers, then are ye bastards, and not sons.

Let us lay the basic foundation of our discussion today by emphasizing that it is impossible for us to live a Christian life without the disciplining hand of God resting upon us. That is the reason, going back to I Peter, chapter 5, that the Spirit of God said, “If the righteous scarcely be saved, where shall the ungodly and the sinner appear?”

Ordinarily, when we read that verse “if the righteous scarcely be saved,” we think we are saved barely by the skin of our teeth. We barely make it home to Heaven. Because many people make that interpretation of that Scripture, oftentimes when we ask people about their assurance of Heaven, they are prone to say, “I don't know whether I can make it or not. I hope so, but I don't know.”

We want to say to encourage all of our hearts that if you have received the Lord Jesus Christ as Savior, there is no question but that you will make it home to Heaven, for God does not go back on His Word. The gifts and the callings of God are without repentance, but you may, as the Scripture says, barely make it, for that is what the Word says; but you will understand better what the Spirit of God means if you will think with me for a moment about what the word scarcely means. The word scarcely does not refer to what I have been suggesting to you that you will barely make it home to Heaven. Rather, the word scarcely is the translation of the Greek word molis, which may be translated “with difficulty.” That throws an entirely different light on the text, doesn't it? “If the righteous are saved with difficulty, if the righteous have to be disciplined on their journey to Heaven…” That is the thrust of the verse. The idea is that if the believer, the house of God, the righteous individual, will have a hard time before he gets to Heaven, where will the ungodly and the sinner appear?”

The Ungodly and the Sinner

Because God does not visit the ungodly and the sinner with immediate judgment, the ungodly and the sinner often think that they can get away with anything they do and nothing is going to be done about it. We, as believers, a great many times find ourselves saying, whether audibly or not, “God, I cannot understand it. There that person is and he doesn't give God a thought. He is not interested at all in the things of God and look at him. Nothing bad ever happens to him.”

We want to suggest to you that our text emphasizes that this second class of people needs our concern, and they themselves must be concerned. Keep in mind the question, “If the righteous are saved with difficulty, where shall the ungodly and the sinner appear?”

The second class of people are described by the two phrases, “those who obey not the Gospel,” and, “the ungodly and the sinner.” The character of unsaved people is described in these two words: ungodly and sinners . They are ungodly in the sense that the sinner is not like God, neither indeed can he be, no matter how hard he tries. There is no way for the unsaved to be like God. Believers, on the other hand, are godlike because they are made renewed in the image of Christ. His image is constantly being manufactured in their lives through the very difficulty to which we have made reference already.

The word sinners here is a translation of the Greek word which is of interest to us because, as you know, there are a number of words translated by the word sinner . This particular one is the translation of the Greek word hamartolos , which refers to the individual's missing the mark. We emphasize that to you today because so often unsaved people have a way of justifying themselves on the basis of the big sins and the little sins. They have a way of justifying themselves with the idea, “Well, I really haven't done anything too bad.” That is a separate subject of discussion, and we will not get into it today, but we emphasize to you, on the basis of the word that is translated sinners here, that the ungodly are those who cannot be and are not like God, and they are men who are constantly missing the mark. What is the mark? What is the goal? What is the standard of measuring? The glory of God. Romans, chapter 3, verse 23 says:

Romans 3:

23 For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God;

So long as the sinner, so long as the ungodly, misses that mark, he is undone before God. There is no way that man, in his own strength, can measure up to the glory of God. So the question is, we emphasize, “If the righteous are saved with difficulty, where shall the ungodly and the sinner appear? If the righteous, the house of God, must experience the disciplining hand of God, what shall the end be of them that obey not the Gospel? That phrase, “obey not the Gospel,” describes the conduct of these individuals who are unsaved. This phrase, “obey not the Gospel,” brings to the mind of the average person a lot of duty that must be performed, a lot of rites that must be observed. Many times we are told that if we are doing these things, then we are not obeying the Gospel.

It is an interesting thing to me that this word obey is not the usual word for obey in the Scripture. As a matter of fact it is translated by the word obey only one other place in the Word of God. In I Peter, chapter 3, verse 1, where we read:

I Peter 3:

1 Likewise, ye wives, be in subjection to your own husbands; that, if any obey not the word, they also may without the word be won by the conversation of the wives;

You are familiar with this passage of Scripture concerning wives being in subjection to your own husbands. “…if any obey not the word,” they may by the word, by the godly conversation of the wives, be brought to a saving knowledge of the Lord Jesus Christ. The word obey there is the only other place in the New Testament that this particular Greek word is translated by the word obey . As a matter of fact, this word obey is a translation of the Greek word apeitheo , which is everywhere else translated by the words believe not —“if any obey not,” if any believe not the Gospel.

Turn to John, chapter 3, verse 36, which is the Gospel chapter in the sense that no other chapters are. In verse 36, we read:

John 3:

36 He that believeth on the Son hath everlasting life: and he that believeth not the Son shall not see life; but the wrath of God abideth on him.

Look at the verse again and notice the phrase, “believeth not.” “He that believeth not the Son shall not see life…” Those two words believeth not are the translation of this one Greek word apeitheo , which is translated by the word obey in I Peter. So when we read in I Peter, chapter 4, “…where shall the ungodly and the sinner appear. Where shall they who obey not the Gospel appear,” we are talking about those who have not believed the Gospel. The Gospel, of course, is the good news concerning the Lord Jesus Christ, the good news that Christ died for our sins according to the Scripture. This is the message that Jesus Christ declared concerning Himself. It is the message that He commissioned His disciples to give and it is the message that we are obligated to give in every way that we can as believers—the Gospel.

What Shall the End of the Unrighteous Be?

If judgment begins at the house of God, and that is where judgment always begins, if the righteous are saved with discipline, what shall the end of the unrighteous be? What shall the end be of those who do not believe the Gospel? The answer to the question is found in Revelation, chapter 20. As you turn there, let me remind you today that it is a paragraph which describes the final judgment. It is a paragraph which describes the final end of all things. It is the answer to the question, “What shall the end be of them who obey not the Gospel?”

Before we read this portion of the Word of God, I would like to suggest to you that if you are here without the Lord Jesus Christ, the Gospel has been presented several times over in song, in word, and in observance. If you are here without the Lord Jesus Christ, give careful consideration to this question and ask yourself what your end will be if you do not believe the Gospel, if you do not receive the Lord Jesus Christ as Savior. Then I would like for all of us who have believed in the Lord Jesus Christ, who have received Him as our Savior, to give careful consideration to the end of those who obey not the Gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ. I am not at all sure that we have the burden we ought to have for the lost. I am not at all sure that we have the concern that we ought to have for those who have not obeyed the Gospel. I am not at all sure that we don't just rock along saying, concerning our loved ones, “No, they are not Christians. They are not interested. Oh, I know my friend has never received Christ,” but we go right on as though nothing really matters.

By way of contrast, if our loved ones or our friends were suffering from an evident deadly disease we would be mightily concerned. We would be praying much. We would be finding out if there isn't something we can do to help. We would even be saying to the people involved, “I am so concerned about you. If there is anything I can do to help you in the midst of this dread disease, I want to do it.” Pause a moment and reflect. How long has it been since you or I have said to an individual who is lost something that would indicate our concern for them. More times than not we are afraid of invading privacy and we certainly should be concerned about that, but more times than not we are afraid of hurting feelings. More times than not we are afraid of minding someone else's business instead of our own, but you see, Friends, it isn't as light as that. It is a matter of life and death.

I want you to follow in your Bibles as I read this descriptive scene of the end of the unsaved, and pray that God will speak to our hearts with it. John said:

Revelation 20:

11 And I saw a great white throne, and him that sat on it, from whose face the earth and the heaven fled away; and there was found no place for them.

Here is a reference to the fact that the order to the present heaven and the present earth will pass away and there will be a new heaven and a new earth; but in recognizing that literal fact, we must not neglect to recognize that the awesome character of the Judge, as He sits upon this white throne, is such that nothing can stand in His presence. Then:

Revelation 20:

12 And I saw the dead, small and great, stand before God; and the books were opened: and another book was opened, which is the book of life: and the dead were judged out of those things which were written in the books, according to their works.
13 And the sea gave up the dead which were in it; and death and hell delivered up the dead which were in them: and they were judged every man according to their works.
14 And death and hell were cast into the lake of fire. This is the second death.
15 And whosoever was not found written in the book of life was cast into the lake of fire.

Go back over the passage with me for a brief moment and notice in the middle of verse 12 that the dead stand before God. Recognize who the dead are. The dead are those who were in Hell, both body and soul. Yes, Hell is a very literal place, and when individuals die without the Lord Jesus Christ, their souls go into that place we term Hell . At the Great White Throne judgment, which is the throne about which we are reading, dead bodies of unsaved people are raised and they are joined with their bodies. Body and soul stand before God. I do not know what the phrase, “the sea gave up the dead which were in it,” means. Speculation may be interesting, but it is not authentic and we do not take time for the speculation today; but I want you to visualize all the dead who die without the Lord Jesus Christ standing before the awesome presence of a holy God. Silence is the characteristic of this throne, and in the midst of that awful silence, the books are opened. There are two kinds of books here—actually, books and the book. The books of works, several volumes over. There must be a great many volumes, and out of those books, the dead are judged. Those books contain a record of every good deed that every unsaved person has done, as well as bad deeds that every unsaved person has performed. On the basis of what is written in those books, the degree of punishment in Hell is determined, but the most important book here at the Great White Throne is entitled The Lamb's Book of Life . When that book is opened, it is not to see if perhaps some mistake has been made, maybe after all the name of the person that is there is written in The Lamb's Book of Life, for hear me today, we do not wait until that judgment to know whether or not we go to Heaven or Hell. We know that, “There is therefore no judgment to them who are in Christ Jesus.”

What is the purpose of opening the Lamb's Book of Life? I emphasize this because it is an awesome thing to me. It describes better than anything else can describe the end of the unrighteous, of the ungodly, and the sinner, for the Book of Life is opened to show that there was a place where the name of the unsaved could be written, but that place is blank. I do not think anything at the judgment bar of God will bring any greater consternation to the unsaved as they stand there than to see that terrible empty space where their name might have been.

I say that because I believe the Bible teaches that the Lord Jesus Christ died for all men, and I believe that any individual who is willing to obey the Gospel or is willing to receive, is willing to believe, can be saved. But obviously, many are not, for a great host of people that no man can number is standing before this Great White Throne. Unsaved person, if you are here today, hear me. Child of God, listen to me carefully today. The end of the ungodly is spoken in the words death and Hell were passed into the lake of fire. This is the second death .

Conclusion

These are awesome words that remind me, as a believer today, that I have been negligent in my concern for the lost. Words that remind me that I must not waste any time to get the Gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ out to the ungodly and the sinner. If you are here today, my unsaved friend, I repeat, these words should be awesome words to you because they declare that the end of the ungodly (We are answering our question, “If the righteous dare to be saved where shall the ungodly and the sinner appear? What shall the end be?) is eternity in Hell—literal, awful, unending.


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