If the righteous one is scarcely saved, where will the ungodly and the sinner appear? (1 Peter 4:18, NKJV)
Jesus said, “In the world you will have tribulation; but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world” (Jno. 16:33). As they preached the gospel, Paul and Barnabas were “strengthening the souls of the disciples, exhorting them to continue in the faith, and saying, ‘We must through many tribulations enter the kingdom of God’” (Acts 14:22). Peter said, “do not think it strange” when fiery trials happen to you because of your faith (1 Pet. 4:12). These statements do not suggest we earn our way to heaven. They explain being a faithful Christian brings you face to face with challenges and turmoil that require the effort and conviction of a faith to endure and prevail when they come. “Scarcely” is from a Greek word that means “with difficulty.” Luke used it in Acts 27:16 of securing the skiff with difficulty during a storm. He also used it in Acts 14:18 of the difficulty of restraining the mob from sacrificing to Paul and Barnabas. The righteous are saved, but not without difficulties that test our faith. Trials purge the dross from their faith and identify them as being unashamed to live for Christ (1 Pet. 1:6-7; 4:16-17). On the other hand, the “ungodly and the sinner” will not appear in glory due to their lack of faith. They are unwilling to endure tribulations to enter the kingdom of God, preferring not to obey the gospel of God (1 Pet. 4:17).
“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?” (1 Peter 4:17, NKJV)
The apostle Peter speaks of judgment commencing at God’s house. Since it has been almost two thousand years since he wrote this, we can safely conclude what started then continues to be true now. God’s house is the church (Heb. 3:4-6; 1 Tim. 3:15). So, we readily admit the church of Christ has and will undergo judgments. Judgment in this verse means “the process of judgment (separation) leading to a decision” (Vine, I:222). Peter has been discussing intense persecutions already happening to Christians. He said God’s people should not think it a strange (foreign, novel) thing when trials come upon us (1 Pet. 4:12). Instead, he exhorts us to “rejoice” since such trials are our fellowship with the sufferings of Christ (1 Pet. 4:13; Phil. 3:10). God blesses and comforts Christians who suffer for His name’s sake. Accepting reproach for our faith without shame, we are to glorify God in the name “Christian” (1 Pet. 4:14-16). To be ashamed of being a Christian judges us unworthy of Christ (Mk. 8:38). Suffering for one’s faith in Christ separates the faithful from those who abandon their faith to escape reproach. Thus, persecution has the effect of judging Christians. It separates the unfaithful from the righteous. Since Christians are saved through such difficulties, it becomes obvious that those who “do not obey the gospel of God” will not be saved (1 Pet. 4:17, 18).
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?” (1 Peter 4:17–18, NKJV)
Judgment from God comes to the Christian as well as to the unbeliever. This passage affirms the house of God (the church) obeys the gospel of God and is composed of “the righteous” who are saved. By contrast, the result of the ungodly and sinner, who does not obey the gospel of God, is being lost. Each of us choose whether our judgment will bring us salvation in Christ or condemnation due to our sin. To be “scarcely saved” requires the strenuous activity of obeying the gospel. Jesus said the way that leads to life is difficult (confined or straight, Matthew 7:14). The way that leads to death is broad and has many travelers (Matthew 7:13). It is time to see clearly which road you are on. One leads to eternal life and the other leads to eternal death. Choose wisely by obeying the gospel of God.