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1 Peter 4:18 (DRB):

And if the just man shall scarcely be saved, where shall the ungodly and the sinner appear?

1 Timothy 4:10 (DRB):

For therefore we labor and are reviled, because we hope in the living God, who is the Saviour of all men, especially of the faithful.

The question is so simple:

What is the nature of Salvation work?

How shall the righteous be scarcely saved, if Salvation is by faith only?

It's clear that in 1 Peter 4:18, the righteous, godly and non sinners will be scarcely saved?

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In reading the NT we must constantly recall three things in mind:

  • We are great sinners, Rom 3:10-18
  • Jesus is a great Saviour, Acts 2:47, 16:31, Rom 8:24, Eph 2:5, 8, 1 Tim 2:4, 2 Tim 19, Titus 3:5
  • We are saved, not because of anything we do, say, or think but by God's grace alone, 1 Cor 1:4, 15:10, Eph 2:8-10, Titus 2;11, etc.

Thus, any difficulty in saving people is not a difficulty of God's but ours. 1 Peter 4:18 quotes Prov 11:31 (LXX) and sits in the context set by v12:

Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial that has come upon you, as though something strange were happening to you.

The NT contains much encouragement for Christians to endure in the face of trails and not loose their faith and salvation. For example:

  • 1 Cor 9:27 Paul says he disciplines his body to keep it under control so that after preaching to others he does not become a castaway/disqualified. That is, Paul believed that it was possible that he could lose his way and become lost.
  • Heb 13:9, “Do not be led away by diverse and strange teachings, for it is good for the heart to be strengthened by grace …”
  • 2 Peter 1:10, “make your calling and election sure”. This clearly allows for the possibility of losing one’s election.
  • 2 Peter 2:21, “It would have been better for them not to have known the way of righteousness, than to have known it and then to turn their backs on the sacred command that was passed on to them.”
  • 2 Peter 3:17 contains a very stern and sobering warning to be on guard that we do not fall from our secure position. Verse 14 contains a similar warning.
  • 1 Cor 10:12 also contains a stern warning from Paul, “If you think you are standing firm, be careful that you don’t fall.”
  • Gal 6:9 says, “Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up.”

As usual, some of the classic commentators sum this up in a very pithy way. Ellicott observes for 1 Peter 4:18:

and he means that there was but little margin left: a very few more falls, a few more refusals to follow the calls of grace, and they would have been lost. 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.

Matthew Henry also reaches a similar conclusion:

This does not mean that the purpose and performance of God are uncertain, but only the great difficulties and hard encounters in the way; that they go through so many temptations and tribulations, so many fightings without and fears within. Yet all outward difficulties would be as nothing, were it not for lusts and corruptions within. These are the worst clogs and troubles. And if the way of the righteous be so hard, then how hard shall be the end of the ungodly sinner, who walks in sin with delight, and thinks the righteous is a fool for all his pains! The only way to keep the soul well, is, to commit it to God by prayer, and patient perseverance in well-doing. He will overrule all to the final advantage of the believer.

Barnes has an extended discussion on this point and lists some of the difficulties experienced by the sinner in turning to God and then not subsequently turning away such as:

  • The difficulty of bringing those who are saved to a willingness to accept of salvation. All were disposed alike to reject it; and there were many obstacles in the human heart, arising from pride, and selfishness, and unbelief, and the love of sin, which must be overcome before any would accept of the offer of mercy.
  • The difficulty of keeping them from falling away amidst the temptations and allurements of the world. Often it seems to be wholly doubtful whether those who have been converted will be kept to eternal life.
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The righteous man in 1 Pet 4:18 is justified by faith, alone. Otherwise he wouldn't be righteous. It's not self-righteousness or righteousness by works (of law). "But to the one who does not work, but believes on Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is accounted as righteousness." Rm 4:5.

"For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this not of yourselves; it is the gift of God." Eph 2:8. He's saved in the past tense. Saved from eternal damnation, by justification (and regeneration): it's a gift from God. Which contradicts the misinterpretation and semi-Pelagianism of Ellicott which suggests that he could've become unsaved or lost afterwards.

The salvation ("saved") in 1 Pet 4:18 doesn't refer to justification, but to glorification. "Inasmuch as you share in the sufferings of Christ, rejoice, so that also at the revelation of His glory you may rejoice exultingly." 4:13. "Therefore the elders among you I exhort, who am a fellow elder and witness of the sufferings of Christ, who am also a partaker of the glory to be revealed..." 5:1, 4. "But the God of all grace, He who has called you into His eternal glory in Christ Jesus, after you have suffered a little while, will Himself perfect, establish, strengthen, and ground you." 5:10.

Maybe it's beyond comprehension, but your question could someday be "What's the nature of salvation?" Salvation is personal and takes place in us and 'of' us. God saves believers from spirit to soul to body. It's a tripartite salvation, corresponding to our tripartite construction. "And the God of peace Himself sanctify you wholly, and may your spirit and soul and body be preserved complete, without blame, at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. Faithful is He who calls you, who also will do it." 1 Thes 5:23-24. (The "calling" there is the beginning salvation, the salvation of justification, the salvation of the spirit, of regeneration.) This ontological salvation--salvation of being--taught in Scripture also puts the lie to Ellicott's teaching and Barnes' as well--if by "often it seems to be wholly doubtful whether those who have been converted will be kept to eternal life" Barnes is referring to doubt by God. (Matthew Henry appears, hopefully, to have it right: "He will overrule all to the final advantage of the believer.")

Though works of believers do figure into salvation, it is not the salvation of justification. "They said to Him, What shall we do that we may work the works of God? Jesus answered and said to them, This is the work of God, that you believe into Him whom He has sent." Jn 6:28-29.

Some examples: Based on 1 Cor 9, and 9:24-26 in their absolute immediacy, 9:27 refers to reward. Not to Paul being damned. Sadly, believers at times might be carried away, such as by Talmudic type Judaizing in Heb 13:9. This has nothing to do with eternal damnation and the penalty is not eternal damnation. 2 Pet 1 details the process of grace and organic salvation. 1:10 refers to the confirmation and affirmation of one's initial salvation. Absolutely not to the possibility of eternal damnation for a Christian. Such a demonic teaching is the height of what we/I call Pelagianism. Eg: you get up to godliness is 1:6, but come short of brotherly love and love in 1:8, so off to hell with you. Good try.

These examples are the salvation of the believer's soul. The 'hard part' of salvation. 2 Pet 2:20-22 refers to the earthly state and condition some believers can return to and sink to. It's no joke and not unconsequenceless. Though it neither mentions or refers to eternal damnation or going to hell, nor to the ontological impossibility of becoming unborn of God. "You therefore, beloved, since you know these things beforehand, be on your guard lest being carried away by the error of the lawless, you fall from your own steadfastness." 2 Pet 3:17. There's zero dispute that believers, children of God, may fall away. That's not in dispute. It's more than clear. Experientially as well as Scripturally. The question is of the consequences. And going to condemnation eternally isn't one of them. There are, of course, numerous verses alluding to reward and punishment, both in this age and the next, such as Gal 6:9 or 1 Cor 3. From some of them, Catholicism's derived it's peculiar notion of Purgatory. Heb 4:9 "So then there remains a Sabbath rest for the people of God," alludes to reward, on the positive side.

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