Copyright © 2006 Trumpet Ministries, Inc. All Rights Reserved

Scripture taken from the HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION. Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984 International Bible Society. Used by permission of Zondervan Bible Publishers.

The Apostle Peter tells us “it is hard for the righteous to be saved.” Since this statement is contrary to most Christian preaching, perhaps we need to examine the context to see if we can discover what Peter means by this unusual warning.


And, “If it is hard for the righteous to be saved, what will become of the ungodly and the sinner?” (I Peter 4:18)
If the righteous receive their due on earth, how much more the ungodly and the sinner! (Proverbs 11:31)

Why is it difficult for the righteous to be saved?

In order to understand why this is true we have to define “righteous” and “saved.”

The “righteous” are in contrast to the ungodly and the sinner. The righteous person is the one who has put his faith in the blood atonement made by Jesus Christ rather than in the Law of Moses. In addition, he or she is living a godly life. He is not ungodly, or a sinner, but a righteous person. We have overemphasized imputed righteousness to the point that we Christians do not believe there is such a thing as a righteous person, except by imputed (ascribed) righteousness.

This is not true. The division between the righteous and the ungodly, between the wheat and the tares, alluded to so frequently in the Book of Psalms, is not equivalent to the division between the believer in Christ and the unbeliever. There are numerous believers who are wicked, who do ungodly things. There also are people who do not know Christ, for one reason or another, who practice righteousness. God will bring such to Christ in His time, just as He did Cornelius.

The men replied, “We have come from Cornelius the centurion. He is a righteous and God-fearing man, who is respected by all the Jewish people. A holy angel told him to have you come to his house so he could hear what you have to say.” (Acts 10:22)

The righteous person, whether or not he is a Christian, is the one who obeys the laws of conscience, places his faith in Christ when Christ is presented to him, and then obeys the commandments of Christ and His apostles. If an individual places his faith in Christ when Christ is presented to him, and then does not obey the commandments of Christ and His apostles, he is unrighteous even though he has made a profession of faith in Christ.

Dear children, do not let anyone lead you astray. He who does what is right is righteous, just as he is righteous. (I John 3:7)

It is difficult for the righteous individual to be saved. The righteous person is the one who does what is right, according to the Apostle John.

Having discussed what is meant by “righteous,” let us consider what it means to be “saved.”

To be saved is to be released from the person and works of Satan, to have Christ formed in us, to be in the moral image of Christ, to have the Father and the Son dwell in our transformed inner nature, and to dwell forever in untroubled rest in the Father’s Person and will.

  • To be saved is to be transformed morally.
  • To be saved is to be released from the love of the world, from the lusts of our flesh, and from self-will and disobedience to God.
  • To be saved is to be filled with the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
  • To be saved is to be abiding for eternity in untroubled rest in the Father’s Person and will.

An individual could behave righteously and still not have been transformed morally (saved) to the extent God requires.

An individual could behave righteously and still be bound in his personality with some aspects of worldliness, the lusts and passions of his flesh, and self-will and disobedience to God.

An individual could behave righteously and still not be filled with the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

An individual could behave righteously and still not be abiding in untroubled rest in the Father’s Person and will.

We see, then, that an individual, no matter how righteous, may still need to be “saved” in some areas of his or her personality.

By “saved” we are making no reference to Heaven but to the transformation of the human personality from Adam to Christ, from a sinful nature to a nature filled with the Life of God, a nature that can have joyous fellowship with God.

This is what salvation is.

In addition, if we are to understand why it is hard to be saved we must recognize that salvation is a process, a program that commences when we first come to Christ for salvation and continues until we are in the image of Christ and dwelling in untroubled rest in the Father.

Salvation is a process of redemption, of transformation. It is not a ticket that ensures we will escape Hell and be admitted to Heaven when we die. Although the latter is the common viewpoint, held even by non-Christians, it nevertheless is without foundation in the Scriptures.

So we are saying it is hard for a person who behaves in a righteous manner to be totally transformed morally, indwelt by the fullness of the Godhead, and to find eternal rest in the will of God.

Why is this so difficult?

It is difficult because of the means God uses to effect such transformation. Our sinful nature is reluctant to respond correctly to the sufferings that God employs to change us from Satan’s image to God’s image.

The fourth chapter of First Peter, the chapter in which the expression “it is hard for the righteous to be saved” is found, informs us that judgment has begun in the house of God, and that this judgment consists of intense suffering, suffering designed to “save” the believer.

We are saved by these fires of Divine judgment, because they burn out of our personality that which is of Satan.

We find this program of salvation by judgment difficult because our sinful nature seeks continually to find its life in the world, in the lusts and passions of our flesh and soul, and in our self-will and personal ambitions.

We find this program of salvation by judgment difficult because we desire to blame people, and even God Himself, rather than to humbly submit ourselves to God and remain in the prison of suffering where He places us.

The first two verses of the fourth chapter set the tone for the remainder of the chapter.

Therefore, since Christ suffered in his body, arm yourselves also with the same attitude, because he who has suffered in his body is done with sin. As a result, he does not live the rest of his earthly life for evil human desires, but rather for the will of God. (I Peter 4:1,2)

What is true of the Christian who suffers in his body? He or she is “done with sin.” After he has suffered he does not live for evil human desires but for the will of God.

Can you see from this that the suffering “saves” the individual? What does it save him from? It saves him from sin.

Why does he need to be saved from sin? So he can be accepted of God and have fellowship with God; so he can serve God in God’s kingdom.

Dear friends, do not be surprised at the painful trial you are suffering, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice that you participate in the sufferings of Christ, so you may be overjoyed when his glory is revealed. (I Peter 4:12,13)

God saves us by means of painful trials. These trials are not punishment because we are continuing to sin, but are necessary for our purification because God desires to perfect our spirit.

To the church of the firstborn, whose names are written in heaven. You have come to God, the judge of all men, to the spirits of righteous men made perfect, (Hebrews 12:23)

We are not to be amazed when we go through hard places with the Lord. We are to rejoice. We are to share in the sufferings of Christ. If we do, we will rejoice and be glad when the Lord returns to earth in His glory.

The sufferings of Christ take two general forms. First, we are denied what we fervently desire. Second, we are required to continue in a situation which we do not enjoy. These are the two arms of the cross.

Usually, although not always, our sufferings come at the hands of people. People are the instruments God uses to unwrap the graveclothes from us, so to speak.

The correct, profitable way to respond when people cause us pain is to immediately go to the Lord for wisdom and comfort. We need to know how He views our discomfiture.

Our sinful nature is filled with malice, spite, and a desire for vengeance. If we respond to the sufferings God sends our way with malice, spite, and a desire for vengeance, we will not grow spiritually. We will develop a hateful, bitter spirit. God will chasten us because of this.

If instead of finding fault with the instruments God uses to save us from our sinful nature, we go to the Lord and eat at His table with Him, we will grow spiritually. We will become wiser, stronger, and better able to assist weaker people.

What we have just written explains why it is difficult to be saved. Our sinful nature strongly urges us to seek ways of getting what we desire. We do not want to remain in the prison where God places us. We may leave our wife or husband for someone we think will make us happy. Sometimes we have to pray, pray, and pray some more in order to overcome the temptation to act outside of God’s will.

Many Christians in America are soft. They have no intention of being denied what they really desire. They have no intention whatever of denying themselves, taking up their personal cross, and following Jesus.

Because they will not obey the Lord by denying themselves and taking up their cross, they cannot possibly be saved, unless God in His mercy sends such fire on them that they finally repent and accept the chastening of the Lord.

I am speaking now of Christians, not of those who do not know the Lord.

Sometimes it is said I am too hard in what I preach and teach. I am seldom accused of being unscriptural, only of being too hard. Let me say at this point that it indeed is hard to remain in the program of redemption.

But the Scriptures maintain it is the way of the transgressor that is hard. This is absolutely true. The way of the transgressor is very hard. He may suffer anguish without respite, even though he jumps from one situation to another in order to escape any sort of pain.

The way of the transgressor is even more difficult than that of the Christians, and this is why there are so many suicides. Nonetheless, it is hard for the most righteous person to be saved because of the demands made on his personality.

There were three, not one, but three crosses on Calvary. God was crucified. The saved was crucified. The unsaved was crucified. It is impossible to go through this life without being crucified in one manner or another.

The person with integrity will never accept happiness at the expense of another person; he will never cause someone to suffer in order that he himself may have joy or peace.

Integrity is compounded from faithfulness, truth, and honesty. Integrity is sorely lacking among many people of the American populace. We are becoming accustomed to political leaders who lie, who make promises they cannot possibly honor. There is cheating in business. There is treachery in marriage. There are numerous homicides every month as people seek to ensure their own pleasure at the expense of others.

If we do not have integrity it is hard for us to be saved, because we may not be willing to deny ourselves and take up our cross. In this case, the program of salvation cannot continue in our personality.

If you suffer, it should not be as a murderer or thief or any other kind of criminal, or even as a meddler. (I Peter 4:15)

Sometimes we Christians suffer because of our own sin or foolishness. We experience the results of our own conduct. We steal something so we are put in jail. We murder someone so we are convicted and sentenced to death. Perhaps we meddle in a situation that is none of our business and bring trouble on ourselves.

Such sufferings are not part of the process of redemption, although even in these we can profit from our pain if we will allow them to bring us to repentance.

However, if you suffer as a Christian, do not be ashamed, but praise God that you bear that name. (I Peter 4:16)

If we patiently bear the suffering that comes upon us because we are a Christian, then we are to praise God. In this case we are being proven worthy of the Kingdom of God.

Therefore, among God’s churches we boast about your perseverance and faith in all the persecutions and trials you are enduring. All this is evidence that God’s judgment is right, and as a result you will be counted worthy of the kingdom of God, for which you are suffering. (II Thessalonians 1:4,5)

We understand, therefore, that God sends suffering upon us to save us from our wicked nature. Such judgment begins with those who are closest to God, and has been continuing for two thousand years.

For it is time for judgment to begin with the family of God; and if it begins with us, what will the outcome be for those who do not obey the gospel of God? (I Peter 4:17)

God chastens His own children first. Then He turns to those who are further removed from Him. The closer we are to God, the more we will be punished for our sins. Jesus rebukes and chastens those whom He loves, not those whom He does not love.

Those whom I love I rebuke and discipline. So be earnest, and repent. (Revelation 3:19)

You may be going through very difficult experiences at the present time, while the wicked seem to be flourishing. Be patient with God. The day will come when you will be singing and dancing on the heights of Zion while the wicked will be gnashing their teeth in anger and remorse.

Asaph was troubled because he was going through painful situations while the wicked were having a wonderful time. Then he came before the Lord and he saw the end of the matter.

When I tried to understand all this, it was oppressive to me Till I entered the sanctuary of God; then I understood their final destiny. (Psalms 73:16,17)
Surely you place them on slippery ground; you cast them down to ruin. How suddenly are they destroyed, completely swept away by terrors! As a dream when one awakes, so when you arise, O Lord, you will despise them as fantasies. (Psalms 73:18-20)

The wicked are facing fires so intense, so painful, and so terrible that we need not worry about the justice of God. God is putting us through painful experiences now so He will be free to judge the wicked at a later time. Otherwise Satan would point the finger at God and accuse Him of permitting His elect to practice wickedness without punishment.

I was given a reed like a measuring rod and was told, “Go and measure the temple of God and the altar, and count the worshipers there. But exclude the outer court; do not measure it, because it has been given to the Gentiles. They will trample on the holy city for 42 months.” (Revelation 11:1,2)

The above passage is saying the same thing in symbolic language. It is stating God will judge His Church, particularly those who have progressed spiritually to the point of laying down their lives at the Altar of Incense.

The reference to the outer court indicates that the people outside the Church will not be judged at the present time.

And, “If it is hard for the righteous to be saved, what will become of the ungodly and the sinner?” (I Peter 4:18)

The righteous are being saved, delivered from sin, by means of fiery trials. We can only imagine how the ungodly and the sinner will suffer when God turns His attention to them.

So then, those who suffer according to God’s will should commit themselves to their faithful Creator and continue to do good. (I Peter 4:19)

The above verse tells us what to do when we are going through a time of judgment. We are to commit ourselves to God, knowing beyond doubt that He remains faithful. Satan cannot harass us beyond that which God permits for our good.

Meanwhile, we are to continue to do good. This means we patiently submit to the dealings of God. We do not blame people. We do not become angry with God. We do not seek to escape the “prison” we are placed in.

When bearing our personal cross, we do not focus on that which is causing us frustration or pain. If we keep thinking about what it is that is causing us pain we finally will quit and turn away from righteousness. The experienced saint learns to think as little as possible about what it is he cannot have or cannot do, and turns to what he can have and can do. There always is a way of escape made for us so we can bear up under any testing.

A Christian, by definition, is a disciple of Jesus. In order to be a disciple we are required to deny ourselves what we are not permitted to retain, take up our cross of personal frustration or pain, and follow Jesus. We are to do this every day of our pilgrimage.

If I am not mistaken, there are not many believers in the United States who are aware in order to be a Christian they have to deny themselves, take up their cross, and follow Jesus. This means there are not many genuine Christians in the United States.

We have developed a plan called “the four steps of salvation.” This plan has been put together from several verses lifted from their context. They do not insist that we take up our cross and follow Jesus. Therefore they are not a true plan of salvation. Rather they are a doctrinal approach to religious orthodoxy.

When we put together the “four steps of salvation” with lawless grace, the ticket-to-Heaven definition of salvation, and the pre-tribulation “rapture,” we have a formula for spiritual disaster. The adherent of such a misunderstanding of the Christian salvation will not grow in the Lord. He will remain a spiritual baby after fifty years of attending church. Most assuredly, when fiery trials fall on him he will be bewildered. He will not perceive this is a Divine judgment that is saving him. He will do everything in his power to be delivered, to escape pain.

Did you ever hear a believer say, “God wants me to be happy and have nice things”? One lady said, “If I thought God would permit me to suffer I would not serve Him.” Such may never have considered the saints of past time.

Women received back their dead, raised to life again. Others were tortured and refused to be released, so they might gain a better resurrection. Some faced jeers and flogging, while still others were chained and put in prison. They were stoned; they were sawed in two; they were put to death by the sword. They went about in sheepskins and goatskins, destitute, persecuted and mistreated—The world was not worthy of them. They wandered in deserts and mountains, and in caves and holes in the ground. (Hebrews 11:35-38)

Suffering is an important part of the Christian discipleship, and all true saints partake of it. We enter the Kingdom of God through much tribulation. We are accounted as sheep for the slaughter.

We are in doctrinal, and consequently moral, chaos in the Christian churches of America. The unsaved community, including the educational institutions, the courts, the business corporations, and the offices of government, directly reflect this chaos. The idea that personal integrity is of the greatest value has become laughable. Each year the entertainment industry becomes more vile, and each year the moral fiber of the nation deteriorates.

If the Christians in America do not repent, turning back to Christ in sincerity, resolving to keep His commandments and those of His apostles, our nation will suffer terrible judgments. We have been so blessed and have hoarded our blessings, both spiritual and material, to ourselves.

We have a generation of young people coming up who are brilliant, but who have no strong moral foundation.

We also have a generation of young people who are going to serve God as an army of witnesses before the Lord returns. This is why Satan is promoting abortion and homosexuality. He realizes, just as did Pharaoh and King Herod, that deliverers are going to be brought forth in our day. Satan is doing all he can to destroy the generation coming up, because they are going to do very great harm to his kingdom in the earth.

It is going to be of the utmost importance that the churches of our day learn to obey God. If we expect to be part of the army that descends from the sky with Jesus Christ and establishes the Kingdom of God on the earth, we are going to have to be trained in obedience. We learn obedience, as our Lord did, by suffering. Therefore we Christians can expect fiery trials in the days to come.

Ours is a new day. The choruses are changing from that which is pleasing to the ear and musically sensual, to more rugged modes and meters presenting words that speak of the Kingdom of God and of righteousness. The banners are to be waved. There are to be high praises and exuberant worship. There also is to be the two-edged sword of the Word of God. The traditional services and liturgies are far too tame to counteract the moral horrors of the secular society. The wicked indeed shall trample on the “holy city,” so to speak.

Let those who presently are suffering under the hand of God, patiently doing His will, take heart. These lashes are for your salvation, that you might be a partaker of God’s holy, righteous Nature. You are a son of God, and God does not want you to be condemned when He judges the world.

It will only be a little while. You are not in a grave but in a tunnel. There is light at the end. God is faithful. You will not drown. The fire will not harm you, only your bondages will be burned away.

Christ is Alpha and Omega. What He commenced in your life He will complete in a most glorious fashion. You will come to know His faithfulness, just as did Job, Abraham, Daniel, and others who went through difficulties for a season.

If you are to be part of the great host that will be raised and ascend to meet the Lord at His appearing, you must partake of the cup that all have had to drink. Only those who have suffered with Him will be glorified together with Him. Only those who have suffered with Him will rejoice with Him. Only those who have suffered with Him will rule with Him.

If you are not disciplined (and everyone undergoes discipline), then you are illegitimate children and not true sons. (Hebrews 12:8)
Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us. (Hebrews 12:1)

Only a few more steps and you will be home.

(“Why It Is Hard to Be Saved”, 3052-1)

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