by Mike Ratliff
For I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate. Now if I do what I do not want, I agree with the law, that it is good. So now it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me. For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh. For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out. For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing. Now if I do what I do not want, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me. So I find it to be a law that when I want to do right, evil lies close at hand. For I delight in the law of God, in my inner being, but I see in my members another law waging war against the law of my mind and making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members. Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, I myself serve the law of God with my mind, but with my flesh I serve the law of sin. (Romans 7:15-25 ESV)
There is a great deal of false teaching going on in the visible Church in our time. One of those teachings has to do with the nature of salvation. I grew up as a Southern Baptist and remained one until 2006. Of course, I was not a Christian until January 1986 and there are even times as I look at how I have matured and become dedicated more and more to my devotion to walk before my Lord according to His will at all times, I wonder if my true salvation took place back in 2004 instead. In any case, the reason for this is that as I take inventory of my Christian walk I see inconsistencies. I see periods of very high devotion intermixed with periods of self-focus. The periods of repentance afterwards are both incredibly sweet and heart-rending, much like the Apostle’s statement from Romans 7:24. The sweetness comes from the knowledge that I am forgiven according to God’s Grace and will not be judged for my sin, since I am in Christ, according to God’s Mercy.
Fiery trials are part of the genuine Christian’s life and walk. These are often painful both physically and mentally. There are some who teach that genuine Christians will never suffer, if they do become ill or have financial problems, for instance, then this is a marker that there is sin in that person’s life. My response to that is, “So what else is new?” According to Paul’s own confession in Romans 7:15-25 (above), even he still had to battle his flesh for dominance in his life. Also, like us, he became exasperated with his old man still causing him to walk in the flesh even to the point of crying out, “Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death?” This is very encouraging for the rest of us who also find ourselves in these exasperating circumstances. I do not believe in the veracity of the salvation of a professing Christian who does not struggle so. Either they are sinless or their sin does not bother them. Only Christ is sinless so the alternative reveals an unregenerate heart.
Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. (1 Peter 4:12 ESV)
The first word in v12 is the Greek word αγαπητοι, which is rightly translated here as “Beloved” meaning those whom Peter loved and held dear. These were believers. The words “do not be surprised” are based on two Greek words, μη ξενιζεσθε. The word μη means “not” and is used to negate verbs and participles. The word ξενιζεσθε refers to people thinking or believing that, in their trials, something is strange based on their own understanding of things. The verb form here in Peter’s usage is present tense,imperative mood, and active voice. This is a command to do “not do something” continually. In other words, when fiery trials, πυρωσει, come upon them as if “some strange thing (ξενου) had “happened” (συμβαινοντος) to them, there were being encouraged to not be surprised. How then are we to react when this happens?
But rejoice insofar as you share Christ’s sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed. (1 Peter 4:13 ESV)
Peter is speaking of persecution for the sake of Christ here. If we have been faithful in our obedience in the Kingdom then the world will take notice and we will suffer some sort of persecution. We may be excluded. We may find ourselves accused of all sorts of ugly things. Those who are involved in false forms of Christianity can be especially rough just as the Jewish leaders were with our Lord and those who followed Him. How are we to react when this comes upon us? We are to rejoice (χριστου)! Why? It is these fiery trials that mark us out in the Kingdom be recipients of grace and to be full of joy that we will do all in light of the soon return of our Lord.
If you are insulted for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the Spirit of glory and of God rests upon you. But let none of you suffer as a murderer or a thief or an evildoer or as a meddler. Yet if anyone suffers as a Christian, let him not be ashamed, but let him glorify God in that name. For it is time for judgment to begin at the household of God; and if it begins with us, what will be the outcome for those who do not obey the gospel of God? (1 Peter 4:14-17 ESV)
Now we come to what separates the genuine Christian from the disingenuous. The genuine Christian may not enjoy persecution and vicious attacks from apostate Christians who are seeking to nullify his or testimony for revealing the truth about them, however, this is part of God’s judgment that cleanses His house. As God works in us to shine His light into the darkness of apostasy, the be backlash can be quite severe, however, we must understand that fiery trials can be the outcome as God clarifies His Church.
And “If the righteous is scarcely saved, what will become of the ungodly and the sinner?” Therefore let those who suffer according to God’s will entrust their souls to a faithful Creator while doing good. (1 Peter 4:18-19 ESV)
This passage used to really bother me. What was Peter saying? Was he telling us that those in Christ are just barely saved? He was actually quoting from the Septuagint version of Proverbs 11:31. As I researched this passage I looked at the notes in my 1560 Geneva Bible. It states for this verse, “as concerning this life where he is punished.” This means that this life is meant to be a refining time for the Christian. When we leave this life, if we are in Christ, we will no longer have to endure these things, but because we are fleshly and, at times, dominated by our flesh, we require much of this refining. Christians are righteous in God’s eyes by imputation not because they are now completely righteous in their hearts, which they aren’t, but because on the Cross He laid all of the sins of all who would ever believe on Jesus Christ. He treated Him as if He had committed those sins even though He was sinless. He was not made a sinner. He became sin, that is, our sin was imputed to Him, but none of it was His. Also, when believers are saved, the righteousness of Christ is imputed to them. They are now treated by God as if they had never sinned. However, in reality, even with regeneration and the presence of the Holy Spirit, we still cave in to our flesh at times and some even become enslaved to it. So when Peter is saying that we are “scarcely saved,” he is speaking of the fact that the righteous are saved in the midst of difficulty and suffering. Regardless of what many evangelicals say in our time, the salvation of God’s people is never easy and simple.
Beloved, I pray that all reading this will go to the throne of Grace to confess and seek forgiveness for their sins. I pray that they will understand the true nature of our salvation and, not being surprised about the trouble and trials that come, they will dedicate themselves to standing firm, never backing away from the truth. God’s Will be Done!
Soli Deo Gloria!