In one place, the apostle Peter writes of the chosen people of God as almost not being saved. He writes as if it were a close call, that you and I just barely made it in.
What made the difference in your life?
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? And if the righteous scarcely be saved, where shall the ungodly and the sinner appear?
1 Peter 4:17-18
How is it that the righteous are scarcely saved?
Perhaps a comparison could be made to the nation of Israel. Although Israel was the chosen people, many of the people of that nation will be condemned in the day of judgment, as Jesus indicated.
When Jesus heard it, he marvelled, and said to them that followed, Verily I say unto you, I have not found so great faith, no, not in Israel. And I say unto you, That many shall come from the east and west, and shall sit down with Abraham, and Isaac, and Jacob, in the kingdom of heaven. But the children of the kingdom shall be cast out into outer darkness: there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth.
God’s condemnation of a great many Israelites is witnessed throughout the old testament scriptures. They were frequently destroyed by snakes, plagues, catastrophes and violence as a result of God’s judgment against their disobedience and hard hearts.
Esaias also crieth concerning Israel, Though the number of the children of Israel be as the sand of the sea, a remnant shall be saved: For he will finish the work, and cut it short in righteousness: because a short work will the Lord make upon the earth. And as Esaias said before, Except the Lord of Sabaoth had left us a seed, we had been as Sodoma, and been made like unto Gomorrha.
Israel would have been utterly destroyed, like Sodom and Gomorrah, except that God preserved some of them.
God once corrected the prophet Elijah, who claimed to be the only one in Israel who followed the Lord. God told him that there was a still a remnant of seven thousand men.
But what saith the answer of God unto him? I have reserved to myself seven thousand men, who have not bowed the knee to the image of Baal. Even so then at this present time also there is a remnant according to the election of grace.
A small portion of Israel was saved because, by the grace of God, he saved them from falling into the same sin as their fellows. God reserved this remnant to himself. In a significant sense, they were saved because of God’s decision to extend to them an undeserved favor, not because of they were by nature so different from those who perished.
How did God reserve these men to himself? We have no specific details, but there a few ways that God might have used.
Some men may have experienced less pressure than others in Israel to bow to Baal. They may have been protected by divine providence from experiencing the pressure that would have caused them to yield. Perhaps such men were in remote parts of the country, perhaps they were so insignificant that they never drew the same attention as others, or perhaps they were somehow, by God’s grace, overlooked.
- Other men may have heard the word of God more clearly or more fully than those who bowed. Some may have been raised in more godly Hebrew households than others. Some may have heard the scriptures explained more clearly, perhaps they were blessed with more faithful or capable ministers in their local area. Some may have experienced the miraculous, providential hand of God upon them in a way that made greater impact on their hearts. Some may have heard the still, small voice of the Lord at a crucial moment that prevented them from bowing.
- Still others may have been gifted with a natural courage or tenacity that caused them to withstand pressures that others crumbled under. There is no doubt that as men differ in physical strength, they also differ in mental strength. Both types of strength are, ultimately, a gift from God. The gift may be delivered by way of DNA or upbringing, but ultimately every virtue any of us possesses is from God.
We do not know the means by which God reserved those men to himself, but we know that he did it, and it is a wonderful thing. God provided himself (and Israel) with a faithful remnant, and that made all the difference.
One record that gives a poignant example of God saving some Israelites and not others is found in Numbers 16. In this chapter the wrath of God was manifest in the congregation of Israel in a plague. Moses and Aaron made intercession for the people, and Aaron ran into the midst of the congregation with burning incense. The place that Aaron stood to make atonement was the place that the plague stopped.
And Moses said unto Aaron, Take a censer, and put fire therein from off the altar, and put on incense, and go quickly unto the congregation, and make an atonement for them: for there is wrath gone out from the LORD; the plague is begun. And Aaron took as Moses commanded, and ran into the midst of the congregation; and, behold, the plague was begun among the people: and he put on incense, and made an atonement for the people. And he stood between the dead and the living; and the plague was stayed.
This record shows us that the salvation provided is left up to the choice of God. We can see this because the dividing line between the dead and the living was the location of Aaron, the servant of God. Aaron offered incense to make atonement for the people as the word of God instructed. God made Aaron high priest, placing him in the role of making atonement for Israel. That atonement saved Israel, but not all of Israel.
What made the difference between those who died and those who lived, was one better than the other? The plague did not stop when it reached a point where the congregants on one side of the aisle were more righteous than those on the other side. The people were not lined up by righteousness, as if lining up children by height.
The choice of God in establishing Aaron as high priest drew a line through the middle of the congregation. It was a line at which, just a moment before, there was no discernible difference between one side and the other.
And what things effected the location of that dividing line? We could think of several. One is the moment at which Moses instructed Aaron to offer incense. If it were a moment sooner, we must assume more would have been saved. If a moment later, fewer would have been saved. How fast could Aaron run? How fast did Aaron run? It was God who chose him as the high priest. He might have chosen a faster man. What about the method of making atonement, here it was the burning of incense. The censer was reasonably light, so Aaron could run with it in his hands. God might conceivably have chosen a slower method, or perhaps an even faster method.
All these details have God as their ultimate cause. None of them were outside his ability to change them, and he knew the effect of each detail before the result was evident.
As we consider how it is that the righteous are saved, we should remember that God chose the means of salvation and that his plan encompasses every detail. Even seemingly insignificant things could make the difference between life and death. God is gracious to all, but not all are saved. What made the difference in your life?