In part 1 we considered the apostle’s statement that the righteous are scarcely saved. The immediate context connects it with God’s judgment of his own people.
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
This brings to mind the scripture from 1 Corinthians 3 that speaks of Christians (especially ministers) building on the foundation of Christ. Everything that we do as Christians will be judged, tested as by fire. Some works will survive the test and others will be completely burned up.
If any man’s work abide which he hath built thereupon, he shall receive a reward. If any man’s work shall be burned, he shall suffer loss: but he himself shall be saved; yet so as by fire.
1 Corinthians 3:14-15
Despite the destruction of the works, the Christian who produced those worthless works will be saved. This is a sobering thought. Christians (and ministers are given special attention in the context), will face the judgment of God like a consuming fire. That fire will leave no impurities behind.
Anyone who builds on the foundation of Christ with unworthy materials will see his efforts incinerated by the unsparing fire of God’s judgment. If we build racism in the church, for example, it will be annihilated. If we build envy, greed, or lust, we will watch those be destroyed. If we build with intimidation, manipulation, or flattery, the flames will leave no trace of it.
We ourselves (I do not for a moment imagine that my works are only of the worthy sort) will survive the judgment, but it will be like passing through the fire. We won’t be watching from a distance, but will come through it ourselves. One might imagine there could be a feeling of just barely surviving such an unflinching judgment.
When your life’s history passes through the fire, what will be left? What will be left of mine? There are things I know will be burned up, things I’ve already identified as unworthy of God, but I daresay there are things that I consider sturdy and well-built now, which may not survive the fire in that day.
One might ask, will anything survive? I believe that scripture teaches us that every born-again Christian will see something come through the fire.
Who art thou that judgest another man’s servant? to his own master he standeth or falleth. Yea, he shall be holden up: for God is able to make him stand.
Romans 14 is talking about judging our fellow Christians according to their conduct. In this context, God says that he himself is able to make each of us stand approved. We are sustained by his power and wisdom. He prevents any of us from utterly failing the test.
For I know nothing by myself; yet am I not hereby justified: but he that judgeth me is the Lord. Therefore judge nothing before the time, until the Lord come, who both will bring to light the hidden things of darkness, and will make manifest the counsels of the hearts: and then shall every man have praise of God.
1 Corinthians 4:4-5
It might be easy to think that some Christians are entirely reprobate and have nothing to recommend their manner of life. After all, Christians can sin, and can sin very egregiously. But reasoning in this fashion brings me into conflict with these scriptures if I conclude that some Christians at the judgement will have done nothing praiseworthy.
Obviously, God knows much more than you or I, so if he says that every believer will “have praise of God,” that carries more weight that any reasoning to the contrary. God intends us to reason about spiritual things, but we can “check our work” by comparing our conclusions to the statements of scripture.
God tells us that he will reveal all the hidden things and in that day each of us will have praise from God himself. There may be – no, there certainly are – praiseworthy things in the lives of our brothers and sisters that are hidden from our sight.
In Psalm 119, the writer speaks of obedience to the word in what might seem like a contradictory way. He describes his personal responsibility to obey God’s word, and at the same time he prays that God would cause him to obey.
Thou hast commanded us to keep thy precepts diligently.
O that my ways were directed to keep thy statutes!
With my whole heart have I sought thee: O let me not wander from thy commandments.
Who’s responsiblity is it? Is it up to the believer to obey, or should we look to God to bring these things about? The psalmist declares his own responsibility to keep the commandments and he earnestly prays for God’s help in fulfilling that responsibility.
Our God is a God who will be all in all. His multifaceted role includes assigning us our responsibilities and also giving us the wherewithal to fulfill them. Thanks to him, we will be brought through the fire and we will be made to stand.