Question:Please help me understand I Peter 4:17-18.
"But let none of you suffer as a murderer, a thief, an evildoer, or as a busybody in other people's matters. Yet if anyone suffers as a Christian, let him not be ashamed, but let him glorify God in this matter. For the time has come for judgment to begin at the house of God; and if it begins with us first, what will be the end of those who do not obey the gospel of God? Now "If the righteous one is scarcely saved, Where will the ungodly and the sinner appear?" Therefore let those who suffer according to the will of God commit their souls to Him in doing good, as to a faithful Creator" (I Peter 4:15-19).
In the context Peter is talking about persecutions and trials that come upon people. A sinner suffers as a result of his sins. Such should not happen to a Christian because he should not be sinning. But this doesn't mean a Christian won't suffer. "Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness' sake, For theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you when they revile and persecute you, and say all kinds of evil against you falsely for My sake. Rejoice and be exceedingly glad, for great is your reward in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you" (Matthew 5:10-12). Wicked people will persecute the righteous. Thus, if we suffer, we should be suffering because we are doing right instead of wrong. It is a cause of glory and not shame. Just like the apostles, "So they departed from the presence of the council, rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer shame for His name" (Acts 5:41).
Peter warns that it has come to a time in history when Christians will be judged. By this, he is referring to severe persecutions which will test the faith of those being tried. "But when we are judged, we are chastened by the Lord, that we may not be condemned with the world" (I Corinthians 11:32). "You have not yet resisted to bloodshed, striving against sin. And you have forgotten the exhortation which speaks to you as to sons: "My son, do not despise the chastening of the LORD, nor be discouraged when you are rebuked by Him; for whom the LORD loves He chastens, and scourges every son whom He receives" (Hebrews 12:4-6). God isn't the source of the trials, but He does make use of the persecutions of the wicked to test and strengthen His people.
Clearly, in such testing, not everyone is going to make it. Jesus warned that few would reach the goal. "Enter by the narrow gate; for wide is the gate and broad is the way that leads to destruction, and there are many who go in by it. Because narrow is the gate and difficult is the way which leads to life, and there are few who find it" (Matthew 7:13-14). Paul used the illustration of Israelites leaving Egypt to make the same point (I Corinthians 10:1-14). Millions of people left the sinful land of Egypt; yet, only two adults who left entered the promised land. See "Immorality: The Forbidden Territory" for a detailed discussion.
Peter then asks, if it is this hard to reach the goal by people who are wanting to go to heaven, what happens to the wicked and those who don't care? The implied answer is that there is no way they will make it into heaven. You can't reach heaven accidentally or by coasting along. If judgment comes to God's people here in this world at the hands of the wicked, what will become of the wicked when they face final judgment before the Almighty God? There should be no concept that God will overlook all their sins and let them in anyway.
The righteous are scarcely saved as it is. Our salvation does not come from ourselves. It was dearly bought. "And if you call on the Father, who without partiality judges according to each one's work, conduct yourselves throughout the time of your stay here in fear; knowing that you were not redeemed with corruptible things, like silver or gold, from your aimless conduct received by tradition from your fathers, but with the precious blood of Christ, as of a lamb without blemish and without spot" (I Peter 1:17-19). We only have the hope of salvation because we were bought. What have the ungodly?
Seeing that, we shouldn't get lax in our duties. "Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil walks about like a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour. Resist him, steadfast in the faith, knowing that the same sufferings are experienced by your brotherhood in the world" (I Peter 5:8-9).
"Therefore, my beloved brethren, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that your labor is not in vain in the Lord" (I Corinthians 15:58).