For if God did not spare angels when they sinned, but sent them to hell, putting them into gloomy dungeons to be held for judgment; if he did not spare the ancient world when he brought the flood on its ungodly people, but protected Noah, a preacher of righteousness, and seven others; if he condemned the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah by burning them to ashes, and made them an example of what is going to happen to the ungodly; and if he rescued Lot, a righteous man, who was distressed by the filthy lives of lawless men (for that righteous man, living among them day after day, was tormented in his righteous soul by the lawless deeds he saw and heard)— if this is so, then the Lord knows how to rescue godly men from trials and to hold the unrighteous for the day of judgment, while continuing their punishment. This is especially true of those who follow the corrupt desire of the sinful nature and despise authority. (NIV )
It’s pretty hard to escape the primary message of these seven verses. It’s also very easy to focus on the judgment and punishment of sinners and miss the message of rescue for the righteous person. It is a message of contrasts. If you take away the condemnation of the wicked, then the impact of rescue is significantly diminished.
One of the big problems with the way we communicate the message of salvation today is that we are afraid to tell people that hell is a real place and that people who are not righteous will go there when they die. It isn’t popular and one reason is that it is politically incorrect to let people know that certain behavior is sin. Most people will agree that the big one is sin. That would be murder. However it is increasingly difficult to convince anyone that the little ones are sin. Adultery used to be a big one but even now it is accepted as long as those involved have found their soul mates. Go through the Ten Commandments and murder is just about the only one that most people universally agree is wrong. However, there are some religions and cultures where murder is ok as long as it isn’t against members of their own tribe or religious belief.
The truth is that from God’s viewpoint, sin is sin. While one sin may more heinous than another, it only takes one, small or large, to be judged in violation of His laws. James 2:10-11 For whoever keeps the whole law but fails in one point has become guilty of all of it. For he who said, "Do not commit adultery," said also, "Do not kill." If you do not commit adultery but do kill, you have become a transgressor of the law. (RSV) The point is that any transgression against God will condemn a person as unrighteous and as Peter so clearly pointed out, God knows how to make sure they are punished.
If it were not for the clear punishment for sin, some people would never repent and look for the rescue. This brings up another reason why preaching hell fire and brimstone is not popular. Somehow, modern Christians have gotten the idea that fear of punishment isn’t a valid reason for salvation. They think that a person should turn to Jesus because of His great love and mercy for us. Therefore they don’t tell others about His punishment for sin otherwise they might only come to Christ for “fire insurance” and not out of a desire to obey and love God and thereby become worldly Christians who continue in their sin believing that they are covered and won’t be punished.
We should not eliminate preaching hell fire and brimstone based on this misguided concept. Each person who comes to Christ is a spiritual baby and must learn and grow. The one who comes out of fear of punishment must grow in the love of God. The one who comes to God because of His love must grow in his obedience and fear of God otherwise he might assume that out of God’s love, every sin will be excused. Generally, neither of these categories of people languish in sin but grow and become more Christ-like.
What about this rescue that Peter mentions? He repeats that God rescues the righteous. What about Lot? Read the account of how the two angels had to drag him out of the city. Gen 19:16 But he hesitated. So the men seized his hand and the hand of his wife and the hands of his two daughters, for the compassion of the Lord was upon him; and they brought him out, and put him outside the city. (NASB) Lot was quite captivated by his life in the wicked city. He hesitated leaving, but God had compassion on him. How different are we from Lot or those that were destroyed in Sodom and Gomorra? Is it possible that every single person in those cities were engaged in the sinful behavior that was described? Probably not, but they were still sinners. God had earlier said that He would spare the cities if only ten righteous people were found (Gen 18:32) and obviously He didn’t fine ten.
God rescued Lot in spite of his attachment to the sinful cities. He declared Lot a righteous person. This should stop and make us think about how righteous we are. Isa 64:6 All of us have become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous acts are like filthy rags; we all shrivel up like a leaf, and like the wind our sins sweep us away. (NIV) We can’t claim any righteousness on our own. There is only one way we can be classified as righteous and that is when God says we are. We deserve the same punishment as the people in Sodom and Gomorrah. However, God has chosen us and declared us righteous. Why would He do that?
Rom 3:21-26 But now a righteousness from God, apart from law, has been made known, to which the Law and the Prophets testify. This righteousness from God comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. There is no difference, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus. God presented him as a sacrifice of atonement, through faith in his blood. He did this to demonstrate his justice, because in his forbearance he had left the sins committed beforehand unpunished—he did it to demonstrate his justice at the present time, so as to be just and the one who justifies those who have faith in Jesus. (NIV)
God declares us righteous not because of anything we have done. He does it to demonstrate His justice and His mercy. Anytime we start to think that we deserved rescue we need to remember that without God giving us faith to believe, we never would (Eph 2:8-9). We can’t boast before God in way, shape, or form. We can only be thankful for His recue and be obedient to Him since we owe Him our lives.