Where Judgment Begins

Robert Wurtz II


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? 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 4:17–19 ESV)

When Abraham Lincoln delivered his famous speech at Lyceum in 1838, the United States were marching towards the greatest bloodbath in our nation’s history. Men would face each other in battles so horrific that at times they would place their guns in each other’s faces and pull the trigger. The event that I’m referring to is the Civil War — a conflict that changed the way Americans thought of this nation. Perhaps you presumed it was a slip of the pen to write, “The United States were…” Not so. Prior to the Civil War America was thought of as individual states and were thus referred to in the present tense as are (plural). One hundred and fifty years later we say the United Stated is (singular). As one Civil War historian pointed out, the Civil War made “us an is.” 


Abraham Lincoln’s speech fell on deaf ears. The people were bent on their own ideas and unwilling to hearken to the voice of reason. He could hear the faint sounds of war drums long before they reached that deafening roar on April 12, 1861, at Fort Sumter, South Carolina. If words alone could have sobered the minds of a nation we might have expected the following paragraph to have done so. 


“At what point shall we expect the approach of danger? By what means shall we fortify against it?– Shall we expect some transatlantic military giant, to step the Ocean, and crush us at a blow? Never!–All the armies of Europe, Asia and Africa combined, with all the treasure of the earth (our own excepted) in their military chest; with a Buonaparte for a commander, could not by force, take a drink from the Ohio, or make a track on the Blue Ridge, in a trial of a thousand years. At what point then is the approach of danger to be expected? I answer, if it ever reach us, it must spring up amongst us. It cannot come from abroad. If destruction be our lot, we must ourselves be its author and finisher. As a nation of freemen, we must live through all time, or die by suicide.” (Abraham Lincoln, Lyceum 1838)


When I read Lincoln’s words I cannot help but think of the Church. Although written about the United States, I suggest that we take heed to these words when he asked, At what point then is the approach of danger to be expected? I answer, if it ever reach us, it must spring up amongst us. It cannot come from abroad. If destruction be our lot, we must ourselves be its author and finisher. The enemy cannot destroy the Church. Satan and his demons have been waging war against the Church from the beginning. If destruction comes to the churches of God it must come from within — as a consequence of refusing to give heed to Christ’s real time direction and eternal instruction.  


God will not allow His Church to be destroyed. He will take measures to ensure that the Gates of Hell will not prevail against it. This brings us again to our passage in 1 Peter. Understand that it’s not uncommon for Christians to assume that people who live like the sinners of Sodom and Gomorrah are going to suffer the judgment of God. Yet our passage from 1 Peter 4:17-19 is a surprising and sobering reminder of exactly where judgment begins.



In Amos 3:2 God speaks to the children of Isreal these chilling words, “You only have I known of all the families of the earth; Therefore I will punish you for all your iniquities.” (Amos 3:2 NKJV) He was telling them that with revelation comes responsibility. Perhaps we should ask ourselves, “Why would God bring correction to sinners if the household of God needs set in order?” The method of correction and purging (judgment) that Peter was speaking of was likely the vicious persecution that Christians came under and continued to endure until Constantine. This trial by fire had many effects — not the least of which was discouraging nominal membership. 


In the absence of persecution, many things get out of control in the churches. It begins with leadership. Leonard Ravenhill used to say that a stream will never flow any greater than its source. If leaders are cold and flippant then the people are likely to follow. The old time preachers used to preach against the evils of entertainment. What would they say to a generation that had made serving God a form of entertainment? Moreover, what happens when ministers can’t get serious? A common saying in the 1800s was, “God never uses a jester to search consciences.” Is there any wonder that sinners are merely becoming nominal Christians when there is such flippancy in ministry? If our passage in 1 Peter 4:17-19 means anything, we can expect judgment to begin here first. These thoughts ought to greatly sober our minds in this crisis hour. 


And “If the righteous is scarcely saved, what will become of the ungodly and the sinner?”


I was in a CVS store this week and overheard off in the distance a man witnessing to his coworker. They were being unusually loud. He told the person that he would pray for them, but the coworker laughed and said it wouldn’t do any good. In fact, the worker told the man that they already knew they were “going to hell anyway.” I’m reminded of the times I have been at the bedside of people who had only days to live and yet they got hostile as I tried to point them to Christ. What a dreadful attitude to have towards ones own soul.


Have you ever pondered the words, “If the righteous is scarcely saved…”? This is a reference to Proverbs 11:31, “If the righteous will be recompensed on the earth, How much more the ungodly and the sinner.” (Proverbs 11:31 NKJV) Salvation for the righteous comes as a fight of faith. God gives us grace, but we have to walk it out. The warnings against apostasy in the NT are far too numerous to dismiss. This leaves a final question, what will become of the ungodly and the sinner?” This sentence is designed to provoke serious reflection. The answer is obvious. 


It’s a rare thing for a person to be witnessed to one-on-one about Christ. Can you imagine the recklessness of a person who would laugh and respond, “I’m going to hell anyway.” I’m reminded of Solomon’s words, “For like the crackling of thorns under a pot, So is the laughter of the fool.” (Ecclesiastes 7:6 NKJV) If there is anything inside a person telling them that they need to turn to God — they need to respond. Today if you hear His voice, harden not your heart. 


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? 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 4:17–19 ESV)

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