God’s Gracious Judgment In Suffering

1 Peter 4:12-19 Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. 13 But rejoice insofar as you share Christ’s sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed. 14 If you are insulted for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the Spirit of glory and of God rests upon you. 15 But let none of you suffer as a murderer or a thief or an evildoer or as a meddler. 16 Yet if anyone suffers as a Christian, let him not be ashamed, but let him glorify God in that name. 17 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? 18 And

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

19 Therefore let those who suffer according to God’s will entrust their souls to a faithful Creator while doing good.

If you’re just joining us, this is the third and final sermon on this passage. In the first sermon we saw that Christians ought not be surprised when suffering comes our way. We also saw that God means all suffering saints to be surrounded by the love of other Christians. In the second sermon, last week, we saw from this passage several ways Christians honor and dishonor God in our suffering. This week we’re going to look at another, secondary message in this passage: suffering as an expression of God’s gracious judgment on Christians.

What’s more, believe it or not, this too is an Advent sermon. Let me share with you my logic behind this claim.

  1. Advent is the time of celebration of the coming of Jesus Christ.
  2. Jesus Christ came because God’s judgment rests upon all mankind—resulting in either eternal condemnation or sanctification.
  3. The way in which mankind responds to Jesus’ coming is the sole determiner of whether God’s judgment results in condemnation or sanctification.
  4. 1 Peter is a letter describing the kind of response to Jesus’ coming that leads to everlasting sanctification.
  5. Therefore, 1 Peter is an Advent letter!

Let’s pray that the nature of God’s gracious judgment on Christians would be clear, that we’d receive it in joy, and that the connection between all of this and Advent would be plain.

As a new Christian I remember enthusiastically arguing for a number things I would enthusiastically argue against today. I argued for the majority of the items on that list on the basis of nothing more than remnants of worldly wisdom. Some, however, I argued for out of a false understanding of the bible’s teaching. In the former I offered no authority beyond my own logic and reasoning. In the latter, I appealed to a perverted interpretation of God’s Word. Unfortunately, I am not the only one to fall into such a trap.

Some Christians have pointed to passages like Romans 8:1 (“There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus”) as evidence that Christians will not be judged by God. Generally that argument is made when individuals want to downplay or dismiss the notion that their behavior in this life has consequences. However, that is not (as we’ll see even more clearly in the next section) what Paul meant when he wrote those words. Indeed, the opposite is taught throughout the bible—including our passage for this morning.

In 1 Peter 4:17, Peter wrote, “…it is time for judgment to begin at the household of God.”

In 2 Corinthians 5:10, Paul wrote, “For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may receive what is due for what he has done in the body, whether good or evil.”

Matthew 25, Revelation 20, and a number of other NT passages speak to the judgment of all mankind—Christians and non-Christians alike—as well.

Therefore Peter finishes his thought with “and if it begins with us, what will be the outcome for those who do not obey the gospel of God? 18 And

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

The simple and consistent teaching of the bible is that all people will be judged, beginning with the people of God.

That idea presents us with a new question, then, “what is the nature of God’s judgment?”.

There is more than one important distinction to be made in answering this question. What I mean is this: the bible speaks of more than one kind of divine judgment, for more than one divine reason, for more than one category of people at more than one time in history.

For instance, the bible speaks of an initial judgment of all mankind, whereby God declared the pinnacle of his creation (mankind) to be “very good” (Genesis 1:31). Shortly after this judgment, however, our first parents rebelled against God and God judged them along with all their posterity to be guilty, cursed to difficulty and death (Genesis 3). Additionally, the bible speaks of God’s universal judgment during the days of Noah (Genesis 6:5) declaring, ” the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually…”.

The bible speaks of other divine judgments as well, but it’s not Peter’s point to discuss all of these and I imagine you already have the picture. More to the point, Peter has one particular kind of judgment in mind.

Before moving on to Peter’s understanding of judgment, though, let’s pause for a moment to recognize that God is not indifferent to anything his people do, ever. It is important to understand the nature of his judgments, but it is equally important to be aware of the continual presence of his judgments. Knowledge of that reality provides a great deal of depth to the amazingness of the grace we’re celebrating during Advent. If God were to look down on us at any single moment and judge us justly, we’d be doomed. The hope of Christmas, however, is that God sent one who would be our righteousness.

With that, we must ask, “what kind of judgment, then, does Peter have in mind in this passage?”.

In other words, what did Peter mean when he wrote, “for it is time for judgment to begin with the household of God”? And what did he mean by “and if it begins with us, what will be the outcome for those who do not obey the gospel of God?”? Specifically, who did Peter believe would be judged by God and what was to be the nature of God’s judgment upon them?.

Regarding the recipients of God’s judgment, there are two distinct groups: 1) those in the household of God, and 2) those who do not obey the gospel of God. Peter clarifies who he has in mind with each group. Of the first (the household of God) he also refers to them as “us” (Peter along with his readers) and as “the righteous” (18, borrowing from Proverbs 11:31). And of the second group (those who do not obey the gospel of God), Peter also refers to them as “the ungodly and the sinner” (18, again borrowing from Proverbs).

In short, in vs.17-18 Peter declares that a kind of divine judgment will reach both Christians and non-Christians.

What, specifically, does Peter have in mind concerning the nature of God’s judgment on each? The answer, most simply, is the final judgment of God mentioned in Revelation 20, Matthew 25, 2 Corinthians 5 (etc.).

Revelation 20:11-15 [John speaking] Then I saw a great white throne and him who was seated on it. From his presence earth and sky fled away, and no place was found for them. 12 And I saw the dead, great and small, standing before the throne, and books were opened. Then another book was opened, which is the book of life. And the dead were judged by what was written in the books, according to what they had done… 15 And if anyone’s name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire.

Matthew 25:31-46 [Jesus speaking] When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on his glorious throne. 32 Before him will be gathered all the nations, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep [Christians] from the goats [non-Christians]. 33 And he will place the sheep on his right, but the goats on the left. 34 Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world … 41 “Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels … 46 And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.”

Again, the nature of the judgment that Peter has in mind in vs.17-18 is the final determination that God will make concerning those who by faith share in the righteousness of Jesus and those who remain guilty in sin.

The text makes it clear this is the kind of judgment Peter has in mind for those who do not obey the gospel, but it is not so clear that this is the kind of judgment he had in mind for the household of God. The bible clearly teaches that this final judgment will not happen until “earth and sky flee away” and “the Son of Man comes in his glory”. How, then, could Peter write, “it is time for judgment to begin with the household of God?”

The answer to that is found in the next part of this sermon, the beginning of God’s final judgment on his people.

The beginning of the final judgment of God for his people is the testing and trials he allows them to endure in this life. In other words, the judgment Peter refers to in 4:17 is “the fiery trial” that had come upon them “to test [them]” from 4:12 and the “various [testing] trials” of 1:6, which is the start of the final judgment of Revelation 20 and Matthew 25.

This is not to say, as we’ve already noted, that the suffering of Peter’s readers was an expression of God’s condemnation of them. There is a word for condemning judgment (katakrima); the kind of judgment that pronounces guilt. Peter does not use that word. Instead he uses a word that simply means “rendering a verdict” (krima). The point is that the final judgment that had already begun for Peter’s readers is the kind in which God looks down and makes a determination, not assuming or necessarily pronouncing guilt.

Once again, Peter’s readers were understandably wondering why they were enduring such mistreatment and persecution. Peter had already answered that in a few different ways (God has multiple purposes for allowing his people to suffer), but here he gave another answer: because God’s judgment was upon them.

But again, how, specifically, is that tied to the final judgment of God? The answer to that question will become clear in our final section on the purpose of the beginning of God’s final judgment.

As we saw a moment ago, for those who did not obey the gospel, at the final judgment God will declare them guilty of cosmic treason and then throw them into the lake of fire for eternal condemnation.

On the other hand, for those who loved and obeyed the gospel, who were united with Jesus, God’s judgment will result in God’s eternal pleasure and life.

As you can easily see, there’s quite a gap between those two possibilities (which are the only two possibilities). At final judgment all people will either enter into eternal conscious torment or pleasure, and both at the hand of God. The chasm between those two judgments is as wide as it gets.

It is crucial, therefore, for us to know how God judges; on what basis he will determine our eternal destination. As I’ve mentioned more than once, the sole determiner of our final judgment is our response to the person and work of Jesus Christ. Either we acknowledge him as the only Son of God and the only Savior of the world, placing our faith in him alone to rescue and reconcile us to God, or we don’t. For those who do, eternal life. For those who don’t, eternal death.

But that leads to another question, one our passage for this morning answers. How do we know if we’re truly trusting (placing our faith) in Jesus? The answer is the connection between God’s final judgment and the judgment Peter says had already begun for his readers.

One of the surest ways God’s people can know whether or not our faith is real and, therefore, what verdict we’ll receive at our final judgment, is the way we respond to the judgment/various, fiery trials of God. The suffering we endure on account of our faith in Jesus, then, is the beginning of God’s final judgment upon us in the sense that our response indicates the outcome of God’s final judgment.

If our response to suffering for the name of Jesus is despair or denial, we have no reason to believe our profession of faith was real. Becoming a Christian means being born again to new desires, new hope, and new strength. Where those things are absent, there is no regeneration.

On the other hand, when we endure various fiery trials, rejoicing that we were counted worthy to share in the sufferings of Jesus, having our hope fixed firmly on the person and promises of God, and longing for Jesus to return, we find confidence in the authenticity of our faith since authentic faith is the only thing that can produce those things!

All of that means the exile, mistreatment, and persecution of Peter’s readers were expressions of the beginning of God’s final judgment on them and were designed, in part, to help them know that their faith was genuine and that they would be found not-guilty at their final judgment.

And all of that means God’s primary purpose in beginning final judgment in his household is his love for his people. God does not mean for his people to live life in fear, not knowing the final outcome of his final judgment. Part of the good news of the gospel is that we can know in this life that we will have eternal life in the next. And the primary means of our knowing, is how we handle suffering (the beginning of God’s final judgment).

All of that was Peter’s clear point all the way back in 1:6-7.

1 Peter 1:6-7 In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials, 7 so that the tested genuineness of your faith- more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire- may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ.

And all of this is Peter’s point in 4:13.

1 Peter 4:13 But rejoice insofar as you share Christ’s sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed.

Why, then, were Peter’s readers experiencing various and fiery trials (and why do we today)? Why did God allow them (and us) to be insulted for the name of Christ? Why were they (and are we) allowed to suffer as Christians? Because the final judgment of God has begun. Why did God determine to begin his judgment at his household? Because he loves his people and wants us to know that we are his people and who the rest of his people are. Suffering faithfully for the name of Jesus is one of the most certain assurances of salvation and distinguishers between genuine and imposter faith.

To this point, then, we’ve seen four remarkable answers to the question of why God’s people are made to suffer for claiming the name of Jesus; all of which we now know are a part of the judgment of God. Rejoice, therefore, Grace Church whenever you share in Christ’s sufferings for:

  1. The faithfulness of those whose professions of faith are genuine would show the world the reality of the gospel’s saving and transforming power.
  2. Those whose professions of faith are not genuine would be revealed as frauds.
  3. Those whose professions of faith are genuine would be sanctified.
  4. Those whose professions of faith are genuine would be strengthened in confidence in the authenticity of their faith.

All of this is the great cause of our rejoicing when we share in Christ’s sufferings; knowing that doing so faithfully proves our faith is real and the final judgment that awaits will only result in our rejoicing.

And all of this means, then, that there is good reason—rock solid, benevolent, glorious reason—to entrust our souls to God whenever we experience suffering in Jesus’ name. Let us do so in increasing measure today, Grace Church, as we prepare to celebrate the birth of the one who made all of this certain.