What Does It Mean that “Judgment Begins at the Household of God”?

inside photography of church

In 1 Peter 4:17, Peter makes an interesting statement; he says: “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?”

Judgment might seem like an odd word to use in regard to the people of God… Hasn’t Jesus already taken our judgment upon himself on the cross? What is Peter referring to here, and how should we understand this statement?

The Waters That Buried Some, Lifted Others

In 1 Peter chapter 3, Peter referred to the judgment that took place in the time of Noah, and said that the waters of that flood were a type, or a picture, of baptism. The judgment of the flood, which was a judgment upon human wickedness, did effect, touch, and impact even those who were believers. However, because those believers were in the ark, the waters of the flood did not crush them, but rather lifted them up.

The ark, in this case, is a picture of Jesus. When we climb into Him by faith, and are hidden in Him, He takes the brunt of the storm of God’s judgment, which, apart from Him, we would not be able to survive on our own. As we are in Him, the waters which destroyed those outside the ark actually serve to lift us up and they have a cleansing and purifying effect.

The Fire That Destroys Some, Purifies Others

Along with water, Peter uses another word-picture in this letter: fire, which is used to purify precious metals, like gold.

Paul uses this same analogy in 1 Corinthians 3, where he talks about how our actions in this life will be tested by God as by fire; those things which were pure in motive will withstand the test, and those good things we might have done for the wrong reasons will be burned away like wood, hay and stubble.

Essentially, Peter is saying that the judgment of God will have the effect on believers, not of destroying them, but of purifying them, and clarifying who is really in the faith.

This makes sense, especially in light of the fact that earlier in the same chapter (1 Peter 4:1-4), Peter called his readers to holiness and to separate themselves from the sins which formerly enslaved them.

Malachi’s Prophecy

In his commentary on 1 Peter, Edmund Clowney says that in these verses (1 Peter 4:12-19), Peter is alluding to a prophecy of Malachi:

See, I will send my messenger, who will prepare the way before me. Then suddenly the Lord you are seeking will come to his temple; the messenger of the covenant, whom you desire, will come,’ says the Lord Almighty. But who can endure the day of his coming? Who can stand when he appears? For he will be like a refiner’s fire or a launderer’s soap. He will sit as a refiner and purifier of silver; he will purify the Levites and refine them like gold and silver. (Malachi 3:1-3)

God’s judgment has a double purpose: to purify his worshipers and to consume the wicked.

In Hebrews 12, the writer says that it is proof of God’s fatherly love for us that He disciplines us.

Rather than cleansing us in purgatory, God’s cleansing of his people is a process which takes place in this life through our trials. Our suffering in this life does not atone for our sins, Jesus’s suffering did that for us, but God uses our trials in order to form us into the image of Christ (cf. Romans 8:29), purify us like gold, and prepare for us a weight of glory to be revealed.

Further Discussion

https://twitter.com/DominicDone/status/1199788112060112896

This week Mike and I sat down to discuss this verse in more detail. One of the things we talked about was how persecution and hardship has the effect of purifying the church and “weeding out” those who have come to Jesus for the wrong reasons. One example we bring up is my experience with the Roma (Gypsy) population in Hungary and the false promises of the “prosperity gospel.” Check it out:

Good Times in Eger and a Surpise in Heves

Yesterday we spent the day in Eger. The church here has a car, which we were able to borrow and I was able to Travis out to see the site where we do our English Camp outreach every summer.
A couple from the Eger church, Zakk and Mira joined us and we went to Heves, where in 2010 we started an outreach fellowship which morphed into a gypsy church. Before I left Hungary, this ministry really took off, and it has continued to be a big part of the Eger church's outreach focus.
It was a weekday afternoon, so not everyone was around, but 20 or so people gathered to see us.
While we were there, some people came up to me and showed me their 4 month old baby – a baby they had named after me, Nikolasz, because I had been their pastor! I was blown away and honored and humbled that someone would have felt so impacted by our ministry there that they would name a child after me.
I prayed over their church and over a woman who is sick, and then we came back to Eger, where we met with people from the church there. The church organized an open house for people who wanted to come and see me, and it was a great time of catching up.
Afterwards Travis, Jani and I went out to the thermal bath in Demjén until midnight and talked about life, ministry, church and family before returning to our apartment for the night.
We will see Jani and Tünde again on Friday, because they are coming to Kyiv for the pastors conference I'll be teaching at. Please pray for their family and the ministries they lead in Eger; they are doing well and doing a great job with the church. It has been wonderful to see Jani develop as a pastor over the past 4 years.
Currently we are on the train to Budapest. I have a few meetings today and will teach tonight at Golgota Budapest (Calvary Chapel Budapest), and Travis will be getting together with Németh Laci, the pastor of Golgota Dél-Pest to go see the city and to discuss the ministry Laci leads to combat human trafficking in Hungary. Laci is doing a great work, and we would really like to find out if there is anything we can do to support him and the work he is doing to set people free from modern-day slavery right in his own backyard.

Some of the people we met with in Heves
Little Nikolasz, who was named after me
Communist statue at the site of our English Camp. It says Faithfulness to your nation, Faithfulness to your party!
Hanging out with people from Golgota Eger at Jani and Tünde's house