Wake-Up Call to God’s People (I Peter 4:17)

For the time has come for judgment to begin with the household of God; and if it begins with us first, what will be the outcome for those who do not obey the gospel of God?

There is a misunderstanding loose in the congregations of many of our churches. Too many of the Lord’s people have gotten the idea that since our sins are forgiven and forgotten (Hebrews 10:17), since there is “therefore now no condemnation” (Romans 8:1), and since we have the Lord’s word that nothing can take us from the Savior’s hands (John 10:28-29), we are not accountable for anything.

Bad wrong. There is a judgment awaiting the children of God, too.

And I say to you that every careless (“idle” KJV) word that men shall speak, they shall render account for in the day of judgment. (Matthew 12:36)

For we shall all stand before the judgment seat of God. (Romans 14:10)

The promise of Scripture is not that believers will not face a judgment, only that they will not be condemned.

There is a comeuppance awaiting a lot of us. That’s what I Peter 4:17 is saying. (Among other things.)

I’m thinking of three people who have a rude awakening coming when they meet this Great Appointment that has been red-lettered in on God’s calendar:

Ruffin, the honcho who has torn up more churches than my friend Freddie Arnold ever started. Throwing his weight around, insisting on getting his way (otherwise, he’s taking his money somewhere else!), and running off preachers, Ruffin is not going to like what he hears when he comes face to face with Sheer Righteousness.

Loisetta, the sister who brutalized half the membership of her church with her antics. Sometimes it was slander against good people when she had found she could not control them. At other times she organized opposition to the pastor for introducing some new program. If it was good enough for her grandparents, it was sacred and should not be tampered with. Loisetta is about to meet up with the True Owner of the Church.

Fishence, who found ways to get rich from his church affiliation. He wormed his way onto the membership of boards and agencies, then insisted the executives throw business to his company if they wanted to keep their jobs. He asked contractors for donations to his church which he then diverted for his own use. Fishence is about to have his own books audited by the Great Accountant.

Just because you’re saved–if you are–you do not receive a pass-judgment-and-go-on-to-Park-Place free card.

Judgment begins with the people of God.

This is the consistent teaching of Scripture. The Prophet Ezekiel, in his vision of God judging His people, heard His voice instructing, “Begin with my sanctuary” (Ezek. 9:6).

There is a good reason for judgment beginning with us.

1) We have been given the greatest opportunity.

We have the gospel, the Holy Spirit, the Bible, resources unlimited, and the Commission to go into the world. We have millions of partners and colleagues and co-workers who will pray for us, support us, and encourage us.

2) We have the greatest responsibility.

God said, “You only have I chosen of all the families of the earth. Therefore I will punish you for all your sins.” (Amos 3:2)

3) We have the greatest accountability.

Jesus said, “To whom much is given, much shall be required” (Luke 12:48).

4) Thus, we have the greatest liability.

If we fail, our failure is disastrous since we were given so much. William Barclay wrote, “Where the privilege has been the greatest, there the judgment will be sternest.”

So much depends on God’s people.

In the well-known promise of II Chronicles 7:14 (If my people who are called by my name shall humble themselves and pray, and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then will I hear from Heaven and forgive their sin and heal their land.), the IF is on the people of the Lord. We cannot blame a lack of revival on the presence of wickedness or the prevalence of evil in the world. The failure is on us.

Think of the multiple failures of King David in the Bathsheba matter: his adultery, his lies, his scheming and underhandedness, and finally the murder of Uriah. No doubt at first he rationalized that this was a private matter. He soon discovered that his failures and unfaithfulness affected the entire nation for generations to come.

Following Jesus is not a license to permissiveness or a permit for disobedience.

The Ruffins, Loisettas, and Fishences in today’s church have gotten the idea that once they were saved, all bets were off. They were free to come and go as they please with no accountability.

The cousins of these three have adopted the attitude that Christ came to make us happy, that God exists to do our will.

C. S. Lewis once said that Christianity is not about making us happy. “A bottle of port would do that for me,” he said. It’s about our doing the will of God on earth.

“Your God is Too Safe,” says Pastor Mark Buchanan in a book by this title. He faults the church today for getting too comfortable in our faith and thinking of God as too tamed, too docile, to take seriously. “He is not a harmless, safe God,” Buchanan writes.

“But doesn’t the Bible call God our hiding place?” someone protests. Buchanan answers, “Too many today think of God not as our hiding place but as our ace-in-the-hole.”

Buchanan introduces us to Busia, a town on the border between Uganda and Kenya. Strangely, this little community lies in neither country but in the no-man’s-land between. He calls it a “borderland.” A person leaves one country and at its border has to deal with its laws, its customs officials, and its rules. Once he leaves it, he’s not inside the other country. He crosses the DMZ–the town of Busia–and soon finds himself facing the officials of the other country. Each one levies taxes and fees, and it’s not unknown for the officials to open their palms for bribes.

In between–in the borderland–Buchanan says, many people live. It’s a frightening place. “There are no laws to restrain anyone from doing anything. Stranger still, the place is thronged with people–peddlers, hawkers, beggars. It’s a carnival of the wayward and the waylaid.”

Pastor Mark asks the obvious question: Why would anyone choose to live in this Borderland?

Answer: “Because, actually, it’s safe. It’s familiar. It’s ground that can be staked out, marked off, well trod, packed down. It holds some things in and keeps some things out. It may take endurance to live there, but not much else: It’s the endurance of inertia. Life there requires no discipline but falls into neat routines. It’s domesticated lawlessness. It’s chaotic, but predictable.”

Borderland is a metaphor for us today.

On the one hand, salvation means stepping over from the old life, the former land, with its rule, its laws, its gods. It means coming home from the far country.

Sanctification is the journey into the new land, where we learn to “dwell gladly in the Father’s house.”

Many prefer to live in the in-between land. We’re out of the old but not really into the new. Buchanan calls it “this inner deadness, this spiritual sleepwalking, this chronic stuckness.”

Bible students will think of the wilderness–no longer in Egypt and not yet in Canaan. Just in-between.

In introducing his book, Buchanan shows that he knows the state of so many of the Lord’s frozen chosen today: I’m seeking to understand the weariness that spreads itself over and soaks its way through so much of modern Christian living. I’m trying to diagnose the spiritual chronic fatigue syndrome in our churches. I’m seeking to comprehend our temptation to sleep when we are called to pray, to wield swords when we should bear crosses, to go shopping when we should be fighting, to either boast or gripe about what is sheer gift, to be loose-lipped with others’ secrets and tight-lipped about God’s Good News. I’m attempting to document the story, so varied yet so monotonous, about missing the grace of God. I’m setting out to tell, sympathetically but also ruthlessly, about our faintheartedness, and halfheartedness, and fickle-heartedness. I’m writing about life on the borderland.

Sound like anyone you know?

It sounds to me like me. I wouldn’t be surprised if it sounds to you like you.

We will give account before God…for every idle word, every idle day, every idle life.

2 thoughts on “Wake-Up Call to God’s People (I Peter 4:17)

  1. Well, now you’ve caused me to evaluate everything that I do and say. What, when, where, how, why?

  2. Years ago at the beginning of my journey with Jesus, I wept because of my sin. Over time I began to wept at the sin of others. On this very day I wept over my sin once again…thank you Joe. I hope I never forget how to do that.

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