In a world that rejects the idea of sin, embraces moral relativism and demands that Christians tolerance everything (other than what we believe to be true), we naturally feel like we are being besieged; we are on the defensive. We know that all have sinned and fallen short of God’s righteousness, but our culture doesn’t buy into that idea, let alone any biblical truth that suggests a person shouldn’t simply “do what feels good”.
We tend to go to two extremes. Some of us get on our soapboxes; we get in the world’s face about sin and judgment. Some of us bow in deference to the current cultural norms of acceptance and tolerance. Neither one is a biblical response to sin in the world.
Jesus had no issue calling some people a “brood of vipers” (Mt.12:32-34); children of the devil (Jn. 8:43-44); whitewashed tombs, hypocrites and lawless. (Mt. 23:27-28) (See also Mt. 18:6; Mk. 11:15-18) Jesus called out hypocrisy (Mt. 23:13-29), spiritual pride (Lk. 18:9-14), sexual impurity/adultery (Mt. 5:27-29), indifference to human need (Mk. 3:4-5), and unbelief among other sins (Mt. 17:17-20). Jesus said that it will be more bearable on the day of judgment for Sodom and Gomorrah than for people who don’t receive or listen to the words of the disciples. (Matt. 10:14-15)
Jesus talked about sin and didn’t shy away from statements that might be considered judgmental. We can not and dare not gloss over sin!
On the issue of sin, we err in gravitating toward the spirit of this age – the acceptance of everyone and everything – but we can also err to the other extreme. Here are eight (8) important points about judging and judgment that will help us hit the right mark as followers of Christ.
The first point should be obvious, but it seems we often fail to recognize it. Jesus is God, and we are not. He has a right to judge; we do not. God knows what’s in our own hearts and in the hearts of others; we don’t.
Jesus said, “Judge[i] not, that you be not judged.” (Mt. 7:1) If we remembered this one point, we would do well.
2) We Should Look at Ourselves First
Some people use this verse to conclude that Christians should not judge or be judgmental. They might have a point about being judgmental, but we need to pay attention here.
Jesus goes on to say, “For in the way you judge, you will be judged; and by your standard of measure, it will be measured to you.” (Mt. 7:2) Jesus doesn’t necessarily tell us not to judge; he tells us to be careful how we judge.
What he means is that we should be mindful of our own sin, first:
“Why do you look at the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ and behold, the log is in your own eye?” (Mt. 7:3-4) (emphasis added)
The problem is not that we notice sin in other people, but that we tend not to be mindful of the sin in ourselves.
Jeremiah warns us that the human heart is deceitfully wicked, sick and, therefore, hard to understand. (Jer. 17:9) That’s why it is much easier to see the speck in someone else’s eye before we see the log in our own.
We need to be honest with ourselves before God and allow God to convict us of our own sin as David did when he cried, “Search me, Oh God, and know my heart!” (Ps. 139:23)
Again, we tend to fall into two opposite errors. On the one side, we my feel condemned about our own sin; but, instead of confronting the sin in ourselves, we compare ourselves to others and judge them. That tendency is known as projection. Jesus turns that tendency back on us and says that we will be judged as we judge others.
This echoes the Golden Rule: love your neighbors as yourselves. We have to love ourselves first before we love our neighbors. Thus, we might say, “Do not hate your neighbor as you hate yourself.
But, we need to be careful here because there is another tendency that is equally harmful. Some of us have not judged ourselves rightly and have ignored, minimized or even embraced the sinful self. Instead of fighting sin, we have given in to it and accepted it as part of our nature.
People often quote the “judge not” passage and conclude that we must “accept” everyone and “tolerate” everything. We are glad to do it because we excuse ourselves as we excuse others, but that is not the biblical standard either. We shouldn’t tolerate and accept sin, beginning in our own lives!
We should judge ourselves rightly and be gracious with others because we know how we struggle with our own sin. The sin that threatens to undo me is threatening to undo my brother. We are in the same boat together.
3) The Holy Spirit Convicts People of Sin and Judgment
The person who says he is without sin is a liar (1 Jn. 1:8). We can’t hold otherwise. We should not gloss over sin, especially our own sin!
It isn’t our job, however, to judge and to convict others of their sin. God gave the Holy Spirit to convict people of sin, righteousness and judgment. (Jn. 16:8) God convicts us of our own sins, and God must be the one to convict others of their sins.
It isn’t out job to do the convicting, though we might be tempted to think it is. We need to learn to leave the convicting up to God and recognize when God is convicting us of our own sin.
4) We Are to Help Our Brothers with Their Sins
Jesus doesn’t instruct us to ignore the sin in others, but He is clear that we should submit to the conviction of the Holy Spirit and deal with our own sin first: “First remove the plank from your own eye….”. He doesn’t stop there, though: He says, “and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.” (Mt. 7:5 (emphasis added))
As God convicts us, we need to deal with our own sin, and as our “brothers” are convicted by God we can help them with their sin. We don’t do the convicting, but we can be there to help our brothers as they recognize and attempt to remove the specks from their own eyes.
We can only help people with whom we have a relationship. When we have relationship with someone, we are able to help them with sin because they know us and trust us, and we have legitimate care and concern for them.
When we have dealt with our own sin first, we are no longer comparing ourselves to our brothers; we are reaching out to them. We are not judging them; we are helping them in love and empathy to deal with the difficulties they are having with their own sin because we have also been through the same experience.
5) Jesus Did Not Come to Judge the World
Jesus said he didn’t come to judge the world but to save it. (Jn. 3:17) We need to pay attention here! Jesus doesn’t say that He will not judge the world: He says that He did not come into the world (as He was speaking in person as a man) to judge it; He came into the world as a man to reveal God to a dark, sinful world, to spread the Gospel, to die on the cross and to conquer sin and death in order to save the world.
As followers of Christ, we are to do what Jesus did. Jesus came to save the world; He came to seek and save the lost (Lk. 19:10); He told us to go and preach the Gospel (the Good News) to the world. (Mk. 16:15) We should not be judging the world at this point, but saving it!
6) The Day of Judgment is Coming
We need to see the bigger picture. The Day of Judgment is coming. Jesus said that an hour is coming when He will judge the world. (Jn. 5:22, 28-29) The one who rejects Jesus and His words will be judged in the last day. (Jn. 12:48) He also said, “He who does not believe has been judged already.” (Jn. 3:18)
Jesus is the judge, but He is not yet judging the world. That time has not yet come. That means there is still time for people to be saved from the coming judgment, and that should be our focus. (See point 5.)
7) We Are to Judge the Church
When we judge the world, we are actually getting it all wrong. The harshest words Jesus spoke were directed to religious leaders. Go back and read the passages that are linked in the beginning of this article and notice who the audience is (the religious leaders). Jesus didn’t spare the disciples either. (Mt. 8:23-26; 14:26-31; Mk. 16:14) (mostly rebuking them for their unbelief).
Paul tells us that we have no business judging the world, but we should be judging ourselves – the Church! (1 Cor. 5:12) Peter agrees: “For it is time for judgment to begin with the family of God….” (1 Pet. 4:17) We get it backwards when we think that our job is to call out sin and judge the world. Our job is actually to judge ourselves and the Church!
8) Judge with Righteous Judgment
Jesus warned, “’Do not judge[ii] according to appearance, but judge with righteous judgment[iii].’” (Jn. 7:24) Judging according to appearances means comparing ourselves to others; it means condemning others for the same faults we have. Judging wrongly is self-centered, self-righteous, hypocritical and unloving.
Righteous judgment is focused on eternal consequences. It involves love and concern for with a view to the ultimate reality of the kingdom of God. It is motivated by love, not by condemnation. For this reason, we should not create the impression that sin is no big deal. It would be wrong, uncaring and unloving to give anyone the impression that there are no consequences to fear from sinful actions!
Christians, however, often come across as judgmental and condemning. That’s an indication that we are not looking inward enough and not adopting the attitude that Jesus adopted, which is to love the world and seek and save the lost while there is still time before judgment comes. (For a balanced look at this see 3 Ways to Speak the Truth in Love.)
This is an important issue because we are generally failing to engage the world as Jesus did. They call us judgmental and hypocritical because we have failed to attend to ourselves and to clean our own houses. We have failed Paul’s instruction not to judge the world. We have failed to exercise righteous judgment which leads to love and concern for people who are not saved. Jesus had a right to judge the world (and He will judge it), but he came preaching the Gospel, the good news about the love of God.
Think about it: we should be holding up the standard for ourselves and the Church because we have subscribed to God’s righteousness. We have been born again, but the world has not. The world is supposed to know us by our love, not by our judgment. If the world saw our love, and not condemnation, the world might have a different view of us. The world would be attracted to that love, and in the context of that love, we can point people to the cross and to the hope of glory in Christ, which means freedom from sin.
To be sure, some will always hate us, because some hated Jesus. (John 7:7). We can’t avoid that. But, they should hate us for the right reasons. We don’t want to be hated for being hypocrites; we want to be hated for living by the Spirit according to righteousness proclaiming the good news of Christ and loving each other and the world as Jesus did… until the Day of Judgment.
[i] 2919/krínō – literally, separate (distinguish), i.e. judge; come to a choice by making a judgment – either positive (a verdict “in favor of”) or negative (to reject or condemn). Krínō (“distinguish, judge”) typically refers to making a determination of right or wrong (innocence or guilt), especially on an official (legal) standard. Krino is used of “bringing to trial” (the trying of fact) in a court of law.
[iii] 2920/krísis (a feminine noun derived from 2919/krínō, “to separate, distinguish, judge”) – judgment, in its qualitative aspect. This can apply either to a positive verdict (for righteousness), or more commonly a negative verdict which condemns the very nature of the sin that brought on the verdict of guilty. God’s “resultative judgment” (2920/krísis) is connected with the final day of judgment for every soul, and the Day of the Lord. (See Jude 6; Rev 14:7, 18:10, 19:2) This judgment focuses on the result of decisions (actions). Opportunity to change will “freeze” at death. There is no “second chance” for the unbeliever to find salvation after death.
Postscript – The importance of kindness and compassion, rather than condemnation and judging: