“Judge not, lest you be judged.”
Few Bible verses are quoted more than those six words. You can imagine the situation: Two young ladies—we’ll call them Jen and Joan—are sitting there discussing life, and the topic turns to sexual sin. Joan, it turns out, is sleeping with her boyfriend. Jen proceeds to tell Joan that having premarital sex is sin, and she should repent. Joan responds with an angry, red face that is firing indignant words in Jen’s direction. Finally, to put an exclamation point on it all, Joan tells Jen earnestly, “I can’t believe you’d judge me like that. Judging others is not a very Christian thing to do. Remember, ‘Judge not, lest you be judged.'” Jen, taken back by that last comment, allows the subject to pass, and the two never breach the topic again.
Is judging others wrong? Let me first clarify what I mean by “judging.” I’m not talking about arrogantly thinking that we’re better than the other person. By judging, I mean confronting another person over an act or lifestyle that is not in conformity with our Christian faith.
Let’s go back and look at the verse that many like to quote against judging:
Judge not, that you be not judged. For with the judgment you pronounce you will be judged, and with the measure you use it will be measured to you. Why do you see 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,’ when there is the log in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye. (Matthew 7:1-5 ESV)
Notice what Jesus is saying. He is not forbidding moral judgments about others. Rather, it is clear that Jesus is concerned with hypocritical judgments, where we hold others to a higher standard than ourselves. That is sinful. Jesus actually is concerned with taking “the speck out of your brother’s eye,” and He gives His followers permission to do so. It’s important, then, that before we do make moral judgments or go to our brothers and sisters to discuss sin, we make sure we have repentant hearts that are seeking to root out our own sin.
Just to make things clear, here are some examples of Jesus either displaying or discussing judgment:
- In Matt. 7:15–20, He tells listeners to guard against false teachers. Christians will know them by observing their deeds, judging whether they are good or bad.
- In Matt. 11:21–24, Jesus pronounces judgment upon Chorazin and Bethsaida for not repenting and believing in Him.
- In Matt. 18:15–20, Jesus gives instructions about how to handle sin between brothers and sisters in Christ. The solution He gives is to address the sin, not ignore it.
- In Matt. 23:1–36, Jesus pronounces more judgment upon the Pharisees for their hypocrisy and false religion.
There are many more examples, but I think this is enough to demonstrate that Jesus actually did judge others for their actions, and He gave His people the responsibility to make moral judgments. Here’s a few other examples of Jesus’ followers making moral judgments about others:
- In 1 Cor. 5, Paul rebukes the church in Corinth for allowing a man in unrepentant sexual sin to remain in the church.
- In Galatians 5:19–21, Paul discusses the “works of the flesh,” which he says are evident, meaning that he actually expected Christians to see the lifestyles of others and make moral judgments.
- In 1 Jn. 3:10, John writes, “By this it is evident who are the children of God, and who are the children of the devil: who ever does not practice righteousness is not of God, nor is the one who does not love his brother.” Notice that it is “evident.” He expected Christians to have the ability to judge whether or not people were true Christians.
I could quote a lot more Scripture on making pronouncements on the morality of certain actions, but I think it’s pretty clear that judging in itself is not wrong; it’s actually the responsibility of the Church to judge those who profess Christ.
Here’s the really important part about this whole matter. This moral judgment must be done in love. Yes, judging can and should be done in love. If a man or woman claims to follow Christ while living a lifestyle that is dominated by unrepentant sin, it is loving to tell that person he or she is probably not a believer. To allow someone to be deceived about their relationship with God just because you don’t want to create an awkward moment is cruel and unloving.
Likewise, allowing a sinful activity to go unchecked in the Church is doing a disservice to your brothers and sisters in Christ. We’re called to exhort one another so that our hearts don’t grow hardened by sin (Heb. 3:13), not to sit idly as fellow Christians allow the snare of sin to slowly tighten its grip on their hearts.
I have to admit that we Christians don’t always do a good job of confronting and judging in love. I’ve found myself trying to arrogantly prove the superiority of my lifestyle, and that is sinful. Christ has judged that sin, just as He has condemned the other lifestyles and acts that we like to judge. Christians, then, are a people who lovingly confront sins in their own hearts and those around them.
Is judging wrong? No, not when it is done in love with the goal that others would look to Christ for forgiveness and grace to change. People may accuse you of being a judgmental bigot or hateful hypocrite, but you should remember that your awkward and sometimes heated confrontation is an act of love, a plea to look to the One who can cleanse all unrighteousness and make the wrong right.