Christians often live in one extreme or the other on hot-button topics. One example would be judging. Christians have long been known and labeled as “judgmental.” So today, most evangelical Christians are so afraid of that label that they refuse to judge anything. Matthew 7:1, which says to “judge not lest ye be judged,” is the most well-known verse among even the most non-church going person out there.
But our fear of being judgmental has led us to a warped view of judging. There are definitely ways in which we should not judge, but you may be surprised to know there are times where Christians actually should judge. How do we know when to do it and when not? Let’s let the Bible guide us on that.
Part One: What You SHOULD Judge
1. Examine fruit for leadership positions.
We are not to be judgmental but we are to be fruit inspectors when it comes to our leaders. In fact, the very chapter of Matthew that says do not judge later tells us how to judge the fruit of our leaders.
15 Beware of false prophets who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravaging wolves. 16 You’ll recognize them by their fruit. Are grapes gathered from thorn bushes or figs from thistles? 17 In the same way, every good tree produces good fruit, but a bad tree produces bad fruit. Matthew 7:15-17
We are not supposed to blindly accept everything anyone says. When someone tries to lead or influence us, we should check the fruit on the tree. This isn’t just about pastors, but rather about anyone who tries to influence you. This includes celebrities. We live in an age where people are quick to disagree with a preacher but even quicker to blindly accept what a celebrity says. But don’t take advice from those with rotten fruit.
It was Jesus who said: Look, I’m sending you out like sheep among wolves. Therefore be as shrewd as serpents and as harmless as doves. Matthew 10:16
Judge who you follow by checking their fruit.
2. Identify and stand against what Scripture says is sin.
Somehow in the last decade, evangelical young Christians have decided that not being judgmental means not saying sin is wrong. Or saying sin is wrong, shrugging, and then saying: “Well, we are all sinners.”
Recently in the news, there was a Pentecostal pastor in Seymour, IN, arrested for sexual assault on a man in a park (he also had immoral videos in his car when arrested). A local news channel interviewed his neighbor, a young youth pastor, who basically said, “Yeah, it’s sin; but hey, we’re all sinful.”
We are all sinners. That’s very true. And we cannot condemn people for sin when we sin all the time. But we can and should condemn the sin itself. Sin is bondage. It is a disease that eats away at someone’s relationship with God. People need to know they are loved, but they also need us to encourage them to repent and turn to God.
Sadly, today many sins are not only ignored but are often affirmed. People even celebrate some forms of immorality. But Scripture actually teaches that it is a sin to affirm sin in other people. If we tell a sinner that there is nothing wrong with his sin, then we have allowed that person to march toward death and in turn have sinned ourselves:
“Although they know full well God’s just sentence-that those who practice such things deserve to die-they not only do them, but even applaud others who practice them.” Romans 1:32
We must stand against sin in our culture and, more importantly, in our own lives. We can’t be quick to judge sin in others and ignore our own sin. When we sin ourselves, we need to drop the gavel down on it and judge it for what it is – rebellion. Ask God for forgiveness and move on to holiness.
3. Judge believers when it comes to church discipline.
This is a hard one. I won’t spend a lot of time on it, because it is too big of a topic. Thankfully, it is also something that doesn’t need to happen a lot. If there are Christians in the church who are in known and harmful sin, then it is the responsibility of the church to help guide those people toward holy living. There’s a process to do that. The last and final straw to someone in the church who refuses to flee their sin is to sorrowfully remove them from the church in hopes of it being a wake-up call. And that takes proper and biblical judgment by the church as a body.
12 For what is it to me to judge outsiders? Do you not judge those who are inside? 13 But God judges outsiders. Put away the evil person from among yourselves. 1 Corinthians 5:12-13
Church discipline is hard and often ugly. It must be done with care and love and with the goal of restoration, but it must be done.
II. What You Should NOT Judge.
1. Never condemn anyone to Hell.
We often talk about Jesus’ ministry as doing miracles and teaching about love. But there was another thing He did all the time: He chastised religious hypocrites for pronouncing judgment and condemnation on everyone. The Pharisees and other religious leaders were always condemning others. Jesus spoke against it time and time again:
13 But woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! You lock up the kingdom of heaven from people. For you don’t go in, and you don’t allow those entering to go in…15 Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! You travel over land and sea to make one proselyte, and when he becomes one, you make him twice as fit for hell as you are! Matthew 23:13, 15
Let me summarize what Jesus just said here: The people who spend all their time condemning people to Hell are probably going there themselves.
“Jesus does not want us to take God’s place in determining individual persons’ ultimate spiritual fate…. Which specific individuals of our acquaintance will end up in heaven and which will end up in hell is not for us to determine. That judgment belongs to God alone.” – Prof. Roger E. Olson
We can be concerned someone is going to Hell and therefore share Jesus with them. There is nothing wrong with that. But we cannot predetermine ourselves that someone is unreachable and bound for Hell for sure. The Apostle Paul was like a terrorist against Christians before he got saved. If there was hope for him, then there is hope for anyone.
I know that someone must receive Jesus and repent of their sins to be saved. But I do not know who is going to do that. There’s always hope. And even when someone dies, unless I was with them at their deathbed while they cursed God, I have no clue if someone gave their life to Jesus before death. So I never sit on the judgment seat and pronounce Hell on anyone – and neither should you.
2. Never consider yourself above anyone else.
This is part of what Jesus is saying in the infamous Matthew 7:1-5 passage. He’s saying don’t go judge someone for a speck in their eye when you’ve got a log in your own. You are not better than people you want to judge, in fact, you very well could be worse.
We should never consider ourselves better than anyone else. The only thing that makes you worthy of Heaven is Jesus – it is not in anything you have done.
Many of you may remember the story of the Pharisee and the Tax Collector in Luke 18. The religious leader prayed with pride about how holy he was. He saw a lowly tax collector and thanked God he wasn’t a sinner like that guy. But the tax collector prayed in humility for God to have mercy on him, a sinner. Then Jesus said: “I tell you, this one went down to his house justified rather than the other; because everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted.”
There is nothing in me or you that makes us superior to anyone. We should always assume the best in others and understand our own shortcomings.
Do nothing out of rivalry or conceit, but in humility consider others as more important than yourselves. Philippians 2:3
3. Never condemn people for your personal preferences that are not described as sin in the Bible.
There’s nothing wrong with personal preferences. And sometimes we even avoid certain things because we’re afraid they might make us sin. That can be very wise. For example, someone might understand that if they have one drink of alcohol they might lose control and keep going. There’s nothing wrong with personal preferences or being extra careful. But there’s a real problem when we use our own preferences as a standard for what is sin.
To judge someone as sinful for not following your personal preference is called legalism. It is exactly what the Pharisees did. It is the kind of religion that Jesus spoke against over and over again. It is you sitting as judge of what is holy instead of God. But Jesus said:
“Stop judging according to outward appearances; rather judge according to righteous judgment.” John 7:24
Another way to say that is: Stop judging based on what you want, but judge instead on what God has said.
As Christians we must learn when to judge when to abstain. And the standard is always God’s and never our own. When God is silent on a subject, then it’s probably best that we should be, too. But remember, when God says no to something, we must never act like it doesn’t matter. Life and death could be in the balance.