Must We “Judge Not”?
If there were one declaration that the world thinks ends any moral argument with a Christian, it would have to be judge not. They think they’ve really got us with that one since it comes right out of the Bible. This is easily the most often heard epithet hurled at us from moving vehicles as my friends and I stand for life at the local abortion clinic. Well, that and the well-reasoned argument of, “Get a job!” This exceedingly compelling employment advise aside, the world doesn’t like it when we speak unpopular truth, and there are a lot of unpopular truths these days.
Speaking the truth is confrontational by its very nature. If any of us assert anything at all to be true, then we are also asserting that opposing ideas are untrue. If there is truth in the world there is also falsehood, and no one likes having their lies exposed. I have experienced this type of confrontation in evangelistic ministry as well as through some of the ups and downs of online conversation on cultural issues. You may have had similar experiences; you saw a post in your newsfeed and couldn’t resist commenting, then you were immediately sucked spiraling downward into a ceaseless debate that was a perfect case study in vast dimensions of human foolishness.
Invariably, in real-world or internet interactions, the issue of judgment comes up. One person says, “You shall not murder.” Someone else answers back, “Judge not.” It is a common conversation. As a Christian called to live a salty life, one that engages with the world and brings the flavor of Christ to every tasteless dish, it is undeniably useful to have some understanding of how to make Christian judgments.
The following three things have clarified my own thinking on this topic. Hopefully, they are useful to you as well.
1. Not judging, is not an option.
The idea that tolerance is the ultimate virtue is pervasive. That is all that it is though: an idea. People rarely carry the tolerance creed to its logical conclusion. I have never met a person who is completely tolerant of everything and everyone. It is an impossibility. Even those who say, “Judge not,” are expressing a negative judgment of a judgment someone else has made. Those people yelling “judge not” out their car window at me when I am doing ministry at the abortion clinic are being judgmental of my firmly held belief that murdering people is wrong. That’s pretty judgy of them. I wonder what makes them think they have the right to express such a negative opinion of someone else’s belief?
The truth is that we cannot get through life without making judgments about right and wrong, good and evil. The question to ask is, “How can we make judgments that are good and right?”
2. Judge with righteous judgment.
The consistent message of God’s Word is that we should judge with righteous judgment (John 7:24). We must not set our own opinions and feelings up in judgment over the decrees of God. Even Jesus said, “my judgment is just, because I seek not my own will but the will of him who sent me” (John 5:30). Jesus often had words for people which, though loving in the truest sense of the word, were not very nice. If Jesus had a Twitter account, His feed might read a little differently than most.
We must rely on God’s standard rather than our own to make judgments about the world, our neighbors, and ourselves. Speaking God’s truth is not unrighteous judgment, it is, by definition, righteous judgment. When we set the opinions of man over God’s Word, we are setting ourselves up as judges of His decrees. We are pretenders of justice and act as though we have the authority to declare His Word to be out-dated or unkind. Those are dangerous judgments to make, and we should remind ourselves to judge not the ordinances of God.
3. If you’re being a hypocrite, repent.
This is a big one. These “judge not” statements are often warning us about the dangerous sin of hypocrisy. When Jesus is talking about this, He follows “judge not” with the story of removing the log from your own eye before helping your brother remove the speck from his eye (Luke 6:37-42). He assumes that helping your brother remove the thing blocking his vision is a brotherly thing to do. However, He warns against hypocritical judgment, urging us to confront our own sin first.
The apostle Paul confronts hypocrisy with,
“Do you suppose, O man—you who judge those who practice such things and yet do them yourself—that you will escape the judgment of God?” (Romans 2:3).
We find yet another passage in James 4 warning us against making evil judgments against our brothers and placing ourselves in a position of judgment over God’s law. If we want to know what is right and what is wrong, His law is judge, not our personal preferences. If we are judging our brothers out of accord with God’s commands, we have made ourselves judges of the law. Instead, we must learn to look to God’s Word for wisdom in making righteous judgments. Our hearts and voices should quickly speak, “Amen” to all His commands.
If we take our calling to be salt and light in the world seriously, yet neglect these serious warnings about personal hypocrisy, we are asking for trouble. Hypocrisy doesn’t salt the world. When we act in pride with reliance on our own righteousness we become salt that has lost its saltiness. When we live in humility, quickly repenting of our many sins, our lives testify to God’s grace for sinners. When we live in submission to the law of God ourselves our words of “judgment” are then shared in the context of repentance and grace.
Ultimately, we speak the laws of God into the darkness of our culture for the same reason we live in obedience to His laws in the first place: we love the Lord and the righteousness of His commands. We cannot love the Lord and hate His commands (1 John 5:3). As we move through the Christian life, as we are refined to be more like Christ, we will find ourselves being able to say joyfully with the Psalmist, “Righteous are you, O Lord, and right are your rules” (Psalm 119:137).