It isn’t often that I get a chance to write about Christian doctrine using the Scriptures since most of my writings are oriented toward a secular audience that doesn’t credit the Bible as a reliable authority. But occasionally, I find time and reason to write about Christian doctrine using the Word of God. Such is the case now, concerning an issue that I have recently encountered an alarming number of times, one that I have realized is becoming a popular misunderstanding – judgment.
“Judge not, that you be not judged. For with what judgment you judge, you will be judged; and with the measure you use, it will be measured back to you.” – St. Matthew 7.1-2 (NKJV)
I’ve been slapped with this passage many times by Christians, usually when I say something they are doing or endorsing is morally wrong, sinful, or contrary to Scripture. Rather than forming a real Scriptural justification for their beliefs or actions, they always default to the “Judge not lest ye be judged” defense, suggesting that I have no right to evaluate the morality of them or anyone else. It would seem that it is “judgment” to simply call wrong “Wrong.” But there is a problem with such a suggestion. Elsewhere in Scripture, it is clear that, as Christians, we are to hold one another accountable.
“All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work.” – II Timothy 3.16-17 (NKJV)
“Take heed to yourselves. If your brother sins against you, rebuke him; and if he repents, forgive him.” – St. Luke 17.3 (NKJV)
“Those who are sinning rebuke in the presence of all, that the rest also may fear.” – I Timothy 5.20 (NKJV)
These are just a few passages that leave very little doubt that Christians are not only to evaluate one another, but to rebuke and correct one another when we find fault.
So how are we to evaluate and rebuke one another without doing it in judgment? Are the Scriptures in contradiction? Not at all. It seems that these passages of Scripture are in contradiction, but only until we look closer at the perceived contradiction.
What do we think about when we say someone is judging us? That’s simple. Someone is judging us when they look at and evaluate us and decide that we are in the wrong, placing themselves in a superior or “holier than thou” position, especially if it makes us look bad in some way. They’re judging us if they challenge us in a way that makes us justify what we’re doing.
But is this really what Scripture means when it states judgment? Not in the slightest. The modern English dictionary defines “judgment” as simply an opinion or a conclusion. But returning to the original language of Greek, the word which Christ and the Apostles used is the word “κρίμα” (krima). It is most often translated as “condemnation,” and it refers to a penalty sentenced to a convicted transgressor. It is not at all an evaluation of morality. It is an action – the action of exacting a price for something.
So does this contextual definition support the notion that if someone tells us we’re in sin that they are judging us? Can’t we say that them making us look bad is the active penalty? No and no. Firstly, we have a standard encyclopedia of sin. It’s called the Bible. If someone points a finger and says, “That’s a sin, according to Scripture,” they are not demanding we pay the price. They’re voicing the Word of God, exposing sin in the light of truth. Secondly, the discomfort we feel when someone says we’re in sin does not emanate from that person. It emanates from our own darkened heart. It either bruises our pride, or it voices our own convictions. Either way, the other person’s words are not the source of our discomfort, so they are not actively penalizing us by making a statement that calls sin what it is.
Now, let’s consider another passage that “non-judgementalists” like to throw around:
“But Jesus went to the Mount of Olives. Now early in the morning He came again into the temple, and all the people came to Him; and He sat down and taught them. Then the scribes and Pharisees brought to Him a woman caught in adultery.
And when they had set her in the midst, they said to Him, “Teacher, this woman was caught in adultery, in the very act. Now Moses, in the law, commanded us that such should be stoned. But what do you say?”
This they said, testing Him, that they might have something of which to accuse Him. But Jesus stooped down and wrote on the ground with His finger, as though He did not hear.
So when they continued asking Him, He raised Himself up and said to them, “He who is without sin among you, let him throw a stone at her first.” And again He stooped down and wrote on the ground.
Then those who heard it, being convicted by their conscience, went out one by one, beginning with the oldest even to the last. And Jesus was left alone, and the woman standing in the midst.
When Jesus had raised Himself up and saw no one but the woman, He said to her, “Woman, where are those accusers of yours? Has no one condemned you?”
She said, “No one, Lord.”
And Jesus said to her, “Neither do I condemn you; go and sin no more.” – St. John 8.1-11 (NKJV)
Now these non-judgementalists say that this is an example of how Christ’s love is all-encompassing and all-accepting. They say that the scribes and Pharisees had no right to judge the adulteress and that Christ showed them how wrong they were. But is the real issue here a matter of the evaluation they had of the woman, or is it a matter of their demands that she be put to death? Let’s consider their evaluation. What was their evaluation of her? They told us outright – she was an adulteress. She was a sinner. Was there any one else who had the same evaluation of her? Yes, Christ Himself said that she should go and sin no longer. So was anyone who was present in denial that the woman was in sin? No. They all recognized it and called it as it was. So since there was obviously something wrong with the Pharisees’ involvement with the woman, what was it? Did they not have the right to say that the woman was in sin? Yes, they did. Did they not have the right to insult the woman’s pride or damage her self esteem by calling her an adulteress? Yes. Did they not have the right to put the woman to death according to the Law that God had given them centuries before on Mount Sinai? Yes.
So what was it that Christ pointed out to them that was wrong? Simply this – that they did not have the right to demand or execute justice upon someone who was no more guilty than they were. Only Christ remained with the woman after the crowd had left under conviction. Only God can rightly demand and execute justice because only He is without sin.
So what does this say about “judge not lest ye be judged”? Is judgment a matter of evaluating someone and calling sin “sin,” or is it a matter of demanding justice for sin? The answer is clear. To recognize sin as sin and to say, “That’s wrong!” is not at all what Scripture says we are not to do. Rather, to find a repentant sinner who says, “I’ve sinned,” yet to reply with, “And now, sinner, you will pay the price” – that is what we must not do. When Christ spoke of judgment, He spoke of an action – not an evaluation. Taken in context with these other passages of Scripture concerning rebuke and correction, this is the consistent message.
No one wants to be told they’re doing wrong, especially if they can’t prove otherwise. But in my duties to God and to my fellow Christians, I, for one, will continue to evaluate my brothers and sisters, despite what the modern world calls “judgment.” And when I find sin in them, I will call it sin. I will not hesitate to speak the words to them, “My brother, my sister. You. Are. Wrong.”