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How often have you heard it said that “it’s not a Christian’s job to judge?” This widely accepted sentiment within American churches is one that is actually not as biblical as many would lead you to believe. It stems from the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 7 when Jesus said, “Judge not, that you be not judged.”
When taken out of context, Jesus’ words seem to exhort Christians to ignore the sins of other believers and exhibit acceptance of them anyway, because, after all, Christians don’t have a right to tell other Christians they’re wrong since we are all sinners. However, this message is not at all what Jesus meant, nor is it consistent with a biblical understanding of judgment.
Rightly judging is an integral part of the Christian life. If a brother or sister is living in unrepentant sin, it is actually unloving not to call them to repentance. In Matthew 7:5, Jesus goes on to say,
“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.”
When read in proper context, Jesus in this verse is actually warning against hypocritical judgment. When we point out the sins of others while we are guilty of unrepentantly committing the same sin, we are guilty of hypocrisy. If we repent of our sin and remove the log from our own eye, then we can see clearly to judge our brother and call him to repentance.
A Christian should also be careful not to judge superficially. In John 7:24, Jesus says, “Do not judge by appearances, but judge with right judgment.”
This means that Christians should neither judge based on appearance, as Simon the Pharisee did in Luke 7, nor jump to conclusions without considering all of the facts. Proverbs 18:13 says, “If one gives an answer before he hears, it is his folly and shame.”
Self-righteous judgment is also forbidden in Scripture. The clearest example of this is the way Jesus rebuked the Pharisees throughout the four Gospels. In the Parable of the Pharisee and the Tax Collector in Luke 18, the Pharisee was confident that he was in right standing with God because he was not like the tax collector. Yet God did not forgive the Pharisee’s sin because of his self-righteousness. Right judgment requires us to judge with humility rather than with pride.
Harsh judgment that offers no grace is also wrong. Jesus warned us in Matthew 7:2 that, “In the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.” When we judge a brother or sister in Christ harshly, showing them no grace, we neglect the grace that has been shown us. We should be gentle and merciful in our judgment rather than harsh and condemning.
Opposing sin is not wrong; indeed, we are called to hate sin. Calling a brother or sister in Christ to repentance is loving, and in fact, it is needed in the Church. It’s the way in which we judge that we should be careful, humble, and prayerful.
One reason why Christians are called to make right judgements is so that they can discern between good and evil. Hebrews 5:14 says, “But solid food is for the mature, for those who have their powers of discernment trained by constant practice to distinguish good from evil.”
Because the Holy Spirit dwells within our new, regenerate hearts, we are given the capacity to make spiritual evaluations concerning good and evil. Thankfully, Scripture tells us all that we need to know about what is good and what is wicked. In right judgment, we are able to examine our own hearts by testing for unrighteousness and unrepentant sin; evaluate the words and behavior of others; and guard our hearts against erroneous teaching and sin.
For example, in Matthew 7, Jesus warns us to “beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves. You will recognize them by their fruits.”
How else are we able to discern who is a false prophet or a false convert if not by judging their fruit?
In 1 Corinthians 5, Paul writes, “What business is it of mine to judge those outside the church? Are you not to judge those inside?” It is important to note here that, as believers, we cannot hold the world to the same standard that we would a brother or sister in Christ. In our effort to preach the Gospel to the unbeliever, we should certainly call them to repentance. However, our primary concern should be for the one who claims the name of Christ yet lives in unrepentant sin. In fact, James 5:20 tells us that we are responsible for Christ followers who stray down the path of sin, and whoever brings back the wandering soul will save him from death.
It is a serious thing when a brother or sister in Christ struggles with sin, yet God has given us the Church for the purpose of building one another up in Him so that we may be sanctified and become more Christ-like. As the bride of Christ, we are to remain pure and holy in preparation for His return, ridding ourselves of all marks of unrepentance. If, as believers, we are to pursue holiness, then we should also encourage others to pursue it, too. This cannot be done without right judgment.
Whether it is confronting heresy or encouraging a sister in Christ to refrain from sexual sin, right judgment is essential to keeping the Church pure. After all, a little leaven leavens the whole lump. If the evil within the Church is not cast out, it will spread to pervert other believers, too.
In 1 Peter 4, Peter writes that judgment begins in the household of God. These words were manifested in the book of Revelation, which prophesies Christ’s return as ruler and judge to call His Church — not the world — to repentance. His message to the churches at Ephesus, Pergamum, Thyatira, Sardis, and Laodicea was to repent, lest there be eternal, damning consequences.
The spiritual dangers are not isolated to these specific churches in Revelation. Idolatry, false teachings, hypocrisy, sexual immorality, spiritual deadness, lukewarmness, and moral compromise with the world are very common sins that we often see within modern churches today — if not more so. Yet God’s standard for righteousness has not changed. He demands a pure church, and today, Christ is still calling churches to repent and He’s warning us of the dire consequences if they don’t.
The day is coming when He will return to judge His Church. The notion that “only God can judge me” is, without a doubt, soon to become reality. That is why the purity of the Church is so important, and it can only be achieved by the body of Christ building one another up according to His Word and calling one another to repentance in right judgment to cast out the evil among us — so that we might be in right standing with God on Judgment Day.
Christ reminds us in John 14:15 that “If you love me, you will keep my commandments.” By God’s grace, He gifted us with the Holy Spirit and His Word to help us not only examine ourselves but also survey the hearts of our brothers and sisters so that, as the body of Christ, we would reform to His commandments. Right judgment is simply a part of our sanctification. It is the product of increased wisdom and discernment that is only granted by God through His Word.
However, this does not come without consequences. Maturing into the fullness and knowledge of Christ brings growing pains, suffering, and even persecution. Conviction can sting. Being called out in our sin causes our flesh to be wounded. But it is by this sting that Christ softens our hearts to His Word and allows His ever loving grace to reform us and sanctify us so that we may be more like Him.
So yes, Christian, it is your job to judge. In fact, it is your duty. Motivated by our love for God and His commands, we are to speak the truth that has been plainly revealed to us in God’s Word and gently confront those in error in order to bring them to repentance and faith. In the end, may God be glorified by our steadfast faithfulness and obedience to Him.
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Ready to dive deeper into the intersection of faith and policy? Head over to our Theology of Politics series page where we’ve published several long-form pieces that will help Christians navigate where their faith should direct them on political issues.