If there is one criticism that’s levied against Christians more than any other, it’s that we’re judgmental. That we’re morally superior and hypocritical.
To be sure, part of this criticism is unfair. Oftentimes, the whole Church gets lumped in with the horrific stances of some fringe groups that could only loosely be identified as Christian. (Westboro Baptist, I’m looking at you.)
On the other hand, some of it actually is fair criticism. Many Christians have a tendency to be a bit persnickety.
But to what measure are Christians supposed to be judgmental, if any?
It’s not exactly a simple question to answer. Our God offers grace freely while at the same time warning us about judgment. Both hold true in tension. But if we’re not careful, we may find ourselves leaning too heavily to one side or the other.
While Christians are called to make certain judgments, we are never called to be judgmental.
So how can we think clearly about this? Here are 5 thoughts on how Christians ought to approach judgment.
1. We should always remember that no one has the authority to condemn other than God.
There are a couple different ways we can understand what it means “to judge.” One way is simply to evaluate with a critical eye (which shouldn’t be confused with a critical spirit). That’s something that we should, on occasion, do.
In the context of relationships that are rooted in love, we ought to offer assessment in the direction of helping others become everything Jesus wants them to be.
But what we should never do is to render judgment as a verdict of condemnation. We don’t have the authority to do that.
This is where Jesus’ famous (and often misused and abused) words come in.
“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.” (Matthew 7:1-2)
Jesus is really speaking of condemning someone. Pronouncing a sort of final judgment on another person. That isn’t something we have the authority to do.
So don’t. You’re only speaking judgment on yourself.
2. We should not judge non-Christians the way we judge other Christians.
It’s a big mistake to hold non-Christians to the same moral standards as Christians. I simply can’t expect non-believers to behave as believers. They have a different worldview. They have a different standard and viewpoint on morality.
Here’s what Paul says about judging non-believers.
“For what have I to do with judging outsiders? Is it not those inside the church whom you are to judge?” (1 Corinthians 5:12)
Judging the morality of non-believers only treats the symptoms of an otherwise uncured disease. It doesn’t do much. It’s like rearranging the chairs on the deck of a sinking ship. Unless someone comes in to save the entire ship and keep it from sinking, any redecorating efforts are ultimately futile.
So when it comes to people who are not Christians, our posture should not be one of judgment but one of mission. We don’t want non-believers to simply become better behaved non-Christians. We want their hearts to be completely transformed by the grace of Jesus.
So we accept non-believers as they are, while at the same time inviting them into something better. And the something better isn’t just a higher sense of morality. It’s the transformative power of Jesus and the good news of his grace. It’s life abundant.
3. On the other hand, we should legislate morality.
This isn’t to say that Christians have no moral authority in society.
I believe that the morality presented in the bible is the best system of morality to live by in society. And that’s because I believe that God’s way of doing things is the best way of doing things. He created the world, so he has a pretty good handle on what set of moral values will make it thrive.
Things aren’t true just because they’re in the bible. God put them in the bible because they were already true. So we can trust those moral judgments.
Some object and say, “You can’t legislate morality.” But that’s fundamentally what legislation does. It enforces a rule of law–a defined sense of what’s right and wrong. It sets up a standardized set of morals. The only question is: whose morals?
It should be the judgment of believers to seek to promote the legislation that best reflects the Christian morality we hold to. And if we really take that seriously, our political preferences may seem a little strange to others (as I explain here).
4. We should not rank certain sins as worse just because we don’t struggle with them.
It’s interesting to me that we are more likely to harshly judge people for the sins we ourselves do not struggle with.
In particular, I’ve seen this with regard to the LGBTQ community. Christians will often speak very harshly about those outside the church who struggle with same-sex attraction, while at the same time giving great allowance to those inside the church who have committed other sexual sins or have divorced for unbiblical reasons. Or, for that matter, those who gossip and slander other people in the church.
That, my friends, is a little something we call hypocrisy.
The best response I ever heard from one same-sex attracted Christian is this: “How about you don’t judge me for what I’m tempted by, and I won’t judge you for what you’re tempted by.”
This isn’t to say that we begin waffling on what right and wrong is. We ought to stand very firmly in the truth. But Jesus came not only in truth, but in grace. And that grace did not discriminate. Neither should we.
5. We should judge fellow believers in the context of relationship.
With all that being said, we should judge our fellow believers and hold them to the standards of living we see outlined in the bible. “Is it not those inside the church whom you are to judge?” We might refer to this as concerned evaluation.
How is that supposed to look? Here are a few thoughts.
be motivated by love.
The key ingredient to a godly sense of judgment is love. Without love, any kind of judgment is entirely unhelpful. And here is what love wants for another person: that they would become everything that God has created them to be.
So if there is something holding them back, tripping them up, or slowing them down from becoming that person, if you love them, you are obligated to bring it up. But bringing it up is never done punitively–only with the express purpose of bring them closer to Jesus.
We need to tread lightly here. We need to proceed with much prayer and caution. Because we need to separate out the prideful, judgmental parts of us to see if our motivations really are pure. Do we really just want to lord something over that other person?
If there is even a hint of superiority in the way we approach someone, then we need to back up and have Jesus work on us first. Only after we have done that necessary work should we prayerfully bring our concern before a fellow believer.
Make sure you know the whole story.
We also need to be sure that we actually know the full situation. This is why we ought not to bring every Christian concern up to those we don’t know very well. We can’t presume to know someone’s character based on limited interactions.
This is why this kind of work has the best chance of success when it’s done among close friends who follow Jesus together. And success is always defined by the measure to which all parties involved are learning to more closely follow Jesus.
The tightrope we walk is learning to accept each other just as we are, while at the same time calling each other into something far better. That’s what Jesus has done with each of us, and by his power, we progress ever closer to the goal of becoming everything he intended us to be.