Monday, August 16, 2010

Judging Others: Is It a Christian Thing?

I recently wrote that even Christians need to repent of their sexual sins, and if we are going to be faithful Christians, we need to convey this. One angry blogger responded this way:

“By judging humans you are judging God's work. He is the creator, He is the almighty. Things only take place in His time, by His hand, in judging humans you are judging His work. Period…Christ is the only one who can correct, fix, put back together, anyone or anything. Once saved, someone is under grace not law. Or are you unfamiliar with what it is to be under God's grace?”

God has always been in the business of judging and correcting. This is so obvious, that it hardly needs pointing-out. Therefore, I won’t go into the lengthy list of Old Testament judgments and denunciations. Contrary to popular opinion, Jesus didn’t back away from the judgments of the Father. In fact He talked more about final consequences than anyone else in the Bible. Here’s one example:

• "Not everyone who says to me, 'Lord, Lord,' will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. Many will say to me on that day, 'Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and in your name drive out demons and perform many miracles?' Then I will tell them plainly, 'I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!'” (Matthew 7:21-23)

Of course, the “evildoer” – and we’re all evildoers – can find mercy whenever s/he repents, trusting in the free gift of God. However, telling people that they need to repent has now become taboo. However, my respondent acknowledged that God can and does judge/correct, but it’s an entirely different thing when we do this. According to him, if we judge others, we “are judging His work. Period!”

However, right before this, Jesus warns us: "Watch out for false prophets. They come to you in sheep's clothing, but inwardly they are ferocious wolves.” (Matthew 7:15)

Because God judges and hates sin, we too must judge (“watch out”), and there’s a lot in the Bible about judging and correcting. In fact, we can even argue that the Bible is entirely about judging and correcting beliefs and actions. Can you think of anything that Jesus said that wasn’t about this? Even in our favorite parables, He judges. He favorably judges the repentant attitude of the Prodigal Son and condemns the attitude of His legalistic older brother. He commends the Good Samaritan and judges those religious leaders who failed to live up to this standard. And then He instructs us to “go and do likewise” (Luke 10:37). Clearly, His judgments and corrections need to become ours, if we are to call Him “Master” and “Savior.”

Instead of forbidding us to judge and discern as He did, He invites us to partake of His teachings and judgments. He tells us to follow His example and to teach all the things that He has commanded us (Matthew 28:19-20). He even laid out a methodology for confronting others with their sins (Matthew 18:15-18) and gave us the authority to proclaim the retaining or releasing from sins (Mat. 18:19).

The NT letters are filled with judgments and teachings regarding how to handle sin in the midst of the church. Paul refers approvingly to intra-church punishment (2 Cor. 2:6), but also argues that the one in sin should be embraced upon his confession and repentance. He talks about “passing judgment” against one who was un-repentantly engaged in sexual sin and instructed the Corinthian church to do likewise (1 Cor. 5:1-9). Clearly, by judging, we are not “judging God’s work.” Rather, we are walking in obedience to it! In many instances, Paul also judged doctrinal aberrations:

“As we have already said, so now I say again: If anybody is preaching to you a gospel other than what you accepted, let him be eternally condemned!” (Galatians 1:9)

If we love, we will judge and correct. Paul insisted that one of the qualifications of the elder was that he should have enough command over Scripture so that,

“…he can encourage others by sound doctrine and refute those who oppose it. For there are many rebellious people, mere talkers and deceivers, especially those of the circumcision group. They must be silenced, because they are ruining whole households by teaching things they ought not to teach--and that for the sake of dishonest gain.” (Titus 1:9-11)

If we are concerned about the “ruining [of] whole households,” we will not withhold judgment. Why? Because believing the wrong things can have disastrous consequences! We therefore are judging all the time – when we choose elders, teachers and pastors, when we raise our children, and even when relating to friends or co-workers. Judging is a part of life. When I post this essay, you will be judging what I write. However, judging must be in accordance with truth.

James argues that when a brother “wanders from the truth,” we need to correct him (James 5:19-20). Not doing this is unloving. Even excommunication is a loving thing when practiced in a Biblical manner (1 Tim. 1:19-20; Rom. 16:17; Titus 3:10)!

Judging/correcting is not an option, although those who are spiritually blind shouldn’t attempt it:

“Brothers, if someone is caught in a sin, you who are spiritual should restore him gently. But watch yourself, or you also may be tempted.” (Galatians 6:1)

The churches were castigated by our Lord when they failed to judge:

• The Church of Pergamus: “Nevertheless, I have a few things against you: You have people there who hold to the teaching of Balaam, who taught Balak to entice the Israelites to sin by eating food sacrificed to idols and by committing sexual immorality.” (Rev. 2:14)

• The Church of Thyatira: “Nevertheless, I have this against you: You tolerate that woman Jezebel, who calls herself a prophetess. By her teaching she misleads my servants into sexual immorality and the eating of food sacrificed to idols.” (Rev. 2:20)

Although there are many things that we are instructed to tolerate, there are some things that the church must not tolerate. The Church at Ephesus was commended for their unwillingness to tolerate false teachers:

“I know your deeds, your hard work and your perseverance. I know that you cannot tolerate wicked men, that you have tested those who claim to be apostles but are not, and have found them false.” (Rev. 2:2)

Some will cite Matthew 7:1, “Judge not that you not be judged.” However, they fail to read further to find that Jesus does tell us to judge, but we first have to do some spiritual work on our lives before we can do this.

This list of verses instructing us to judge can go on almost endlessly. My respondent insists that “Christ is the only one who can correct, fix, put back together, anyone or anything.” Of course, without Christ in the equation, we can do nothing at all (John 15:4-5). However, He calls us to the honor of participating alongside of Him, speaking His Words of healing and correction to a deluded world. We should regard this as a great privilege!

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