Jeremiah 29:11: For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, "plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you a hope and a future."

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

When is it OK to judge?

I have a problem with judgmental Christians. I've been hurt by them.

I know I'm not alone in this.

Many non Christians are turned off toward Christianity due to these often well meaning people. Many Christians have suffered great pain due to insistence of how "right" their brothers are concerning issues where they do not agree. Some Christians have even wandered away from God in their pain induced by the self righteous judgmental attitude they've experienced in the body of Christ.

My defining experience with judgmental Christians was when I was in my late teens. I went away to a Christian college. I won't say the name of the school because the pastor who has been president of that school for decades is a very well known Christian author, speaker, preacher and evangelist. I've seen many people come to Jesus through this man's ministry and when I look at his doctrine, every single bit of it is accurate. But when I hear him preach, there's always this under current of judgmentalism; this feeling that he's very interested in you and he both being "right" way more than he likes you. My experience at that college was that there was a constant expectation that everyone was to believe all the time in a very specific manner, questioning was not something encouraged. Issues such as if dressing fashionably was acceptable, if it was a sin to go to the movies, if one did watch movies (at home of course) what movies were acceptable, the "fact" that drinking alcohol or dancing were unquestionably "super sins", the need to follow rules to the letter - these were the big issues of the day. This environment left my heart hollow, parched and damaged; so I ended up transferring to a University of California for my last two years. There I joyfully participated in Bible study groups on campus, engaged in meaningful relationships with non-Believers, questioned my professors about everything of interest to me, exultantly wrote papers discussing issues of faith when appropriate, and generally grew greatly.

I think Galations 5:1-6:10 really speaks to the heart of this issue. When I read this passage I'm overcome by a profound gratitude at how great God's incredible grace is toward me. This passage refers to the law of Moses, that law which shows us right behavior. The fact that none of us could ever measure up to this exact standard of right behavior is underscored. I see these words in Galatians 5:4-6(MSG):

I suspect you would never intend this, but this is what happens. When you attempt to live by your own religious plans and projects, you are cut off from Christ, you fall out of grace. Meanwhile we expectantly wait for a satisfying relationship with the Spirit. For in Christ, neither our most conscientious religion nor disregard of religion amounts to anything. What matters is something far more interior: faith expressed in love.

I already know from Ephesians 2:8-9 that it is God, in His supreme goodness, who gave me the ability to believe/have faith in Him. It is His great love that drew me to Himself and His salvation. For me to start this microscopic focus on the external life, on my own and others' behaviors, is to go back to the law which can only bring condemnation. God wants my life to be about loving Him and loving others. In Matthew 22:36-38 I read how Jesus said that loving God and loving others are what makes the rest of the law work.

So, is it always wrong to judge? Is there ever a time when exercising judgment is correct? Do I have a responsibility, out of love, to tell others when they are in error?

Let me tell you what I think, and then I'd be very interested in hearing your thoughts on these questions:

1. Each of us must judge doctrinal truth for ourselves.
1 John 4:1-3 tells me to test for doctrinal truth. I believe that I'm to be a student of scripture, to compare passages with other passages, to be in prayer, to let the Holy Spirit guide me into truth, rather than to just believe what ever someone tells me. I can not read this particular scripture in any way other than to see it as addressed to the individual Believer. I do not see this specific scripture as a call for me to go around judging others doctrine so I can tell them where they are in error, but rather as a call for me to be accountable for what I believe.

2. My role in judgment regarding those who do not know Christ is to proclaim the Kingdom to them.
In Matthew 9:36-38 I see Jesus telling His followers that people are in great need of Him, He directed His followers to pray that God would send out laborers to bring people into His kingdom. I believe that there is the implication here that we should both pray for laborers and be laborers to show others how they can come into God's Kingdom.

3. One of my roles in judgment toward other Believers is to help them learn to judge scriptures themselves and to grow in their faith.
I see the model established in 1 Timothy 2:1-3 where we are to teach others who have chosen to follow after Jesus the scriptures. The entire 17th chapter of John shows how Christ's followers are given His Holy Spirit to be their guide and teacher; to help them understand God's truth. I believe that after someone has come into a relationship with Christ, that the Holy Spirit will reveal truth to that person through God's Word. God will grow that person in His timing and it's not up to me to force my time table onto someone else.

4. Another one of my roles in judgment toward other Believers is to care enough to see if they are caught up in sin and to try to help them out of it.
There are times when a brother or sister in Christ gets caught up in sin. Galations 6:1-10 tells me that that my response to these situations should be about restoration. It's interesting to me how that word "gently" (New International Version) from the first verse is translated - in the Message paraphrase it's says "forgivingly restore him", in the New Living Translation is says "gently and humbly help that person back", in the New American Standard Bible it states "restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness" - every translation or paraphrase that I can find has this tone of kindness. I do not see a heavy handed I'm gonna tell you the truth and you'd better get in line with it attitude; instead I see a kind, compassionate, considerate approach. The goal here is to stay in relationship with the brother/sister in Christ, to live together and help one another; not condemn one another.

There is also the whole thing of church discipline toward one who confesses to be a follower of Christ who is dead set on continuing in sin. But there is so much to in that whole discussion that it requires at least one post all to itself. These 4 points are in no way meant to be all inclusive and to completely cover this topic; these are more of a starting point in my own thoughts on this matter.

So, now that I've shared my thoughts, I'd be interested in hearing yours:
Is it always wrong to judge? Is there ever a time when exercising judgment is correct? Do I have a responsibility, out of love, to tell others when they are in error?


Andrea said...

AMEN times 1000! GREAT POST!

Blessings and prayers,

J Curtis said...

Yes, I think you should tell somebody when they are in error and I would appreciate it if someone would tell me if I were clearly in error spiritually.

This can be accomplished in a variety of ways but I think we could all agree that it should be done...

A) In private and don't talk about it with others, and
B) With a spirit of humility keeping in mind the "beam in our own eyes".

Deborah Ann said...

Tracy, I'm so glad we crossed paths. I have been down that road of judgment many times. I have been judged, and I have wrongfully judged others. I think sometimes God allows this, so later when we finally see the error of our ways, we will have grace for those still sitting in the judgment seat, knowing we were there at one time too.

I have come a long way in the last 20 years. I often wondered why God didn't just bring me up to speed from the start, but looking back I can see that I had to be among the church in different levels in order to grow. And when I finally reached the top of the pinnacle, I looked down on everyone else, and judged them, thinking I was better than them, and I was the only one in the right place. Wrong. God brought me down from my throne in a hurry.

And now He is calling me to reach out to Christians at every level. I finally understand that we are all equally loved, and no one is better off than the next person. And like Paul, I become like the Roman to those in Rome. If someone doesn't speak in tongues, I don't pray in that manner with them. There is a call to unity on my life, and I would rather shirk back from maturity in Christ (in a manner of speaking) than to plow ahead of everyone else. Running ahead only brings division.

In fact, some people think I'm backsliding in my faith, but it's just the opposite. These same people are 'judging' me, and think I am a hopeless sinner now. But I am finally free, and living in the grace of God. I'm very happy to be here, instead of on that old judgment seat.

Thanks for a very thought provoking post!

P.S. I think I know the school you're referring to.

Deborah Ann said...

I had to come back, since I realized I didn't really answer the question. Is it okay to judge? I'd have to say only if the Holy Spirit is gently prodding me to do so. I have to be careful it is His judgment, and not mine.


Inge' said...

This post brought back a flood of very sad memories for me. Memories of when I have been wrongly judged by the Body and when I have wrongly judged others.

This is one of those subjects that gets people all wound up in one or the other direction. But, I like you went to the Word. I also found a few websites that delve into this issue and put it simply for me.

I would have to say that yes, as Christians we are to judge in certain circumstances and only after we have sought the guidance of God in prayer and study of the Word. As with anything else, discernment is the key. Unfortunately, we almost always judge in the wrong ones.

We should judge between Right and Wrong (1 Thess. 5:21).

We should judge between Worldliness and Godliness (Titus 2:12) This can be a sticky situation. Our legalism can get in the way of our discernment.

We should judge between order and disorder as it relates to the Body (2 Thess. 3:6).

Any other situation I may find myself in, I have make sure that I am being led by the Lord to even speak and then that I only speak what He wants me to.

This is a very hard lesson to learn and I have been reminded on more that one occasion of the "beam" in my own eye.

I found a quote that I think fits with your post. the author is unknown to me, but the quote is now one of my new favs.

"Christ gives us the right to help others after we have straightened out our own lives. He did not say that it was wrong for you to help your brothers or sisters get rid of their sins; but He did say that first you should take care of your own sin. In other words, we should be as severe with ourselves as we are with others."

I think the last line sums it up quite nicely for me. So now, I will be asking myself: "Am I being more severe on them than on myself?"

Tony C said...

Excellent post Tracy! I wish I had read this post before commenting on another blog because you reference relevant Scripture.

Only God knows the true heart of a person. We can only judge the fruit a person bears, and I don't think that is a complete enough picture to judge unless the fruit is obviously bad fruit.

I also like the other comments left so far. As Christians, we should look to love first before ever judging.

Michelle said...

Well, obviously you know my answer to this question since my last two posts were about it!

Yes; HOWEVER, and I think that is a big fat HOWEVER, the word "judge" has really received a negative view because of "judgmental Christians." Actually, I hate the word "judge" because of what it portrays.

I believe that no matter what we do it should be done in love. But what is love? (My last post.) For me it's not about getting caught up in "sin" because that is what grace and Christ's sacrifice is for. (i.e., Issues such as if dressing fashionably was acceptable, if it was a sin to go to the movies, if one did watch movies (at home of course) what movies were acceptable, the "fact" that drinking alcohol or dancing were unquestionably "super sins", )I agree with the other commenter that it may border on legalism.

When I properly "judge" it is about scriptural issues and not legal issues. I'm not sure if I can or am putting this right???

Let me explain it this way, I may appear to be judging when I question certain beliefs and faiths within Christianity; however, by no means is this a self-righteous judgment because I see that anything I have been given has been given by the Father. Like you said, we are all on different paths as we walk on this journey. AND I also see that in no way do I have a right to be self-righteous because my "righteousness is as filthy rags" before the Lord.

humility humility humility...we all need humility; the problem is our pride gets in the way when we are on EITHER side of the judgment.

Anyways, I'm going to quit rambling! You know my stance anyway. :)

photogr said...

I am sure we all have been judged wrongly at a point in our lives by others and we have also judged others wrongly too. It is human nature to do so.

A lot of it has to do with who we listen to as our faith denomination dictates. If there is ever a question on judgment, refer to the scriptures, not humans in leadership roles.

I try not to judge people by their social, cultural, or economic status but a lot of people do. It is their actions that determine how I will judge them ( and I know that is wrong).

However, It is a good gauge as to how you will address their actions to suggest corrections based on scripture and the leading of the Holy Spirit that will bring them back into the path of righteousness.

We must love all as our brothers and sisters and guide them back to faith in the Lord. Love the sinner, Hate the sin.

RCUBEs said...

It seems like most of us had been there on both sides: we were judged and we did it, too...I posted about discernment this morning. And I think before we judge, that is where discernment comes in. We must judge right before we even act. How? Only by asking Him and being led by Him. Great post sister Tracy!

Tracy said...

I'm so glad to have met you guys, so grateful for your input. I'm reminded of one of my favorite Proverbs -Proverbs 27:17: "As iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another." Thanks for frequently sharpening me!

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