why don’t we follow Jesus’ advice about not judging others? We are. We just don’t confuse discerning sin with judging the sinner.
Judgment. For some reason people love the word so much that it is now used to convey messages that have little to do with the definition the word is intended to communicate. Recently, I wrote about Planet Fitness cancelling a woman’s gym membership because they deemed that she was violating their “Judgment Free Zone” when she complained about a man deciding to use the ladies locker room. Apparently, for Planet Fitness judgment must mean common sense as it pertains to morality.
However, it is not just Planet Fitness that seems confused about the word “judgment.” Anyone who thinks everyone is supposed to agree with and even like their chosen pet vice unfurls the “Stop Judging Me” banner if you even hint at disagreement or disapproval. “Homosexuality is a sin.” “Stop judging me!” “Cheating on your spouse is wrong.” “Stop judging me!” “Why don’t you go to church?” “Stop judging me!” “Would you like cream and sugar with your coffee?” “Stop judging me!”
I know, it’s ridiculous. And most of us realize it is quite childish. I have found that most often those who hide behind the “Stop judging me” banner are those who do not have the skills necessary to articulate why they behave the way they do or why they make the choices they make. I know this will make some people mad but it needs to be said: it is not someone else’s responsibility to illumine your faulty logic and reasoning. Nor it is up to others to help you adequately articulate your views or positions on issues. Mature a little and stop hiding behind the judgment banner.
And yes, the same is not only generally true but specifically true for followers of Christ. The Apostle Peter knew all about being judged, mistreated, misrepresented, pushed around, and ostracized for his views on Christ and the Church. His advice to Christians? “[A]lways be prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you” (1 Peter 3:15). In other words…A) no Christian should unfurl their “Stop Judging Me!” banner whenever someone says something they do not like about their beliefs or faith practices and B) no Christian who is confronted by someone else’s sin has permission to dismiss it with a nonchalant highbrow remark that “Jesus said ‘Judge not.’”
Personally, I would prefer the intellectual honesty of a Christian who says, “I just don’t care about the person engaging in that sin” to the spiritual hypocrisy of the Christian who says, “As far as that person and his sin goes, I’m going to take the high road of not judging them like Jesus said.”
Since Jesus divested Himself of His divine rights and privileges from his birth to His crucifixion (Philippians 2:5-8) I wonder if He knew just how many of His followers were going to take His exhortation to “Judge not, that you be not judged” (Matthew 7:1) as permission to ignore sin in others or even embrace sinful lifestyles and practices themselves?
I see it all the time on the comments section our bloggers get on their stories. “I follow Jesus and refuse to judge other people.” “You people bring the rest of us down with your judgmentalism.” “Why don’t you try to follow Jesus’ advice about not judging others!” Okay…let’s briefly look at those three very common comments we often see on our blog site and Facebook page.
You follow Jesus and so you refuse to judge others. You do realize don’t you that in the same sermon that Jesus said not to judge He also said “You will recognize them by their fruits” (Matthew 7:16)? It’s in the context of false prophets who appear to be sheep but are really wolves. If it looks like a precious little lamb then it must be right? No. Jesus said to look very carefully at the fruit. Then He said something even more stark: “A healthy tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a diseased tree bear good fruit” (Matthew 7:18). Clearly, judgment does not equate to discernment. A judgmental statement would be: “You are damned eternally to hell for being a homosexual.” A discerning statement would be: “As a practicing homosexual you are living in sin.” The judgmental statement is judgmental because it assumes the speaker knows the sinner will never seek God and turn from his sin. The discerning statement merely states a biblical fact but doesn’t shut the door to God’s work of grace and mercy in the sinner’s life.
What about the accusation that when we point out sin it makes all Christians look judgmental? If you don’t understand the difference between judgment and discernment I can see why so many are tempted to say that. On the other hand from our perspective it looks like you are more concerned with how the world perceives you than obedience to God. I’m sure unrepentant sinners appreciate your defense of their preferred sin. But do you remember when Jesus sent out the twelve apostles on their first mission in Matthew 10:14-15? He said,
“if anyone will not receive you or listen to your words, shake off the dust from your feet when you leave that house or town. Truly, I say to you, it will be more bearable on the day of judgment for the land of Sodom and Gomorrah than for that town.”
Now common sense says they would not have to be concerned about being rejected if all they did was go around saying that it wasn’t their place to judge anyone about how they were living or what they were believing. You don’t get kicked out of someone’s home or town for agreeing with their lifestyle. And then there is this from the Apostle Paul: “Take no part in the unfruitful works of darkness, but instead expose them. For it is shameful even to speak of the things that they do in secret” (Ephesians 5:11-12). Do you suppose Paul just decided he wasn’t going to abide by that little nugget in the Sermon on the Mount? Or, once again are we finding out that “judgment” is not a synonym for discernment?
And lastly, why don’t we follow Jesus’ advice about not judging others? We are. We just don’t confuse discerning sin with judging the sinner. The earliest of the four gospels is Mark. You don’t have to read very far in his gospel until you find the first red letters. Fifteen verses into chapter one Mark records Jesus’ first words: “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.” Repent? Wow. If we are to believe that being judgmental means correctly discerning sin then how could anyone tell anyone else to turn from their sin(s)?
Here is what I believe it all boils down to. Hiding behind Matthew 7:1 is many Christians attempt to disengage from their moral and ethical responsibility to love their neighbors who are living in sin. It is easier to say “I don’t judge you for what you are doing” than it is to say “that is wrong and you can return to God’s sheltering wing if only you will repent.” It’s strange isn’t it? Those who offend their neighbors by exposing their sin are actually fulfilling Christ’s desire for us to love our neighbor. On the other hand those who let everyone know they are “judging not” are actually turning their backs on their neighbors.
Here’s the thing. I refuse to allow the ignorance of some Christians who do not know the difference between discernment and judgment to keep me from engaging sin in the world just so they can feel all warm and fuzzy about their own tolerance of sin. James said, “Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God” (James 4:4). I will not become God’s enemy just so some who haven’t the courage to obey the Word can excuse their cowardice by hiding behind a statement of Jesus they have no understanding of.