By Catherine Segars, Crosswalk.com
One of the most quoted verses from the Bible in Christian and non-Christian circles alike is “Judge not lest ye be judged” (Matthew 7:1). Often, this verse is used to promote tolerance of something unbiblical by suggesting that it is always wrong to judge. Other times it is quoted to refute someone wielding a legalistic position.
But what does the Bible actually teach about judging?
As Christians, we need to know.
I examine this topic thoroughly in the latest series on my podcast CHRISTIAN PARENT/CRAZY WORLD, where we tackle tough topics for parents. I decided to examine this difficult topic because a grandparent wrote to me asking for advice on how to respond when her grandchild was harshly judged by a Christian counselor. This faith leader told the child that God would not love her anymore if she didn’t change. She was also told that her parents were going to hell if they got divorced.
As you can imagine, the child was deeply scarred by this encounter. She actually left the church.
Given all the confusion and misinformation surrounding this critical topic, not to mention the dire eternal consequences when we get it wrong, I recently embarked on a four-part podcast series to establish what the Bible says about judging.
But something must be clear before we determine the if, when, where, and how of judging.
Before we judge, we must understand God’s love.
While salvation requires our belief in Christ, God’s love requires nothing from us. Romans 5:8 says, “But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” Whether we choose to follow Jesus or not, he loved us enough to die for us.
A few chapters later, Paul spells out the parameters of God’s love in no uncertain terms. He says:
“I am convinced that nothing can ever separate us from God’s love. Neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither our fears for today nor our worries about tomorrow—not even the powers of hell. No power in the sky above or in the earth below—indeed, nothing in all creation will ever be able to separate us from the love of God that is revealed in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 8:38-39, NLT)
God’s love is NOT dependent on our actions, our obedience, or even what we believe.
Do our actions have consequences? Absolutely.
Do our beliefs have consequences? Absolutely. Eternal ones.
Do our actions or our beliefs change God’s love for us? Absolutely not.
They don’t because nothing can separate us from God’s love.
So, before we ever address the issue of judging someone’s behavior, we must affirm emphatically that God loves everyone. God’s love is never in question. And our love as Christians shouldn’t be either.
With God’s love for us firmly established, we can address the issue of any judgments that come from His loving standard.
As Christians, should we judge the actions of other believers?
Just a few verses after Jesus tells us “Do not judge, or you too will be judged,” (Matthew 7:1), he warns his followers about false prophets saying:
“ You will know them by their fruits. Do men gather grapes from thornbushes or figs from thistles? Even so, every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit. A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a bad tree bear good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. Therefore by their fruits you will know them.” (Matthew 7:15-20)
You might be tempted to do a double take here. Right after Jesus tells us not to judge if we don’t want to be judged, he tells us to consider the fruit coming from the lives of other believers. In other words, he tells us to judge the actions of others.
That seems contradictory—but it isn’t.
A closer look at the first verse on judging (Matthew 7:1) shows that Jesus isn’t addressing the practice of judging altogether, rather he is addressing the measuring sticks we use to judge. Immediately after that verse, Jesus says, “For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.” (Matthew 7:2) Jesus is cautioning us to use righteous and accurate measures when we consider the actions of others.
Jesus then says that we shouldn’t point out the speck in our brother’s eye when we have a plank in our own eye. (vs. 3-5) This is sage advice. Jesus is dealing with hypocrisy here as well.
Scripture is clear that we must take great care when we judge and how we judge the actions of others. And the Bible also cautions us in who we judge.
As Christians, should we judge the actions of non-believers?
The Apostle Paul tackles this topic clearly and emphatically. A shocking situation in the Corinthian church had come to Paul’s attention—a church member was sleeping with his father’s wife. Paul is dumbfounded. He says that this is “something that even the pagans don’t do.” (1 Corinthians 5:1, NLT)
Paul makes it clear that the Corinthian church leaders need to judge this sin and separate this man from the body of Christ in the hopes that “he himself will be saved on the day the Lord returns.” (vs. 5)
The goal of this godly judgment is two-fold: first, the church body must be protected because “sin is like a little yeast that spreads through the whole batch of dough;” (vs. 6) and second, the sinner’s ultimate redemption is more important than his temporary comfort. If this man was allowed to stay in the church without consequence, he would never repent.
After this clear admonishment of our Christian responsibility to faithfully judge the actions of our fellow believers, Paul gives equally clear instructions not to judge those outside the faith. He says:
“It isn’t my responsibility to judge outsiders, but it certainly is your responsibility to judge those inside the church who are sinning. God will judge those on the outside; but as the Scriptures says, ‘You must remove the evil person from among you.'” (vs. 12-13)
The Scriptural position on judging is now crystal clear. The Bible tells us that it is our job to judge the actions of other believers, but it is not our job to judge those outside the faith. That is above our paygrade.
With the Biblical parameters on judging firmly in place, it is wise to consider the problems we encounter when judging, which I discuss in episode 41, and how to respond when judged, which I cover in episode 42. I’ll cover the former here and the latter in an upcoming article (stay tuned!).
Judging another person is a process fraught with the potential to harm. The following problems regularly occur when someone attempts to judge a fellow believer:
Five problems that happen when we judge others:
Problem #1: Judging the motive, not the action.
As finite human beings, we aren’t qualified to judge another person’s motive. We cannot peer into another person’s heart and determine why they did what they did. We are only qualified to assess another person’s action.
And yet, people get this wrong all the time in our culture and in the church.
This person goes to such and such church. She is a… fill in the blank.
That person has so-and-so’s sign in their front yard. He is a… fill in the blank.
At times we are to judge the fruit that is the lives of other believers, but we should stop well short of judging the whole person and discarding them as our culture does. That is crossing a line that we do not want to cross as Christians.
When we must judge, we need to judge the action. Not the motive. We must leave the motive up to God, who can see a person’s heart and judge righteously.
Problem #2: Judging not by God’s standard, but by something added to God’s standard.
Really, this is just judging by one’s own standard. God didn’t say it, but someone added it to the Biblical standard and now they are claiming that this is what God said.
The Pharisees made this practice into an art form. They took a standard, like honoring the Sabbath, and added hundreds of rules and regulations to that standard. Then they judged others by what they had added.
We must not evaluate people by our own man-made measuring sticks. We must not add to what God has said and judge others by our additional rules. That is always wrong.
Problem #3: Judging without love.
The Pharisees were good at this one, too. They used God’s standard to issue a judgment without love in a spirit of self-righteousness. That never produces a good result. Wielding God’s standard without love can really hurt people.
Jesus tells a story about a very self-righteous religious leader who wielded judgments without love in Luke 19. This Pharisee said: “Oh, God, I thank you that I am not like other people—robbers, crooks, adulterers, or, heaven forbid, like this tax man. I fast twice a week and tithe on all my income.” (Verses 11 & 12)
I think we’ve all come in contact with someone who wields God’s standard like that. No good comes from it. Jesus saved his harshest words for people who judged like this. Love must be at the center of any judgment.
Problem #4: Thinking that stating the standard is judging.
People often think that merely mentioning God’s standard is judging. But it isn’t.
Here’s an analogy that really helps us to see this point clearly:
If you are driving a car and I say, “Hey, the speed limit is 35 miles per hour,” and you happen to be going 55 miles per hour—I’m not judging you. I’m not a police officer. I can’t give you a ticket. Nor am I a judge. I can’t strike a gavel and issue a fine or revoke your license. I don’t have the authority to do that. I can tell you what the law is, but I can’t judge you for breaking it.
Likewise, If I tell you what the Bible says about a particular issue, I am not issuing a judgment. That is well above my pay grade. Only God can do that. I can tell you what God’s law is, but I cannot judge you for breaking it.
Problem #5: Not judging at all.
There is a whole movement in Christianity today that says anything goes. You can say what you want, do what you want, be what you want, believe what you want and still call yourself a follower of Christ.
That simply isn’t true according to the Bible.
There is a standard in Scripture given for our own protection, and we are admonished to follow that standard within the body of Christ. Jesus never denied the standard. Not once. Rather, he offered grace and power to rise above our struggle with sin so that we can meet the standard.
As Christians, we must judge what is and is not sin in the lives of fellow believers. And other Christians must do this in our lives as well. But like Jesus, we must judge righteously in love with the hopes of helping others become like Christ.
To hear a sixth problem we encounter when judging, check out episode 41 of CHRISTIAN PARENT/CRAZY WORLD - you can listen by clicking the play button below! And to dive more deeply into this topic, check out episodes 39-42.
Catherine Segars is an award-winning actress and playwright—turned stay-at-home-mom—turned author, speaker, podcaster, and motherhood apologist. This homeschooling mama of five has a Master’s Degree in Communications and is host of Life Audio’s Christian Parent/Crazy World (named 2022 Best Kid’s and Family Podcast by Spark Media), a podcast that navigates through tough cultural and theological topics to help parents establish a sound Biblical foundation for their children. She is also an award-winning writer whose regular articles on family, faith, and culture reach hundreds of thousands of readers. You can find Catherine’s work at www.catherinesegars.com.