Wednesday, March 23, 2011
You Be the Judge. I think.
One of the things that never cease to amaze me about the Christian church is the continual dismissal of accountability and the need to be confrontational. If we really think about the implications of this we should come to a point where we fear for the fidelity of the Church. Accountability is the very thing that keeps us in check when we are either ignorant of some shortcoming in our lives, or even purposely sinful, with full knowledge of what we’re doing. If we had no one to be accountable to or no one to ever be willing to stop us and exhort us in the faith, then we would be cresting the mountain of “I know it all”, which then takes us down the slippery slope of Pride. This most plays out in the way that people tend to react when they are confronted with a sin or challenged in their thinking when it comes to the Bible. We don’t want to be corrected; we don’t want to be told; we don’t want to be doubted; and we don’t need to hear that we are wrong, or in sin. After all, didn’t Jesus himself say, “Judge not, lest ye be judged”?
I have personally seen this verse misused time and time again. This verse is a favorite of Christians and non-Christians alike. It’s a card that they play when they feel convicted or made to feel guilty of something that someone is challenging them in. While there is an appropriate way to confront a brother or sister and, if need be, exercise church discipline, what I will be focusing on is what this judging business is all about. Should we really never judge? Is there ever a time when “judging” is appropriate? What does it mean to judge anyway? Why can’t everyone just leave everyone else alone and stop pointing fingers and finding faults in each other’s ministries? What do these verses mean?
I am inspired to write this because of all the hoopla that has come from Rob Bell’s promotional video for his new book “Love Wins”. It was such a provoking and controversial video that people, including myself, thought him heretical (of which a whole other topic exists), while others were quick to defend Bell and wished that people would leave him alone and let God do the judging.
When I kept seeing Matthew quoted for “judge not, lest ye be judged” and when he talks about the hypocrite who pointed out the speck in his brother’s eye, as the reasons as to how and why people are in the wrong for challenging someone that suggested something contrary to Scripture…I was motivated to write. Should we never “judge” even if someone seems to be teaching something contrary to Scripture? Is it divisive to disagree and challenge them on that?
First, for Christians there should never be any doubt as to what we are ultimately accountable to; that is, God, the ultimate Judge. In Genesis 18:25 Abraham acknowledged God as the Judge of all the earth when talking about the soon-to-come destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah. God has spoken to us through his word as penned out through the prophets, apostles and other writers of the Bible. It is divinely inspired and without error. Jesus Christ is the foundation of the Church and the Bible is the source of truth that nurtures it. It is, in itself, our clear source of direction that we are accountable to. Hebrews 4:12 says that “the word of God is alive and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart.”
So, what does it mean to be judged by someone? Why do people feel that way when they are confronted with something? Well, first of all we aren’t avoiding judgment by shutting up people that try to call us to accountability when it comes to our lives and doctrine. The Bible has already judged us because it speaks about our heart condition, which is depraved apart from the Holy Spirit’s regeneration. Let’s clarify this from the get-go.
Romans 3:19, 20 says, “We know that whatever the law says, it says to those who are under the law, so that every mouth may be silenced and the whole world held accountable to God. Therefore no one will be declared righteous in God’s sight by the works of the law; rather, through the law we become conscious of our sin.”
Paul, in this case, is specifically talking about the law of the Jewish customs that were being held as necessary for salvation, however this also plays into how people can tend to be legalistic in their righteousness today, which is precisely where that stems from. The Pharisees were the worst when it came to legalistic righteousness. The Apostle Paul is giving a case for how the law was established to show us our sins. Paul says later in 5:12 that sin entered the world through one man, Adam, and death through sin. Because of this, death came to all people because all sinned. Then in verse 18, “Consequently, just as one trespass resulted in condemnation for all people, so also one righteous act resulted in justification and life for all people.”
You see, it is through the law that we become conscious of sin, which then judges or condemns us by default. God does not randomly and whimsically choose people, as time endures, to send to Hell. We are all deserving of Hell and we all need a savior to be our Lord. God has, however, predestined and established the plans for the whole of eternity since before the creation of the world. From the fallen human race he has chosen his elect to be regenerated by the Holy Spirit when they place their faith in the Lord Jesus [See: Free Will & the Attributes of God at ]. That is where Jesus comes in to make up for us what we could never have done. It took the spotless Lamb of God to be the substitutionary atonement for our sins.
A favorite verse of people who are against any kind of judging is John 3:17, “For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.”
Notice, however, what the very next few verses says, which places John 3:17 in the right light: “Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God. And this is the judgment: the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil.”
So, his purpose was not to condemn, per se, but that does not mean that we are not condemned because indeed we already are. He came to rescue us from that condemnation. Remember what Romans 8 says? “Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit who gives life has set you free from the law of sin and death.”
Our defaulted position to God upon entering this world is depraved and condemned. Jesus Christ has given us life through His name, by his graciousness, mercy and love.
Now, is it ever okay for a brother or sister to approach us and confronts us about an area they feel is of spiritual concern in our lives? To judge is often meant to discern. If someone is discerning sin in our life then should we feel judged by that? What does the Bible say about this whole business of correcting a wayward Christian or challenging them if they are heretical?
The only thing that a faithful brother or sister should be doing when they are questioning an area in our life, is pointing us to Scripture to show us where we are not lining up to it. The people don’t do the judging, God does through His Word. This is the most difficult thing to get past for us, though, isn’t it?
This is such a sensitive area for both the believer being confronted and the believer doing the confronting because it all feels very personal. We are tempted to call the confronter a self-righteous hypocrite or even an over-zealous fundamentalist. This is so sad and should never be the case. Granted, being confronted by a hypocrite would be nothing short of frustrating or upsetting, however we shouldn’t lose sight of the fact that God may be teaching us something through the whole ordeal. In fact, I’ll say He is teaching you something. Nothing happens to us randomly. Nonetheless, there is an appropriate way to handle wrongdoing and sin.
To be fair, no decent friend will want to question our integrity because they don’t want to hurt us and make us feel bad; however a faithful friend will confront us if they see an error in our lives because they have a deep understanding of the potential, eternal significance of unrepentant sin. It is a true love that moves a friend to question an area in our life or to question the doctrines that we may teach. This is essential to the vibrant growth in the church. Don’t get me wrong, the Holy Spirit does the convicting and changing in our lives, but God uses his children to spur one another to grow in love and good deeds and to encourage each other in the faith (Hebrews 10:24, 25).
From the other perspective, it is equally sensitive for the person being confronted because the tendency is to put our guard up and defend ourselves, or ignore the confrontation altogether. We automatically question the confronters as to who they think they are that they can go around calling people out on the carpet. We only look skin deep and see just another human made of flesh and bones, suggesting to us that we are doing something wrong. We don’t look past the physical presence and consider the difficulty it must have been for our friend to confront us in the first place. We don’t consider that God, in His sovereignty, has brought us together for a time of growth and repentance that could dramatically change us for our benefit and God’s glory.
Do you know where this issue lies at? It is a lack of humility. Selfishness at best. A lack of humility, though, can be so extremely devastating in so many ways. From that, wells up pride, arrogance, hardened hearts, spiritually blind eyes, multiple and various sins, hurt relationships, ignored fallacies, etc. It is devastating, especially when it happens to someone in ministry. Being prideful gets us nothing, but a great big fall. We all know the verse in Proverbs 16 that says, “Pride goes before destruction, a haughty spirit before a fall”. David wrote about this throughout his Psalms as well.
When I really felt led to write on this whole topic was when I read some of the critiques by supporters of Bell in different blogs across the web, or those who felt that a critique of his book was premature since it hasn’t been released. While the critiques made by Justin Taylor and Kevin DeYoung were based solely on Rob’s own words in his video, they are faced with a barrage of Rob Bell defenders with responses sounding like:
1) “All I have to say is don’t judge lest ye be judged. I am a conservative Christian. I went to a conservative Bible School and now I go to a conservative Christian college. You guys just need to calm down and pray for Rob. If you are really that concerned then pray for him. If he is a wolf then he is your enemy and Jesus told us to pray for his enemies.”
2) “Wow, judging a book before it even comes out. Now that’s a new low!”
3) “[…] The real heretics are the ones who present false information against his brother in order to put him down. True judgment should come only from God. We are in a lot more trouble if we assume God’s role and start judging others. Especially judgment without love. We are not supposed to just go through life finding wrong in others, we are to love them. That is all we’re called to do is to LOVE and yet we keep fighting and keep slandering our brothers and sisters.”
4) “In my opinion, it’s a pretty big risk to post this blog post [regarding Justin Taylor’s blog found at TheGospalCoalition.org]. And in my opinion, I think it’s wrong – especially because none of us have read the book and we are judging and condemning this man.”
Thus, a very important issue rises to the surface when we read responses like this. 1) Should we never judge, but only pray for people we disagree with? 2) Is being loving, without critiquing, the only thing we are called to do, as Christians? 3) Is it wrong and condemning to tell someone they’re wrong when it comes to their doctrine? These questions must be addressed, for even as Kevin DeYoung mentioned in a follow up blog post regarding this issue, which is also found at
“I know many young evangelicals barely have any stomach for controversy, let alone strong words about a serious topic. But if there is no way to be simultaneously bold and humble; if there is no way to be a gentle, caring person while still speaking in clear tones about hurtful error; if there is no way to correct those who oppose sound doctrine without being a moral monster; if there’s no way to love truth and grace at the same time, then there’s no way to be a biblical Christian. Judgmentalism is a sin and Calvinists can be jerks. But not every judgment is sinful and not every truth is cruel just because Reformed people teach it.”
The best way for me to make this issue clear is to explain what the verses mean and what they are saying in Matthew 7. There are a few parts that people leave out, which ends up stripping the appropriate meaning and context of the message. The common misconception is that we are not to judge at all, which is often translated into saying that we should never challenge a professed Christian in their belief or doctrine when they are in the wrong, or seem to be in the wrong. At least that is much of what the responses were to the concerns expressed about Rob Bell. This could not be further from the truth…literally.
Matthew 7: 1 and 2 says, “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.”
The first part we all know. That’s the only part that people usually quote in their defense, or someone else’s. Upon reading the rest, however, the context changes the common perceived meaning…For with the judgment you pronounce you will be judged, and with the measure you use it will be measured to you. This is saying that by the same standards you are judging someone, you will also be judged, meaning if you are judging, or confronting someone, in an area of sin or questionable doctrine, then you will also be held accountable to that. Even if you are pointing them to Scripture and you may be on to something when you are confronting a brother or sister in the Lord, you will also be judged according to the measure that you use.
This is not telling us NOT to judge, it is saying that we must be careful that when we do, we are not approaching them as a self-righteous hypocrite who also has a problem. If we were approaching someone in that way then you better believe that we have our time coming when we will also be confronted and probably even more humiliated. For with the judgment you pronounce you will be judged, and with the measure you use it will be measured to you.
The idea in saying “judge not, that you be not judged” is a warning that if you don’t want to be spiritually audited to reveal your own hypocritical faults in this area, then don’t point out the same fault in someone else. Again, these verses do not advocate a complete silence of accountability. They do not tell us not to care if someone who professes Jesus Christ as their Lord is in sin. They do not tell us that we should put up with unsound doctrine. This can be easily shown with other passages of Scripture, like Titus 1:9. It is talking about the characteristics of good church leaders, but is applicable to all: “He must hold firmly to the trustworthy message as it has been taught, so that he can encourage others by sound doctrine and refute those who oppose it.”
You see, there is a great danger to the fidelity of the church if everything was to go unchecked. Dr. John MacArthur rightly said in a sermon on Matthew 7:
“If we don’t confront sin, then leaven is never put out of the lump, right? And the church is going to get corrupted. And if we don’t discriminate the true from the false, we’re all going to go waltzing down the line into heresy. So the two dangers are that we would fail to deal with a brother in sin, and we would fail to deal with a heretic, or one who would corrupt the faith, or one who would mock the faith or blaspheme the faith, and we must do that.”
Upon further reading through Titus, we see quite a few clear commands to challenge what is standing in opposition to God, especially if within the Church. Verses 10 through 16 speaks about some people who were teaching things that they ought not teach as well as mentioning people who were living in ways that were contrary to Scripture. It says the deceptive teachers should be silenced because they disrupt whole households (v. 11). It says of those who are believing in unscriptural commands that they must be rebuked sharply, so they will be sound in the faith.
Look, I cannot emphasize enough how extremely irresponsible and false it is to consider for a second that we ought to leave everyone alone and just “pray for them” if they are in sin or if a teacher is teaching something that challenges the Bible’s authority. This is in direct defiance and disobedience to the God of Heaven and Earth that we are to be glorifying. The whole idea to love, love, love, is often misapplied to mean that we NEVER disagree with anyone. I would defy someone to show me how that is biblical. From Genesis to Revelation, we are shown that the truth is not to be trifled with.
Kevin DeYoung wisely discerned some of the passages we’re talking about when he stated the following:
“Judgmentalism is not the same as making judgments. The same Jesus who said “do not judge” in Matthew 7:1 calls his opponents dogs and pigs in Matthew 7:6. Paul pronounces an anathema on those who preach a false gospel (Gal. 1:8). Disagreement among professing Christians is not a plague on the church. In fact, it is sometimes necessary. The whole Bible is full of evaluation and encourages the faithful to be discerning and make their own evaluations. What’s tricky is that some fights are stupid, and some judgments are unfair and judgmental. But this must be proven, not assumed.”
MacArthur, in his exposition of these verses in Matthew 7, is good to point out what it says in Leviticus 19:17, “You shall not hate your brother in your heart. You shall surely rebuke your neighbor, and not bear sin because of him”. If you truly love your brother, you would rebuke their sin, so they don’t continue in it. Don’t we want to see our brothers and sisters grow in their walk with the Lord? We would be hating them if we didn’t confront their sin because we would be allowing them to think that their sin doesn’t matter, which may be the fruit of unregenerate lives.
Furthermore, for those who like to quote 1 Corinthians 13 and how the greatest of faith, hope and love, is love…let them realize that just a few verses before it comes to this conclusion it tells us what love is in a nice little list, one of which is not delighting in evil, but rejoicing in the truth. To suggest that love trumps faith and hope is another irresponsible defense mechanism of the biblically untrained. Romans 16:19 says to be excellent in what is good and to be innocent in what is evil. 2 Thessalonians 2 says that the people who are perishing are doing so because they refused to love the truth and so be saved. Love is much more than agreeable Christless moralism. It is a deep biblical understanding of what God reveals to us through his entire Word and part of it is contending for the faith and the truth it rests in…not allowing our brothers and sisters to believe a lie (Jude 3).
All throughout Scripture we see how the truth must be upheld and we must hold our pastors and teachers accountable to it if they are preaching something otherwise. Titus 2 starts with, “You must teach what is in accordance with sound doctrine” and ends with, “Encourage and rebuke with all authority”. His emphasis is clear.
I mention all of this with the assumption that we know that being loving and respectful is always of utmost importance. We must remember all along what Paul said to Timothy when rebuking an older man: “Do not rebuke an older man harshly, but exhort him as if he were your father”. We do need to remember who we’re speaking to, but we should never let the age difference allow us to feel inferior if we are defending the truth, at the same time (1 Timothy 4). The Holy Spirit will help us in these sometimes awkward situations.
Clearly, an appeal to Matthew 7:1 as a standalone defense to a disagreement on doctrine is unsound in itself. We need the accountability and we need to hold people accountable to the Bible if they are teaching something contrary to it. In regards to some of the bloggers I quoted just recently, they do not understand what the Bible says about judging and contending for the faith. Like Kevin DeYoung said, many modern evangelicals just don’t have the stomach for controversy or a serious and deep, biblical topic.
The last half of this passage in Matthew 7 talks about the speck in our brother’s eye and the log in our own. What do these verses mean? And why do people also use this as a rebuttal to someone who is challenging someone’s teaching as heretical? Is it hypocritical for us to contend for the faith and challenge others since we are also sinners? This can be easily put to rest with a careful look at the passage and a careful understanding of the false dilemma that is presented when someone uses this verse in defense of a false teacher.
“Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.”
First, I think that people tend to stop right after it says, “You hypocrite”. They read the part about the person pointing out someone’s fault and then they see that they are called a hypocrite and assume that all speck-noticers are hypocrites. For someone to do this is to be the worst kind of Bible cherry picker. It is no less than distortion because the actual meaning is changed. Look at what it says: “You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.”
Understand that the result and resolution to this passage is that both people are without their sin. Both people are essentially reconciled to the truth. This passage is not about telling people to stop pointing fingers, per se; it is about confronting someone in sin so that their sin will be removed. You can’t do this if you yourself are sinning, however. You need to be right with the Lord before you can be an effective minister to someone else who is in error.
Look at what David said in Psalm 51. We all know it: “Create in me, oh Lord, a clean heart. Then will I teach transgressors thy ways and sinners shall be converted to thee.” Even David knew that in order to be a teacher and someone who was able to help other people avoid sin and correct it, he had to be right with God, first. This is especially important for all teachers in ministry.
In either case, as long as you are not being hypocritical, then we need to help our brothers and sisters if there is a speck in their eye and are not seeing clearly themselves. After all, we don’t hate them do we?
The major issue at heart with “judging” is that it is done rightly and not arrogantly. Where there is biblical confrontation and discernment, there is love. We are called to be discerning and to test everything and to discern the fruits of teachers to know if they are of the Spirit of God or not. We are supposed to be ready to rebuke those who purposely twist the gospel into something that is less than what God says in his Word (1 John 4).
Being judging is not the same thing as judgmentalism. In Matthew 7 the greek word that is used for judging is krino, to judge, which means: to separate; put asunder; to be of opinion; to determine, resolve, or decree; announce an opinion concerning right or wrong; to contend together. When it talks about how we will be held to the measure of judgment we have used, the word for measure is metron: to judge according to any rule or standard.
So, then, we should not judge or condemn unfairly or hypocritically as it warns that we will also be judged for our hypocrisy. The flip-side of this judging is told by Jesus himself in John 7:24 when he says “Stop judging by mere appearances, but instead judge correctly.” You don’t here this verse very often. Jesus did not say “Do not judge…period.” He said that when we judge, do it correctly. Discern the heart of truth from a surface level effrontery.
I’ll leave you with some verses that lay out the importance of being discerning (judging correctly). It should be our constant state of mind, which only comes from sharpening ourselves in the Word of God. This is not to be hypercritical or hypocritical, but to judge correctly. Discern the spirits. Correctly handle the word of truth (2 Timothy 2:15).
Hebrews 5:14, when talking about spiritual truth, says, “But solid food is for the mature, who by constant use have trained themselves to distinguish good from evil.”
Paul says to the Philippians in 1:9, 10, “And it is my prayer that your love may abound more and more, with knowledge and all discernment, so that you may approve what is excellent, and so be pure and blameless for the day of Christ.”
James 5:19, 20: “My brothers and sisters, if one of you should wander from the truth and someone should bring that person back, remember this: Whoever turns a sinner from the error of their way will save them from death and cover over a multitude of sins.”
When we help someone see their need for repentance and the grace of God that is offered through Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross, we help them in attaining a love that covers all sins: the love of God. Stakes are high when it comes to eternal destination. The reality of a true and literal Heaven and Hell should motivate all Christians to not take lightly the false teachers in the church or wayward brothers or sisters.
To say that judging is sinful is unwarranted and unbiblical. We must judge, but rightly so, as Jesus said himself. We must also never be hypocritical in our judging so that we don’t reap the same judgment, or slander the name of Christ in our arrogant position.
Judge not, lest you also be judged, but judge rightly and not on mere appearances.