One of the most misunderstood principles of Scripture is judgment. Many conversations have been brought to a screeching halt by the conversation killers of “Judge not” or “who are you to judge me”. Unfortunately the common interpretation of this passage is that we can make no judgment on whether an action is right or wrong. This is not what the Bible is saying, but rather the Bible tells us not to judge the state of another’s soul and therefore their eternal punishment or reward. This kind of judgment is reserved to God alone.
It never fails that when one of the above phrases is uttered, or one like them, the conversation takes a bad turn. This is due to the modern world-view, which is relativistic, meaning that truth is relative to a person or situation. Simply put, many people are offended by the Catholic Church’s teachings about their sin. These sentiments lead to an improper biblical interpretation of judgment.
Don’t Judge Judgment
Judgment is the act of forming an opinion. When we believe an act to be sinful we are judging the act, not the person who performed the act. When we believe someone is going to heaven or hell, we are judging a person’s soul. In Scripture the former judgment is acceptable (and obligatory in some circumstances) but the latter form is never an acceptable form of judgment for individuals to make. As the saying goes “love the sinner, hate the sin”.
Maybe an example can shed some light on the logical fallacy present in many cases of misjudging judgment:
Joe and Carrie are considering co-habitating. Joe is excited and nervous about the situation and is sharing his plan with co-workers. He decides to ask advice and is pleased to find that most are supportive. Sally Catholic decides to tell Joe that she doesn’t agree it is a good thing, because she thinks it is wrong and that such a decision might actually hurt their relationship. Joe tells Sally that the Bible says to “judge not”. The conversation ends, because Sally has no way to respond.
What should Sally do? She must gently inform Joe that his interpretation of the Bible is faulty.
This kind of situation is a perfect place to plant seeds. In many cases, the person will not agree with your conclusion at that moment, but that should not be your goal. You should tell the truth and then let the Holy Spirit do what He does best – change hearts.
This perceived injustice (intolerance, judgment, close-mindedness, etc) is what many in our society – and unfortunately many Catholics as well – believe the Catholic Church and her members are constantly guilty of. But, the reality is that those offended by Catholics making statements of belief are really saying that only they have the authority to determine right or wrong. This is simply moral relativism, which is the false idea that morality is relative to themselves, a situation or time. It is a denial that there is an absolute truth, or if there is, then we cannot know it and we certainly shouldn’t “impose” it on others.
It seems if you profess your belief that an action is sinful or a law unjust, then you are committing an even greater sin, that is, believing something another considers good or even worse, pleasurable, to be sinful. In this view, vice and virtue are indistinguishable from each other and therefore determined by each individual as right or wrong for them. This is why so many object to the authority of the Catholic Church, because she dares to say that moral truth is true for everyone – regardless of one’s opinion about it.
Of course Catholics aren’t the only ones that believe we have the truth. Many Catholics have been told we are going to hell or something even more dramatic, we are pawns of Satan by other Christians. Such things can be a harsh reminder there are Christians who sincerely believe they can determine your final destiny just by your religious affiliation. The error of failing to separate the sin from the sinner is what makes another think we are headed for hell. This is the same error the modernist makes in believing Catholics are being judgmental when we say an act is sinful. They are two sides of the same coin. Both fail to make the proper distinction between sin and sinner. The modernist believes that judging the sin is judging the sinner and the condemning Christian believes that we can judge the sinner by the sin.
Many have the experience of walking down the street in a large city and hearing the shouts of Christians that you will “burn in hell” for your sins.
So, how then do we balance these two errors? The Bible will offer the solution, of course.
Let us start with the favorite of all “Judge not, that you be not judged” (Matt. 7:1; Luke 6:37). To understand what Jesus is saying we must understand the first kind of judgment that we find in the Bible - the ultimate Divine judgment we all will receive when we die. We see this in the Old Testament, including
"Therefore I will judge you, O house of
, every one according to his ways, says the Lord God. Repent and turn from all your transgressions” (Ezekiel 18:30). Israel
The Old Testament prophets widely spoke of the Divine judgment the Israelites would face if they failed to repent. The prophets leave the Divine judgment of souls for God while speaking the message of repentance. This Divine right to judge our souls’ eternal punishment or reward is echoed by Paul.
“...on that day when, according to my gospel, God judges the secrets of men by Christ Jesus” (Romans 2:16).
The second kind of judgment we see in the Bible is judging the acts of another person to be good or evil. This kind of judgment must be done in love of others, with prudence, and should be done in order to steer our fellow man to his proper goal, heaven.
“Take heed to yourselves; if your brother sins, rebuke him, and if he repents, forgive him” (Luke 17:3).
“As for those who persist in sin, rebuke them in the presence of all, so that the rest may stand in fear” (1 Timothy 5:20).
“This testimony is true. Therefore rebuke them sharply, that they may be sound in the faith” (Titus 1:13).
“If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother” (Matt 18:15).
Thus, while we are to avoid the judgment of deciding another’s ultimate fate, sometimes it is necessary and good to direct someone to stop sinning out of love for them. While this isn’t the most politically correct thing to do, Jesus never failed to be politically incorrect when love was at stake. If we truly thirst for the salvation of all men like Jesus did, then in some situations we are obligated to speak the truth about the dangers of another’s sinful actions.
Jesus was also never shy about talking to another about their sin, and taking it a step further, he always told them they should stop. He constantly rebuked the Pharisees for their hypocrisy (John the Baptist was even more harsh), and He told the woman caught in adultery in John 8 (as well as others) to “go and sin no more”. While in this passage He says that He does not judge (condemn) the woman, He does judge that she has sinned. Jesus never tolerated sin, and He was quick to show others their sinful actions were wrong, but He only did it out of love and with compassion. He knew eternity was at stake.
From this quick look at the biblical understanding of judgment and tolerance we can easily understand what Jesus means when he tells us not to judge others.
“Judge not, and you will not be judged; condemn not, and you will not be condemned; forgive, and you will be forgiven” (Luke 6:37).
This is referring to the ultimate judgment of someone’s soul that is reserved to God alone. If we continue to read, it becomes even clearer how we are supposed to act in these situations.
“Why do you see the speck that is in your brother's eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, `Brother, let me take out the speck that is in your eye,' when you yourself do not see the log that is in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take out the speck that is in your brother's eye” (Luke 6:41-42).
Jesus is saying to rebuke another out of love, with gentleness and kindness, but do not rub their noses in it.
When another person says not to “judge them” it may be that they are saying that you do not have the right to tell them that what they have done is wrong. However, Jesus tells us that as long as we do it out of love and we don’t presume to know their destiny, we can, and sometimes must, help our brothers and sisters see their own sin. If we then get labeled as intolerant hate-mongers or judgmental bigots, we might do just as Jesus did and correct their error. If they still refuse to listen, then we must do what Jesus taught and shake the dust from our sandals and move on.
Paul, who very well could have the greatest thirst for souls of all the apostles, sums it all up for us while writing to Timothy about the balance that must be brought to a Christian who wants to evangelize and preach the truth.
“I charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus who is to judge the living and the dead, and by his appearing and his kingdom: preach the word, be urgent in season and out of season, convince, rebuke, and exhort, be unfailing in patience and in teaching” (2 Timothy 4:1-2).