Christians often have a misguided understanding about what it means to “judge” and who we should or shouldn’t “judge.” In fact, we tend to get it backwards. We get real passionate about judging the world, but fail to encourage the church to holiness. The apostle Paul wrote that it’s not the Christian’s place to judge the world, but it is our God-given place to judge those inside the church (See 1 Corinthians 5:9-13). What?
For more on a Christian’s responsibility to the world, see “Should Christians be the Morality Police.”
So, what does the Bible say about judging? I have studied and sought God’s wisdom on this topic so I could address the question in a biblical way. One of my constant prayers and desires is that whatever I teach or write will be accurately aligned with the truth of God’s Word. This post, which is the result of this study and prayer, seeks to answer the question:
When, if ever, is it okay for a Christian to correct another Christian’s behavior or call specific behavior “sin?”
Do not judge?
Here are the two primary Bible passages referenced in last week’s discussion against “judging”:
- Do not judge, or you too will be judged. (words of Jesus)Matthew 7:1, NIV
- There is only one Lawgiver and Judge, the one who is able to save and destroy. But you—who are you to judge your neighbor? James 4:12, NIV
Wait, do judge?
Sounds pretty straight-forward, right? Well, consider these words spoken by the same people in the same biblical book:
- If another believer sins against you, go privately and point out the offense. If the other person listens and confesses it, you have won that person back. But if you are unsuccessful, take one or two others with you and go back again, so that everything you say may be confirmed by two or three witnesses. Matthew 18:15-16, NLT
- 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. James 5:19-20, NIV
The Bible never contradicts itself
Now what? Those who acknowledge the Bible as the accurate, authoritative Word of God also believe the Bible does not contradict itself. Apparent “conflict” will always stem from our incorrect understanding of a passage or issue and never in God’s truth. One of these two mistakes are often the culprit:
- We fail to consider the entire counsel of Scripture.
- We try to interpret one verse or passage outside of the larger context.
The Whole Counsel of Scripture
As we read through the entire Bible, we see these clear truths we can apply to the question of “judging.”
- God calls His people to holiness. (Eph 5:3, 1 Peter 15-16, 1 Thess 4:4,7, 1 John 3:3)
- God commands believers to encourage each other to holiness and hold each other accountable in our personal relationship with Christ. (2 Timothy 4:2, Colossians 3:16, Hebrews 10:24, James 5:16)
- God commands other believers and the church to point out sin and call individuals to repentance. (Matt 18:15-17, James 5:19-20, Gal 6:1-2, 1 Cor 5:1-5)
- It is to be done with love and gentleness. (Gal 6:1, Eph 4:15)
- The goal is the protection, restoration, and welfare of the believer who has sinned. (Matt 18:15, 1 Cor 5:5, Gal 6:1, James 5:20)
Context of the passage
- In the larger context of Matthew 7, Jesus does not condemn what we might call “judging” in every sense. To follow His command in verse 6, we will have to make a discerning judgment call. Instead, Jesus condemns a hypocritical, self-righteous attitude that points out others’ failures without first dealing with their own.
- In the larger context of James 4, James himself points out the sins of the believers and calls them to repentance (James 4:1-10). In verses 11-12, James continues his call to righteous behavior. The problem James condemns is “slander,” a type of judging that is harsh and unkind.
Conclusion about “judging”
Both Jesus and James condemned a harsh, critical “judging” of people’s motives. This kind of “judging” is motivated by a self-righteous, hypocritical attitude. In the whole of Scripture, God clearly commands Christians to lovingly point out sin and exhort each other to holiness. It is not our place to determine their motives, but it is our responsibility as a member of the body of Christ to gently identify behavior that God has already judged to be “sin.” The goal is to reconcile that person with others and with God and to keep the sin from spreading to others (1 Cor 5:5-7, Heb 12:15, James 5:19-20).
So, when and how should we approach another believer about sin?
- First, check to see if there is sin in your own life.
- Check your attitude. Only act if your goal is the welfare of the other person.
- Make sure God calls this behavior sin. Only God has the right to determine right and wrong.
- Speak in love and gentleness with the goal of protection and restoration.
Stop judging by mere appearances, but instead judge correctly. John 7:24, NIV
Let’s Talk. How do you think our “tolerant” culture has affected the way the church approaches this difficult topic?
Other posts you may find helpful:
- Steve Fuller “What did Jesus mean when He said ‘Do not judge?’”
- Bible study author and teacher Laurie Cole Front Porch Friday video, “Judge Not?”
- “Holiness is Not a Shade of Grey”