Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Day Thirteen: Who am I to Judge?

More and more lately I've been hearing derogatory comments about "judgmental people" (usually, but not always referring to people of faith).  It's true, there is a sort of judgment among people of faith that is faulty and destructive.  Jesus rebuked the Pharisees for it.  This sort of judgment results from a fixation on rules and legalism.  It is harmful particularly in respect to reaching out to people who do not believe as we do.

The purpose of Christianity is redemption of souls, not modification of behavior.  So when judgement refers to prideful and puffed-up critiquing of another person's actions in hopes of correcting wrong behavior--or worse, in an effort to elevate my own opinion of myself--I agree wholeheartedly that it is bad.  There is an evil and destructive tendency in each of us to place our actions and opinions on a pedestal, and belittle and scorn the actions and ideas of those who disagree with us, but it has no place among the followers of Christ.  We, of all people should recognize that every human is a fallen being and redemption is made possible only through the blood of Christ--not by our perfect performance.  I really want to wrestle through thinking about this, however, because while I think that legalism and pride have wounded too many broken souls, I think we're heading in a direction that is also not quite right.  I don't claim to have any answers at this point, just some uneasiness that needs to be sorted out.

If any pastor or seminary types read this, I'd love your input!

You see, lately the context in which I am often hearing scorn of "judgement" as if it is the unpardonable sin is different from the haughty reproach of legalists wanting the whole world to act better (meaning exactly the way they act).  

However, more and more when I hear people proudly assert that they judge no one and no one should judge them, it is really more in the sense that it is wrong to call anyone else's actions wrong. (Please don't miss the irony there.)  It seems today that to call any action wrong is deemed "judgmental." 

I usually find myself thinking, "You keep using that word.  I don't think it means what you think it means."

Here's my discomfort:  Nearly every time I hear a person say we should not judge others, they typically mean "how dare you call any one else's behavior a sin--because you are not God."  No, I'm not, and we should all be exceedingly thankful for that.  But here's the thing:  God IS God and He did leave us some instructions.  He even gave some commands and prohibitions, and they are pretty easy to find.  Many of them could actually be considered absolutes.  So, because God is God and He set some guidelines, there are some things that are, in fact, sinful.  So it's okay to call them that--not because I say they are sins, but because God says so.  Stating a biblical truth isn't necessarily being judgmental.

Everyone seems to be very familiar with the verses in Matthew 7, where Jesus says the famous lines, "Judge not, lest ye also be judged," and warns listeners that they will be judged according to the standard they use to judge others.  Sobering council, for sure.  However, the advice He gives later in the passage is not to ignore sin, but to "FIRST get the log out of your own eye, and then you will see well enough to deal with the speck in your friend's eye."  

We are to search our own hearts first, but we're also expected to help our friends deal with theirs.  I think it's also important to note, for people who love to beat "judgers" over the head with this passage, that I'm pretty sure Jesus wasn't talking so much about individual sins, but about our standing before God.  

At the time, the Jews relied heavily on performance, rituals and their belonging to the Tribes of Israel to make them right with God.  They relied on the law of Moses. The problem is that they missed the point of the law, which was to show them their fallen status before God and help them recognize their need for a Savior.  He was that Savior and was about to institute a new Covenant by which all people, not just Jews, would be judged.  He wanted all people to realize that just as Isaiah said, "all their righteous acts [were] like filthy rags" compared to God's holiness. 

Therefore, if they were judging others according to how well they kept the law--they were in trouble because they themselves would be held to the same standard. I just don't think we can say from this passage that if we call an action sinful that we are judging another in the way Jesus said to avoid.

In fact, later in the New Testament there is ample teaching that in speaking the truth about sin, we are in fact loving others and obeying God by leading them to Him.  For example, in 2 Timothy, Paul instructs: "Opponents must be gently instructed, in the hope that God will grant them repentance leading them to a knowledge of truth and that they will come to their senses and escape from the trap of the devil, who has taken them captive to do his will."  

Later in the same letter, he advises Timothy, "In the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who will judge the living and the dead, and in view of His appearing an His kingdom, I give you this charge: Preach the word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke, and encourage--with great patience an careful instruction."   I fear that anyone who follows his charge today would be criticized by many for being judgmental.

We must be gentle.  We must handle the word correctly.  And our motives must be pure--the redemption of others.  We CERTAINLY must first do some log-plucking to get our own spiritual vision clear.  But then we are commanded to speak, while leaving eternal judgement up to the Only One who has the authority to judge.

Think about this:  God will judge men in two ways.  By their own perfection (because perfection is what is required to be in the presence of God), or by Christ's.  Because most people today don't like to think about sin, or call a sin a sin, they consequently assume that they are good enough and God is loving enough that everything will be okay.  Except that it won't.  Not without repentance and submission to Jesus.  But why repent if you don't think your actions are sinful?

Can you see a little why I am feeling so uncomfortable with the whole "let's not be judgmental" movement? I am SO not pushing for legalism.  I am not at all negating the fact that we are also called to show others the grace we have been shown.  I just have some fear and trembling that in an effort to be gracious we are avoiding conversations that will ultimately bring salvation. 


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