This post, “Judge Not,” is part of a series about living as Salt and Light, based on the Sermon on the Mount. See other posts in the series in How to be a Light in the World.
There are certain Biblical teachings with which non-christians seem to really get on board. “Judge not, lest ye be judged” is probably at the top of the list.
Nobody really wants to be judged, despite the fact that pretty much all of us do it.
Because people value the ideal of “not judging”, and because being judgmental is so common, not judging others is a sure way to live as light in dark places. It will make you stand out, it will demonstrate God’s grace in a powerful way, and it will help you be a better servant leader.
In today’s article, we’ll explore the actual teachings of Jesus about judging others and what it really means for us today. We’ll define several guiding principles:
- What is Jesus actually warning about when he says “judge not”
- Why Judging others does not boost your own righteousness
- How resting in the grace of Jesus destroys your desire to judge others
- The importance of owning your own sin
- Why we can laugh about the judgments of others
- Accountability vs Judgment
- Teach Christ (instead of morality)
Let’s get started!
What is Jesus actually warning about when he says, “judge not”?
As you know, we have been reading through the sermon on the mount in this series. The teaching on judging others comes from Matthew 7:1-6, which 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. 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, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when there is the log in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye. “Do not give dogs what is holy, and do not throw your pearls before pigs, lest they trample them underfoot and turn to attack you.
From this text, it seems pretty clear that we are not supposed to judge others. But what does it actually mean to judge another?
Judgment clearly has a negative connotation in this case, but judging is not always negative. If you were a competitive gymnast and just gave the best performance of your life, you would likely eagerly await a judgement of your performance. If you were on trial for a crime you did not commit, then a judgment of “not guilty” would be the best words you could hear.
Jesus obviously isn’t teaching against these things, so what is he actually teaching against? When he uses the term judge not, in this instance, he is calling us not to condemn others. He is saying it is not right for us to isolate another person or treat them as unlovable when they have done something wrong.
In other words, we should not push someone down to lift ourselves up. Declaring that someone else is unholy does not make ourselves holy.
This is an important distinction to understand. Some have read this text and argued that is it always wrong to point out another person’s sin, but that’s not what Jesus is teaching either.
It is wrong to point out someone’s sin when done with a desire to cast them down or condemn them, but this doesn’t mean you should never hold someone accountable or encourage them to do what is right. We’ll explore this topic later in the article when we talk about accountability, but for now, the key takeaway to remember is that when Jesus says, “judge not,” he is commanding us to not reject, condemn, or act as if someone is below or separate from us.
Why judging others does not boost your own righteousness
From the beginning, mankind has sought to blame others to distract from their own sin. When God questions Adam and Eve about eating from the tree in Genesis 3:11-13, we see the first instance of this:
He said, “Who told you that you were naked? Have you eaten of the tree of which I commanded you not to eat?” The man said, “The woman whom you gave to be with me, she gave me fruit of the tree, and I ate.” Then the Lord God said to the woman, “What is this that you have done?” The woman said, “The serpent deceived me, and I ate.”
First, Adam pushes the blame to Eve. Second, Eve pushes the blame to the serpent. Both knew they had sinned, but were hoping to prove that someone else was more guilty. We continue to do this constantly today. How many times have you heard a kid (or an adult) say something like, “he hit me first!” or “If she won’t treat me with respect then I don’t need to treat her with respect!”
One of the main reasons we tend to judge others is because we don’t want anyone to see our own guilt. Whether consciously or subconsciously, we think that if we judge other people to be worse than us, then we’ll feel better. This is backed up by research: In a study outlined in Motivation and Emotion, the argument is made that “moral outrage at third-party transgressions is sometimes a means of reducing guilt over one’s own moral failings and restoring a moral identity.”
Here’s the problem: This may trick us into thinking we’re better people, but it won’t trick God. Check out the words of Romans 14:10-12,
Why do you pass judgment on your brother? Or you, why do you despise your brother? For we will all stand before the judgment seat of God; for it is written,
“As I live, says the Lord, every knee shall bow to me,
and every tongue shall confess to God.”
So then each of us will give an account of himself to God.
Passing judgment on others will not help you when it is time for God to pass final judgment. If anything, it will only hurt you. We each will give account for our own sins to God, and He will not ask us about the sins of others.
Judging others may make you feel better about your own righteousness, but this feeling is a lie. We are told to judge not, because however we judge others can be used against us.
How resting in the grace of Jesus destroys your desire to judge others
For the Christian, there should be no need to judge others so you can feel better about your guilt. In fact, you don’t need to try to reduce your own guilt at all. The reason? Your guilt has already been removed for you, by Christ.
There are countless verses about this throughout the Bible. 1 John 3:1-3, for instance, has this to say:
See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are. The reason why the world does not know us is that it did not know him. Beloved, we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is. And everyone who thus hopes in him purifies himself as he is pure.“
Those last few words are key – we are purified by the work of Jesus. There is no guilt or stain on us. When you truly believe that God loves you as a child and is doing the work to purify you, then your desire to judge others gets destroyed.
Why would you need to push the blame elsewhere when you yourself have become blameless?
I remember a study came out in 2007, in which 87% of non-christians described christians as judgmental. That is a massive problem for the church – as you’ve seen from this post, christians should not be judgmental at all. So why is it such a problem?
The main issue, I would argue, is that much of the modern church has lost sight of the gospel truth. When christianity becomes a list of moral guidelines you follow in order to get into heaven, it’s hard not to become judgmental of others. Getting into Heaven becomes a contest of who is the most holy, so we feel like we need to prove our holiness by judging others.
This is why, if you want to live as a light to non-christians, it is so important that you rest in the grace of Jesus. It is only when we believe and live in his truth that we are able to resist our desire to judge others. It is only when we recognize the depths of our own sin, and at the same time the heights of God’s grace, that we can love others instead of judging them.
The importance of owning your own sin
An essential quality of great leadership is that you own your mistakes. We have all encountered poor leaders who blamed their subordinates or pointed the finger another way when things went poorly. There is an inherent strength required when you own a mistake, it shows you know you’ve done something wrong, but you are also ready to move forward.
Jesus gives one of his most famous metaphors in Matthew 7.
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, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when there is the log in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye.
As a leader, you need to own the logs in your eye, whatever they may be. There are several reasons this is important:
- A log in your eye can kill you if you don’t take care of it.
- You’ll do a very poor job helping others when you have a log in your eye.
- Even if you do miraculously help someone, you’re still stuck with a log in your eye.
- Hypocrisy does not look good, just like having a log in your eye.
When you replace “log in your eye” with “sin in your heart,” you can see the dangers of ignoring our own sin. Sin causes destruction in our lives, it creates conflict in our relationships, it doesn’t go away when we do good deeds, and it just doesn’t look good.
But the most important reason we need to own our sin is this: if we refuse to confess our sins then we will miss out on the grace of Jesus. We cannot, in fact, remove the log out of our own eye. We desperately need Jesus to make us pure. Confessing your sin (aka owning it) to Christ allows us to receive and enjoy forgiveness.
And then, of course, we won’t feel the need to point the finger or blame others to make ourselves look good.
Why we can laugh about the judgments of others
I don’t know about you, but I can spend a lot of time worrying about the ways other people judge me. If you’ve been tracking with this post, then you know this is a bit of a silly thing to worry about.
Paul says this in 1 Corinthians 4:3-5
But with me it is a very small thing that I should be judged by you or by any human court. In fact, I do not even judge myself. For I am not aware of anything against myself, but I am not thereby acquitted. It is the Lord who judges me. Therefore do not pronounce judgment before the time, before the Lord comes, who will bring to light the things now hidden in darkness and will disclose the purposes of the heart. Then each one will receive his commendation from God.
Here’s the deal: God gets the final say on everything. He is the one who will pass judgment, and only His opinion really matters.
I don’t need to worry what the snooty lady down the street thinks, because she has no true power to judge. I can laugh when someone tries to condemn me, because they can’t do it.
Again, only God can judge. For some, this will be a terrible thing. For those who know Christ, however, we can have confidence in our salvation. The perfection of Jesus gets applied to those who believe, and so we know that God will judge us to be perfect.
Accountability vs Judgment
As mentioned earlier in this article, I have seen people argue that when Jesus teaches us to judge not, he means we should never point out someone else’s sin. This is not the case.
Jesus does tell us not to condemn others, and he also warns against hypocrisy, but there are still times where we should seek to help get the speck out of another’s eye. This happens in other parts of scripture. Jesus himself often calls people to “repent and believe” or to “sin no more.”
Paul also famously calls out Peter in Galatians 2:11-14.
But when Cephas [Peter] came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face, because he stood condemned. For before certain men came from James, he was eating with the Gentiles; but when they came he drew back and separated himself, fearing the circumcision party. And the rest of the Jews acted hypocritically along with him, so that even Barnabas was led astray by their hypocrisy. But when I saw that their conduct was not in step with the truth of the gospel, I said to Cephas before them all, “If you, though a Jew, live like a Gentile and not like a Jew, how can you force the Gentiles to live like Jews?”
Clearly there is a place for accountability. The question must be answered, however: how can we know if we’re helping hold someone accountable vs simply judging them? This ultimately comes down to the goals of your heart, which can sometimes be murky and deceiving. Here are a few questions to use if you want to check yourself before you “oppose” another.
- Am I doing this to make myself feel more righteous? Or to help someone conquer their sin?
- Do I do the very thing I am calling someone out about? If so, how can I first work on my own sin?
- Do I genuinely want to protect people from harm? Or am I seeking to hurt someone’s feelings?
- Have I taken the time to get to know this person? Do I know their story and how or why they have struggled with this issue over the years?
- Am I willing to walk alongside this person to support them?
- Have I confessed my own sins recently? Am I confident in the grace of Jesus?
- Am I able to communicate, through words and actions, the love and grace of Christ to this person?
One final note on accountability. It is important that you, as a leader especially, seek out people in your life that will hold you accountable. Find people who you can ask, “Will you help me to see and remove the logs in my own eye?” If you believe the gospel, then you have the ability to confess your sins and ask for support from others.
A leader without accountability is a dangerous thing. Many godly leaders have fallen to great temptation, and I would argue many of them did so because they had no accountability. Nobody thinks the leaders need help, but you should know differently. Even Peter, the great apostle, needed accountability.
Teach Christ (instead of Morality)
One of the reasons I believe Christians can come across as judgmental to non-believers is that many of us tend to preach morality instead of teaching Christ. It is easy to tell someone to stop sinning, but without Christ there is no good news for them. Without Christ, we simply condemn people and expect them to change.
This is rarely, if ever, effective.
We also tend to get hung up on particular sins. Each person has rules they’re passionate about and we want everyone to know. Maybe it’s honesty or drugs, maybe it’s sexual immorality or greed. Whatever the case, if we focus on simply preaching against those things, we completely miss out on the gospel.
When you follow the story of Paul, he does not go to cities like Athens or Corinth or Rome to tell people they’re going to hell for their sexual immorality. Instead, he extends the good news of Christ. Paul knew that, just because someone stopped sinning sexually they would not get into heaven.
The very core of our hearts are against God, and moral tweaks to our behavior will not save us. We need Jesus and his grace to give us new life and completely transform us, and so does everyone else.
And so, Paul focussed his preaching on Christ. Hear are the words he used in 1 Corinthians 2:1-5:
And I, when I came to you, brothers, did not come proclaiming to you the testimony of God with lofty speech or wisdom. For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified. And I was with you in weakness and in fear and much trembling, and my speech and my message were not in plausible words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, so that your faith might not rest in the wisdom of men but in the power of God.
He did not come with arrogance, explaining how much holier he was than everyone else. He did not point to his own work or righteousness. He did not even try to explain how his moral path was more wise than theirs. Instead, he focused entirely on Jesus and the cross. He extended grace to those who needed it, and it worked.
We should do the same. We may say that we believe salvation comes through faith in Christ alone, but our teaching must actually reflect this as well. Jesus does not ask us to become perfect and then believe in him. He takes us as we are, and he begins the work of sanctification to transform us and help us with our moral failings.
It’s important that we remember to teach ourselves these truths as well. It can be easy to turn Christianity into a moral code that we must follow, but that is not what it is. We must continually remind ourselves of the truth by studying the Word, encouraging those who hold us accountable, and speaking the truth to ourselves. The more we believe the good news, the more equipped we are to share it.
Our sinful hearts love to judge others, mostly because it makes us feel less sinful.
Thankfully, Christ lived a perfect life and offers us his righteousness. Once received, we should be the least judgmental people in the world. If you know the gospel, you know that despite the depths of your sin, you are loved more than you could ever hope.
Instead of judging others or acting like we’re especially holy, we should be inviting others in to the grace we have received. We must share the Gospel, focusing on the work and love of Christ and extending it to others. The gospel is a free gift available to all, and it does not require them to meet a certain criteria to start their faith.
If you can extend the same grace that you received, then you’ll be a very bright light in the world.