Thursday, August 9, 2012

Judgmentalism 101: What does "not judging" mean?

RebootChristianity has had an increase of a several thousand new visitors to the site in the last few weeks, as a result of a few posts going mini-viral during the whole Chick-Fil-A thing. To my new readers, I wish to give a warm welcome and invite you to spend time going through the site.

One thing which I write about frequently is the concept of giving grace to others and avoiding judgmentalism. With so many new readers on the site, I think it is valuable to review this topic in detail so that we all understand what it means when Jesus tells us, “Judge not, lest you be judged.”

Most people in discussing this topic seem, to me, to make one of two errors.

The first error is to simply ignore or explain away the Bible's requirement to avoid judging. I have heard someone say before that “All men are born lawyers,” and I think there is truth in this: we love to figure out exactly what laws we must follow to be bare-minimum “good”, and love to compare ourselves to others. So the teaching of Christ that we are not to judge each other is, frankly, not popular among many Christians. As such, they explain away the teaching by taking other passages out of context, or arguing that this means not to judge unfairly, or only applies on debatable issues. The simple fact is that we are explicitly told twenty-two times in the New Testament not to judge others; it cannot be simply explained away if you wish to maintain a Jesus-focused spirituality. [1] The Bible cannot be more clear on this subject. We are not to judge others.

There are only three exceptions given to this rule in the New Testament. First is that church leadership has the right to excommunicate unrepentant sinners. [2] Second is the right—and indeed requirement—that we judge preaching to ensure it is in line with Scripture. [3] Third is the fact that some will serve in the position of judges in New Jerusalem, after the end of time. [4]

All agree that the Westboro Baptists of the world go too far. Often, though, well-meaning Christians fall into judgmentalism without thinking they are doing so, which is why I warn against it so often. Examples of this are:

• “Homosexuals are sinners so God is going to judge the nation.”
• “X natural disaster is because of Y sin in that region of the country.” (Recent examples include John Piper saying that a tornado was God’s wrath, or basically the 700 Club on the day following any natural disaster.)
• “You are going to Hell because of how you live.”
• “I just don’t see how anyone could possibly be a Christian and believe X.”
• “I just don’t see how anyone could possibly be a Christian and live in that kind of sin.”
• “The Bible says it’s fine to judge as long as your are holy and you’re judging fairly.”
• The Salon article ridiculing Olympian Gabby Douglas as believing in a “God of Parking Lots”

None of these statements can be rectified with the statements of New Testament about not judging others. [1]

The second error people make is to fall into either moral relativism or antinomianism.

Moral relativism is the belief that there is no absolute standard by which we are all judged. Relativism is alive and well today among the Twitter generation, as demonstrated somewhat shockingly in this article (ht Katie O.). Moral relativism is so far removed from Christianity that I’m not even sure what Scripture to quote as proof against it. So I guess I will just cite: “The Entire Bible” and call it a day. The entire basis of all Scripture is the understanding that we are fallen man in need of a savior; this is meaningless if there is no objective standard against which we are judged. No matter the culture, some things are wrong. As stated beautifully in the link above, moral relativism ends up with people supporting gay marriage in the US while simultaneously supporting stoning gays in Iran. It is a thoroughly un-Christian approach to philosophy (if we can even properly call it philosophy, which explicitly seeks the truth that moral relativism denies).

Antinomianism is the belief that freedom from the Law means we can live however we want. It is an argument flatly disputed by Paul [5], who clearly states that we are freed from the shackles of sin not to continue in sin, but rather to be equipped to do good works in freedom. [6] The Christian life is one of consistent growth away from sin and into holiness. [7] Nor are we to be afraid of sharing this with others, as numerous passages in Acts demonstrate.

I talk all the time about God saving us from sin and in sin, and our ability to have confidence that our mistakes do not separate us from God’s love. Some take this to the antinomian extreme, assuming that since God forgives failures from our Romans 7 struggles, then we can just embrace our sin. Examples of this second error are:

• “Since we are all sinners, we shouldn’t worry about sin. Just love God and it’ll all be okay.”
• “Knowing the Law leads to sin, so what is the point of trying? Just be real to who you are, and let God worry about it.”
• “None of us know what God knows, so we shouldn’t be talking about something being ‘right’ or ‘wrong’. In their culture maybe it’s different.”
• “Talking about something being sinful is being judgmental. We just need to live and let live.”
• “I’m just doing what is natural, there’s nothing wrong with that.”
• “None of us can fully live up to the virtues so we might as well just embrace our regular lifestyles and love Jesus while we do it.”

These approaches take such a broad view of “judgmentalism” that anything becomes judgmental. Here is a good sanity check for any philosophy: if the acts of Jesus and His apostles violate your theology, then you probably have a bad theology. When you read the statements and actions of Jesus, Peter, Paul, John, and others in Scripture, it is hard to justify saying that sin is not important, and that we should not be constantly improving. You must throw out a huge section of Scripture if your definition of judging includes, “Never say anything is wrong to anyone else.”

What “judging” really means

So clearly, “Judge not” is often misunderstood. It neither means, “Judge, as long as you are fair” (as conservatives prefer), or “Don’t take a stand on anything as right or wrong” (as liberals prefer).

To understand judging, let us begin by understanding what the Bible even means by the term, “judge”. The word is krino in Greek, and it is almost exclusively used in the New Testament as a reference to legal proceedings. In fact, of the 114 uses of krino, 75 times it explicitly is referring to someone being on trial—either on Earth or in the Final Judgment. Indeed, all other uses actually have different contexts, generally using the word to mean “make a firm decision”, such as saying “I judged this to be the right course to plot for my voyage.” In the context Jesus uses it when speaking about avoiding judgmentalism, He clearly is using krino in its common, legal sense.

As you can see from context, the act of krino—judging—means to sit as a magistrate in a trial setting. [8] It means to be given the authority and legal authorization to judge someone as being guilty or innocent. When someone acts as a judge, they hear the arguments of the defense and the prosecution, they review the law, and they proclaim a person to be either guilty or innocent.

By its inherent nature, judging in this sense implies a legal and moral authority over the person who is being judged. It requires that the judge is acting on the side of the law, uncriminally, and thus is objective in determining whether the other person is or is not a criminal.

Interestingly, even Jesus says that while He was a human, He did not sit in this role despite having the ability to do so. [9] It is the Holy Spirit who serves in this role on Earth—it is He who condemns, judges, and convicts us of our sinful ways. [10] After the resurrection it will be Jesus seated on the Judgment Seat, but in the meantime, here on Earth, it is the Holy Spirit who does so.

In a very real sense, then, we can see why the Bible is so clear that we are not to judge others. We do not know their backgrounds or their deep-seated beliefs; we cannot know whether they are right with God or not. We cannot know what the future holds for them. We cannot see the truth of things. But the Holy Spirit can.

For you or I to sit in judgment of another person, claiming that their life cannot be acceptable to God and they are guilty and separated from Him, is to usurp the role of the Holy Spirit. We are not the judges. Seventy-five times in the New Testament we are told that God has the right to judge, and twenty-two times we are reminded that we do not have this right. Never are we told that we can sit in judgment of another’s sin.

Indeed, one of the boldest and most shocking promises Jesus makes to Christians is about the topic of judgment, in Luke 6:37: “Judge not and you will not be judged; condemn not, and you will not be condemned; forgive, you and will be forgiven.” It seems as though avoiding judgment of other’s sin carries a great deal of freedom!

The New Testament clearly says that we are forbidden from claiming the moral authority to pronounce another person guilty or innocent. We can, however, talk about sin and its effects. So what, then, is this a semantical difference only? Are we saying that it is okay to condemn behavior as long as we are careful not to direct the discussion at a particular individual? If we all keep quiet about the dangers of sin, how are we to evangelize? Do we just talk about “God is love” and hope for the best?

Check in tomorrow when we will discuss, from a practical standpoint, how we talk about sin and evangelize the lost without usurping the role of the Holy Spirit.

[1] Matt 7:1-2, Luk 6:37, John 8:15, John 16:11, Rom 2:1-3, Rom 14:3-5, Rom 14:10-13, Rom 14:22, 1Cor 4:5, 1Cor 6:1-6, Col 2:16, Jam 4:11
[2] Mt 18:15-20, 1Cor 5:1-13
[3] Jo 7:24, 1Cor 10:15, 1Cor 11:13
[4] Mt 19:28, Lk 22:30, 1 Cor 6:2-3
[5] Rom 6:1-5
[6] 2Tim 3:15-17
[7] 2Pet 1:5-11
[8] Acts 23:6, 24:6, 24:21, 25:9, 25:10, 25:20, 25:25, 26:6; Rev 19:2, 19:11, 20:12, 20:13
[9] Jo 8:15
[10] Jo 16:11


  1. Hi, I have a question. If there is someone who I wanted to help their growth in Christ, so I said something like we shouldn't do this and this because the bible said so and that judging?

    Thank you

  2. The Word of God judges rightly. When we tell someone what the Word of God says, God is then doing the judging. We must be careful that we are not condemning them but are loving them in how we present the Word of God. Always keep Grace in place.