When It's Right To "Judge" A Fellow Christian

We went back to our community Bible study group this week, and I am so grateful for this opportunity to get together with other believers and study from God's word.  It's been far too long since I've been involved in a Bible study like this, and I'm reminded of that verse about "iron sharpening iron" (Proverbs 27:17).  The discussion time challenges me to think a little more carefully about different biblical topics.

This week the theme that stood out to me was "judging".  We talked about it in Bible study, and then I read this article that brought it to mind again (written from a Catholic perspective, so I don't agree with some things he says, but the underlying point made me think).  

I have thoughts.

I read this line in the study this week: 

"When we judge and criticize people whom God has already justified and acquitted, we align ourselves with the enemy's voice of condemnation.  How much better it would be to align ourselves with Jesus's intervention on their behalf!"

I liked that line because I can certainly find myself judging the choices of brothers and sisters in Christ just for not doing something the way I would do it.  And that's not right.  Romans 14 is particularly clear that we aren't to judge each other on "disputable matters".  

"Accept the one whose faith is weak, without quarreling over disputable matters. One person’s faith allows them to eat anything, but another, whose faith is weak, eats only vegetables. The one who eats everything must not treat with contempt the one who does not, and the one who does not eat everything must not judge the one who does, for God has accepted them. Who are you to judge someone else’s servant? To their own master, servants stand or fall. And they will stand, for the Lord is able to make them stand.
One person considers one day more sacred than another; another considers every day alike. Each of them should be fully convinced in their own mind...
So then, each of us will give an account of ourselves to God.
13 Therefore let us stop passing judgment on one another. Instead, make up your mind not to put any stumbling block or obstacle in the way of a brother or sister." 
Romans 14:1-5, 12-13

But that's the key, isn't it?  Disputable matters.

Because the thing is, there are things that AREN'T disputable matters.  And there is a place for calling out a brother or sister on unrepentant sin when it's something that the Bible clearly calls sin.

I wasn't quite satisfied with my Bible study discussion this week on this subject, and in retrospect I wished I had my thoughts together enough to speak up a bit more in the moment (and because I didn't, you all get my thoughts here instead I guess!).  Because as Christians, we are to approach our brothers and sisters in Christ when we see them obviously living in unrepentant sin. This is to be done in love, but we must speak the truth.  

"24 And let us consider one another in order to stir up love and good works, 25 not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as is the manner of some, but exhorting one another, and so much the more as you see the Day approaching.
26 For if we sin willfully after we have received the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, 27 but a certain fearful expectation of judgment, and fiery indignation which will devour the adversaries...
But we are not of those who draw back to perdition, but of those who believe to the saving of the soul."
Hebrews 10:24-27, 39

"Brethren, if a man is overtaken in any trespass, you who are spiritual restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness, considering yourself lest you also be tempted. Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ."

Galatians 6:1-2

We are to challenge each other to greater holiness and help to restore those who are overtaken by sin - and this can often feel like "judging" when someone doesn't want to hear it.  That doesn't mean we should stay silent.  Not if we truly care about them.

There's even a clear process for how to do this, laid out by Jesus (we should do this with discernment, and be careful not to just go around accusing people willy-nilly):

“Moreover if your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault between you and him alone. If he hears you, you have gained your brother. 16 But if he will not hear, take with you one or two more, that ‘by the mouth of two or three witnesses every word may be established.’17 And if he refuses to hear them, tell it to the church. But if he refuses even to hear the church, let him be to you like a heathen and a tax collector."

 Matthew 18:15-17

If a brother doesn't listen when we approach him about a sin against us, we are to go to the elders (this obviously only works when someone is part of a local church, and unfortunately these days a lot of people aren't - that's a whole other problem).  If he doesn't listen to the elders, they are to put them out of the church!  

That sounds like "judging" doesn't it?  And it is.  We are called to it as believers (1 Corinthians 6:1-5 - Paul even says here that he is saying these things to "shame" the Corinthians.  Ha!  That doesn't sound very non-judgmental, does it?).   

Not all judgement is bad.  Some of it is iron sharpening iron. And as believers, shouldn't we WANT that accountability in our lives?  

Well, anyway, I do.  And maybe you do too.  If you aren't sitting under a pastor who will sometimes make you feel uncomfortable, if you don't have a Christian friend who will do this for you to help hold you accountable - well, maybe you should find one who will.

But just to wrap this up, I'm reminded of this verse too:

"There is therefore nono condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus, who do not walk according to the flesh, but according to the Spirit."

Romans 8:1

Not all feelings we would label "guilt" or "shame" are bad - the Holy Spirit's conviction on areas of real sin in our lives can feel that way.  When we feel guilt or shame because of something that is actually sin in our lives, we should turn back to Jesus, and leave the sin behind - and along with it, the guilt and shame. Because when we put our faith in Christ, who never had any sin and died and rose again to pay the penalty for ours, our sins are already covered with His righteousness.  And He no longer condemns us.  We turn away from the sin, we don't brush it off as insignificant nor try make up for it as though we can make ourselves righteous - in repentance, we turn to Jesus to make us clean instead.  

That's the gospel.  And preaching it to others (and ourselves, when we need reminding) involves a measure of righteous judgement (biblically-based discernment on what things are sin) and faith and grace.


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Rachel said...

Yes! Not all judging is bad, and our first response to criticism from a fellow Christian should not be "How dare they judge me?!!" but rather, "Is there truth in what they say? Is God using this as an opportunity to get my attention and mold me to be more like him?" Not all criticism or judgement is valid, but we should respond with spiritual discernment and not just a flippant "No one has the right to judge me" kind of attitude, which I believe is becoming scarily prevalent these days.

emily stone said...

I was a part of a church a few years ago where a husband had an affair. It was brought to the elders attention, and once confronted, he refused to repent and stop, so the church kicked him out, while showering the wife (and kids) with love and support. Its not something that's popular now a days, nor encouraged because it looks "so bad" but its needed, just as you pointed out. We need accountability as believers and obeying God's word regarding correct judgement is necessary!

Elizabeth said...

I agree with you in theory but I don't see many people doing this. Are you going to do it? And when and how do you do it? I feel that there has to be a relationship there, and often when a person has fallen into sin, he/she pulls away from relationships, and then it is hard to come from a place of love and bring up the matter, when you no longer talk to that person on a regular basis. Like you said, if the person isn't currently in the local church. So I think the teaching is clear, but the application is rather fuzzy. I definitely think you could have said something! I'm more assertive in written form, myself. I can say there have a few times when I confronted someone and I definitely think this element is missing in today's church. Regular times of confession, or something.

Unknown said...

I love this and completely agree!

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