Don’t Judge Me! Discernment or Condemnation?

Don’t Judge Me! Discernment or Condemnation?


What is the difference between judgement and discernment in the scriptures? The Bible says don’t judge your neighbor, for the same measure you judge them by, you will be judged by (Matthew 7:1-2). The Bible also says “test everything” (1 Thessalonians 5). Jesus said don’t judge by appearances, but judge with right judgement (John 7:24, 1 Cor 2:15).

 
But there are two different contexts here. The first form, “judgement” is in the context of condemnation. If I were to judge someone, say they are in sin, and I would say “they are hopeless, they are doomed, nothing can save them.” I’ve just sinned by condemning them by “passing judgement over them.” If I were to say a person is evil, beyond repentance, again that’s passing judgement. If I were to say that person deserves 20 years in prison, that is passing condemning judgement. If I were to look at a person and think less of them because of their sins, that would be condemning judgement. But there is another.

1 Corinthians 2:15 (ESV) says “The spiritual person judges all things, but is himself to be judged by no one.”

Or the NIV translates it as: “The person with the Spirit makes judgments about all things, but such a person is not subject to merely human judgments.”

 
The second context is discernment, or “testing everything.”  The scriptures interchange the words “judgement”, “discernment”, and “evaluate.”  So this can be somewhat confusing.  Many Christians seem to think that when Jesus said,”You must not judge” he was referring to all situations where anyone might point out anything about anyone.  Jesus’ statement is not unqualified.  There are qualifiers, barriers around all of his statements.  We don’t want to get out of control with “just love” or “just never judge.”  Because the overarching moral themes of the Bible contain numerous, interwoven moral teachings that include mercy, love, truth, judgement, discernment, evaluation, growth, holiness, fairness, justice, and many other themes.  All of these teachings are interwoven into a lattice of moral precepts that are applied as a contrariety in any given real life situation.  For most of you, you already know this and if you don’t you should.  

So in any given situation I may apply love to a certain extent, truth to a certain extent, grace to a certain extent, and evaluation, and exhortation, among many others.  We study the scriptures thoroughly and daily to be aware of how and when to use which precepts in which situations.

If one of my friends were struggling with pornography, I could go to him and say, “Friend, pornography is wrong, it’s evil. I’m encouraging you to change your ways in that area.” I’ve just “exhorted” him to change.  Exhortation is a spiritual gift. He has not been judged in anyway. He has been exhorted.  I’ve politely and humbly rebuked him in private.  I’ve applied some love, some mercy, some grace, some truth, matched with evaluation of his circumstance and a humble rebuke to encourage him to change.  

The world today thinks that love means accepting any behavior in anyone no matter how destructive it is to that person.  That is not the Christian way.  We don’t encourage people to be in sin, or stay in sin, why?  Because sin is destructive, and sin leads to spiritual death.  It’s loving to warn people of the bad paths they choose.  Would you tell a drunk to keep drinking?  Would you encourage an addict to keep using drugs?  Would you encourage a homosexual person to stay in a culture that often leads to drug use and a sexual practice that can often lead to the spread of disease?  Of course not.  It wouldn’t be loving to do so.

A second example of discernment matches with “exposing evil” (Ephesians 5:11). If someone indicates that an institution is in sin, or that homosexuality is sinful, or that pre-marital sex is sinful, or that pornography in general is sinful, or that drug abuse is evil, or human trafficking is wrong, this person has not “judged” anything in the context of condemnation.  But if they were to condemn sin as evil, they would be free to do so.  But if they were to condemn the person as evil, that is sinful judgement.  When someone calls out an institution practicing wickedness, or a group, or a culture, or a civilizations, they are not sinning.  They are engaging in discernment (Hebrews 5:14), exhortation (2 Tim 4:2), and a prophetic role of calling out the sin in the world. The prophetic gift is a spiritual gift (1 Cor 12:10). 

Someone might say that you are only allowed to rebuke someone in person.  That is true that the standard model for rebuking a fellow believer is in the context of first meeting them in person.  But it also says if they refuse the rebuke you are to come back with several others.  If the person still refused the rebuke you are to make the sin known to the entire church congregation.  Once again we need to look at context, and qualifiers surrounding a statement.  

For further reference Matthew 18:15-17 says ““If your brother or sister[b] sins,[c] go and point out their fault, just between the two of you. If they listen to you, you have won them over. 16 But if they will not listen, take one or two others along, so that ‘every matter may be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses.’[d] 17 If they still refuse to listen, tell it to the church; and if they refuse to listen even to the church, treat them as you would a pagan or a tax collector.”

But we aren’t finished here.  Matthew 18:15-17 is not the only teaching we have on dealing with “exposing evil” and “revealing sin” and rebuking believers and non-believers.  There are numerous other examples in the scriptures.  Think of the confrontation between the apostle Paul and the apostle Peter at Antioch.  

Galatians 2:11-14 says “But when Peter came to Antioch, I opposed him in public, because he was clearly wrong. 12 Before some men who had been sent by James arrived there, Peter had been eating with the Gentile believers. But after these men arrived, he drew back and would not eat with the Gentiles, because he was afraid of those who were in favor of circumcising them. 13 The other Jewish believers also started acting like cowards along with Peter; and even Barnabas was swept along by their cowardly action. 14 When I saw that they were not walking a straight path in line with the truth of the gospel, I said to Peter in front of them all, “You are a Jew, yet you have been living like a Gentile, not like a Jew. How, then, can you try to force Gentiles to live like Jews?”

So we have a context for rebuking fellow leaders, or a fellow leader in public, in person.  There is no indication in Galatians that Paul made a mistake by confronting Peter in person for his conduct toward the Gentile (non-jewish) believers.  We could go even further at look at John the Baptist and his calls in the wild to repentance.  We could look at the Old Testament prophets like Jeremiah, Elijah, and others, but I think that will suffice for now.
Believers need to be careful about this. Don’t toss around the “judgement” stuff unless you’ve fully studied it’s meaning in the scriptures. Don’t jump the fence when someone throws out the “don’t judge me card.” Most of the time you aren’t judging them, and they just need to repent.  

Part of your job as a Christian is to lovingly and humbly rebuke someone.  You must remember to do so politely.  Be cautious of how it’s done.  But it’s important to do so.  Christian love is quite different from the ideas the world has about love.  Christian love is not unqualified love.  Christian loves means warning people who are in sin.  Isn’t it loving for a parent to discipline a child when they misbehave?  Absolutely that is loving.  Love includes many boundaries.  Part of Christian love is to rebuke those who are in sin.

The correct response to a gentle rebuke, is to be broken or disturbed by it. Then one laments (grieves, feels awful about it), and expresses a contrite heart (a heart willing to change). Then the person repents (changes their actions and beliefs on the issue), and thanks the individual for the rebuke. The incorrect response to a rebuke is to become defensive, angry, and lash out at the person trying to do the correcting. The incorrect response is to lash out and say “don’t judge me.” Titus 2:15, 1 Timothy 5:20, Galatians 6:1, James 5:20, Matthew 18:15-17, Proverb 27:6, Rev 3:19

We are fully free, and in fact commanded as believers to discern everything, evaluate everything, and expose evil in the power of the Holy Spirit.  Judgement is the form of condemnation, or in looking down on someone to build yourself up is sinful and wrong.  We must never do that.  We must never stand back and judge others, mock them, laugh at them, or consider them damned.  We must never think ourselves better than a non-believer or a Christian struggling in sin.  We are here for one reason, in the family of Christ: Jesus saved us, transformed us, and gave us the ability to begin living a different life from the one we used to live.  Given that, we must certainly discern, evaluate, and rebuke when necessary.  We must expose evil, encourage good stewardship, encourage holy living, and encourage repentance in all areas of life. We must stand against the sin in our own lives, and encourage others to defeat the sin in their lives, in the power of the Holy Spirit.
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