We live in a world that increasingly strives to (supposedly) promote the idea of tolerance, but actually becomes intolerant of Christian absolutes as it does so. Whether it involves religion, behavior, or human sexuality, there is a growing anti-Christian sentiment in America and other Western nations. Ultimately, built into this “tolerance” is the concept that truth is determined by each individual, not by God. This has led many people to conclude that making judgments on anyone (especially coming from Christians) is wrong because the Bible says ”
judge not” (Matthew 7:1). Interestingly enough, those who reject the notion of God or the credibility of the Bible often attempt to use God’s Word (e.g., by quoting verses out of context) to excuse their actions when they are presented with the gospel and the plight of sinners for rejecting it.
The Authority on Judging
Scripture makes it very clear that there is one supreme Judge of all—the Lord God—and that He alone has the authority to determine right and wrong motives and behaviors.
Many Old Testament passages attest to the truth of God as Judge:
God is a just judge, and God is angry with the wicked every day. (Psalm 7:11)
He shall judge the world in righteousness, and he shall administer judgments for the people in uprightness. (Psalm 9:8)
Let the heavens declare His righteousness, for God himself is Judge. Selah (Psalm 50:6)
For the Lord is our Judge, the Lord is our Lawgiver, the Lord is our King; He will save us. (Isaiah 33:22)
The Old Testament is rife with passages that establish God as the ultimate Judge. When we come to the New Testament, we find that the Father has committed authority and judgment to the Son. Jesus spoke of this authority before He ascended to heaven after the Resurrection (Matthew 28:18).
“For the Father judges no one, but has committed all judgment to the Son.” (John 5:22)
“I have come as a light into the world, that whoever believes in Me should not abide in darkness. And if anyone hears My words and does not believe, I do not judge him; for I did not come to judge the world but to save the world. He who rejects Me, and does not receive My words, has that which judges him—the word that I have spoken will judge him in the last day.” (John 12:46–48)
Because He has appointed a day on which He will judge the world in righteousness by the Man whom He has ordained. He has given assurance of this to all by raising Him from the dead. (Acts 17:31)
As these passages and many others demonstrate, the Bible makes it very clear that one day Jesus will rightly judge all humanity based on each individual’s faith in—or rejection of—the Son of God. For a world filled with people who believe in moral relativism—and for many professing Christians who practice morality in an attempt to earn righteousness—this day will be filled with fear and trepidation. The Judge of the universe has made a judgment about salvation, echoed by the Apostle Peter in Acts 4:12: “
Nor is there salvation in any other, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.” There will be no time to debate whether the judgment is right or wrong because the ultimate Judge has decreed His justice through the Son.
Let us consider the idea of judging as it relates to believers and unbelievers. The methods are different when dealing with these two groups, but the goal is reconciliation. Unbelievers need to know Christ and be reconciled to Him, and believers need to grow in Christ and be reconciled to each other.
How Judging Relates to Unbelievers
When a Christian lovingly and graciously presents the gospel to unbelievers, a judgment is made regarding their standing with God. The Bible clearly declares that all men are sinners, have fallen short of the glory of God, and are in need of redemption from their sins (Romans 3:23). This judgment is not made from the opinion of the Christian who is presenting the gospel but rather by what the Bible clearly declares.
The claim that Christians are not to judge is often made when dealing with issues such as abortion, adultery, homosexual behavior, and same-sex marriage. When a Christian says, for example, that homosexual behavior is a sin and that same-sex marriage is wrong, he or she is often met with objections like the following:
- “Who are you to judge two people who love each other?”
- “Who do you think you are, telling someone who they can and cannot love? You’re a sinner, too!”
- “Someone’s private life is none of your business. Don’t judge them.”
Some people will even quote Matthew 7:1, where Christ said during the Sermon on the Mount, “
Judge not, that you be not judged.” Of course, when they quote this verse in regard to such situations, they take it out of context to support their fallacious claims. When we consider the concept of judging, especially as it relates to the Sermon on the Mount, Christ tells us to be discerning, not condemning.
There are significant logical problems with the claim that believers should not make judgments. The first becomes evident when we read the context of Matthew 7:1.
Judge not, that you be not judged. For with what judgment you judge, you will be judged; and with the measure you use, it will be measured back to you. And why do you look at the speck in your brother’s eye, but do not consider the plank in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, “Let me remove the speck from your eye”; and look, a plank is in your own eye? Hypocrite! First remove the plank from your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye. (Matthew 7:1–5)
Here, Christ is warning believers against making judgments in a hypocritical or condemning manner. That type of judging is a characteristic often associated with the Pharisees during the ministry of Jesus. Many people who quote “
judge not” from Matthew 7:1 fail to notice the command to judge in Matthew 7:5, when it says, “
Then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.” The point Jesus emphasizes here is to judge yourself first before you make judgments about others. (Also, notice the discernment and judgment required in Matthew 7:15–16, 20.) In the broader context, Jesus is telling believers to be discerning when it comes to false teaching and false prophets because they “look” Christian, but their goal is to lead the flock astray (Matthew 7:15–20; Luke 6:43–45).
As Christians, we should be living godly lives so that we can first concentrate on our own repentance of sin. Sanctification is a lifelong process of being transformed every day into the image of Christ. Without this, we have no place in helping another brother or sister. What Christ teaches His believers in Matthew 7 is that if we ourselves are not personally repenting of our sins, we are in no place to tell others how sinful they are acting. But the Bible does tell us to preach the gospel—and part of the gospel message is that people are sinners in need of salvation.
How Judging Relates to Fellow Believers
We often hear claims from Christians that we are not to make judgments about other believers, especially as it relates to their erroneous teachings on Genesis. Again, the Matthew 7:1 passage is used as a justification for this type of attitude. Now, the ministry of Answers in Genesis acknowledges that there are many Christian pastors and leaders who sincerely have a love for the Lord Jesus Christ. These men have led many to Christ, work diligently with much perseverance for the kingdom of God, and minister to the hurting and sick—all because they have been transformed by the finished work of Christ on the Cross and His Resurrection from the dead. However, just like the rest of us, they are fallible and can fall into error, even regarding the issue of origins.
Scripture provides many examples of how God’s people can be in error.
Scripture provides many examples of how God’s people can be in error, dating back to (and before) the kings of Israel and Judah. Out of the 39 rulers in Israel and Judah after the time of Solomon, only eight of them (1 Kings 1–2, all from Judah) tried to reverse the evil their predecessors had introduced into the kingdom. Only eight of them saw the depravity around them and tried to do something about it. However, these godly kings had failures as well. These eight kings have their histories tarnished because they failed to take down the high places (1 Kings 15:11, 14; 22:43; 2 Kings 12:2–3; 14:3–4; 15:3–4, 34–35). Upon entering Canaan, the Israelites were commanded to destroy everything, including pagan places of worship on high mountains. Rather than destroy them, the Israelites made them into additional worship centers, contrary to what they had been commanded by God. Even the godliest of people are capable of falling into error.
The core message of Answers in Genesis is one of defending biblical authority and proclaiming the gospel, which brings controversy when it comes to the topic of judging. For instance, in addition to dealing with the issues above from a biblical perspective, Answers in Genesis points out that there are many Christians (including Christian leaders) who add evolution and/or millions of years to Scripture. We expose this compromise not to make harsh judgments about the person or his spiritual walk, but to show the inconsistency (as we all can be) of a Christian leader towards Genesis—and the negative implications that it can have on the rest of Scripture.
Now, the ministry of AiG is dedicated to upholding the authority of the Bible and giving answers to point out that such compromise positions are really undermining God’s Word and its authority. When AiG does that, we are often told that we are unloving and that we should not be making judgments about others by pointing out errors in their teaching regarding Genesis.
Some people take offense and say that as believers, we should focus on loving others and not be divisive. We are, however, divisive if we do not correct error. Are we working toward the “
unity of the faith” (Ephesians 4:13), or are we compromising God’s Word by allowing for the world’s “wisdom”? Remember, as believers we are all part of “
one faith” (Ephesians 4:5). We must establish our foundation in the truth of God’s Word and not our own philosophies, making God the authority over our life. Having the right foundation will help us to know the difference between truth and lies as well as right and wrong. Paul explained the need for truth and the divisive nature of lies in the following passage:
That we should no longer be children, tossed to and fro and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, in the cunning craftiness of deceitful plotting, but, speaking the truth in love, may grow up in all things into Him who is the head—Christ—from whom the whole body, joined and knit together by what every joint supplies, according to the effective working by which every part does its share, causes growth of the body for the edifying of itself in love. (Ephesians 4:14–16)
Are we being loving if we allow our fellow brethren to remain in error and even deceive others? Of course not. Loving others requires that we graciously correct them when they fall into error (Matthew 18; 1 Corinthians 1:11; Galatians 6:1). Those who err do not necessarily know they are in error; they are possibly deceived or ignorant. So we gently and carefully correct the error in regard to teaching, no matter what the situation. After all, this is one of the responsibilities of the church: to teach sound doctrine and correct erroneous teaching (2 Timothy 2:25, 3:16; Titus 2:1). For example, we have to use discernment (judging between right and wrong) if we are to obey verses like 1 Corinthians 5:11–13; 6:4; 2 Thessalonians 3:6; 1 Timothy 6:20; and Titus 3:9, just to name a few.
We need to be careful in this approach, however, as we are all fallible human beings who can make mistakes in judgment. We should find out the whole story and not base our judgment on appearances. Jesus stated, “
Do not judge according to appearance, but judge with righteous judgment” (John 7:24). Notice the Lord’s command to judge. But before we make that judgment, we must make sure we are judging righteously from God’s Word and not relying on our own opinion. Sometimes hard judgment calls must be made, as not everything is “black and white,” which is why it is so important to know and apply the truth of Scripture.
It’s also important when discussing such difficult issues to explain, as a Christian, why we take the stand we do. For instance, when asked about same-sex marriage, we can explain that Christians should build their thinking on the Bible, and therefore we should go to God’s Word to see what He clearly instructs us. Then we use His Word to make a judgment about the issue. We can also explain that if someone does not believe that God’s Word is the foundation for their worldview, then we can understand why they disagree. So, we have two different starting points (or foundations), and thus two different worldviews that conflict and therefore make judgments of each other. But in every instance, we must stress that all sin can be forgiven in the work of Christ on the Cross.
Realistically, people make judgments all the time. Now, if one person commits murder, should a Christian look at that action and say, “That was wrong because God’s Word says not to murder,” or should he say, “I’m not supposed to make a judgment”? And what if someone steals from you? Would you say, “That was wrong because God’s Word says not to steal,” or would you say, “I’m not supposed to make a judgment”? Furthermore, when someone tells us that we need to stop judging others, they have actually just judged us. So they are guilty of doing the very thing they tell us not to do.
We make judgments on various teachings and ideas every day, including our own. The biblical mentality of making judgments applies to any situation where a person is openly committing an error against God and His Word—whether that person is living in sin, such as adultery or homosexual behavior, or compromising God’s Word and causing others to stumble and doubt His Word. We even make judgments of our children’s actions as we work to help them see their sinful condition before God, and point them to the gospel, in order that they might be saved and grow in obedience to God and His Word.
The key is making righteous judgments so that we can point people to the gospel. God’s Word gives us a clear standard to abide by, and the Holy Spirit guides us in what is right, wrong, true, and false. In order to make judgments righteously, we should be striving to live righteously and allowing the Word of God to be our foundation in every area of our thinking.
Conclusion: Biblical Perspective of “Judge Not”
Those people who call for tolerance and quote “
judge not” out of context are not using sound thinking. Their call for tolerance is impossible because as Christians, we are called to judge righteously, and judging between right and wrong is something we do every day—and it should be a part of biblical discernment in every believer’s thinking. But it is God’s Word that makes the judgment on morality and truth, not our own opinions or theories.
What’s the purpose of judging error in a biblical manner? The church is to be built on the foundation of Christ and the authority of His Word (Ephesians 2:20)—and that means believers should examine their own lives regularly and also lovingly challenge Christian brothers and sisters who are in error or commit sin. To do this, believers must be bold for Christ, but they also have to be humble, loving, and kind. We encourage you to keep these things in mind as you strive daily to maintain unity in the truth of Christ (John 17:20–26).