Judge Not: A Common Christian Misconception

I can’t even begin to count how many times I’ve heard a Christian say “judge not” to another Christian. In today’s society it is a crime to point out one’s sinful actions or else you will quickly be labeled as judging, which according to most Christians is not allowed. Sadly, many live under this idea, and it is a major contributing factor to the straying away of Christians today.

The whole argument stems from Christ’s teaching on judging in Matthew chapter seven. Like many other teachings among many Protestants, the passage has been pulled out of context and has been completely misconstrued.

“Judge not, lest you be judged,” Christ says in verse one and usually that is where the modern Christian will stop. Some may continue into verse two which says, “for with what judgement you judge, you will be judged; and with what measure you measure, it will be measured [back] to you.” The retaliation never makes it past verse two, and more times than not it doesn’t make it past the two words “judge not.”

As with every other passage in the Bible, however, context is key. If one would simply read the next several verses, they would quickly learn that their “judge not” argument doesn’t hold any weight.

The teaching here by Christ is on hypocrisy:

3 And why do you look at the speck in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the plank in your own eye? 4 Or how will you say to your brother, ‘Permit me to remove the speck from your eye,’ and look, [there is] a plank in your own eye? 5 Hypocrite! First remove the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck out of your brother’s eye.”

You see, the teaching is about removing error from our own lives before trying to help another remove the error from theirs. We can’t be hypocritical by telling someone they are sinning, yet do the same thing we are rebuking. It is very clear, however, that judging another’s actions is okay, as long as it is done “with righteous judgement” and not hypocritical judgement.

Let’s take a look at some other New Testament teachings on judging:

In Galatians 6:1 Paul writes, “Brothers, if a man is overtaken in any trespass, you who are spiritual restore such a person in a spirit of gentleness, looking out for yourself lest you also be tempted.” It is our Christian duty to correct those who are straying from the faith. We are to do it with a “spirit of gentleness,” but we are still to correct those walking the wrong direction.

In 2 Timothy 4:2 Paul again writes, “Preach the word! Be ready in season and out of season. Reprove, rebuke, exhort, with all patience and teaching.” We are to reprove and rebuke. Paul’s choice of wording here clearly indicates that we are to judge other’s actions and be prepared to tell them they are in the wrong when they are. As with Christ, we can’t be hypocritical judges, but we are to correct them when they are wrong.

James writes in his epistle, “Brothers, if anyone among you wanders away from the truth, and anyone turns him back, let him know that he who turns a sinner back from the error of his way will save a soul from death and will cover a multitude of sins” (James 5:19–20). Again, we are instructed to help those who are straying away from the truth. That means that we are to judge their actions and help them return back to the correct way, and by doing so we “will save a soul from death.” By not “judging” according to today’s definition of Biblical judging, we are allowing souls to wander from the truth and watching them as they lose their salvation. How can any true Christian do this?

Lastly, if we aren’t to judge others and their actions, how can we: 1) beware of false prophets and their fruits (Matthew 7:15, 16), 2) “mark and avoid” them which cause divisions (Romans 16:17, 18), 3) admonish the unfruitful works of darkness (Ephesians 5:11), and 4) abhor that which is evil (Romans 12:9).

We, as true Christians, have to discern the difference between right and wrong. We have to avoid those who are doing wrong whether it be a professing Christian or a non-believer. If we don’t judge the actions of others, we can’t do these things and we certainly can’t help those who are doing them correct the path they are walking on as the verses I listed above tell us to do.

I found a quote that sums up perfectly our state as modern Christians: “The greatest peril of our day is not too much judging, but too little judging of spiritual falsehood” (Franklin G. Huling).

This is one of our modern Christian crises. People are too afraid to correct others, or they are under the misconception that correcting a fellow Christian’s errors results in “judging” that person and “judging” is not allowed. While I agree it is not our place to say whether a person will go to heaven or hell, as only God can do that, it is our duty to judge their actions. If a fellow Christian is in sin it is our responsibility to bring them back to correction. Therefore, if we just stand by and say “judge not” or allow others to persuade our correcting with those two words, then we are failing the instruction of Christ and His apostles who teach us to judge other’s actions and correct them when they are wrong.

The next time one of your Christian pals (or anyone for that matter) tries to use the “judge not” argument, make sure and take time to teach them the true meaning of what Christ meant. Also inform them that the Bible is full of examples of judgments that we, as Christians, must make to maintain our path of righteousness. By doing so you could very likely “save a soul from death” as James says.

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