Jesus offered wise and beneficial teachings about judging others when He walked this earth. From Scripture we learn that we are not to judge others based on appearances or to cause quarrels within the body of Christ. Judging others by anything other than God’s word is wrong and is behavior that we should avoid. Yet believers can and should judge sinfulness from righteousness. Jesus instructed His followers to judge correctly.
“Stop judging by mere appearances, but instead judge correctly” (John 7:24).
Only God can see the whole picture and truly know the heart, motive, and intent of a person, however, believers can judge situations and actions by God’s word so that we know sin from righteousness, truth from deceit, and believers from false teachers. To judge by appearances is sin, but to judge correctly is what Jesus taught.
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What Does Judging Mean?
The word judge means to draw a conclusion or opinion. The danger in judging others is that we may come to a wrong or negative conclusion about someone based on what we see rather than the whole truth. Judging others in this petty way that Jesus warned against leads to putting another person down.
“You judge according to the flesh; I judge no one. Yet even if I do judge, my judgment is true, for it is not I alone who judge, but I and the Father who sent me” (John 8:15-16).
Jesus helped His followers better understand the danger of this type of judgment toward others. It can be a temptation to judge others when we begin to think we are more holy or superior, or because we want to focus on the other person’s wrong behavior to deny or draw attention away from our own flaws. Scripture provides teaching about wrong judgment, and also gives further insight into what it means to judge correctly, as Jesus instructed.
“A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a bad tree bear good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. Therefore, by their fruits you will know them” (Matthew 7:18-20).
God wants us to be wise and observant to what is happening around us and the people we encounter. He does not want us to be easily deceived or pulled away from His truth. Therefore, it is important that we judge according to God’s word, and in some cases, we will be able to judge correctly by the fruit one bears.
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Is Judging Someone a Sin?
When Jesus encountered the woman who was found committing adultery – she had been judged and sentenced to death by stoning – it was Jesus who stood to free her from the wrong judgment (see John 8:7). In this account, many scholars believe that Jesus began writing in the sand all the sins of the woman’s accusers. Perhaps Jesus was prompting them to consider and deal with their own sin first before they were to stone the woman for her sins.
“Why do you see the speck that is in your brother's eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when there is the log in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother's eye” (Matthew 7:2-5).
Part of judging correctly is that we must first deal with our own sin, then we can see clearly to help others who are caught in sin. Judging others becomes sinful behavior when we judge with pride, comparison, or to belittle another. Judgment like this can harden our hearts, increase arrogance, and can hurt those that we judge.
“Do not speak evil against one another, brothers. The one who speaks against a brother or judges his brother, speaks evil against the law and judges the law. But if you judge the law, you are not a doer of the law but a judge. There is only one lawgiver and judge, he who is able to save and to destroy. But who are you to judge your neighbor?” (James 4:11-12).
We should not judge others out of anger or deal with them harshly. The apostle Paul warned against contempt toward another and judging other believers over minor differences that causes internal strife (see Romans 14:1-13). Wrong judgment can divide the body of Christ. It can draw us away from God and the work He is doing in our own lives, and from bearing the fruit of the Spirit and furthering God’s kingdom. When we judge correctly in love and humility, we honor both God and the other person by helping them pursue righteousness.
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Is It True That "Only God Can Judge Me"?
Many of us have heard the statement, “Only God can judge me.” It is often used as an excuse for one's sinfulness, selfishness, hurting others, and living in opposition to God’s ways. However, the Bible teaches that God can and will judge each one of us.
“For we will all stand before the judgment seat of God” (Romans 14:10).
There will come a day when all people will stand before God’s throne and be judged; giving an account for all we have done. Truly, there is nothing in God’s word that promotes a hedonistic lifestyle in which we can do whatever we want or please, with little to no regard for God and others. In fact, Paul wrote against that very concept. Although we do have free will, not everything is beneficial or edifying to us as believers (see 1 Corinthians 10:23).
Though God is our final and righteous judge, we as believers still need to hold each other accountable as brothers and sisters in Christ to living righteous lives. When Jesus encountered the woman caught in adultery, He told her, “Go and sin no more.” Jesus made a similar statement after healing a sick man (see John 5:14). Jesus cared about these folks, embraced them, lovingly and seriously corrected their error of belief and lifestyle, and instructed them to turn from their sin. He did not leave them in their sin but pointed out their wrong and invited them to live for Him instead.
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How Can We Correct Others in Love?
When done in love, we can model what Jesus did by inviting another to repent and turn from their sin. Jesus judged and pointed out sin and error so that He could invite people into righteous living and a relationship with God. The apostle Paul wrote to the Galatians that this type of judgment and restoration should be done gently and with caution as to not give into the same temptation and sin.
“Brothers and sisters, if someone is caught in a sin, you who live by the Spirit should restore that person gently. But watch yourselves, or you also may be tempted” (Galatians 6:1).
We should guard our hearts and work through our own sin before confronting another believer (see Luke 6:42). We should prayerfully approach a fellow Christian who is struggling with sin, knowing that it is by the power of the Spirit that they will be transformed. Truly, God can empower us to speak the truth in love to our brothers and sisters in Christ who we know are caught in sin. Rather than judging them harshly, we are to show them love and point them toward God’s righteous and truthful ways.
We find in Scripture great wisdom about judging others – how to do that correctly and how to avoid judgment that becomes sinful and toxic. Through judging correctly, we get to extend to another person compassion, love, and kindness. When we know of a brother or sister in Christ who is struggling with sin, our role is to approach them gently. Through prayer and discernment, we can share God’s truth to them in humility and in love to help them leave their sinful ways by repenting and turning back to God.
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Originally published Wednesday, 14 June 2023.