We live in a culture where the thing that is most offensive is not doing something wrong, but telling someone else that they are doing something wrong.
Bad behavior gets a pass. Calling it bad behavior does not.
Of course, this cultural trend should not be surprising. We are told in Scripture that depraved cultures “call evil good and good evil” (Is 5:20).
But, living in a culture like this has had its effect on Christians. We have been conditioned to never condemn certain kinds of behavior lest we are chastened by an avalanche of social media accusing us of being legalistic and judgmental.
Thus, even in Christian circles we often hear the claim, “It’s not my place to judge someone else.”
This popular phrase is the next installment in the “Taking Back Christianese” series. Our purpose in this post (as in all the posts in this series) is simply to analyze the strengths and weaknesses of this phrase. We will do this by asking three questions: (1) Why do people use this phrase? (2) What is correct or helpful about this phrase? and (3) What is problematic about this phrase?
Why Do People Use This Phrase?
There is little doubt that this phrase has its roots in the often misunderstood text of Matt 7:1: “Judge not, that you be not judged.” While our culture is fairly disinterested in most of what the Bible has to say, it is remarkable how many people know (and proudly cite) this one verse.
And the reason for this is not hard to find. In many people’s minds, Matt 7:1 is the one command they can always follow regardless of what other sins they might be committing. No matter how a person is living, they can always justify themselves by saying, “at least I am not judgmental.”
In a rapidly declining culture, not judging has become the last opportunity for folks to claim the moral high ground.
What is Correct or Helpful about this Phrase?
Even so, the phrase “it is not my place to judge someone else” can still be very useful. If used rightly, it can remind us of two important truths:
1. We are not to judge others over “disputable matters.”
When the Bible talks about judging others, it is often in the context of disputes over activities that are not forbidden by God (even though some people might still be uncomfortable with these activities).
Paul describes just such a situation,
2 One person believes he may eat anything, while the weak person eats only vegetables.3 Let not the one who eats despise the one who abstains, and let not the one who abstains pass judgment on the one who eats, for God has welcomed him. 4 Who are you to pass judgment on the servant of another? (Rom 14:2-4)
In this situation, Paul makes it clear that “judging” someone else is when we condemn them for not following our man-made rules. Paul is not opposed to condemning behavior that violates God’s rules (as we shall see below), but he is opposed to condemning behavior that violates only human ones.
In short, only God can be the standard for morality, not men.
2. We are not to hold people to a different standard than we do for ourselves.
Another way that we can be judgmental is to enforce rules on others that we are not enforcing on ourselves. This is the point Jesus is making in the oft-misunderstood statement in Matt 7:1. In this text, Jesus is going after the hypocrisy of the Pharisees.
If you judge others by a particular standard, says Jesus, then know that same standard will be used against you.
What is Problematic about this Phrase?
If we stick to the two positive uses of this phrase above, we will be in good shape. However, this phrase is routinely used to say that we can never tell someone that their behavior is wrong. In other words, it is sinning to tell someone they are sinning.
But, there are two problems with this approach:
1. To say we can never declare a behavior to be wrong is profoundly unbiblical.
The Scriptures are packed with examples of God’s people calling out certain behaviors as wrong. Jesus did this. Paul did this. And even we are called to do this: “If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault” (Matt 18:15).
At this point a person might object, “But who am I to tell someone they are wrong? I am a sinner too.” But, the Bible never requires a person to be sinless before they speak out against sin. Personal perfection is not a prerequisite to standing up for what is right (otherwise no one would ever be able to condemn sin, including those who want to condemn those who judge!).
The proper basis for calling something sinful is not personal perfection, but simply whether God calls it sinful.
2. To say we can never declare a behavior to be wrong is ultimately self-defeating.
The rich irony for those people who say we shouldn’t judge is that they themselves are judging. They are declaring a behavior to be “wrong” (in this case, the behavior of judging), while at the same time insisting we shouldn’t declare that behaviors are wrong!
Thus, this approach proves to be profoundly inconsistent. It is equivalent to sawing off the branch you’re sitting on.
In sum, we can say that the Bible really does say that we shouldn’t “judge” others. However, the Bible’s definition of “judge” is not the same as the world’s. The world defines judging as telling someone their behavior is wrong. In contrast, the Bible condemns the kind of judging that is simply enforcing man-made rules.
So, the issue is not whether we are allowed to declare a behavior to be wrong, but the grounds on which we declare that behavior to be wrong.
The grounds must always be God’s Word, and not man’s opinion.
Another verse that the “judge not folks” often overlook is John 7:24 (NIV) “Stop judging by mere appearances, but instead judge correctly.”
I agree that Christians should not be afraid to repeat God’s judgement of certain sins. I was reading 1 Corinthians last evening, however and in chapter 5 verse 12 it states “What business is it of mine to judge those outside the church? Are you not to judge those inside?”. It seems like Paul is leaving God to pronounce judgement outside the church, but Christians are to judge those inside. Does this mean we should repeat God’s judgement of sin via the law to the world, but use the higher standards expressed by Christ for those inside?
steve hays says
There’s a difference between “judging” in the sense of rendering a value judgment, and “judging” in the sense of judicial sanctions.
Paul is saying we should not expect nonchristians to be virtuous and follow biblical ethics. The church’s concern is not rearranging furniture on the Titanic (i.e., be the world’s moral police), but speak the word of the cross so God’s elect in the world will be saved. To give an example, the church should not have had any interest in Prohibition in the 1920’s; our interest is the eternal, not temporal.
Thank you both for your responses! I do appreciate the clarity that your answer brings. Though this may seem off topic, I have been meditating recently on how much we should be involved bringing God’s laws into civil law. This lead me to think about how we judge and how to apply that to those outside the Church.
I wondered how do we as Christians work with civil authorities to make laws against sinful practices? What sort of penalties should we be seeking? Should we cry out in favor of capital punishment for things like murder and abortion? I honestly feel that these things should be illegal with very stiff penalties, but hesitate to call for capital punishment in order to grant people a space for repentance. There are those on the other side of the debate though that feel if you don’t desire capital punishment, you are dishonoring God’s mandate to Noah to kill those who shed man’s blood.
What sort of judgement are we to use in these matters with regard to those outside the Church? It’s a difficult question and one that I think all Christians need good answers for. I am praying and reading the word to see if I can get some help in figuring it out, but your responses are helpful. So thank you again.
steve hays says
i) One issue is what’s politically feasible. It isn’t feasible in the foreseeable future to make abortion a capital offense. And even if we could, juries would acquit if the stipulated punishment is the death penalty. That’s our cultural climate.
Moreover, the very effort, which is futile in any case, would backfire because unbelievers already like to stereotype Christians as harsh, uncaring people.
ii) It’s also a question of the goal, and sometimes competing goals. If the priority is to save the lives of babies, then we should focus on ways to deter abortion, not exact justice. Ultimately, we can leave retributive justice in God’s hands. People who elude justice in this life will face it in the afterlife. So they don’t get away with anything in the long run.
iii) Also, there are at least two and sometimes three parties to an abortion. There’s the mother. There’s the “doctor”. And sometimes the father is pressuring the mother to have an abortion.
If the priority is to save babies, laws that penalize the “doctor” are easier to pass. The “doctor” is a less sympathetic figure than the mother.
Thank you Steve, I agree with all of your three points. My sentiments are that the Church should be a beacon of God’s forgiveness for sins, even those as abhorrent as murder. This is not to say that earthly justice should be forgotten, but honestly I didn’t see how crying for capital punishment is going to accomplish what we want in saving lives as you pointed out. I appreciate you sharing your thoughts.
I think 1 Cor 5 (which is part of a unit consisting of both chs. 5 and 6) applies to your question. The church as “the church” should be known in the world for one thing – the message of sinners being justified and reconciled to God through faith in Christ crucified (Phil 2:15-16; 1 Pet 3:15). Those Christ calls to the ministry are to be preachers of the gospel (Jn 20:22-23; 21:15-17; Acts 6:4; 1 Cor 2:2). That is one reason why the NT authors display no interest in doing away with slavery in the first century – transforming the civil realm is not the calling of the church.
If the education and vocation of an individual Christian is within the judicial-political realm, then their worldview is certainly formed by their faith but I think a theologically sound Christian worldview tells them not to hold up Scripture as the basis for laws of the land, but to appeal to the unbeliever’s conscience which God has placed within them and to argue with reason, not special revelation. The church is the realm of saving grace and therefore stands under the lordship of Christ revealed in the word of God (that is why Paul writes what he does in 1 Cor 5:13), but the world is the realm of common grace and thus not the recipient of Scripture.
I would encourage you to read David VanDrunen’s book Living in God’s Two Kingdoms.
Thank you Dante, this really helps and I am in agreement with you on everything you said. I am grateful for the Lord’s mercy toward me, so how can I not extend that to the lost? The Gospel changes a person through the Spirit of God, outward laws can curb evil actions, but the soul will remain lost all the same. Our main focus should be winning the soul by preaching the Gospel and that will result in a much better outcome than legislation alone would. I will definitely check out the book you mentioned and I thank you again for your reply!
Sara, I must respectfully disagree with Steve’s comments regarding abortion. As Kruger said in his post, “The grounds must always be God’s Word and not mans opinion.” To say that we should not punish those who commit abortion because it is “not politically feasible” is, in my opinion, an affront to the law of God. Row vs Wade is an unconstitutional and unjust “law”. Abortion is murder. SCOTUS declared privacy more of a human right than life. Is it? It astounds me that Christians do not have the fortitude to stand for God’s Word and call abortion what it is. It is this cowardly attitude that has allowed abortion to continue as the law of the land. If we call abortion murder and then back down on addressing it as murder we are talking out of both sides of our mouths. Steve calls it a “cultural climate” and implies we must acquiesce to the culture on this. Did Christ bow to the culture? Steve says no jury will convict. Even if he is correct about this, does that mean we should not prosecute based on the hunch they wouldn’t convict?
Steve then proceeds to reinforce his opinion by stating that legally addressing abortion as murder would “stereotype Christians as harsh, uncaring people”. I almost laughed at this, but my heart cries instead. The world already portrays Christians as harsh & uncaring. It always has. Refusing to address abortion for what it is will not change that view. Nothing we can do will stop the critics, so exactly what is accomplished by compromising on this? Nothing… other than giving the pro-aborts the justification to say “See, even the ‘anti-choice’ lobby doesn’t see this as significant enough to punish the perpetrators, so it must not be as heinous as they say.” They are already saying this! The blood of 60 million babies is evidence of the fact that the church has compromised on this long enough. Steve also leaves the impression that the legal choices are either capitol punishment or nothing. How many murderers see death row? Not near enough to say we have a just society. Other sentences are routinely given. So addressing abortion as a crime wouldn’t necessarily mean capitol punishment even though it is murder.
(Exodus 20:13) nothing will change and millions more will die.
Just a few final questions to consider:
If there had never been a Roe vs Wade, and abortion had not been made legal, do you think there would be 60 million babies dead in the US? Do you think it would be a “cultural norm”? Would Teen Vogue be printing stories for our daughters suggesting gifts to give their friends who have had abortions? How many doctors would have never committed murder? How many women would have never contracted a doctor to kill? How many men would not be accessories to the crime? How many more until the Church says “Enough. This can not continue.”? How many more will die before the “pro-life” lobby stops telling doctors they can kill as long as they don’t do it “this way”, or only do it before a certain gestation, or if the clinic hallways are this wide, or if the clinic is within a certain distance of an actual hospital… and get on board with a law that protects babies and stops the “legal” killing? The only way to stop mass abortion in this country is to criminalize it.
P.S. Somewhere in the thread someone references the laws made in the prohibition era. A comparison to prohibition is insulting. This is not overindulging in alcohol. It is murder. Murder is against the law. There is no one disputing this. Why do we in the case of abortion?
There is so much more I’d like to address about his comments, but I have already gone too long on this. My prayer is for justice and mercy to prevail to save the unborn. Until the Church takes a uncompromising stand on the Word of God regarding abortion (Exodus 20:13) nothing will change and millions more will die
steve hays says
“To say that we should not punish those who commit abortion because it is ‘not politically feasible’ is, in my opinion, an affront to the law of God.”
It is not, in the first instance, a question of what should be done but what can be done.
“It astounds me that Christians do not have the fortitude to stand for God’s Word and call abortion what it is. It”
Which is irrelevant to what I said. I have no objection to calling abortion murder (although ectopic pregnancies present an exception).
“It is this cowardly attitude that has allowed abortion to continue as the law of the land.”
Aside from the fact that I have no problems with calling abortion murder, abortion continues because too many voters want it. Calling it murder doesn’t make abortion discontinue. We should call it murder, but don’t delude yourself into supposing that that will change the status quo.
“If we call abortion murder and then back down on addressing it as murder we are talking out of both sides of our mouths. Steve calls it a “cultural climate” and implies we must acquiesce to the culture on this. Did Christ bow to the culture?”
Sorry, but Connie is deeply confused. Our responsibility depends in part on the circumstances that God has put us in. If, according to divine providence, Christians currently lack the political power to codify abortion as murder, then that isn’t bowing or acquiescing to the culture, but bowing or acquiescing to divine providence. There are many times and places throughout church history where Christians have limited political power–or been politically powerless. We’re responsible for doing what we can, not for doing what we can’t.
“Steve says no jury will convict. Even if he is correct about this, does that mean we should not prosecute based on the hunch they wouldn’t convict?”
That’s just empty rhetoric because people like Connie have no ability to make it happen. So much talk, so little results.
“so exactly what is accomplished by compromising on this?”
Uncompromising rhetoric doesn’t change the status quo. If people like Connie could abolish abortion, they wouldn’t need to take about it–they could just do it. The fact that they spend so much time talking about the need to be “uncompromising” shows you that they lack the wherewithal to make good on their “uncompromising” agenda. Connie, if you can do it, then do it. Don’t tell us what is possible: show us! That’s how you prove something is feasible.
BTW, the Mosaic law was “compromising”. The basic function of the Mosaic law wasn’t to eradicate evil or to establish an ethical idea, but to set rudimentary standards of socially tolerable conduct.
“The blood of 60 million babies is evidence of the fact that the church has compromised on this long enough.”
That’s a non sequitur. Rather, it’s evidence that enough voters, in league with the power elite, have greater political clout than devout Christians.
“Steve also leaves the impression that the legal choices are either capitol [sic] punishment or nothing.”
I said nothing of the kind.
“How many more until the Church says ‘Enough. This can not continue.'”
And after the church says that, what happens? Saying enough is enough doesn’t ipso facto change a thing.
“How many more will die before the ‘pro-life’ lobby stops telling doctors they can kill as long as they don’t do it ‘this way’, or only do it before a certain gestation, or if the clinic hallways are this wide, or if the clinic is within a certain distance of an actual hospital… and get on board with a law that protects babies and stops the ‘legal’ killing?”
If it’s a choice between unrestricted abortion and restrictions on abortion, then saving some lives is better than saving no lives.
“The only way to stop mass abortion in this country is to criminalize it.”
So Connie, don’t talk about it–do it! If you can do it, then you don’t need to talk about it. If you devote so much time talking about it, that’s a backdoor admission that you don’t actually have to votes to make it happen.
It’s apparent that Connie is a member of Abolish Human Abortion. AHA is full of talk, but no results. What do you have to show for your “uncompromising” rhetoric? Nothing but rhetoric. That doesn’t save babies.
Steve… No. I am not AHA. I have nothing to do with them. I don’t agree with their tactics at all. But I do find it humorous that the first thing you do in response to my comments is claim I’m in a cult and to tell me to do it if it can be done. I’m doing what all Christians and Pro-lifers should be doing. Not making excuses that it can never happen…but doing what is in my power to do. If more Christians did the same there might be change, God willing. God calls us to stand for righteousness, the weak and the voiceless… then leave the results to him. Does he not?
steve hays says
You’re attacking an argument I never made. Yes, Christians should do whatever they can. But you throw around the language of “compromise”. However, not doing what we’re unable to due, given the circumstances, is not a moral compromise. That’s just playing the hand God dealt us. It isn’t about “doing” thing, but doing things that have a reasonable prospect of improving the situation. Not just vacuous symbolism.
I do agree with you that abortion is murder and that it is fully deserving of death. It is totally abhorrent and vile. My issue is not whether abortion is murder or that it a death worthy sin, but whether or not actually demanding the death penalty for doctors, mothers and fathers of these murdered children is the right approach to further the Gospel.
I think abortion should be illegal. I think that the courts should recognize that a baby is a baby no matter how small. I pray that Roe V. Wade will be overturned. I am in support of helping moms considering abortion to be given alternatives to prevent them from murdering their children and from incurring the sin of murder themselves.
My questions are how are we to go about doing this? We can call a spade a spade, but does that change the current state of things? Wouldn’t prayer and preaching the Gospel do more to change the hearts and minds of people rather than demanding they pay “life for life”? This is where my issue is and what I am trying to work out. I want to reach the lost, but I don’t want to compromise God’s Gospel either.
I think of Apostle Paul who was by all intents and purposes a murderer. He dragged Christians off to jail and held the other murderers coats while Christians were dying. That’s terrible. He was consenting to their deaths with a whole hearted zeal. Any Christian shouting “MURDERER!” at him would not have done a thing to change him. He was blinded and convinced he was doing what was right. Only until he encountered Christ and saw Who He was, did Paul’s heart change. God granted him repentance and in turn for God’s mercy, Paul was willing to endure anything to preach the Gospel that he previously despised.
Paul’s life, to me, is the way that we need to reach sinners as Christians. We show them Christ and He does the work to change their hearts. We don’t demand they die for their evil deeds. Yes, we need laws to protect the unborn. We need to work on making abortion illegal. But we need to preach the Gospel first and be mirrors of Christ to the world. While all Christians know John 3:16 by heart, we would do well to continue reading the next verse when we feel like the sinners of the world are too wicked to be tolerated. John 3:17 For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through Him.”
I love your heart for the unborn and I think your passion is comforting. I believe you love those children being slaughtered and see your compassionate heart and anger at those who would harm them and take their lives. I just see that the Gospel is the answer more than demanding someone’s death. When all is said and done, legislation may prevent a crime, but it definitely will not save the soul.
Thank you for sharing your thoughts and I love seeing your expressions of love for the Lord. Bless you!
Thank you for your response.
Coincidentally, this was in my inbox today:
God’s timing is always perfect. He is always teaching me.
Blessings to you in Christ.
steve hays says
A few follow-up observations:
“Steve says no jury will convict. Even if he is correct about this, does that mean we should not prosecute based on the hunch they wouldn’t convict?”
Overcharging a defendant greatly raises the risk of mistrial or acquittal. The defendant won’t even be convicted of a lesser offense. Rather, the defendant will go Scott-free.
Remember, it only takes one vote to acquit. Most jurors don’t share Connie’s view of abortion. If they did, the political landscape would be drastically different.
If one or more jurors perceives that the defendant has been overcharged, from the juror’s perspective (not from mine), they will acquit the defendant. Or there will be a hung jury.
That doesn’t save babies. Indeed, that sacrifices babies to theatrical “uncompromising” gestures. The moral satisfaction of abolitionists is not my priority, but the lives of babies.
“Steve then proceeds to reinforce his opinion by stating that legally addressing abortion as murder would ‘stereotype Christians as harsh, uncaring people’. I almost laughed at this, but my heart cries instead. The world already portrays Christians as harsh & uncaring.”
There’s no value in Christians playing into a defamatory narrative by indulging in futile gestures. Save it for something that makes a difference. Christians have no duty to play into enemy hands by inviting gratuitous defamation.
Unlike Connie, I’m not interesting in making a statement≠I’m interested in making a difference. Empty gestures don’t save babies. Empty gestures waste capital best invested in strategies that actually save babies.
Steven and Connie,
I have had very similar exchanges with Christians in a Reformed Forum and have been labeled by some as a “compromising” Christian because I didn’t want to demand the death penalty for those who have abortions. Like you Connie, I do hate the sin of abortion. I think it is murder and want to make it illegal if we can, but I don’t see it as helpful to demand the death penalty. That’s my one sticking point and it seems to generate a lot of anger from the Christian side if you don’t agree. I really caught me off guard. I can’t understand how people forgiven of their death worthy sins, would be wanting to demand that others die for theirs. I was even told I was disobeying God by not wanting them to have the death penalty. It was very disconcerting and the reason I brought it up.
Steve makes some great points about doing what we can with the power we are given. I think you feel the same Connie, it’s just the part about demanding stiff penalties that we can’t seem to agree on. I don’t want us to be at odds with each other over it. But I hope that those of us who want mercy will be given the benefit of the doubt that we hate the sin as much as you do and that we also do not fall into complacency and disobedience. It’s a hard line to walk I find. But God, as you said Connie, is always teaching us. Blessings to you both.
This thread reminds me of the story in John 8:
[[They went each to his own house, but Jesus went to the Mount of Olives. Early in the morning he came again to the temple. All the people came to him, and he sat down and taught them. The scribes and the Pharisees brought a woman who had been caught in adultery, and placing her in the midst they said to him, “Teacher, this woman has been caught in the act of adultery. Now in the Law, Moses commanded us to stone such women. So what do you say?” This they said to test him, that they might have some charge to bring against him. Jesus bent down and wrote with his finger on the ground. And as they continued to ask him, he stood up and said to them, “Let him who is without sin among you be the first to throw a stone at her.” And once more he bent down and wrote on the ground. But when they heard it, they went away one by one, beginning with the older ones, and Jesus was left alone with the woman standing before him. Jesus stood up and said to her, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?” She said, “No one, Lord.” And Jesus said, “Neither do I condemn you; go, and from now on sin no more.”]]
It was Satan who quoted Scripture in a twisted way to Jesus in the wilderness so as to tempt Him into sin.Luke 4:1-13.
To turn a blind eye to sin & judge not is a sin in many respects. To be too tolerant is to invite ruin & decay. Rev 2:20.
We need to grow in discernment & mature in stuff like that & possibly seek out wise counsel if we are not sure. Some things are not as easy as they sound.
Brandon Adams says
Matthew 18, Galatians 2, 1 Timothy 5 even say that someone entrenched in sin should be rebuked in front of the entire church. Obviously, although reproachment should not BEGIN with that, there is a point at which personal feelings should not be prioritized over the welfare of the church.
The word “judging” carries a harsh and angry connotation, but we have found that people will not react well to it even when it is done gently and with reconciliation in mind. Even in those times, no matter how well it’s done, a person entrenched in sin and being called out will label the church as “judgmental”. It backs up your words, Michael, about how the world knows this one quite conveniently.
I would say, however, that if we followed ALL of Jesus’ and Paul’s commandments about judging, we’d come across as a lot less hypocritical. They prescribed specific guidelines for separating the entrenched from the merely wayward and the serious accusations from the petty ones. Our judgments frequently do not fall under this category.
Brandon, I would not use 1 Tim 5:19ff along side Matt 18:15ff as 1 Tim 5 has specific reference to the discipline of elders which is different from that of church members. Paul’s instructions in 1 Tim 5 have no bearing on those who are not in the ministry.
The other thing to point out is that there is a spiritual gift of discernment (1 Cor 12) which is nothing other than a gift to protect the church by the Spirit enabling a Christian to recognize – judge – someone as false or evil in a way that those without this gift cannot. Those with this gift need to be heeded by the church.
Yes, Jesus does not want us to judge our brother when we are not first judging ourself. What’s funny is that when someone defends themselves by saying you are judging them, they are “judging” you for “judging” them. Such illogic would exclude church discipline. The misuse of this passage is a great example of the necessity of reading a passage in its context as well as in the context of the rest of the canon.
so what if you are guilty of fornication.. can you still tell your brother to stop fornicating? since yourself you don’t live by your set standards.. moreover if God has declared fornication wrong, can’t I also tell my brother who is guilty of fornication to stop, though I find myself indulging in it? won’t it make me a hypocrite? and won’t Jesus teaching of judge not apply to me?