Judging: The Christian's Duty
Rev. Doug Kuiper
The talk of the town of Byron Center, MI
during the 1996-1997 school year was the music teacher in the local
public high school who had "married" his homosexual lover. This
"marriage" did not set well with the people of Byron Center; many of
them thought such a man should not be teaching their children, and
they successfully sought the teacher's dismissal. The attitude of
these parents, in turn, brought upon the citizens of Byron Center the
wrath of many in the broader community. Writing in the "Public Pulse"
section of the Grand Rapids Press, many labelled the people of
Byron Center as intolerant, judgmental, hypocritical, pompous,
self-righteous, arrogant, bigoted, mean-spirited, and hateful. The
message of the broader community to the townsfolk was clear: we must
not sit in judgment over the actions and beliefs of others.
This thinking that we may not judge the actions and beliefs of others
is the spirit of the age. It is also wrong. In an attempt to counter
this way of thinking, the Evangelism Society of Byron Center
Protestant Reformed Church publishes this pamphlet, with the desire
that God be glorified and His saints encouraged to judge properly. Our
prayer for the reader is that of Paul for the Philippians: "that your
love may abound more and more in knowledge and in all judgment; that
ye may approve things that are excellent; that ye may be sincere and
without offense until the day of Christ; being filled with the fruits
of righteousness, which are by Jesus Christ, unto the glory and praise
of God" (Philippians
Tolerance is the buzzword of the day. We are told
that we must tolerate the ideas, words, and actions of each and every
segment of society. We may not pass judgment on the character of other
people, but must accept them the way they are. What our elected
officials do in their private lives must not influence our view of
their qualifications for public office. We must accept the lifestyle
of homosexuals as (viable!) alternatives to ours. We must cater to the
whims and wishes of the feminists. We must not speak of God, lest we
anger the atheists.
This attitude of tolerance is found even in the church world today.
Many people, claiming to be Christian, will be quick to remind us of
Jesus' words that we must not judge (Matt.
7:1) and that we may not cast a stone because we are no better
than the other person (John.
8:7). This attitude has wreaked havoc in the Christian church,
including churches that are Reformed in their heritage. Heresy is no
longer denounced, and heretics are no longer disciplined. The
foundational teaching of Christianity—that Jesus Christ, the Son of
God who came in the flesh, is our only and complete Saviour—is denied.
We are told to tolerate the religious thinking of non-Christians,
because every religion has an element of truth to it, and because
salvation is not exclusively for Christians. We must also tolerate in
our churches the sinful actions of others. It is not our business if
an unmarried couple lives together! It is none of our business if a
member of our congregation practices homosexuality! We must not judge
Considering this sad state of affairs in the church world today, it is
not surprising to learn that the most frequently quoted text of
Scripture is no longer
John 3:16, but
Matthew 7:1, as I recently heard from a radio speaker. In the past
we were reminded: "For God so loved the world ..." This verse, wrongly
interpreted as teaching the lie of Arminianism that God loves every
person, was meant to comfort every person who believed it. "God loves
me! All is well with me." Today we are told: "Judge not!" This shift
seems logical. If God loves me and every other person, then He finds
no fault with us, our actions, or our ideas. And if He finds no fault
with us, we should find no fault with each other. However, the logic
fails. It proceeds from a wrong premise, that God loves every man, and
from a wrong assumption, that a God who loves a person ignores or
tolerates that person's sins. Thus the conclusion is also wrong. In
actuality, the shift of most-quoted Bible text indicates the
increasing godlessness of our society. In the past, God received the
emphasis, even though God was wrongly understood. Now the emphasis
falls on man, to the point that in certain situations we must be
careful not to mention God's name! Man is god, free to construct his
own ideas of morality. And man's basic foundation for morality is his
thinking: "I am good. You are good. Let us agree not to find any bad
There is one group of people, however, on whom
society permits us to pass judgment, and toward whom we may be
intolerant: those who judge this modern morality as wrong, and do not
tolerate it! In this latter group true Christians must find
themselves, and the true church of Jesus Christ must find herself. We
must judge the prevailing view of tolerance as wrong, for it is not
scriptural. Scripture is the only basis for our morality.
In this pamphlet we will examine in more detail the
will be that this view is dangerous, godless, and unscriptural. We
will then examine in some detail the Scripture passages that are most
pertinent to the issue. From these passages, we will see that to judge
is the Christian's calling from God. Although God places some
restrictions on how we judge and show intolerance, He does not forbid
Prevailing View of Tolerance
An explanation of this view
This view which prevails today can be further
explained both from a negative and a positive viewpoint.
Negatively, the view is that our attitude toward the ideas or actions
of others must never be one of intolerance. An attitude of intolerance
is wrong for several reasons, we are told. First, it manifests hatred;
thus it is morally wrong. God Himself condemns intolerance by
forbidding us to judge (Matt.
7:1) and by commanding us to love one another. Tolerance is one
expression of love. Second, this attitude reveals arrogance on our
part for thinking that we are better than the other person, that our
view is the only right view, and that our way of doing things is the
only right way. This arrogant thinking denies the inherent goodness of
every person, each of whom is created in God's image (according to the
proponents of tolerance). An attitude of intolerance is wrong,
thirdly, because by it we judge a person without trying to understand
him or what causes him to act or to think the way he does.
Because this attitude of intolerance is wrong, we
must not demonstrate such by speaking against the ideas or practices
of others. We must not condemn those who favour and practice abortion,
for we do not understand the hardships which the pregnant woman
endures and will endure if she has her baby. We must not condemn
homosexuality, for God created homosexuals in His image, and their
sexual orientation is a part of that creation. Besides, homosexuals
are as capable as heterosexuals of keeping God's law of love by being
faithful to their partners. We must not condemn those whose
theological, social, or political views differ from ours, for God
gives to each of us a mind, and each of us individually is free to use
that mind as he wishes. Besides, the fact that the Bible has been
interpreted many different ways by many different people, churches,
and denominations indicates that there is no one correct view of the
Bible and its teachings.
Stated positively, this prevailing view is that we
must tolerate those who differ from us in thinking and practice. Such
tolerance would indicate love, compassion, and understanding for
others. In addition to tolerating these people, we ought to approve
their views and practices as legitimate. Perhaps our views and
practices will still differ from the next person's, but not because
ours are inherently right and the next person's are inherently wrong,
for all people, regardless of their views and practices, are good
This view of tolerance has specific implications
for the church of Christ. First, we must not preach an exclusive
gospel of salvation through Christ alone. We must not view the
teachings of other religions—Judaism, Mormonism, Buddhism, and all
others—as inherently wrong. We may not tell the Jew, the Mormon, or
the Buddhist that he must repent of his sins against the first four
commandments of God's law, and come to the knowledge of the true God
who has revealed Himself in Christ. Rather, we ought to approve the
teachings of Judaism, Mormonism, Buddhism, and other religions;
present them as viable alternatives to the Christian faith; and
encourage members of our churches to incorporate into their lives
whatever good is found in these teachings.
Second, this affects our mission work. Our mission work should consist
not of calling others to faith and repentance, but of helping the
poor, the sick, and others who need physical and economic help. We
should also be more ambitious in developing contacts with other
religions, finding the good aspects of their teachings and practices,
and incorporating them into our own teachings and practices.
Third, we must not discipline those whom we believe to be living in
sin or teaching that which is contrary to our understanding of the
fundamental truths of Scripture. Rather, remembering that we all sin,
we must allow church members who are living in sin to remain members
in good standing, partaking freely of the Lord's table. We ought even
to find some good in their actions, and recommend that other members
follow the good example that this member has set in some way. A person
who emulates Jesus most closely will view the other person as a
brother, remind him that he is a good person, encourage that person in
his sin, and remind him that God is pleased.
What accounts for this view?
Certainly the natural depravity of man is one
explanation. Man by nature is able to do and think only that which is
evil. This view is another instance of man's disregard for the Word of
God, and for God Himself. God's Word tells man that he is a slave to
sin by nature. Man, however, claims to be free, and insists on
manifesting that freedom by doing what he wants to do. The pregnant
woman insists on her freedom to choose to live her own life, by
aborting her child. The man insists on his freedom by choosing to love
However, this explanation does not sufficiently
explain why the church world at large has adopted this view.
Explaining this is the fact that the church has, as a general rule,
conformed herself to the world in every area of life, failing to live
antithetically.1 Underlying this failure is the
fact that the church has lost her consciousness of God's holiness. Her
great message has been the love of God, but she has divorced His love
from His holiness. If the church can once more understand what it
means that God is holy, she will understand the need to separate
herself from the world's ideas and practices, to denounce sin as sin,
and to preach that the loving God, Jehovah, hates sin and punishes
sinners on account of their sin.
Our evaluation of this view
Christians must evaluate this view as being
dangerous, godless, and unscriptural.
The view is dangerous because it leads to further
accommodation of the church with the world, in violation of her
calling. God calls the church to live antithetically, that is, to live
in opposition to sin and the world and in devotion to Jehovah. The
church lives antithetically, not by pretending that sin is good, but
by declaring sin to be sin, and by disciplining those who impenitently
continue to live a sinful life. She lives antithetically also by
preaching the truth of God, pointing out the lie of Satan which
opposes the truth, and disciplining those in her midst who knowingly
and impenitently promote the lie.
Failing to live antithetically, the church is in danger of becoming
the world, and of no longer being the church of God. By living and
thinking like the world, she shows that she is not fundamentally
different from the world, as God calls her to be. Thus her attribute
of holiness is lost. By teaching that which is contrary to Scripture,
she shows that she is not grounded firmly on the doctrine of the
apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ Himself being the chief
cornerstone, as God calls her to be. Thus another attribute, that of
apostolicity, is lost. Failing to be holy and apostolic, she has no
right to call herself church, for she is no different from the world.
The danger of this view, then, is the same as the danger of poison.
Poison may look harmless, and even palatable, but it is eaten to one's
own destruction. The world's ideas and practices are a poison that
might appear attractive to some, but when the church tolerates and
approves them, she does so to her own destruction. This destruction is
not simply a matter of the church failing to be distinct from the
world in this life, but is also an everlasting destruction. The God
who judges righteously will judge those who impenitently teach false
doctrine and who live in immorality without repenting. Taking warning
from this, the church must not conform herself to the world, but be
Our second evaluation of this view of tolerance is
that, for all its apparent godliness, it is in fact godless. The
various appeals to Scripture and to the attribute of God's love in
defence of this view might make it appear to be godly. There is
mention of a god—one who approves of tolerance and who cares for those
who are the victims of intolerance, hatred, bigotry, and mean
There is also mention of a heaven—the place where victims of such
intolerance are brought when their "persecution" has ended in death.
Despite this apparent godliness, the view is
godless in that it rejects Jehovah as the God whose Word is the
standard for doctrine and life. That we must tolerate, approve, and
embrace the ideas and practices of others is not God's Word, but
man's! Man has set himself up as the judge of right and wrong. And man
says: "Tolerance is right! Intolerance is wrong!"
That this is really what man has done is evident
when one considers that society itself, not the Word of God, decides
in what situations tolerance is right, and in what situations some
intolerance is permissible. The Word of God clearly forbids murder, in
the sixth commandment: "Thou shalt not kill" (Ex.
20:13). But society, while condemning the murder of a two-year-old
child or forty year-old adult, will tolerate the killing of unborn
babies and, in many instances, the killing of the terminally ill who
desire a dignified death. The Word of God clearly forbids adultery and
all sexual perversions, declaring that sex is permissible only between
a husband and a wife. This it does in the seventh commandment, "Thou
shalt not commit adultery" (Ex.
20:14), as well as in other passages (cf.
I Cor. 5:1-5 and
Heb. 13:4). But society, while intolerant of child pornography and
molestation, nevertheless permits adultery and fornication of all
sorts, and cries out for tolerance on the issue of homosexuality. When
it comes to the question "What is truth?" society attempts to give its
own definition, ignoring Jesus Christ and the Scriptures as the Truth.
These inconsistencies reveal that man has dismissed Jehovah God and
His Word as the standard of right and wrong. Men do not want God
telling them what to do! Man will be the judge of right and wrong. Any
appeal to Scripture to support the prevailing view of tolerance does
not proceed from a view of Scripture as God's Word, but from a view of
Scripture being the record of the thinking of society in the past. In
the Bible, a text can be found here and there to show that society in
the past has also apparently condemned intolerance.
This leads us to our third and fundamental evaluation of this view: it
is unscriptural. Perhaps you can hear some asking: "What do you mean,
unscriptural? Haven't you looked at
John 8:11, and
John 13:34?" The fact is, however, that many people interpret
these passages wrongly. The passages do not teach what those who use
them to promote this view of tolerance say they teach!
We must examine these and other pertinent passages of Scripture to
show that, rather than commanding tolerance of the ideas and practices
of all others, Scripture forbids such and requires us to judge.
Examination of Pertinent Scripture Passages
Principles of scriptural interpretation
It will be helpful at the outset to set forth a few
principles that must guide us in our interpretation of Scripture.
Knowing and applying these principles should prevent us from coming to
a wrong understanding of Scripture's teachings on this issue.
That the Bible is the Word of God is the most
fundamental principle. All Scripture is the Word of God,
II Timothy 3:16. This means that we will find in the Bible no
contradictions, but only the truth, for Jehovah is the God of truth,
and His Word is truth (John
17:17). Therefore, we may be sure that we will not find in
Scripture some texts which, properly understood, condone intolerance
and others which condemn intolerance; rather, we will find the one,
consistent truth regarding this matter. Furthermore, because God makes
His truth clearly known, we expect that Scripture will state
that truth clearly.
A second fundamental principle is that Scripture
interprets Scripture. This means that when we examine Scripture to see
what it teaches about an issue, we must examine all pertinent
passages. If in doing so we find some verses which appear to
contradict others, we must first come to an understanding of the
easier verse, and then we will be able to explain the more difficult
verse in its light.
Third, we must remember that, in order to understand a text of
Scripture correctly, we must consider it in the light of its context.
A part of Scripture—whether a whole verse, several verses, or part of
a verse—cannot legitimately be used to support one's ideas or actions
if the text is not explained in light of its context. The context will
often qualify the teaching of the text, by indicating more
specifically in what situations a command applies, or how
a command is to be carried out.
Our examination of the various Scripture passages which relate to the
topic of judging and tolerance will proceed on the basis of these
principles. Because the word "judge" and its related noun and verb
forms are used many times in Scripture, we will not attempt to examine
every text in which they are found. Rather, we will focus on the main
passages that are used to sup port the idea of tolerance, and we will
briefly explain a few passages that clearly require that the child of
God discern between right and wrong.
Passages that seem to support tolerance
Of those passages that are used to support the idea of tolerance,
Matthew 7:1 is perhaps the most often quoted. The text reads:
"Judge not, that ye be not judged." It is clear that Jesus here
forbids judging. The question, however, is whether Jesus forbids
all judging, or only a certain kind of judging. Verse one
by itself does not give us an answer to this question. Those who quote
only verse one to condemn intolerance ignore the context, verses 2-5,
and thus assume that the verse forbids all judging and intolerance.
However, one who reads verses 2-5 sees that Jesus does not forbid all
judging, but only
hypocritical judging. The text in its context (Matthew
7:1-5) reads as follows:
Judge not, that ye be not judged. For with what
judgment ye judge, ye shall be judged: and with what measure ye
mete, it shall be measured to you again. And why beholdest thou
the mote that is in thy brother's eye, but considerest not the
beam that is in thine own eye? Or how wilt thou say to thy
brother, Let me pull the mote out of thine eye; and, behold, a
beam is in thine own eye? Thou hypocrite, first cast out the beam
out of thine own eye; and then shalt thou see clearly to cast out
the mote out of thy brother's eye.
Jesus tells the Jews in verse one not to judge. In
verse 2 He gives the reason why they must not judge: the standard that
they use to judge others will be the very same standard that others
use to judge them. They must not ignore their own sins while
condemning the same sins in others. To do this is to judge with a
double standard, to judge hypocritically. "Is it not hypocritical to
condemn the brother for a little fault, or even to try to help him
overcome this fault, when you yourself are guilty of a great fault?"
This is the question Jesus was putting before the people.
Notice that the sin of the two sinners (the person
and his brother) is the same in two respects. First, it is the same in
nature: in both instances a piece of wood was in a person’s eye.
Second, it is the same in that both were currently sinning: the piece
of wood was in their eye at the moment. The difference between the two
faults is only one of size: one is small, the other great. For one
whose sin is great to condemn one whose sin is small, yet being the
same sin, is hypocritical (cf. v. 5). In other words, a woman
who is aborting an eight-month foetus is in no position to rebuke a
man who kills a bank teller, and the homosexual is in no position to
criticize unfaithfulness in a heterosexual marriage!
Matthew 7:1, taken in its context, does not forbid all judging and
intolerance, but only hypocritical judging and intolerance. In fact,
it does requires of us that, after repenting of our own sins, we
condemn the brother's sin as sin, and help him turn from it. "First
cast out the beam out of thine own eye," Jesus says, "then shalt thou
see clearly to cast out the mote out of thy brother's eye (vs. 5). Jesus commands genuine, not hypocritical,
intolerance of sin that the brother commits.
John 8:7, 11
John 8:7 and 11 are also important. The context is the story of
the woman who was caught in the very act of adultery and was brought
to Jesus by the scribes and Pharisees. In verse 7, Jesus says to the
scribes and Pharisees: "He that is without sin among you, let him
first cast a stone at her." In verse 11 He speaks to the woman:
"Neither do I condemn thee: go, and sin no more." The advocates of
tolerance use these words to argue that one should not condemn others,
because he is no better than they.
Although we will explain what it means to judge in more detail later,
understand for now that when one judges, he gives a verdict: guilty or
innocent. After one is judged, he is sentenced: the guilty person is
condemned (sentenced to punishment) and the innocent is set free. The
point is that judging and condemning are two distinct actions, related
but not identical.
Bearing this in mind, notice that Jesus did in fact
judge this woman, but He did not condemn her. By telling her, "Go, and
sin no more," Jesus indicates that she did sin. In itself, the
Pharisees' accusation was correct, and Jesus judged sin to be sin.
This shows intolerance of the sinful action! Following Jesus'
example, we must tell sinners to show evidence of genuine repentance
by no longer committing sin.
While Jesus did judge the woman, He did not condemn
her. She could go free; she would not be put to death. The gospel for
penitent sinners is: "There is therefore now no condemnation to them
which are in Christ Jesus, who walk not after the flesh, but after the
8:1). This message Jesus gives the woman: Jesus would Himself be
condemned for her! He would bear her punishment, that she might go
Jesus' answer to the Pharisees exposes their
hypocritical judgment in the matter. (Their primary purpose, of
course, had nothing to do with the woman; it was to trap Jesus in His
own words. Yet Jesus knew that the Pharisees prided themselves in
their self-righteousness, and responded in light of this fact.) The
Pharisees, Jesus reminds them, were also guilty of sin, and
specifically of adultery, whether in the act or in the heart. Because
they also were not free from sin, they were as worthy of death as she
was. So, by wondering what judgment she ought to have received, they
revealed their own hypocrisy and wrong motivation.
John 8:7 and 11 teach us how to deal with others who sin. Verse 11
teaches us that we must desire the sinner's repentance; verse 7
teaches us that we must not do so hypocritically, with wrong motives,
or in an improper manner. The passage does not mean, however, that we
must never hold each other accountable for our sins (that is, judge
sin to be sin).
passage which is frequently quoted is the one in which we are
commanded to love one another. Actually, many passages in Scripture
give this command.
John 13:34 is one of them. There we read: "A new commandment I
give unto you, That ye love one another; as I have loved you, that ye
also love one another."
What is love, and what does love involve? Love is a bond of
friendship, which manifests itself in seeking the good of the other
person. This might mean seeking the other person's bodily good: if he
is hungry, thirsty, cold, or naked, we must take care of that person's
physical needs. It could also involve seeking the person's spiritual
good. If he or she is walking in a way that is contrary to God's law
and thus displeasing to the Lord, we must seek to turn that person
from his or her sinful way, in love for that person.
John 13:34, Jesus does not command everyone to love. The command
comes to His disciples—the twelve men whom Jesus specially chose to
follow Him during His earthly ministry. The command did not even come
of the twelve, but only to eleven of them. One of them, Judas
Iscariot, who would later betray Jesus in his hatred for Jesus, was
not present. That the eleven disciples were the ones to whom Jesus
spoke is significant. As Jesus loved these eleven, they must love each
other! The command does not mean that all men must love all men;
rather, it means that in the church (represented by the eleven
disciples), the saints must love each other as Jesus loved the church,
giving Himself for it.
Such love does not rule out intolerance of wrong
ideas or actions on the part of fellow saints. True love seeks the
salvation of the fellow saint. Thus true love seeks to turn the saint
from his or her sins (James
passage which, although apparently not used by advocates of tolerance,
might seem to support their position is
Romans 2:1-3, which reads:
Therefore thou art inexcusable, 0 man, whoso
ever thou art that judgest: for wherein thou judgest another, thou
condemnest thyself; for thou that judgest doest the same things.
But we are sure that the judgment of God is according to truth
against them which commit such things. And thinkest thou this, 0
man, that judgest them which do such things, and doest the same,
that thou shalt escape the judgment of God?
The "man" whom Paul addresses must be understood to
be every man and any man. Paul, having explained in the last part of
chapter 1 the sins to which the world gives itself over (note the
context!), now says that each and every man who condemns these sins,
while doing the same things himself, is inexcusable. We can expect
God's judgment upon us, if we live in the same sins that we condemn in
others! Paul's point is also to warn against hypocritical judging—a
warning which we all need. However, the text does not forbid us to
Passages that command us to judge
passages of Scripture positively command us to judge. One passage
which clearly does so is
John 7:24. This is set in the context of Jesus' discussion with
the Jews who question His doctrine, and have accused Him of having a
7:20) and of breaking the Sabbath day by healing a man on the
5:1-16). To them He says: "Judge not according to the appearance,
but judge righteous judgment." By saying "Judge not," Jesus does not
mean to forbid judging as such, but to forbid a certain manner of
judging, as the positive part of this verse makes clear. We may judge,
but when we do so we must judge righteously.
Outward, superficial judgment—that is, judging simply on the basis of
what appears to be the case, without knowing all the facts—is
rash, unfair, undiscerning judgment which is contrary to the ninth
commandment of God's law. God hates such judging. Righteous judgment
is carried out using the law of God as the standard by which to
discern whether what appears to be the case actually is the case.
I Corinthians 5
I Corinthians 5 is an important chapter as regards the positive
duty of judging. First, in verse 3, Paul states under the inspiration
of the Spirit that he has passed judgment on a member of the church in
Corinth who was living in the sin of fornication. His judgment was "to
deliver such an one unto Satan for the destruction of the flesh, that
the spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus." This is a bold
judgment on his part.
Second, in verses 9-13, Paul reminds the saints of
their duty to judge people that are within the church, as to whether
or not they are obeying the law of God. Those who claim to be
Christians and are members of the church, but who are also judged to
be impenitently disobedient to any commandment of God's law (cf. vv.
9-10, which is not an exhaustive list) must be excluded from the
church's fellowship. Paul, under the inspiration of the Spirit, tells
the church not to tolerate impenitent sinners.
Other passages also indicate that it is our
responsibility to judge. Jesus asks the people in
Luke 12:57, "Yea, and why even of yourselves judge ye not what is
right?" Jesus rebukes the scribes and Pharisees in
Matthew 23:23 and
Luke 11:42, saying: "ye pay tithe of mint and anise and cummin,
and have omitted the weightier matters of the law, judgment, mercy,
and faith; these ought ye to have done, and not to leave the other
undone." It was their duty, according to the law, to judge—but they
had failed in this duty. Paul prayed that the love of the Philippians
would "abound yet more and more in knowledge and in all judgment"
(Phil. 1:9). He tells the Corinthians, "I speak as to wise men; judge
ye what I say" (I
Some passages of Scripture seem to forbid judging,
while others clearly require it. Studying the contexts of those that
seem to forbid judging, we find that what is forbidden is not actually
judging itself, but a wrong kind of judging. God hates hypocritical
judging! But God loves righteous judgment on the part of His children.
That He loves it is clear from the fact that He commands it, and has
given His law as a standard by which to do it.
It is, therefore, the Christian's duty to judge.
Positive Explanation of This Duty
What is judging?
Judging involves two main factors. First, it involves a
pronouncement concerning whether something is right or wrong. It is to
be critical. In fact, the noun 'judge" in the New Testament of our
King James Version is, in most instances, the translation of the Greek
noun kritees, from which is derived our English word "critic."
In being critical, one does several things. First, he observes an
action or hears an opinion of another person. Second, he evaluates
what he has observed, considering the positive and negative aspects or
implications of the action or opinion. Third, he reaches a conclusion
and expresses an opinion regarding whether that which he has observed
was good or bad. To use the example of a judge who must adjudicate a
criminal case, we would say that he first receives the evidence
against the accused, then weighs the evidence, and finally expresses
his conclusion regarding the innocence or guilt of the accused.
The second main factor involved in judging is that of sentencing. If
the judge finds the accused to be guilty of the crime, he sentences
him to an appropriate punishment. If the judge finds the accused
innocent, he lets him go free of punishment. To order the release of
the one who is acquitted is also a sentence: the innocent person
In saying that the Christian must judge, we have in mind primarily the
first sense of judging, that of deciding what is right and what is
wrong. All Christian judgment involves such a determination. However,
only in some instances will our duty to judge also involve pronouncing
a sentence. For example, when a consistory excommunicates an
impenitent sinner from the church, a sentence is pronounced—one of
death, of life apart from God, of exclusion also from heaven
(Matt.16:19). Even in such a case, this sentence is always contingent
on the sinner's continued impenitence. The consistory never pronounces
it absolutely, because God is the ultimate judge who gives a sentence.
In many instances, the Christian who judges whether another's actions
are right or wrong must leave the sentencing to God. This is because,
although all of us sin and deserve of ourselves to die on account of
our sins, Christ bore the sentence of death for the sins of
God's children, while He did not bear this punishment for those who
are not God's children. God will sentence to everlasting punishment
those who are not His children, and to everlasting life those whom
Christ has redeemed.
What must we judge?
Some things we cannot judge. Whether or not an other person is
elect, or whether or not the faith which he professes to have is
genuine, is known only to God, and not revealed to us (I
Tim. 2:19). Some might object by saying that we can indeed
determine whether or not the faith of another person is genuine,
because we can judge by the works that that person performs; for true
faith brings forth good works (James
2:18, 26), and good trees cannot bring forth bad fruit, nor bad
trees good fruit (Matt.
7:18). However, in saying this, one must be sure that he is
looking for fruit, not simply for fruit to a degree that
not every child of God always bears it. For, while every child of God
does indeed bear good fruit, it remains a fact that every child of God
also gives evidence of the corruption of his sinful nature, which re
mains in him until death.
Because we do not know the hearts of others, we must not judge secret
Cor. 4:5). God will judge these.
We are also forbidden to judge others in things indifferent (Rom.
14). Should someone feel bound by conscience to do something that
I would not do, I may not judge him to be wrong, so long as his
actions are not clearly contrary to God's law. Whether or not we eat,
we drink, or we regard a day as holy, our choice must be motivated by
faith and love for the Lord, and we must not condemn the actions of
others in matters that are indifferent. In this connection, Paul says
Romans 14:13: "Let us not therefore judge one another any more:
but judge this rather, that no man put a stumblingblock or an occasion
to fall in his brother's way." Paul's point is that we may not condemn
the practice of the Christian brother as wrong just because we would
not do it that way.
Positively, we must judge whether the practices or teachings of others
are in accordance with the law and Word of God.
That we must beware of false prophets has already been pointed out (Matt.
7:15). We must "believe not every spirit, but try the
spirits whether they are of God: because many false prophets are gone
out into the world" (I
John 4:1). We must guard against those deceivers and antichrists
"who confess not that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh"; and we must
not receive into our houses those who teach false doctrine (II
John 7, 10). All of these texts speak of our duty to distinguish
the truth from the lie. Our standard in this regard is Christ and
Scripture, for Christ is the truth (John
14:6), and God's Word is truth (John
17:17). After the Christian understands clearly what is truth and
what is not truth, he must confess the truth and oppose the lie, as
well as ally himself with other believers and separate himself from
Our duty with regard to the actions of others is
also clear. We must judge sin to be sin (I
Cor. 5:1ff.). In this regard we follow the example of Jesus (Matt.
5:13ff.). The standard of our judgment of sin is the law of God,
for Christ commands us to judge "righteous judgment" (John
7:24). Judging sin, we must also separate our selves from those in
the church who persist in their sins (I
Not only must we judge the wrong teachings or sins
of others, but we must also judge our own sins and wrong
thinking. The warnings against hypocritical judging certainly make the
necessity of doing this clear. How do our own actions measure up to
God's law? How do our own ideas measure up to the teaching of
Scripture? If they do not measure up, what will we do about it? Will
we condemn ourselves, or continue in our sins, hold to our wrong
ideas, and insist that the standard is faulty?
Whose duty is it to judge?
This duty to judge falls both on individual believers and on the
church as a whole.
It falls on individual believers, because they are Christians.
This title indicates that we are partakers of the anointing of
Christ—that we are prophets, priests, and kings. Particularly as king
we fight against sin and Satan in this life (Heidelberg Catechism,
Q&A 32). One aspect of the work of a king is to judge, both within and
without his kingdom. Within, he judges whether or not his subjects
have obeyed his laws. Without, he judges (discerns) who is the enemy,
and fights the enemy. So the Christian, as king, judges sin within
himself as well as outside himself to be sin, and fights against sin
and Satan. The Christian, believing child of God will not hesitate to
judge as wrong and speak out against the immorality which plagues our
society today. Using the Bible as his standard, he will say, "All
murder, including that of abortion, is wrong. All fornication,
including that of homosexuality, is wrong. All Sabbath desecration,
including the playing of professional or collegiate sports, and
including the buying and selling of merchandise, is wrong." He does
not tolerate these things. Furthermore, he must be consistent in this
respect. He must judge as wrong not only abortion and homosexuality,
but also the murder of homosexuals and of those who perform abortions.
All sin is wrong!
He does the same with respect to false doctrine. He judges as wrong
the notion that Christ is not the only saviour. He denies that God's
love will, in the end, prevail over His justice, and that every person
will somehow be saved. He repudiates the notion that Jews, Mormons,
Buddhists, or other religious groups, have the truth apart from
The church as a whole must also judge, through her
officebearers (pastors, elders, deacons). In the preaching of God's
Word by the pastors, she must set forth the truth over against the
lie, the right way of living over against the wrong way. On the basis
of the Word, the pastor must judge right to be right and wrong to be
wrong. In the work of church discipline that the elders are called to
exercise, sin is judged. A member who commits gross sin against the
law of God must himself judge it to be sin, confess it, and repent of
it. Elders must judge and discipline those who fail to confess their
sin and who remain impenitent. The elders must also guard the pulpit
by subjecting the pastor's preaching to the test of Scripture, and
calling the preaching heretical if it is that. That the church must
judge is evident from
I Corinthians 5, in which Paul commands the church to judge
the sinner, and if need be to remove him from her midst.
How must we judge?
Though it is clear that it is our duty to judge,
the question of how we judge is important.
To judge by using a standard other than the law and
Word of God is wrong. Using the standard of God's Word, we judge sin
to be sin, knowing we are right even if society accuses us of
intolerance. Our judgment will then be in accord with God's judgment
in the Judgment Day, because He will also use His law and Word as His
standard of judgment. (Remember, that in this case we are not speaking
of pronouncing a sentence—i.e., heaven or hell—but we are speaking of
whether or not God will find a certain teaching or action to be right
To judge hypocritically is wrong. We ought to judge
others only after examining ourselves first. This does not mean that
we may not judge another for a sin that we once committed; rather, it
means that we must be sure we have completely turned from our sin
before we can speak to others of their sin (Matt.
Sometimes, in pride, we imagine that we would never commit the sins
that we judge in others. At other times we judge rashly, not having
examined the evidence carefully enough to know whether or not a real
sin has been committed. Or we might judge in ignorance, judging the
actions or ideas of others as wrong simply because they differ from
what we have always thought to be right, without evaluating whether
our own thoughts are in accord with Scripture. All such judgment is
Proper judgment must be carried out in a spirit of humility, in mercy
and readiness to forgive, and in accordance with God's law. It
requires us to remember that we too shall stand before the judgment
seat of Christ. It is also done with authority and boldness, for God
calls us to do it, makes us partakers of Christ's anointing in order
that we might do it, and gives us His Word as the standard by which to
What incentive do we have to judge?
The chief incentive is our love for God. In love for Him we must
defend His Word and law. To fail to judge sin is to condone sin. But
God does not condone sin; rather, He hates it! To condone abortion,
homosexuality, and false teaching is to deny the Word of God and show
hatred for God Himself.
Second, and related to the first, is the fact that we will stand in
judgment. God will judge us according to our works, whether they be
good or evil. To judge evil to be good in this life will surely bring
upon us His judgment of condemnation and everlasting destruction. To
judge evil to be evil will bring upon us His judgment of innocence and
everlasting life—not because we have earned it by our good judgment,
but because our good judgment is evidence that His Spirit works in us
all the blessings of salvation, one of which is the privilege of
testifying to the truth.
Third, we are motivated to judge by our desire for
the salvation of our neighbour. We desire his repentance! We desire
his submission to the will of God! We desire his speaking the truth as
God revealed it! So we judge his sin as sin that he might repent. Paul
instructs us regarding this, when he says that the goal which the
Corinthians must desire in excluding the fornicator from their
fellowship is the salvation of his spirit in the day of Christ (I
Let us then judge righteous judgment! Persist in
Such judgment will surely bring upon us the
ridicule not only of the world, but also of many who call themselves
Christians. It could bring upon us the contempt of brothers or
sisters, parents or children, friends and loved ones! To judge
righteous judgment will not make things easy for us in this life. It
didn't for Christ—it brought Him to the death of the cross.
However, we must persist in judging righteously,
with the assurance that God's condemnation will not come upon
us on account of our judgment, and with the comfort that the world's
condemnation of us for judging righteously actually serves their own
condemnation in the day of Christ.
Let your love abound more and more in all knowledge and in all
judgment! Approve things that are excellent! Then, by the grace of
God, we shall be instruments unto His glory and praise.
1 Francis A.
Schaeffer's book The Great Evangelical Disaster (Westchester,
IL: Crossway Books, 1984) develops the thesis that the church in the
twentieth century has conformed herself to the world. This thesis is
stated on page 37: "Here is the great evangelical disaster—the failure
of the evangelical world to stand for truth as truth. There is only
one word for this—namely accommodation: the evangelical church
has accommodated to the world spirit of the age."
2 This was also the theme of a number of
letters in the "Public Pulse" section of the Grand Rapids Press.
God loved the homosexual teacher, and by death (the teacher died in
December of '96 or January of '97) brought him to a better place where
he was free from persecution, one writer said. Another writer applied
Romans 8:18 to the teacher, and prayed that he might rest in