Legalistic believers often feel it is their duty to confront sinners with their ‘sins’. This sometimes includes telling sinners how bad they are and urging them to accept Jesus. And they don’t stop there; they also confront fellow believers with their ‘sins’ and heap guilt, judgment, and rejection on them.
But we must hear what Jesus says about judging others.
Jesus Speaks to Us on Judging Others
Perhaps Jesus’ most significant and powerful words are found in the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 5-7. This is his most detailed teaching, and it give us strong guidance in how we should live as followers of Jesus.
It is mostly about how we should treat people, and chapter 7 states:
Do not judge, or you too will be judged. For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.
This is not just an offhand statement; it is a key element in how we should treat others. In this sermon we have responsibilities toward people but they don’t include judging them. Judging people is not our job despite what many believers think.
Jesus also suggests the consequence of judging: if we judge others they are going to judge us back! This happens today. One of the most consistent complaints against the church, from inside and outside, is the constant condescending judgmentalism. People resist it, and they respond by judging the church. Why are people leaving our churches? This is a major reason.
Jesus continues his instruction against judging by using imagery:
Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.
In speaking to his listeners, I imagine Jesus was also thinking of the Pharisees who were experts in judging others while considering themselves faultless; Jesus confronted them repeatedly on this issue. So you might think of Jesus’ message as ‘Don’t be like the Pharisees.’ Yet many believers today are just like the Pharisees—judging others while considering their own faults to be minor at most.
Love Yourself and Hate Your Own Sin
Many think they have a mandate from God to call out other people’s shortcomings, but they claim to do it in ‘love’. They know Jesus tells us to love others, so they say they ‘love the sinner but hate the sin’. However, this love often seems shallow and impersonal. These believers confront people in ‘love’ in order to save them from ‘hell’, but the way to bring people to Jesus is not with condemnation but by sharing the GOOD news of Jesus.
When a believer ‘loves a person but hates their sin’ it feels to the judged that it is they the believer hates—that they are being condemned. So this way of loving people usually either alienates the person or frightens and intimidates them into embracing legalism so that they too begin to judge and condemn.
What is needed instead is the good news. The good news of Jesus tells us that God loves us unconditionally. In light of his love, we should love ourselves properly and then love others as we love ourselves. Embracing the immense love of God is what causes us to change—to abandon self-destructive behavior and to begin to love others—not judge them.
Instead of ‘love the sinner and hate the sin’ how about we ‘love ourselves and attend to our own sin’ by recognizing our deficiencies of self-destructive behavior and of our treating people inappropriately?
Don’t be a Fruit Inspector
Some believers say they are not judging—they are only fruit inspectors, referring to what Jesus says in this same chapter of Matthew:
Watch out for false prophets. They come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ferocious wolves. By their fruit you will recognize them…every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit. A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, and a bad tree cannot bear good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. Thus, by their fruit you will recognize them.
Jesus is not talking about identifying sin in people’s lives but avoiding false teachers. Bad teachers produce bad fruit. Observe the results of their teaching; it often includes a lot of harmful baggage. And one fruit of many teachers today is judging people and teaching their followers to do the same—this is not good fruit.
Other believers say their judgment of others arises from justifiable righteous indignation. Some even abandon the claim of ‘loving the sinner’ by declaring them to be enemies and attacking them as such. But we are not called to view people with indignation and contempt; our calling is to share the good news of Jesus about the Father’s love, peace, and reconciliation.
Paul Weighs In on Judging Others
Judgmental believers try to find support in the words of Jesus, but they go wild with the words of Paul. They interpret Paul as a strict advocate against sinners and quick to judge and reject those who sin, but I think they completely miss Paul’s heart. They badly misunderstand Paul, which is not really surprising because he was misunderstood in his own day.
They think Paul is harsh and judgmental on sin in others, but actually he reflects Jesus’ message very well. Paul’s statement in Romans 14 illustrates his agreement with Jesus.
One person’s faith allows them to eat anything, but another, whose faith is weak, eats only vegetables. The one who eats everything must not treat with contempt the one who does not, and the one who does not eat everything must not judge the one who does, for God has accepted them.
Who are you to judge someone else’s servant? To their own master, servants stand or fall. And they will stand, for the Lord is able to make them stand.
In 1 Corinthians 4, Paul writes:
I care very little if I am judged by you or by any human court; indeed I do not even judge myself. My conscience is clear, but that does not make me innocent. It is the Lord who judges me.
Would that those who pick at specks in the eyes of others or who feel they have been called to be God’s fruit inspectors would listen to their hero Paul. Paul agrees with Jesus: it is not our job to judge others. Let us abandon this hurtful practice and embrace people with love.
Articles in this series: Sin and Forgiveness
The Story of Sin and Salvation—Common Baggage Version (CBV)
What is Sin but Pain and Alienation?
Addressing Sin in the Old Testament
The Prophets Begin to Talk about Sin in a New Way
What Does Jesus Say about Sin? Not Much!
The Misguided Concept of ‘Loving the Sinner and Hating the Sin’
What Does Jesus’ Death on the Cross Do for Us?
How Substitutionary Atonement Fails
Why Did Jesus Die on the Cross?
Does Jesus Tell Us to Judge People in Matthew 18?
Are Sins Primarily Sins against God?
“If There’s No Hell then I Will Sin All I Want!”
Problems with the Sinner’s Prayer
What does the Story of Eden Tell Us? Is it about Sin?
We Do Not Inherit Original Sin from Adam
Original Sin or Original Self-Centeredness?
Who Does God Refuse to Forgive?