There’s a lot of stigma attached to judging, but it’s not something a faithful Christian can avoid doing. How can we judge the way God wants us to judge?
Even within Christian circles, there’s a recurring idea that it’s wrong to judge. That’s due in no small part to Christ’s own warning: “Judge not, that you be not judged. For with what judgment you judge, you will be judged; and with the measure you use, it will be measured back to you” (Matthew 7:1-2).
But there’s more to the story. When we look at the Greek of the New Testament manuscripts, it turns out the passage uses a Greek verb tense that doesn’t always translate well to English. It implies a continuing action instead of a single moment—a sentiment we might express as, “Don’t be the kind of person who constantly judges others.”
Verses 3 to 5 clarify that Jesus was talking about hypocritically judging.
We do ourselves (and those around us) a disservice if we’re always on the hunt for the flaws and missteps of others. And unless we want God to take that approach with us, we shouldn’t take it with others.
But judging—the actual act of looking at a situation and discerning whether certain actions are right or wrong—that’s not just something a Christian should do.
It’s something we must do.
The right way to judge
Jesus also said, “Do not judge according to appearance, but judge with righteous judgment” (John 7:24, emphasis added).
God didn’t show us His truth so we could spend our time continually condemning everyone around us. But He does expect us to discern—to judge—between good and evil, right and wrong. There will be many times in your life when you must make a judgment regarding what others are doing and even more importantly between one course of action and another. And in that process, God expects us to use righteous judgment.
So what does that look like?
Judgment must go beyond the surface
When it was time for the prophet Samuel to anoint the next king of Israel, he expected God to choose the most impressive-looking candidate. But God had to remind Samuel, “Do not look at his appearance or at his physical stature, because I have refused him. For the LORD does not see as man sees; for man looks at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart” (1 Samuel 16:7).
Judging righteously requires us to see past the surface and down into the heart of a matter. That is extremely difficult.Judging righteously requires us to see past the surface and down into the heart of a matter. That is extremely difficult.
Actually, it’s impossible for us.
God has perspective we lack
After Judas betrayed Christ and committed suicide, the disciples needed to fill his position. There were two good candidates, but rather than argue over favorites, they prayed for guidance. “You, O Lord, who know the hearts of all, show which of these two You have chosen” (Acts 1:24).
God answered that prayer, and He’ll answer our prayers too. That’s one of the biggest keys to judging with righteous judgment—start by getting the perspective of the One who can see everything with crystal clarity.
So we begin by asking for insight, wisdom and guidance in our decision-making process.
Righteous judgment requires something from us
Then it’s up to us to listen.
That listening comes in many forms: Bible study. Meditation on that study. Seeking advice and input from people we trust. Setting aside time to fast.
God has answers for us, but He doesn’t always hand them to us on a silver platter. Read what Solomon wrote about how zealously we must seek them in Proverbs 2:1-5.
Finding answers requires work and dedication from us—and not just when we’re stumped, but always. If we regularly spend time searching through God’s Word, it will be that much easier to find the answers when we need them.
What God wants us to do with righteous judgment
The process of righteous judgment—of discerning a situation through God’s eyes—is difficult enough, but what does God expect us to do with that discernment?
This is where Christ’s warning becomes especially important. Luke recorded it this way: “Judge not, and you will not be judged; condemn not, and you will not be condemned; forgive, and you will be forgiven; give, and it will be given to you. Good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, will be put into your lap. For with the measure you use it will be measured back to you” (Luke 6:37-38, English Standard Version).
It’s so easy to use righteous judgment as a weapon. But if that’s our intent, we’re missing the point entirely. The primary function of righteous judgment is to make decisions about our own life.
We use righteous judgment to decide if we should stay in certain environments—or leave. We use it to decide who we want involved in our lives—and who we don’t. We use it to decide what activities we’re okay with participating in, what sort of things we’re okay with saying, and even how we’re willing to invest our time and energy.
(To be clear, there will be times when discernment prompts you to voice your concerns to the offending party. That’s a much bigger subject that we cover in a blog series, starting with “Conflict Resolution: Should I Say Something?”)
As Christians in progress, we’re not always going to make the right call. Even though we have access to the mind of Christ (1 Corinthians 2:16), it takes repeated practice to learn how to effectively use that access.
The important thing is to keep practicing—not in order to self-righteously or hypocritically condemn others, but to better understand what God would have us do with our day-to-day lives: “For everyone who partakes only of milk is unskilled in the word of righteousness, for he is a babe. But solid food belongs to those who are of full age, that is, those who by reason of use have their senses exercised to discern both good and evil” (Hebrews 5:13-14).
For more on the subject of righteous judgment, be sure to read our online article “What Did Jesus Mean by ‘Judge Not’?”
If you’d like to suggest a topic for future editions of “Christianity in Progress,” you can do so anonymously at lifehopeandtruth.com/ideas. We look forward to your suggestions!