“Judge not, that you be not judged.” Matthew 7:1
We live in an age of so-called tolerance and moral relativism. “What is right for you, may not be right for me.” “My truth may not be your truth, but you have no right to judge my truth.” And it would seem at first glance that the statement of Jesus above would fit right in with postmodern culture. In fact these words of Jesus may be quoted across social media more than anything else that He has said.
But is Jesus really advocating that we don’t make any judgments in life? What about verses such as 1 John 4:1 where the apostle John tells us: “Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, for many false prophets have gone out into the world”? The apostle Paul gives instructions to avoid godless chatter, and then he names two men whom he declares have wandered from the truth: Hymenaeus and Philetus. Were the apostles John and Paul a little more judgmental than Jesus? So-called liberal Christianity seeks to create a chasm between a tolerant Jesus, and the quick-to-judge, narrow-minded apostles.
But there is no disunity between the gospel as Jesus proclaimed it, and as the apostles would later proclaim it. All of Scripture is a progressive revelation of the wonder of what the gospel is really all about! Jesus reached out to the lowest of society with the good news of salvation, just as Paul would later do. But Jesus did not tolerate sin or false doctrine. And the verse above is often ripped out of context. Jesus goes on to say “for with the judgment you pronounce you will be judged, and with the measure you use it will be measured to you.” There is a place for judgment and discernment, but it must be exercised with caution.
The tendency of our depraved hearts is to be lenient with ourselves and overly critical of others. And Jesus, knowing how deep sin runs, warns us not to be quick in condemning others, while we condone the same behaviour in ourselves. While we must be discerning, and put away false doctrine and even false teachers, we need to do so with an attitude of humility that declares, “By the grace of God, I am what I am!”