Biblical Judging – Judging Ourselves and Judging Others in Humility

Judging is condemned by many Christians today as being unbiblical and not in accordance with the teachings of Christ. This has led to many adverse effects on the church. The lack of judging and church discipline has led to the church’s often looking just like the world, with its members dwelling in all kinds of sins. Abortion, divorce, fornication, Sabbath desecration, and blasphemy are often just as prevalent among those confessing the name of Christ in the world. This essay will reply against the growing trend of churches and church members crying “do not judge me” by proving that judging is required and even absolutely necessary for the Christian to practice. To do this, it will consider three points. First, it will prove that the Christian may judge. Second, it will describe in what manner the Christian may judge. Finally, it will discuss the purpose of judging.

Let us first prove that the Christian may judge. Proper judging is certainly a righteous act for God is called throughout Scripture a judge. In Hebrews 12:23, God is called the “judge of all”[1] and in Isaiah 33:22, Jehovah is called “our [Zion’s] judge.”[2]  Since God is perfectly righteous and holy (a picture of that infinite holiness is seen in Isaiah 6), he cannot perform any unrighteous or unholy act. Therefore, judging cannot be evil of itself, since God is perfectly righteous and holy, and he does judge and issue judgment.

Further, that judging is not just an act that God may perform, but that man is allowed to judge as well as is made apparent by the prophets in the Old Testament. They acted as God’s spokesmen to lead the people back to the true worship of Jehovah.  This often meant harsh rebukes for the people living in sin, as is the case when Nathan appeared before David to call him to repent of his sin of adultery with Bathsheba and his murder of Uriah. Jonah had to call the Ninevites to repentance from their evil sins, so that God would not destroy them. Isaiah is so strong in his judgment of the people of Israel that he refers to them as the people of Sodom and Gomorrah, as is apparent from Isaiah 1:10, “Hear the word of the Lord, ye rulers of Sodom; Give ear unto the law of our God, ye people of Gomorrah” (Isa.1:10). These are just a few examples of men judging others in the Old Testament.

In the New Testament the preachers of the gospel take on the same role as the prophets in the Old Testament. It is their duty to bring the gospel to all people, and the gospel message includes the call to repentance. Man needs to be called to repentance from the many sins that he commits. Therefore the preacher needs to judge the acts of men and determine from the scriptures what is sinful in the eyes of God. In 1 John 1 John mentions numerous sins, such as dwelling in darkness and wrongly boasting, “I have no sin.” After John judges these and various other sins, he comes to the comforting statement in 1 John 2:1, “My little children, these things write I unto you, that ye sin not. And if any man sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous (1 John 2:1).” In order to be advocated by Jesus Christ, it is necessary for the Christian to know that he is a sinner and that he must confess his sin to God. The Christian knows he is a sinner by the judging of the preacher. Thus taking the apostle John as our example today, it is necessary for the salvation of the elect that preachers judge and call men to repentance.

Nor is judging limited to the preachers.Judging must be practiced by every believer, as is apparent from the words of Christ in Matthew 18:15, “Moreover if thy brother shall trespass against thee, go and tell him his fault between thee and him alone: if he shall hear thee, thou hast gained thy brother (Matt. 18:15).” To obey this command of Christ requires judging and holding the actions of others in light of the law of God. The believer must have a discerning heart to determine what is sinful and wicked in the eyes of the Lord. The believer must have the desire to flee all unrighteousness in order to show true thankfulness to God for his work of salvation. But there is a certain manner in which the Christian must judge, as will be explained in the next paragraphs.

An important aspect of judging is that the Christian will first judge himself before he judges others. This was a problem in the days of Christ, and therefore he says in Matthew 7:1–5, “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 out 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.”  Christ is not condemning judging here, but is rather commanding it. Christ directly commands us to pull that beam, that sin, out of our own eye, before attempting to pull the mote out of our brother’s eye. Yet the Christian is still to remove that mote from his brother’s eye. Calvin shows in his commentary on Matthew that it is not judging here being condemned but the eagerness to judge others. He says, “This vice [unbiblical judging] is attended by some strange enjoyment: for there is hardly any person who is not tickled with the desire of inquiring into other people’s faults. . . . This depraved eagerness for biting, censuring, and slandering, is restrained by Christ, when he says, Judge not. It is not necessary that believers should become blind, and perceive nothing, but only that they should refrain from an undue eagerness to judge: for otherwise the proper bounds of rigour will be exceeded by every man who desires to pass sentence on his brethren.”[3] The self-restraint not to judge others and rather to look on our own sins proceeds only from the grace of God. Man cannot do this in his own strength, for he constantly desires to think himself better than others, and does not desire to even think of himself as a sinner.

Further, judging ourselves is so necessary that the apostle Paul says that without that personal examination, the Christian stands in danger of being condemned with the world. He says in 1 Corinthians 11:28–32, “But let a man examine himself, and so let him eat of that bread, and drink of that cup. For he that eateth and drinketh unworthily, eateth and drinketh damnation to himself, not discerning the Lord’s body. For this cause many are weak and sickly among you, and many sleep. For if we would judge ourselves, we should not be judged. But when we are judged, we are chastened of the Lord, that we should not be condemned with the world. As Charles Hodge writes concerning this passage: “For, if we judge ourselves, that is, if we examine ourselves…and prepare ourselves for the Lord’s table, we should not be judged, i.e. thus afflicted. It is because we do not sit in judgment on ourselves, that God judges us.”[4] Thus, the Christian must judge himself, lest he stand in danger of the judgment of God.

The Christian must also judge in humility. This is one of the most important truths of Biblical judging. It is only in the way of humility that the Christian realizes, by the grace of God, that all men are sinners and are deserving of the cup of God’s wrath against sin. The Christian realizes that he has been graciously delivered from that state of total depravity, but at the same time realizes that he is still a creature with many sins and faults. Therefore he recognizes and knows the sinful flesh of others and judges humbly with the knowledge that he can fall into the exact same sin.

Further instruction on judging is found in Zechariah 7:9: “Thus speaketh the Lord of hosts, saying, Execute true judgment, And shew mercy and compassions every man to his brother.” Immediately before this verse, Zechariah is telling the Israelites that their fastings were not directed to God, but to themselves. They were concerned only with themselves, and thus God has this admonition for them. They are to execute true judgment that does not seek the profit of oneself or the harm of the neighbour, but the truth. The way to seek that true judgment is in showing “mercy and compassions every man to his brother.” An example of this mercy and compassion is in the proceeding verse, “And oppress not the widow, nor the fatherless, the stranger, nor the poor; And let none of you imagine evil against his brother in your heart” (v. 10). This is a very strong argument for proper biblical judging. Proper biblical judging is done in mercy and compassion, without the imagining of evil or sin in the brother or sister. Therefore the Christian must not be a gossip, for in doing so he takes pleasure in hearing and imagining the evil of others.

Nor must the Christian judge rashly, for in doing so, he violates the ninth commandment and is guilty of thinking evil of his neighbor. This applies to those who gossip. Gossiping often results in rash judgment on the part of the person who hears only one side of the story and is left to determine the truth just from that one side. Thus the Christian must avoid such situations where rash judgments occur, lest he sin. As the Heidelberg Catechism puts it in stating what the requirements of the ninth commandment are, “that I do not judge, nor join in condemning any man rashly or unheard; but that I avoid all sorts of lies and deceit as the proper works of the devil, unless I would bring down upon me the heavy wrath of God.”[5] Therefore the Christian must not only avoid rash judgment, but also situations where that is bound to occur.

Finally, the purpose of judging should always be the salvation of the brother or sister dwelling in sin. The purpose is not that the one who judges be esteemed and puffed up with pride for his boldness and supposed superior godliness. That is not the way of humility that the Bible teaches. An example of proper motive in judging is found in Peter’s sermon after the outpouring of the Holy Spirit on Pentecost.  After Peter accuses and judges the Jews for slaying Christ by their wicked hands, they were “pricked in their heart, and said unto Peter and to the rest of the apostles, Men and brethren, what shall we do? Then Peter said unto them, Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost” (Acts 2:37–38. The beautiful purpose of judging is that men might be drawn to God and receive salvation through the suffering of Jesus Christ. This glorious purpose of judging is further demonstrated by Paul’s words to the Corinthian church in 1 Corinthians 5:5. Here Paul is rebuking the church for allowing a man living in adultery to dwell in their midst. He calls them 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.” Harsh measures and harsh words need to be spoken to the man dwelling in sin, but the purpose is and must always be the salvation of God’s people.

In conclusion, the Christian certainly must judge, for to do otherwise is to be in rebellion against the word of God. The Christian must judge to determine what is right and wrong in relation to the law of God. But he must also rebuke brothers and sisters for living in sin. The Biblical and God-glorifying method of judging is found in humility. It is only in the way of humility that God can be glorified by our judging. Prideful judging glorifies and exults the man who is judging, throwing his works high above everybody else. But the man who judges humbly first examines himself as sinner, and then proceeds to rebuke the sinner, all the time recognizing that he is by nature a totally depraved sinner saved by the grace of God. That is the biblical and God-honoring way to judge.

[1] The Holy Bible: King James Version, Electronic Edition of the 1900 Authorized Version. (Bellingham, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc., 2009), Hebrews 12:23

[2] Isaiah 33:22

[3] John Calvin, Commentary on a Harmony of the Evangelists Matthew, Mark, and Luke, vol. 1, ed. William Pringle (Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software, 2010), 346.

[4] Charles Hodge, An Exposition of the First Epistle to the Corinthians (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1980), 234

[5] Heidelberg Catechism in The Confessions and the Church Order of the Protestant Reformed Churches (United States of America: Protestant Reformed Churches in America, 2005), 133