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Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Judge Not Not

Is there an echo in here? No, that's a double negative ... for good reason.

It has been noted of late that the best known Bible verse (today) is Jesus's words from Matthew: "Judge not, that you be not judged" (Matt 7:1). I've pointed out in the past that this is a verse and a concept yanked horribly out of context and twisted to mean something other than intended. The subsequent sentence explains better. "For with the judgment you pronounce you will be judged, and with the measure you use it will be measured to you" (Matt 7:2). Jesus goes on (in the very next verse) to warn against taking a speck out of your brother's eye before removing the log from your own. Later in the passage he warns of the narrow and wide gates and then of false prophets ("You will recognize them by their fruits" (Matt 7:16).). All of these require judgment. He doesn't say to not remove the splinter from your brother's eye. He does not say to avoid paying attention to the wide and narrow gates. He does not say not to determine what a false prophet looks like. He tells us to judge rightly.

When Jesus says "Judge not", then, He is not warning against judging at all. What He is warning against is judging swiftly, often, and, most pointedly, without self-judgment. "With the judgment you pronounce you will be judged." That's the standard for judging. Test yourself first, and be prepared for others judging you.

One popular complaint that you hear a lot is "I can’t know the mind of God, and it's not my place to judge your relationship with Him." There is a common suggestion that we just cannot know who is and who is not saved and it's wrong to make any statement to that effect. And, to be quite fair, to a large extent this is true. It's very hard to tell in many cases who knows Christ and who is just faking it. John said of antichrists from the church, "They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would have continued with us. But they went out, that it might become plain that they all are not of us" (1 John 2:19). Clearly, then, while they were "with us", they were hard to distinguish. Jesus implies the same thing with His references to "the wheat and the tares" and such. Lots of people look like wheat but are actually tares, weeds, false Christians. So we ought to be cautious here.

I have suggested, on the other hand, that there are some clear biblical teachings on the subject. In light of the the question of "Is it my place to judge your relationship with God?", I see a a couple of biblical measurement tools that can be used here.

The first is so blatant as to almost be unnerving. "No one born of God makes a practice of sinning, for God's seed abides in him, and he cannot keep on sinning because he has been born of God" (1 John 3:9). Given someone who "makes a practice of sinning" -- who continues in and defends and "practices" (keeps at it until it is perfected) sin -- it doesn't take real effort to say, "That person is not born of God." It is, in fact, inexorable biblical logic. I'm not talking about perfection. As the saying goes, "No one is perfect, and I'm the perfect example." It is the concept of a practice of sin, a defense of sin, an ongoing refusal to repent, sinning without repentance. Acting out of "kindness" and "tolerance" and "non-judgmentalness" and saying, "Well, I can't comment on your relationship with God" when the Bible says something specific and clear here wouldn't be kindness or tolerance. It would be cruelty.

Beyond that, there is another. "They went out from us" according to John to demonstrate something: "They were not of us." That's a clear statement. It doesn't take a genius to figure it out. When someone, then, claims to be a Christian and then denies the faith, we are biblically obligated to treat them as unbelievers, non-Christians, people without a relationship with the living God. To do otherwise would be unkind.

Two conditions, then. One is sin without repentance (and we see that repeated in Matt 18:15-17 and 1 Cor 5:9-13) and the other is apostasy, a jettisoning or denial of the faith. Either of these are reasonable indicators of a lack of a vital relationship with Christ. These people, biblically, are unbelievers. Further, in light of Jesus's "with the judgment you pronounce you will be judged", I hope that's what happens. If I sin without repentance or deny the faith, I would hope and pray that those who I know genuinely care about me would exercise that painful form of love that starts with a call to repentance and could end up like the one that Paul exercised when he turned the sinning fellow over to Satan. I want to be judged by the biblical standard and warned if I go off that cliff rather than coddled and patted and informed, "Well, you are probably just fine" when I'm really not. That, to me, is not love.

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