The Sin of Judgmentalism

We have witnessed much violence in America over the last 24 hours and in the last year. The near future does not seem to offer any promise of rest. Yet in Matthew 5:9 we read these words from Jesus,

 "Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God."

In context, Jesus is preaching his famous Sermon on the Mount. He is describing how citizens in his kingdom should behave. Believers in Jesus are called to be peacemakers.

One vice, however, can significantly hinder our ability to be peacemakers. It is easy to see in others, but hard to spot in ourselves. We condemn it on social media, but commit it in the privacy of our own homes. It is subtle but deadly. I am talking about the sin of judgmentalism.

Be Careful How You Judge

I call judgmentalism an enemy of peacemaking because Jesus addresses the sin of judgmentalism in his Sermon on the Mount. We, as citizens in the kingdom of Jesus, need to be careful how we judge, or we will become peacebreakers. Listen to what Jesus says.

“Judge not, that you be not judged. For with the judgment you pronounce you will be judged, and with the measure you use it will be measured to you. Why do you see the speck that is in your brother's eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when there is the log in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother's eye."
- Matthew 7:1-5

The most-quoted part of this paragraph is the first sentence, “Judge not, that you be not judged.” But if we listen to all of what Jesus is saying, we discover he is not forbidding us from making judgments or exercising discernment regarding moral actions. Instead, Jesus is warning against making hypocritical judgments. It’s like trying to get a speck of sawdust out of someone else’s eye while we have a wooden beam stuck in our own.

Before we hastily point out the faults of others, we ought to examine our own life to see if we may have moral failings ourselves. If sin has compromised our ability to judge, we need to deal with our sin first. Then, and only then, should we proceed to make judgments in caution and in love. We would also be wise to reevaluate past judgments we formed when we were living in known sin. If our sin is like a wooden beam in our eye clouding our spiritual vision, humble repentance will sometimes lead us to reform our reckless judgments. This kind of humility will lead to peacemaking in the church.

It used to be taboo in our culture to make any kind of judgment about another person. Yet, in just a few years, our culture has swung radically from “Don’t judge” to “It’s courageous to judge recklessly.” Neither position is distinctively Christian. Jesus calls Christians to exercise careful, humble discernment, starting with our own hearts.

Decontextualized Discernment

Often we recklessly judge others out of simple ignorance. We can’t comprehend how another person came to their position or belief, so we criticize or even condemn them. Proverbs 18:13 warns us,

"If one gives an answer before he hears, it is his folly and shame."  

Certainly social and mainstream media do not help this problem. Thanks to social media, many Christians, including myself, can keep in touch with hundreds of people scattered across the globe. This is both a blessing and a curse. It is practically impossible to keep up with every person and know the intimate details of their life. Even in our daily interactions, we know many people on a surface level, but very few on a deep level. So when we see them make a comment online, we often have very little context to understand them.

When I was in college I worked as a resident assistant on a Christian campus. I had the unpleasant responsibility of confronting other students if they were not following the rules. I’ll admit I probably was not prepared for that role. Out of a sincere desire to do my job well, I would rush into confrontations. Due to my own ignorance, I often failed to judge rightly or in love, and it was a bitter lesson when I finally realized how many relationships I had damaged. You can’t go back. I was thankful when I heard student leaders were instructed to focus on relationships with the students on their own halls. They knew the people and the context they were dealing with, and their personal knowledge led to much healthier interactions.

Our lack of knowledge should significantly temper how we judge others. We may mean well, but too often we charge ahead recklessly. We judge prematurely. We judge impatiently. We judge arrogantly. And we may never even give the other person a chance to defend themselves. That’s not peacemaking.

The same phenomena occurs when we watch the news. We can be quick to form our opinions based on 2 minute videos or whatever voice we tend to like the most. I’m not sure I would want to be judged by that kind of standard. Would you? Jesus disapproves of our proud judgments and reminds us the merciless will receive no mercy.

For with the judgment you pronounce you will be judged, and with the measure you use it will be measured to you.

News media and internet access has given us a false sense of knowledge. We know far less than we would like to admit. We naturally crave to be “in the know.” In the New Testament, false teachers play off this desire by luring deceived people into their supposed “higher knowledge” (Colossians 2:8-23; 1 Timothy 6:20-21; 2 Timothy 2:16-19). False teachers are still at it today.

We must never forget we trust in the One who knows all things (Romans 11:33; 1 Corinthians 1:4-5; Colossians 2:1-5)! It is not necessary for us to have it all figured out. I don’t need to know what Q is saying; knowing Christ is more than enough (if you don’t understand the reference to Q, don’t worry about it). What I am pleading for here is a greater spirit of humility, a greater outpouring of love, and a greater dependence on Christ to make up for our lack of knowledge when it comes to judging other people (Ephesians 4:11-16).

Recently I was watching a movie with my wife and two daughters (3 and 6 years old). My children were constantly trying to contextualize the movie. “Daddy, what is that man’s name in real life? How old is he now? Is that lady really that mean?” I was annoyed until it dawned on me my children have a better grasp of reality than I do. They actually care about those people on the screen. Talk about a humbling moment. Do I care about the people I see on the screen? Do I even care about the people I see every day?

Covered in Christ

The beautiful truth is that Jesus Christ’s blood covers our judgmentalism. In a day when anyone can dig up anything from your past and condemn you with it in front of the world, it’s good to remember Psalm 103:11-12.

For as high as the heavens are above the earth,
    so great is his steadfast love toward those who fear him;
as far as the east is from the west,
    so far does he remove our transgressions from us.

This grace-filled forgiveness is available for all who repent. If Jesus can forgive me of my judgmentalism, he can also mediate for the other Christians I have judged. Maybe I’m right. Maybe I’m wrong. But my opinion doesn’t matter. What matters is that, in Christ, God accepts all his children. Jesus Christ’s blood covers their transgressions and makes up for their inconsistencies, their blind spots, and their faults. Like little toddlers learning to walk we may stumble and fall, but our Father still delights in our baby steps. We are all works in progress, so we should all be striving to make peace with one another. So be careful how you judge. “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.”

~CP

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