Back when I went to a “mainstream church” and the Lord began to open my eyes to the truth in His Word and to the far-reaching compromise and lukewarmness among the people there, I began to have conversations with a number of people about God’s call to obedience and separation from worldliness. As you might expect, it wasn’t long before I heard statements like, “You can’t judge! After all, Jesus Himself said, ‘Judge not, that ye be not judged.’ So you can’t say these things and judge me.” Are they wrong? Are they right? They’ve certainly quoted Jesus accurately (Matthew 7:1), but are we really not to judge, even among the Body of Christ? Did Jesus give us more guidelines for judging, or did He leave us with only this seeming blanket prohibition? What about judging people’s actions? Thankfully, as with most any subject, God has provided answers for us in His Word.
When we preach the gospel to a lost person, we need to help them see that they are a sinner, that they regularly break God’s commands and that this is their natural course of life. We don’t even have to dig deeply into their life to make any judgments about the person in order to make these points, because unless a person is born again, the “man on the street” is a practicing sinner 100% of the time. However, when we do the exact same thing with a professing believer, we often meet resistance, with the defense, “You’re judging me; only God can judge me; you don’t know my heart;” and so on. These people claim to know the Lord, but their lifestyles contradict their profession. The true believer is left with one option: judge the person based upon their behavior.
This is exactly what Paul advocates:
11 But actually, I wrote to you not to associate with any so-called brother if he is an immoral person, or covetous, or an idolater, or a reviler, or a drunkard, or a swindler – not even to eat with such a one. (1 Corinthians 5:11)
Paul is pointing out that with professing believers, we are to look at their lives in light of God’s commands and see whether their profession is genuine. He does this for two reasons. First, God wants to keep His church pure and shut out evil influence, compromise, and sin as much as possible. Second, God wants to see those who are holding to a false profession broken toward repentance and true conversion. Putting them out of the church as a result of judging their actions is intended to open the eyes of the blind, by helping them see that their lifestyle does not conform to Christ’s call.
Even though they may protest, it’s important for professing believers to understand that we can always judge patterns of behavior, and it’s really quite straightforward. Jesus said:
45 The good man out of the good treasure of his heart brings forth what is good; and the evil man out of the evil treasure brings forth what is evil; for his mouth speaks from that which fills his heart. (Luke 6:45)
18 But the things that proceed out of the mouth come from the heart, and those defile the man. 19 For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, slanders. (Matthew 15:18-19)
Jesus never separates the heart from actions. Professing Christians may claim that their heart is toward God, that they love Him, and that He knows these things; but if they live a life in which they continually violate His commands, and they don’t appear overly concerned about it; then the true, unregenerate state of their heart becomes clear. How then can such people expect true Christians to believe that they either love God’s Word or are born again?
Jesus talked a lot about fruit (or works), and so did his disciples, James and John. Professing believers need to understand that their “confession of faith” to God (or man) is meaningless. What God looks at is a person’s life. As a fallen man with limited wisdom, I can evaluate someone’s life by simply making a chart of (a) how they divide their time among various activities and (b) how they spend their money. I can figure out really quickly what’s important to them. How much more can God see not just through their use of time and money but right through their thoughts and into their heart? What kind of fruit are they bearing?
17 Likewise every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit. 18 A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, and a bad tree cannot bear good fruit. 19 Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. 20 Thus, by their fruit you will recognize them. (This certainly implies judging.) 21“Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ (the cheap confession I referred to – after all, only professing Christians call Jesus “Lord”) will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. 22 Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and in your name drive out demons and perform many miracles?’ (This sure sounds like professing Christians to me.) 23 Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!’ (Matthew 7:17-23, emphasis mine)
14 What good is it, my brothers, if a man claims (cheap talk again) to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save him? 15 Suppose a brother or sister is without clothes and daily food. 16If one of you says to him, “Go, I wish you well; keep warm and well fed,” but does nothing about his physical needs, what good is it? 17 In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead. (James 2:14-17, emphasis mine)
3 We know that we have come to know Him if we obey His commands. 4 The man who says, “I know Him,” but does not do what He commands is a liar, and the truth is not in him. 5 But if anyone obeys His word, God’s love is truly made complete in him. This is how we know we are in Him: 6 Whoever claims to live in Him must walk as Jesus did. (1 John 2:3-6, emphasis mine)
After looking at God’s description of how to discern those who are truly His, I ask, would you do it any differently if you were God? Would you want followers who gave you cheap talk but who were halfhearted and lukewarm at best and held no true devotion to you? Of course not. Neither does God, and Jesus talked about this fact quite a bit:
11 While they were listening to these things, Jesus went on to tell a parable, because He was near Jerusalem, and they supposed that the kingdom of God was going to appear immediately. 12“A nobleman went to a distant country to receive a kingdom for himself, and then return. 13 And he called ten of his slaves, and gave them ten minas and said to them, ‘Do business with this until I come back.’ 14 But his citizens hated him and sent a delegation after him, saying, ‘We do not want this man to reign over us.’ 15When he returned, after receiving the kingdom, he ordered that these slaves, to whom he had given the money, be called to him so that he might know what business they had done. 16 The first appeared, saying, ‘Master, your mina has made ten minas more.’ 17 And he said to him, ‘Well done, good slave, because you have been faithful in a very little thing, you are to be in authority over ten cities.’ 18 The second came, saying, ‘Your mina, master, has made five minas.’ 19 And he said to him also, ‘And you are to be over five cities.’ 20 Another came, saying, ‘Master, here is your mina, which I kept put away in a handkerchief; 21 for I was afraid of you, because you are an exacting man; you take up what you did not lay down and reap what you did not sow.’ 22 He said to him, ‘By your own words I will judge you, you worthless slave. Did you know that I am an exacting man, taking up what I did not lay down and reaping what I did not sow? 23 Then why did you not put my money in the bank, and having come, I would have collected it with interest?’ 24 Then he said to the bystanders, ‘Take the mina away from him and give it to the one who has the ten minas.’ 25 And they said to him, ‘Master, he has ten minas already.’ 26 I tell you that to everyone who has, more shall be given, but from the one who does not have, even what he does have shall be taken away. 27 But these enemies of mine, who did not want me to reign over them, bring them here and slay them in my presence.” (Luke 19:11-27, emphasis mine)
Notice the points Jesus is making about His kingdom in this parable. First, there will be an accounting of what we do for Him with our life. He will commends and reward those servants who use what He gives them to increase His kingdom, to build “assets” that matter to Him, not to us. Second, there will be dire consequences for those who reject His way and hate His rightful rule over their lives. They will be killed; and of course, we know from all Jesus’ other teachings that this is not just physical death but also spiritual death, which has eternal consequences. This is a sober message that people need to hear, but you’ll rarely hear it in churches. Yes, they might preach it in terms of why we need to “invest our minas” and give our time to their church and their programs, but that’s not the same thing as personally hearing from God (which His sheep do – John 10:1-18), doing what He says to do, and working as God directs you to work. That’s a firmly biblical concept, well familiar to true followers of Christ but foreign to most churches today.
Nearly all of those I have spoken with don’t like the fact that I am judging them. What professing believers need to understand is that we don’t take it lightly when we judge their lives. We need to share how judging is to be rightly done, and we need to show that the Word of God is the authority that establishes these truths. We also need to make clear that our ultimate motive is love. Like our loving Father, we don’t want to see anyone perish in their sin. So what principles does the Bible give us for judging? I’ll sum them up in eight quick points:
(1) We are to be clean and humble before God and not hypocritical in our judgment – Matthew 7:1-5.
(2) We need the Holy Spirit (discernment) to make a right judgment, so as not to judge by mere appearances (in the wisdom of man) – John 7:23-24.
(3) On matters that are disputable (non-salvation issues, such as food, sacred days, etc.), we are not to judge our brethren – Romans 14; 1 Corinthians 10:31-33.
(4) Along the lines of (1) above, we are to maintain humility and leave the ultimate revealing of those with false motives to the Lord – 1 Corinthians 4:3-5.
(5) Paul passed judgment on an unrepentant sinner in the church, and he affirms that we are to judge those inside, not outside, the church. This is a judgment with consequences – 1 Corinthians 5:3, 11-13.
(6) Paul instructed Timothy in how to go about all the judgments he had to make in ministry in the right manner. He was to show no partiality or favoritism – 1 Timothy 5:21.
(7) James tells us not to slander someone in our judgment. “Slander” means to make a malicious statement, with evil intent. He also tells us we cannot condemn someone – i.e. sit in judgment of the Law, or make ourselves judge instead of God – James 4:11-12.
(8) Paul also wrote against making hypocritical, condemning judgments – Romans 2:1-4.
When we follow these principles in speaking with someone about their life, we are also to heed this counsel from God’s Word:
And a servant of the Lord must not quarrel but be gentle to all, able to teach, patient, in humility correcting those who are in opposition, if God perhaps will grant them repentance, so that they may know the truth (2 Timothy 2:25, emphasis mine)
We are to diligently attempt to share truth with them, so that they may be saved and/or walk according to God’s commands in His Word, which is the exact same thing we should be trying to do in our own lives. So we’re not exhorting someone else to do something that we’re not wholeheartedly striving to do ourselves. We need to be patient and willing to spend many hours discussing the truth in God’s Word, with the knowledge that a true believer loves the Word and will conform his or her life to it.
The unfortunate reality with the vast majority of people is that, after many hours of discussion, it becomes quite clear where they draw the line with God – how far they will and won’t go with what the Bible clearly says. When you line up anyone against the perfect plumb line of God’s Word, imperfections become clear. And when someone sees these things, the appropriate response for the born again child of God is, “I repent. I’m wrong. I humble myself and commit to align my life with God’s Word.” Unfortunately, what you often see from professing Christians is this response: “I don’t feel like God would do that.” Or “I think I’m going to do it this (i.e. my) way instead.” Or “I see that the Bible is saying that, but I just don’t feel right about it, so I disagree.” Or “In spite of what the Bible says about me that clearly shows that I’m not born again, I believe I am anyway.”
If people are honest with themselves, they can easily see that these statements are flawed and that some are ridiculous – simply attempts to justify a person’s preference to rule their own life. The reality is that it’s really not difficult to use the Word of God to judge someone’s life as to whether or not they are following Christ. What makes it difficult and confusing for the multitude of professing Christians out there is the fact that so many claim to be following Christ whose lives bear no fruit. Couple this with how few actually do follow Christ and bear fruit for Him, and you end up with all the confusion we see today. Tack on to this the cost of following Christ and His guarantee of suffering and persecution (Matthew 13:21; 2 Timothy 3:12), and you get an unpalatable religion in the eyes of those who lack the faith to see its eternal rewards.
May all of us who bear the name of Christ watch our own lives closely, and may we employ the same zeal for God’s Bride that Paul did when he rightly judged.