Should Christians Judge?

Post Author: Bill Pratt

I was recently reading a newspaper article my wife showed me, and it reminded me of a Metallica song called “Holier Than Thou.”  In that song, the singer repeats a refrain, “Judge not lest ye be judged yourself.”  That phrase, I’ve come to realize, is an anthem that our culture cries at every opportunity.

The article that prompted this recollection from the cobwebs of my mind was about a controversial vote within the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) on whether to allow gays to serve as ministers and elders.  One gentleman, who supports the amendment, said the following: “We do not as individual Christians and Presbyterians need to pass judgment on others.  That’s not our responsibility.”  In other words, Christians are not to make judgments about other people’s moral behavior, and especially sexual behavior.  The business of pointing to a person’s immoral actions is strictly forbidden.

Now, the reason my wife likes to show me articles like this is because she knows how I will react – not well.  This matter of Christians not judging comes up again and again, but nobody ever seems to learn.  So, here is my feeble attempt at straightening this out.

The source, for most people,  of the idea that Christians should not judge comes from Matt. 7:1: “Do not judge, or you too will be judged.”  If you read this single verse on its own, you may very well come to the conclusion that Jesus is telling people not to judge, but then comes the small matter of context.  It turns out that sentences in the Bible, like every other written document ever produced, need to be read in context.  We need to know what the surrounding verses say in order to understand this verse.

If you continue to read Matthew 7, through verse 5, you will see what Jesus is talking about.  In verse 5, Jesus says, “You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.”  Here is the key to what Jesus means.  He is speaking out against hypocritical and self-righteous judgments.  He is not telling us to never judge; he is telling us how to judge rightly.

In fact, it would be extremely strange for Jesus to tell us to never judge in Matt. 7:1 when just a few verses later, in verse 6, he tells Christians to beware “dogs” and “pigs” so that we don’t waste time giving them knowledge of God.  The only way you can detect a metaphorical “dog” or “pig” is to judge other people’s actions!  There are, in fact, many more verses in the New Testament that exhort believers to judge other people  (e.g., Matt. 7:15-16; John 7:24; 1 Cor. 5:9; 2 Cor. 11:13-15; Phil. 3:2; 1 John 4:1; 1 Thess. 5:21).

To say that Jesus teaches us not to judge other people’s actions is obviously and plainly wrong.  But how should Christians judge?  Here are some biblical guidelines.  One should judge:

  1. Consistently, not hypocritically
  2. With Humility, not superiority
  3. With Facts, not assumptions
  4. Words and Deeds, not motive and intent
  5. Biblical Issues, not personal preferences
  6. Sins, not sinners
  7. Temporal Matters, not eternal matters (salvation)
  8. With a Goal to Show People Christ, not how good you are

Easier said than done, but that’s what our Lord commands.  Rather than making the extreme claim that we should never judge, Christians need to figure out how to do it correctly.  With God’s help, it can be done!

30 thoughts on “Should Christians Judge?”

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  2. Yes, it is excellent. So glad you wrote on this.
    Must say that I am guilty of juding others, and I guess in the salvation department. I know, and even say when speaking out loud, that I know only God knows if someone is saved or not. But sometimes I wonder about a person — concerned about them — as they don’t act like Christians. Have a friend who is married to a Catholic. The kids were raised Catholic. According to the mother, the oldest boy has no religious beliefs. The parents never went to church. They celebrate Easter only as a “family get together”. When talking on the phone to this dear friend, I mentioned I told my husband we had a godless marriage. She said, “what is that?”. And another friend emailed me she was going to live her life the way she wanted to and hope God understands. So, I am concerned about these friends. Is that the same as juding their salvation? k

  3. Good post Billy, I didn’t know you knew the Metallica song you mentioned. Actually, there are other ones on that same album that are much better.

    But yes, it seems that every non-Christian (and many Christians) know and love this verse, and use it (out of context, of course) to try to “prove” or “support” their points. Of course, when you try to show them, nicely, that the verse doesn’t mean what they think it does, the labels begin. It’s always a fun drill…

  4. Kay,
    Concern about your friends is perfectly biblical. Where you should draw the line is thinking you know whether they will go to heaven or hell. Only God knows that. Your job is to love them and tell them about Christ when they will listen. You should also pray for them.

    Hope that helps,

  5. My view on judging is that the Bible helps us see which actions are wrong. For example, if someone steals, that is wrong. However, I cannot judge why they stole, whether they have repented, etc. The inability to judge their heart should not prevent me from telling a friend, “Stealing is wrong. Can we talk about what you did?” If I love my friend as Jesus commands, I will want to rid his/her life of sin whenever I can. If you are judging or intervening for a reason other than love, you’re probably wrong to do so. The flip side is that I need to be open to listening when someone confronts me about my actions.

    Good post. This issue can be a stumbling block for many.

  6. Hardly in Christendom you see those professed Christians stand up for the truth. You are one in a million, the God whom you serve will perfectly reward you, as you expose falsehood and maintain the truth about the teachings of Jesus Christ.

  7. This is judging by only CHRISTIAN standards and perceptions. If I were a Wiccan and decided to judge Christians based upon my own criteria, I have every reason to as well.

  8. This is amazingly written, however, i must point out that in verse 6, I do no think Jesus is telling us to judge peoples actions but to discern….Discerning is VERY different from judging.

  9. Awesome article but you are wrong about judging salvation, brother

    I agree that there are no scriptures indicating that a believer can know whether or not someone else WILL go to heaven (knowing someone’s future condition); however, God’s word DOES say that we can know if someone is currently a false convert (knowing someone’s present condition).

    Jesus repeatedly emphasizes in Matthew 7 (verse 16 and 20). that his sheep will recognize false prophets (which is synonymous with “false convert”). He says “you WILL KNOW THEM by their fruits”. Jesus doesn’t say here that their fruits MIGHT reveal them as a bad tree (false convert). No, he says that bad fruit causes us to ” KNOW them”.

    When I recognize a ravenous wolf (matt. 7:15) in the church, am I not also recognizing that the above mentioned person is unsaved and a false convert??

  10. Hi Jay,
    Thanks for the comment. I re-read the verses you refer to, and I don’t know if it’s so cut and dry. Jesus’ direct command to us is to watch out for false prophets so that we aren’t deceived. But verses 21-23 make it clear that Jesus is the one doing the ultimate judging, not us. I think it’s unwise to draw conclusions about a person’s salvation, and unnecessary. It’s enough that if we see someone who is a false prophet, that we avoid them or their teaching. why do we need to go one step further and say to everyone around us, “He isn’t saved.”

    I looked in a commentary on these verses and found the following from Craig Blomberg, who is a highly respected conservative theologian:

    At the same time, v. 16 suggests that outward behavior may enable one to distinguish between true and false Christians. Like inspecting vegetation, which inevitably discloses fruit in keeping with its species and state of health, so also one can look for good or bad (literally, rotten or worthless) spiritual fruit (vv. 17–20). Verse 21 further equates this fruit with doing “the will of my Father who is in heaven,” precisely what the Sermon on the Mount is elaborating. Of course, any individual action can prove insincere, but those who have detailed opportunities to scrutinize both the private and public behavior of people who claim to be Jesus’ followers (and particularly who can watch how those people respond after sinning) will have the best chance of evaluating the genuineness of professed commitments to Christ. It is worth emphasizing, however, that one can never know with absolute certainty the spiritual state of any other individual.

    Craig Blomberg, vol. 22, Matthew, electronic ed., Logos Library System; The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 2001), 133.

  11. Thanks for the response, sir.

    I appreciate the commentary but was wondering if you had any verses that validate your point that Christians can’t know if someone is truly saved. Are there any Scriptures that actually support this?

    I believe it is sin to teach a view without scriptural support. Therefore, I’d like to provide a few that support my point.

    In Matthew 7:16, 20. Christ says WE will KNOW ravenous wolves in sheep clothing. Mr. Pratt, is a ravenous wolf a misbehaving Lamb or a wolf? Is it a backsliding Christian or a false convert? There’s no way one can interpret a WOLF as anything other than a false convert which proves that Christ was teaching that we can know a false convert. Also, Paul called some people false converts in 2 Timothy ch. 3. In reference to those who have “a form of godliness, but lack power”, Paul wrote that they were “disqualified regarding the faith”

    If that isn’t judging a Christian’s claim to salvation than I don’t know what is.
    – Jay

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  13. I am an elder in a Presbyterian church and as you probably know the vote on whether to ordain a gay person has been passed. Our congregation is very unhappy about that and we are having a meeting this Sunday to discuss our path. I have already heard from a member,
    “who are we to judge” so your article will be very helpful. Please pray for us.

  14. My general understanding is that we are called to “speak the truth in love” to other Christians within the body who claim to profess Jesus as their savior. There are specific instructions on how to do this. I however, don’t think we are called to judge those outside the body (non-Christians). That is God’s job alone.

  15. Also further down in Matthew 7, verses 15 through 20, JESUS even more explicitly licenses us to use a prophet’s “fruit” to discern/judge whether he is indeed a true prophet.

  16. “This is judging by only CHRISTIAN standards and perceptions.”
    … whatever else were you expecting when you came here, Psylinx?

  17. Great post on how we, as biblical Christians should response this silly
    notion of ” do not judge”
    You don’t have to be a Christian to “real*eyes”
    that judging other actions are need for the safety, health
    of our spiritual
    welfare if we ever plan on ! …..Moving on! from this world! ..sigh.. this
    hospital we call earth!

    Maybe the World should get rid of all the courts
    and judges!
    if we should not judge! Then maybe there will be peace among
    : |
    I trust that you get! in that
    last sentence I was being ,,, uh..!what the word?
    cant recall at the

  18. I struggle with this, and frankly, the advice offered does not help. For me to decide, or ‘judge” another person in any way I think I would have to know all things about them – and only God knows that. Consider your own sins, and keep your eyes on your own plate.

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