How To Judge Your Neighbor

August 10, 2013 § Leave a comment

Vatican PopeHow should you judge your neighbor?

Correctly.

Judging is unavoidable. We do it when we are identifying a wrong-doing and also when we identify a good deed (and in an amoral sense, we do it when we pick the right shoes to wear as well as reject the wrong ones). When someone says “do not judge,” they themselves are passing judgment.

The good news is that in terms of moral judgment, it is possible to judge correctly. To correctly judge wrong-doing is to make sure you’re not guilty of the same wrong-doing, and to make sure your judgment is not merely your opinion.

An oft misunderstood Biblical principal derives from Matthew 7:1, when Jesus warns the Pharisees, “Do not judge, or you too will be judged.” For many this seems to be a blanket condemnation of all judgment and consequently used to defend whatever action one would like to enjoy free of judgment.

But verse 2 continues, “For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.”

Jesus reminds His listeners that the standard we apply to others, God applies to us. How that fact makes us feel about our own deeds determines whether we have the right to judge. A drunk calling another drinker out on it is a hypocrite. And Jesus is directing this statement to the hypocrite: “You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye…” (vs. 5).

Another time Jesus is speaking to a crowd of Jews, many of whom are judging Him for healing a boy on the Sabbath, a violation of Jewish law. Since the Jews practiced circumcision on the Sabbath, Jesus calls them out on their hypocrisy:

“Now if a boy can be circumcised on the Sabbath so that the law of Moses may not be broken, why are you angry with me for healing a man’s whole body on the Sabbath? Stop judging by mere appearances, but instead judge correctly.” (John 7:23,24)

Christians should not judge based on their own opinions but on God’s judgments proclaimed in His Word. However anyone, Christian or not, practices hypocrisy when he judges a sin he himself is entangled with. Though a believer is made right with God, our struggle with sin in this world remains a reality that hinders our own credibility and truthfulness in judgment. Better to take care of the plank in your own eye first.

A short-sighted understanding of “judge not” was revealed recently in knee-jerk reactions to Pope’s Francis’s recent declaration regarding homosexuality, “Who am I to judge?”

But the full text of the Pope’s comments reveals no significant revelation or his acceptance of homosexual behavior. In fact, both the Pope and the Catholic Church affirm God’s moral judgment against it, distinguishing between tendencies and behavior, identifying homosexual behavior as a sin requiring forgiveness. Pope Francis is referring to those who have gay tendencies (same-sex attraction) but pursuing God’s will in celibacy when he says, “Who am I to judge?” Those who actively live as homosexuals or those who lobby for gay rights are excluded in this.

Often “don’t judge me” is an attempt to dodge discussion about sin. But a discussion of sin is where the gospel, the good news of Jesus Christ freeing us from sin’s bondage, begins. The call to love God above all else prompts believers to discuss sin that we are all guilty of. This requires righteous judgment. Secondarily, the call to love our neighbor sometimes means we help them identify and eradicate sin that will destroy them. But if we are given to sin, we may not be the ones to judge. In both, we are called to love.

The point of this post is not to give anyone license to judge their neighbor, but to clarify the conditions Scripture puts forth to make judgments. It’s important to define what it is, but also to take as much care in self-examination as well we do in examining others. It’s also critical to be certain our judgment is rooted in God’s word, not our own ideas.

What Would a Loving and Forgiving God Do?

August 31, 2012 § 1 Comment

A post on an atheist’s Facebook page makes the following claim:

If god is all loving and forgiving, would he forgive someone for not believing in him, without being asked? If not, then he is not all loving and forgiving. If so, no one need to believe nor worship him.

Christian response:

The first assumption is flawed because it implies that God is only loving and forgiving. He is also righteous and just.

If a loving and forgiving judge lets a criminal go free without retribution, would he be a good judge, or a criminal himself?

Atheist:

Hebrews 10:17-18: “Their sins and lawless acts I will remember no more. And where these have been forgiven, sacrifice for sin is no longer necessary.” And Hebrews 8:12: “For I will forgive their wickedness and will remember their sins no more.”

…the Christian god lets criminals go without retribution all the time. That’s pretty much his biggest selling point.

Christian:

The central point of Christianity is that Christ took on the retribution we deserved, in our place. The payment for our sin was paid in full, “once for all.” (Hebrews 10:1-18)

Jesus Christ was God, so the payment was adequate to cover our crimes, and He became a man so that He could suffer on our behalf.

The righteousness and justice of God requires that the penalty for sin must be paid, but His love is what caused Him to make that payment for us. Our willing acceptance of that free gift is where forgiveness comes in.

Atheist:

God can do whatever he wants, there is no rule book that he has to follow…he writes the rules (theoretically). Isn’t it more admirable to forgive unconditionally than to require a payment to be made? Real forgiveness doesn’t require payment. I think you might be confusing justice with forgiveness. I could go on and on about how crazy it is that a god would create humans with free will and then eternally torture them for actually using it…

Christian:

Thanks for the reply, these are great things to think about. I can tell you have. 🙂 God can’t change what is logically necessary (1+1=2) because logic is part of His nature (so if that is a “rule,” then no, God doesn’t “write” them, rather they’re conditions that extend from who He is). That crime must be paid for is actually a logically necessary state of affairs, and this makes sense when we look at where law comes from.

Only God can forgive sin (Mark 2:6,7 & Luke 5:21) because sin is a violation of God’s moral law, which is rooted in the nature of God. His law was broken and only He would have the authority to forgive. But even when God forgives, a payment must still be made. So of course there are conditions to God’s forgiveness. A guilty sinner can pay for his crimes by God’s judgment, or he can accept the payment that God provided through the atoning sacrifice of His Son on the cross (1 John 2:2) by repentance and faith. Either way, the debt is satisfied.

When a government makes civil laws (usually based on an understanding of an undergirding moral law, but that’s a separate discussion), we fully expect there to be payment for breaking those laws too, in the form of a fine or retribution. When it doesn’t happen, we cry foul. That’s because being made in the image of God (Gen. 1:27), we have an innate understanding of justice and the truth that crime requires payment.

On a personal level, we can forgive people, but not their sin. In the case of, for example, a physical assault, we can “let it go” and forgive the offender “unconditionally”, but the laws they have broken in their offense are a separate issue. Breaking God’s moral law is an offense against God. Breaking civil law is an offense against the state. Forgiveness is a renunciation of the violation, which happens within the context of justice (so yes, they are separate doctrines) but the violation must always be addressed in order for justice to be done.

It’s also logically necessary for there to be the possibility of sinful choices in the context of free will (and we would not want to imagine a world without freedom). “I could go on and on about how crazy it is” that God, moved by love for sinful people, provided a perfect Solution to the problem that everybody faces. Payment for sin is required, but the good news is it’s available from Christ, because we can’t come up with it ourselves.

Atheist:

I love how god and be forgiving and unforgiving, loving and unloving, just and unjust, logical and illogical depending on what verse you read in the Bible. You can pretty much use it to say whatever you want. But a big thing that bothers me about this god is that he would eternally punish a morally good person forever, but lavish blessing and paradise on a mass murderer for what? Belief. What is so good about belief? And really, what ‘sin’ is so bad that it would warrant eternal torture? That’s not true justice. I can understand serving a few lifetimes, but infinity? You lost me…

Christian:

God can be forgiving of repentant sinners and unforgiving of unrepentant sinners. There is no problem there, just as there is no problem with Him loving sinners but hating sin. Nowhere in Scripture though do we find God being unjust or illogical. (I am curious by what standard on atheism or naturalism that you would consider God to be either of those anyway).

In reality, there is no such thing as a “morally good person” because all have fallen short of God’s standard of good (Rom. 3:10,23). For those who want nothing to do with God, being eternally separated from Him in hell is really just a continuation of that person’s desires in this lifetime—God is really giving the sinner what he wants. I almost wonder if damned souls would actually get used to “torture” after a while. Either way, I think the severity of hell matches the true severity of sin, but it would take a heart that was ready for repentance to actually see the true severity of sin against a holy God.

Forget about earning your way to heaven, as your question “what is so good about belief?” implies. The message of the gospel is that there is nothing we can do to earn our way to a perfect God. I certainly don’t deserve it. That’s why He provided a way through Christ, the only perfect sacrifice. Belief is not something we use to buy our way, but the way we, using our free will, choose to follow Christ, recognize that sin has been paid for and enter into a relationship with Him—something that God desires all along. We can get hung up on the severity of God’s judgment and the simplicity of belief in Christ as the answer. Or we can recognize that yes, judgment is severe, but belief is simple: A loving and forgiving God made a way out of God’s judgment and into His presence that is simple enough for anyone to understand.

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