CultureWatch

Bill Muehlenberg's commentary on issues of the day...

Jesus and Judgment

Jun 14, 2007

We live in a culture that is biblically illiterate. Most people have no or very little idea of what is actually in the Bible. Unfortunately, that assessment is true of many Christians as well. Not all believers have a strong, working understanding of their scriptures, and even many less would actually have ever read the book right through, cover to cover.

It is not surprising therefore that in such an environment, when the Bible is appealed to, it is often treated more like a meal at a cafeteria, where people pick and choose those bits they are interested in, and ignore those which they are not. And with such a poor over-all knowledge of Scripture comes some very selective uses of it.

Perhaps one of the favourite passages appealed to – and taken out of context – by non-believers, and some believers, is the statement by Jesus found in Matthew 7:1: “Do not judge lest you also be judged”. It is as if that is the entire extent of the biblical revelation.

Taken by itself, it is an appealing passage for an age that has abandoned any notion of absolute right and wrong, and has welcomed an emasculated notion of tolerance as the sum and substance of morality. Today the only sin is to be intolerant, judgmental, critical of others. And the one great virtue is ‘tolerance’, albeit a wrongly understood notion of tolerance.

Tolerance used to mean – rightly – that one could respect another person while having serious reservations about their ideas, worldviews, philosophies or lifestyles. But today we have twisted the notion to mean that we must accept and embrace every belief, every behaviour, every creed.

But the very notion of tolerance presupposes differences. One doesn’t tolerate someone or something that one agrees with. There has to be a difference of opinion before toleration even comes into play. Thus the biblical and traditional understanding of tolerance is that we tolerate people, but not necessarily their beliefs or behaviours.

Which brings us back to Matt. 7:1. Is Jesus really saying we should not critically assess all beliefs and behaviours? Is he really saying we cannot judge or evaluate any activity or dogma? Hardly. Simply read a bit more of the chapter where Jesus speaks about the need to watch out for false prophets (vv. 15ff). Of course to do so means we must judge, assess, and critically ascertain what a person is saying and teaching.

Jesus goes on to say we must judge people by their fruit. A good tree brings forth good fruit, a bad tree bad fruit. This all involves making moral and spiritual assessments, discerning right from wrong, truth from error. Exercising judgment, in other words.

So what was he speaking about in verse one? In the verses that follow, he explains: he says we should not judge hypocritically. If we judge another person for doing something, all the while doing the very thing ourselves, we stand condemned, says Jesus. This passage certainly does not mean we cannot make moral and theological appraisals and assessments.

Indeed, look carefully through the four Gospels and you will find plenty of verses on judgment which are almost never cited by the moral relativists. Consider John 9:39 for example: “For judgment I have come into this world”. He says this in relation to the unbelieving Jews of his day who would not receive him.

Having just healed a man of blindness, Jesus goes on to make a very judgmental claim about his foes: because they claim to see, when they are really spiritually blind, they are still in their sins. Only those who acknowledge their need, their blindness, will in the end be able to see.

The truth is, Jesus was constantly being intolerant and judgmental. In the previous chapter he referred to his spiritual opponents as being of their father, the devil (8:44). Not exactly very tolerant language that. Or what about in chapter ten when he very intolerantly claims to be the one true shepherd, and all others are thieves and robbers?

But some might appeal to John 3: 17 where Jesus says he comes into the world not to condemn, but to save. There is no contradiction here, however. Keep reading the following verses. His salvific mission is a two-edged sword. Those who receive him and his message obtain forgiveness and mercy; those who reject him and his word bring condemnation onto themselves. Indeed, they are condemned already, because they reject the only means to receive favour with God. Jesus says very clearly in this passage that people love darkness rather than light, so they reject the light. They love the darkness because their deeds are evil, and they hate the light because it exposes their evil deeds.

This is all very judgmental and intolerant by today’s standards. But that is simply because we have given up on notions of truth and universal right and wrong. There is no more black and white, only 99 shades of grey. But Jesus would have none of this wishy-washy relativism.

For example, he stated forthrightly, ‘You are either with me or against me,’ (Luke 11:23). He also warned that the way to the father is a narrow way, and few there be who make it (Matt. 7:14). And it was Jesus of course who spoke more about the realities of a lost eternity for those who rejected him, than any other New Testament writer.

All in all, this Jesus was a very judgmental fellow. But he opens the way for us to get right with the Father. He in fact died on our behalf to make that possible. If we reject the only means available to get right with God, then the certainly of judgment remains. And it is a judgment we have brought upon ourselves. It is we who choose either judgment to come, or acceptance with the Father.

Which is exactly why Jesus could say in another famous passage: “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” (John 3:16). Jesus came to rescue sinners from perishing. That is every one of us. Our response to why he came will determine our eternal destiny. Thus it is vital that we take the claims of Jesus very seriously indeed, and not seek to water it down by embracing the relativistic spirit of the age.

[1069 words]

9 Responses to Jesus and Judgment

  • Thanks Bill. It is a real blessing to read what you have to say. I agree wholeheartedly with this. I really should read the Bible cover to cover at some stage. At least I attend Church and Bible Studies enough that I feel I have at least a basic understanding of Scripture. It is interesting how you mention the misquoting of scripture. Context with Scripture is very often critical to interpreting correctly what is written. That is the value of studying a passage.

    I think Hebrews 13:7- 8 show clearly that God’s values dong’t change and whose examples we should be following: “Remember your leaders, who spoke the word of God to you. Consider the outcome of their way of life and imitate their faith. Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.” (NIV)

    Matthew Mulvaney

  • Thanks again, Bill. Another very relevant item.

    It seems to me that the sin of our day is, as you say, to be “intolerant”. Similarly, we are not following the spirit of the day if we “judge” and there is a very strong “Woe to those who make anyone feel guilty”.

    What great lengths people go to to avoid any sense of guilt: “Yes, I killed my unborn child, but don’t make me feel guilty about it”, “Yes, we abandoned our newborn child by dumping them at the church / hospital, but look at your sin by telling us it was wrong!”

    In order to be Saved there needs to be conviction of one’s sinfulness. If all sin is waived away why would I need Christ’s forgiveness?

    The church today needs to stop watering down the gospel and speak the (whole) word of God. God is intollerant of sin and any believer who speaks otherwise is heretical and leading the lost astray by precluding them from guilt and conviction and, accordingly, from salvation.

    Jeremy Peet

  • Indeed even many in the church have adopted this ‘do not judge’ mentality. How many times do we read in contemporary Christian literature especially that associated with counseling the need for a ‘non-judgmental approach’? One wonders how any of these non-judgmental Christian counselors can ever raise the issue of sin?

    Ewan McDonald, Victoria

  • Bill
    Well put. Today many in our generation have lost the sense of sin. They believe in the warm and fussy. Many have a sense whqt is right and wrong because they were born with a sense of conscience, as we all are. Regrettably whilst many proclaim to be Christian they never actively practice it. They are happy to be called it and even pray at times but do not ectually practice it in the sense that Christ asked them to pray. Hoow is a footballer a footballer if he or she never goes near the game- maybe talks about it occasionally?Wouldd genuine football fan call such a person a footballer. No of course not.
    You said that Jesus defined the way to the Father as a narrow way. He said that “I am the Way, the Truth and the Life” and that the way to the Father was through Him. His message was one of hope. The “good” thief gained salvation when he expressed his faith to a dying Jesus on the cross. If one assumed the thief had been caught for something that he had done a few times during his life he may have been a bad lad for some time. But Jesus came to save and the sincere belief expressed at the closing moments of the thief’s life was all that was necessary to receive the assurance ” This day you will be with me in paradise”.
    The trouble with those who do not practice their faith regularly is that he may be living in hope that all will be made good at the last moments and whilst in some cases it may well, it seems a very high risk strategy indeed where the price of failure is eternity with Satan- not a good deal at all really.
    There is a postive need to be clear about the rights and wrongs in today’s society. We do not condemn the sinner but rather the sin.
    To do what Jesus wants us to do we seek to save the sinner not condemn them. But that does not mean that we do not cast a discerning eye over inherently wrong matters eg the use of the abortifacient pill which kills endless children every year and we do not cry out with the injustice of these practices.
    If we are to follow Him to the Father it will cause suffering as He showed that the Way indeed involved huge suffering for Him and His followers. It is no different today where those who uphold His teachings are ridiculed, abused, persecuted, imprisoned and some are even put to death.
    So it is that we are to be very judgemental about right and wrong. But we should not be judgemental about a person whom Jesus died to save but rather about the acts a person does.
    The consequences of those acts for an individual are really between the person and God . The consequences for us not speaking out about the rights and wrongs of peoples acts are however a choice that we do not want to rock the boat by following His Way.
    We probably know some “nice people” who may be involved in doing things that are intrinsically evil under God’s clear teaching and we are reluctant to rock the boat, particularly when we are likely to offend friends. The Way is to defend God’s teaching. In days gone past there was a fairly good topic of apologetics where Christaians could learn to defend their faith. Sadly little of that is used or taught today.
    The loss of the sense of sin is one of the greatest indictments on todays society. The Bible teaches us that the times in which Jesus lived wer filled with people who committed a range of sins but through their faith in Jesus Jesus was only too happy to forgive them and save them where they followed His warning to “sin no more”.
    I see this as a message of Hope and the messsage we must try to convey is that through a self recognition that we will fall during our lives, probably repeatedly as we as humans have the propensity to do. If we can encourage our generation not to feel hopeless about it, not to despair because we do it, but certainly not to pretend that we do not do anything wrong, we may help them to save themselves, which is what people did when they asked Jesus for His help, which he readily gave.
    David Grace

  • Bill, many thanks for the analysis. With 1069 words, great choice of texts for a short article. Others may benefit from a biblical dictionary, eg., look up punishment, discipline, and excommunication.
    Stan Fishley, Wantirna

  • Misotheists can’t even see the irony when they judge Christians to be “judgemental”. In any case, Jesus commanded judgment in John 7:24, a passage we hear much less about:

    Do not judge by appearances, but judge with righteous judgment.

    His “do not judge” was clearly in the contect of forbidding hypocritical judgement, because He goes on to say:

    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.

    Jonathan Sarfati, Brisbane

  • Over the past years I have been told that I am judgemental because I disagree with the act, be it homosexuality, adultery, polyamory, alchoholism etc. Why?
    Why can’t I believe what I think is truth without people condemning me as a bigot?
    In the old days a person stood on a soap box and proclaimed his ideas, we may have taunted him but we gave him the grace to finish, we judged his words not him.
    These days it is agree with what is politically correct or face the consequences.
    I judge no-one; if you accept a certain lifestyle please accept the consequences as I must do for my foolish actions and not try to place guilt onto others.
    We are allowed to disagree and oppose ideas, we are not robots that are conditioned to accept all circumstances as being correct.
    I support your right to present your view, why can’t I have the same privilege without being hounded?
    Jim Sturla

  • Jim, see the book The Vision of the Anointed: Self-Congratulation as a Basis for Social Policy by Thomas Sowell for an explanation. The “anointed” need to think themselves morally superior, so any opposition, including the benighted majority, must not be merely mistaken but evil. Conversely, many conservatives regard leftists as genuine but mistaken.

    Sowell points out how leftists speak about good intentions, while conservatives analyse the incentives of the policies and the likely results. The anointed also have special mascots that require their good graces, such as racial minorities (note that Sowell is black), criminals, vagrants and homosexuals; and they have targets such as businesses, Christians, and families as autonomous decision-making entities.

    Jonathan Sarfati, Brisbane

  • Thanks for the clarity. It is a totally challenging bible study to look up this word of judgement in the new testament–it really takes a while to understand in that the dual comings of Christ, he has a totally different relationship toward the role of judgement. The same differentiation is also true with the Father as well. And what is frustrating is that the church and most pastors refuse to preach on this thus making the body of Christ weak willed and sorely prepared for the coming of His righteous judgements at His throne. A great book about this aspect of judgement is Erin Lutzers book Your Eternal Reward.
    Arnold Fishman

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