I realize that when certain ideas become ingrained in the popular mindset, those ideas are seldom amenable to change. Once we accept a certain viewpoint we are reluctant to reconsider an alternative explanation. That holds true when it comes to the Bible. I often hear people quote the Scriptures and because they misunderstand what is being said they misapply what they have read, or in most instances what they have heard.
One of the most misunderstood teachings in the Word of God is what is written about judging. I often hear believer and unbeliever alike say things about this verb that is misleading. I hope to correct some common misconceptions here.
The term “judge” has quite a semantic range. But for the purposes of this article the word “examine” will serve as a suitable synonym.
The passage of Scripture that is often misapprehended and subsequently misapplied comes from the lips of Christ in His Sermon on the Mount. Jesus said, “Do not judge so that you will not be judged,” Matthew 7:1. He explains in the next four verses what He is talking about. He essentially says before one examines the relatively minor flaws on another, one should examine the greater faults in their own life. When one only sees the shortcomings of another without recognizing their own, that one is a hypocrite, verse five. Jesus is condemning hypocritical judgment, he is not inferring we should never judge.
Jesus goes on to command us to judge and the manner in which we should make judgments. He said, “Do not judge according to appearance, but judge with righteous judgment,” John 7:24. Jesus said this to defend His healing of a man on the Sabbath. He said if circumcision is practiced on the Sabbath to keep the Law of Moses, a good thing, is it wrong to do a similar good on the Sabbath like healing a man? Jesus appeared to be violating the Sabbath, but actually was fulfilling it by doing something good.
Jesus’ response to the accusation was in the imperative, we are commanded by Jesus not to examine ideas and practices superficially or subjectively, but to consider them according to what the Father teaches us in Scripture is holy and good. The truth is making judgments about the things we hear, the things we see, and how we should respond is not an option for the believer. If the Christian intends to live a godly life he or she must examine his daily experiences and subject them to what the Bible says is right or wrong, not what society says is right or wrong.
Making necessary judgments is unavoidable for the Christian. If the believer does not want to be conformed to this world, but be transformed into the image of Christ in conduct and character, like Luther he must cry “my conscience is captive to the Word of God.”