Rev. Kuiper is pastor of the Protestant Reformed Church of Byron Center, Michigan.
In examining various Scripture passages which speak of judging, we concluded in the last article that God hates hypocritical judging, but loves righteous judgment on the part of His children. In other words, it is the Christian’s duty to judge. To a positive explanation of this duty we now turn.
What is judging?
Judging involves two main factors. First, it involves a pronouncement concerning whether something is right or wrong. It is to be critical. In fact, the noun “judge” in the New Testament of our King James Version is, in most instances, the translation of the Greek noun kritees, from which is derived our English word “critic.”
In being critical, one does several things. First, he observes an action or hears an opinion of another person. Second, he evaluates what he has observed, considering the positive and negative aspects or implications of the action or opinion. Third, he reaches a conclusion and expresses an opinion regarding whether that which he has observed was good or bad. To use the example of a judge who must adjudicate a criminal case, we would say that he first receives the evidence against the accused, then weighs the evidence, and finally expresses his conclusion regarding the innocence or guilt of the accused.
The second main factor involved in judging is that of sentencing. If the judge finds the accused to be guilty of the crime, he sentences him to an appropriate punishment. If the judge finds the accused innocent, he lets him go free of punishment. To order the release of the one who is acquitted is also a sentence: the innocent person deserves life.
In saying that the Christian must judge, we have in mind primarily the first sense of judging, that of deciding what is right and what is wrong. All Christian judgment involves such a determination. However, only in some instances will our duty to judge also involve pronouncing a sentence. For example, when a consistory excommunicates an impenitent sinner from the church, a sentence is pronounced — one of death, of life apart from God, of exclusion also from heaven (Matt.16:19). Even in such a case, this sentence is always contingent on the sinner’s continued impenitence. The consistory never pronounces it absolutely, because God is the ultimate judge who gives a sentence. In many instances, the Christian who judges whether another’s actions are right or wrong must leave the sentencing to God. This is because, although all of us sin and deserve of ourselves to die on account of our sins, Christ bore the sentence of death for the sins of God’s children, while He did not bear this punishment for those who are not God’s children. God will sentence to everlasting punishment those who are not His children, and to everlasting life those whom Christ has redeemed.
What must we judge?
Some things we cannot judge. Whether or not another person is elect, or whether or not the faith which he professes to have is genuine, is known only to God, and not revealed to us (I Tim. 2:19). Some might object by saying that we can indeed determine whether or not the faith of another person is genuine, because we can judge by the works which that person performs; for true faith brings forth good works (James 2:18, 26), and good trees cannot bring forth bad fruit, nor bad trees good fruit (Matt. 7:18). However, in saying this, one must be sure that he is looking for fruit, not simply for fruit to a degree that not every child of God always bears it. For, while every child of God does indeed bear good fruit, it remains a fact that every child of God also gives evidence of the corruption of his sinful nature, which remains in him until death.
Because we do not know the hearts of others, we must not judge secret motives (I Cor. 4:5). God will judge these.
We are also forbidden to judge others in things indifferent (Rom. 14). Should someone feel bound by conscience to do something which I would not do, I may not judge him to be wrong, so long as his actions are not clearly contrary to God’s law. Whether or not we eat, we drink, or we regard a day as holy, our choice must be motivated by faith and love for the Lord, and we must not condemn the actions of others in matters that are indifferent. In this connection, Paul says in Romans 14:13: “Let us not therefore judge one another any more: but judge this rather, that no man put a stumblingblock or an occasion to fall in his brother’s way.” Paul’s point is that we may not condemn the practice of the Christian brother as wrong just because we would not do it that way.
Positively, we must judge whether the practices or teachings of others are in accordance with the law and Word of God.
That we must beware of false prophets has already been pointed out (Matt. 7:15). We must “believe not every spirit, but try the spirits whether they are of God: because many false prophets are gone out into the world” (I John 4:1). We must guard against those deceivers and antichrists “who confess not that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh”; and we must not receive into our houses those who teach false doctrine (II John 7, 10). All of these texts speak of our duty to distinguish the truth from the lie. Our standard in this regard is Christ and Scripture, for Christ is the truth (John 14:6), and God’s Word is truth (John 17:17). After the Christian understands clearly what is truth and what is not truth, he must confess the truth and oppose the lie, as well as ally himself with other believers and separate himself from deceivers.
Our duty with regard to the actions of others is also clear. We must judge sin to be sin (I Cor. 5:1ff.). In this regard we follow the example of Jesus (Matt. 5:13ff.). The standard of our judgment of sin is the law of God, for Christ commands us to judge “righteous judgment” (John 7:24). Judging sin, we must also separate ourselves from those in the church who persist in their sins (I Cor. 5:13).
Not only must we judge the wrong teachings or sins of others, but we must also judge our own sins and wrong thinking. The warnings against hypocritical judging certainly make the necessity of doing this clear. How do our own actions measure up to God’s law? How do our own ideas measure up to the teaching of Scripture? If they do not measure up, what will we do about it? Will we condemn ourselves, or continue in our sins, hold to our wrong ideas, and insist that the standard is faulty?
This duty to judge falls both on individual believers and on the church as a whole.
It falls on individual believers, because they are Christians. This title indicates that we are partakers of the anointing of Christ — that we are prophets, priests, and kings. Particularly as king we fight against sin and Satan in this life (Heidelberg Catechism, Q&A 32). One aspect of the work of a king is to judge, both within and without his kingdom. Within, he judges whether or not his subjects have obeyed his laws. Without, he judges (discerns) who is the enemy, and fights the enemy. So the Christian, as king, judges sin within himself as well as outside himself to be sin, and fights against sin and Satan. The Christian, believing child of God will not hesitate to judge as wrong and speak out against the immorality which plagues our society today. Using the Bible as his standard, he will say, “All murder, including that of abortion, is wrong. All fornication, including that of homosexuality, is wrong. All Sabbath desecration, including the playing of professional or collegiate sports, and including the buying and selling of merchandise, is wrong.” He does not tolerate these things. Furthermore, he must be consistent in this respect. He must judge as wrong not only abortion and homosexuality, but also the murder of homosexuals and of those who perform abortions. All sin is wrong!
He does the same with respect to false doctrine. He judges as wrong the notion that Christ is not the only savior. He denies that God’s love will, in the end, prevail over His justice, and that every person will somehow be saved. He repudiates the notion that Jews, Mormons, Buddhists, or other religious groups, have the truth apart from Christ.
The church as a whole must also judge, through her officebearers (pastors, elders, deacons). In the preaching of God’s Word by the pastors, she must set forth the truth over against the lie, the right way of living over against the wrong way. On the basis of the Word, the pastor must judge right to be right and wrong to be wrong. In the work of church discipline which the elders are called to exercise, sin is judged. A member who commits gross sin against the law of God must himself judge it to be sin, confess it, and repent of it. Elders must judge and discipline those who fail to confess their sin and who remain impenitent. The elders must also guard the pulpit by subjecting the pastor’s preaching to the test of Scripture, and calling the preaching heretical if it is that. That the church must judge is evident from I Corinthians 5, in which Paul commands the church to judge the sinner, and if need be to remove him from her midst.
Though it is clear that it is our duty to judge, the question of how we judge is important.
To judge by using a standard other than the law and Word of God is wrong. Using the standard of God’s Word, we judge sin to be sin, knowing we are right even if society accuses us of intolerance. Our judgment will then be in accord with God’s judgment in the Judgment Day, because He will also use His law and Word as His standard of judgment. (Remember, that in this case we are not speaking of pronouncing a sentence — i.e., heaven or hell — but we are speaking of whether or not God will find a certain teaching or action to be right or wrong).
To judge hypocritically is wrong. We ought to judge others only after examining ourselves first. This does not mean that we may not judge another for a sin which we once committed; rather, it means that we must be sure we have completely turned from our sin before we can speak to others of their sin (Matt. 7:1-5).
Sometimes, in pride, we imagine that we would never commit the sins which we judge in others. At other times we judge rashly, not having examined the evidence carefully enough to know whether or not a real sin has been committed. Or we might judge in ignorance, judging the actions or ideas of others as wrong simply because they differ from what we have always thought to be right, without evaluating whether our own thoughts are in accord with Scripture. All such judgment is wrong.
Proper judgment must be carried out in a spirit of humility, in mercy and readiness to forgive, and in accordance with God’s law. It requires us to remember that we too shall stand before the judgment seat of Christ. It is also done with authority and boldness, for God calls us to do it, makes us partakers of Christ’s anointing in order that we might do it, and gives us His Word as the standard by which to do it.
We have several incentives to carry out this duty.
The chief incentive is our love for God. In love for Him we must defend His Word and law. To fail to judge sin is to condone sin. But God does not condone sin; rather, He hates it! To condone abortion, homosexuality, and false teaching is to deny the Word of God and show hatred for God Himself.
Second, and related to the first, is the fact that we will stand in judgment. God will judge us according to our works, whether they be good or evil. To judge evil to be good in this life will surely bring upon us His judgment of condemnation and everlasting destruction. To judge evil to be evil will bring upon us His judgment of innocence and everlasting life — not because we have earned it by our good judgment, but because our good judgment is evidence that His Spirit works in us all the blessings of salvation, one of which is the privilege of testifying to the truth.
Third, we are motivated to judge by our desire for the salvation of our neighbor. We desire his repentance! We desire his submission to the will of God! We desire his speaking the truth as God revealed it! So we judge his sin as sin, that he might repent. Paul instructs us regarding this, when he says that the goal which the Corinthians must desire in excluding the fornicator from their fellowship is the salvation of his spirit in the day of Christ (I Cor. 5:5).
Let us then judge righteous judgment! Persist in doing so!
Such judgment will surely bring upon us the ridicule not only of the world, but also of many who call themselves Christians. It could bring upon us the contempt of brothers or sisters, parents or children, friends and loved ones! To judge righteous judgment will not make things easy for us in this life. It didn’t for Christ — it brought Him to the death of the cross.
However, we must persist in judging righteously, with the assurance that God’s condemnation will not come upon us on account of our judgment, and with the comfort that the world’s condemnation of us for judging righteously actually serves their own condemnation in the day of Christ.
So my prayer for you, dear reader, is the same as Paul’s prayer for the Philippians (1:9-11): “And this I pray, that your love may abound yet more and more in all knowledge and in all judgment; that ye may approve things that are excellent; that ye may be sincere and without offence till the day of Christ; being filled with the fruits of righteousness, which are by Jesus Christ, unto the glory and praise of God.”