The Rev. John Pedersen is a minister of the gospel in the Orthodox Presbyterian Church. He lives in Gettysburg, PA. This copyrighted article is printed here by permission.
For many in the tolerant, cultured world of evangelical religion, there is no scum more vile than a harsh, judgmental, pontificating buffoon who goes about judging whether others are “true Christians.”
Such a one is seen as patently bad, and leaves a sour taste and a sick stomach in his preachy wake, cutting a smelly swath through people who have learned not to put God in the kind of box that can be shaken, opened, and checked.
The question is, why are such lumps a part of the landscape? What keeps them going? Since no one likes them and they have the cuddliness of a sore porcupine, who feeds them?
As I am such a “judgmental” one, so called by more gentle, tolerant “Christians” than I can count (“See -he puts ‘Christians’ in quotation marks!”), I would like to venture an answer, warning the reader first to make sure he or she is sitting down, with some smelling salts handy.
What keeps me going, harsh, intolerant pill that I am, is this: I am afraid of being judgmental – toward God.
Faced with the prospect of being judgmental toward a man’s words and being judgmental toward the Word of God, I choose the former, and run from the latter, although I would have many, many more friends if I did not do this.
Perhaps I would even have you, dear reader, for a friend. As it is, your initial reaction to the title of this essay may have been to take it and read it so as to recognize better and avoid people like me, as if we were not easy enough to spot already. But you just can’t be too careful when it comes to knowing the modus operandi of a religious psychopath, so you read on.
Let me explain. Suppose a clean living, sincere, Bible reading, church going, choir singing, enthusiastic person indicated he was a Christian, having believed and “accepted Jesus Christ as my personal Savior.”
Now let us further suppose that this Scripture quoting, “Amen!” shouting, fervent praying individual also indicated that he was not concerned with “who chose whom” where salvation is concerned, so long as one sincerely believes “the Bible, the blood, and the blessed hope.”
Let us also say this person professed to believe in “free will,” and said that biblical teaching of predestination and election belonged to the non-essential doctrines of Scripture that theologians have debated for centuries, indicating he has no desire to “quibble about the finer points,” as there are souls to be won for Christ, and “no one ever did great things for God by trying to see how many angels could dance on the head of a pin.”
Most people would not question whether such a person was a true Christian, on his way to heaven, and very properly concerned about winning souls at that, even if he could use a book or two to help him get polished up on the deeper things.
They would not hesitate to judge that such a person knew God’s grace, and while possessed of a practical disposition that made him perhaps a bit shallow on fodder for deep theological discussion, such a person was most certainly a genuine, biblical saint.
But not I. I, knit-picky, gnatstraining, Procrustean pithecanthropine that I am, would be more inclined to think that such a person is not a true biblical Christian.
Bet you knew I would say that.
And so I would attract, properly, you might say, the charge that I am being “judgmental, harsh, and overly critical” toward such persons.
May I explain myself?
No one is looking. Go ahead. Read on.
The reason is simple. The Bible teaches that salvation and forgiveness come from God. As the prophet Jonah cried from the belly of the great fish, “Salvation is of the LORD!” (Jonah 2:9).
It further says that this is because people, in and of themselves, cannot possibly be the reason for their salvation. Without God’s work of salvation all people are hopelessly dead in their sins (Ezek. 37:lff., Eph. 2:lff.).
So, if I believe I am a sinner in the way the Bible talks about sin, I can never account for my salvation from sin by pointing a finger to myself as the ultimate reason for it.
The “free will” understanding of salvation teaches that man is the ultimate reason for his forgiveness. According to the “free will” understanding of Christianity, God has done all that is necessary for everyone who ever lived to be saved. God loves everybody, and Jesus has died for everybody, according to the “free will” version. In addition, the “free will” understanding of salvation acknowledges that not all will be saved. Why, then, are some saved, and others not? Because some choose Jesus Christ, and others refuse Him. In other words, because of something we do. Contrast this with the following statement from the Bible:
For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith – and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God – not by works, so that no one can boast” (Eph. 2:8).
No one who believes that he is a Christian because of something that came from him is a Christian in the biblical sense. He may acknowledge the Bible to be true. He may say that he sincerely believes. If he grounds his faith in himself, he denies sin the way the Bible speaks of sin – as the breaking of God’s perfect law, rendering us spiritually dead and justly under the sentence of God’s eternal wrath – and so denies grace and the forgiveness of sin in the way the Bible speaks about forgiveness as wholly a work of God in which He raises spiritually dead, helpless sinners to life.
Allow me to give you some examples of viewpoints of salvation that ground salvation in something we do, and actually deny sin in the way the Bible speaks of sin, thus believing that man is the ultimate source of his salvation. Since you have read this far, what do you have to lose but a little more time?
l. The viewpoint that teaches that man is not totally depraved in his sin and unable to save himself. This viewpoint teaches that there is still some good in man, and some versions of this viewpoint speak of this goodness as the divine, gift of “prevenient grace.” (Prevenient grace means grace that is given in a non-discriminating way to all people, enabling all to choose freely between good and evil, and thereby allowing. them to exercise free will in the choosing or rejecting of Christ.)
Since man is not totally depraved, this view reasons, he can still be meaningfully responsible for his rejection of Christ should he do so, because he has the God given ability to choose Christ and be saved. In other words, the ultimate source of salvation lies .in man, not God, because if it were not for man choosing God by his own free will, God could do nothing. Like the famous picture of Christ in the Garden knocking on the door – He cannot come into your life unless you open the door, because the handle to the door is on the inside. Contrast this with the following statement from the Bible:
As it is written: There is no one righteous, not even one; there is no one who understands, no one who seeks God. All have turned away, they have together become worthless; there is no one who does good, not even one (Rom. 3:10-12).
2. The viewpoint that teaches that election in the Bible is conditional upon the foreseen faith of the one elected. In other words, this viewpoint teaches that God looks ahead in time to find out who will choose Him. Then, on the basis of that foreseen choice, God determines to choose man. Thus, the ultimate choice is man’s, and God’s choice of man depends on something good in man, i.e., his desire to choose God. So this viewpoint teaches that some work of man is responsible for God’s election of man, and man is the ultimate source of salvation, not God. The Bible, however, teaches something entirely different:
He saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy (Tit. 3:5).
3. The viewpoint that teaches that Christ died for everybody who ever lived, and that He paid the price for the sins of all men in the statistical universal, as opposed to the categorical universal, sense. This viewpoint teaches that when Jesus died on the cross, He did not actually save a single person. Rather He made salvation a possibility for everybody who ever lived, providing all men with the chance to make their salvation real by accepting it through an act of their own free will, making the death of Christ ineffective, null, and void without their “acceptance,” and thus teaching that salvation depends on something in man, not God. By contrast, consider the following:
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. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him (John 3:16, 17).
4. The viewpoint that teaches that God’s grace of salvation can be resisted, that man can refuse the grace of God that brings life to dead sinners. This viewpoint denies the teaching of the Bible that man is unable to “cooperate” with his own rescue, and the teaching of the Bible that people are really spiritually dead apart from this grace.
If a sinner can resist the grace of God that brings salvation and frustrate God’s purpose for him, his will to resist is more powerful than God’s will to save, making him more powerful than God at the most crucial point of salvation. This viewpoint teaches that man’s non-resisting “cooperation” with grace is the practical, real reason why a person experiences grace. So this viewpoint teaches that salvation depends on something in man, not God. Consider the opposite point made by Jesus:
All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never drive away. For I have come down from heaven not to do my will, but to do the will of him who sent me. And this is the will of him who sent me, that I shall lose none of all that he has given me, but raise them up at the last day…. No one can come to me unless the Father who has sent me draws him, and I will raise him up at the last day (John 6:37-39,44).
5. The viewpoint that teaches that man can fall away from true faith and be lost, after having truly been saved. According to this understanding, if man chooses not to continue to believe, the condition of his salvation is nullified, and he becomes a non-Christian. This view assumes that man is kept in salvation by a choice and a faith that comes from man. God’s faithfulness can be nullified by man’s refusal to believe, and God’s salvation can be lost by man’s decision to reject it. This view teaches that God cannot keep a person in the estate of salvation, of the Christian life, without man’s ongoing “permission” to allow Him to do such, thus revealing the conviction that salvation depends on something in man, not God. The Bible, by contrast, says:
They went out from us, but they did not really belong to us. For if they had belonged to us, they would no doubt have remained with us; but their going showed that none of them belonged to us (I John 2:19).
Dear reader, let me ask you: Is it being judgmental to hold from saying that persons with any of the viewpoints above, which are the opposite of the Bible, are true Christians?
Consider for a moment what it means to judge that such people aye true Christians. It is a judgment on God. Let me explain.
All language, all speech, is judgmental. Meaning depends on discrimination, and discrimination implies judgment. For example, to convey a certain meaning with my words, like the words of this essay, I have to choose certain words and leave other words out. I must separate other meanings from the meaning I want to communicate, or else my communication is not communication at all, but mere nonsense.
If I say, “The sky is blue,” I make a positive statement which implies a negative distinction, namely, that the sky is not black, or purple, or grey. It is a judgment about the “blueness” of the sky. If all “color” were blue, the word “blue” would mean nothing. It would be nonsense.
When a person claims to be a Christian, and he supports his claim with the explanation that his faith depends on his own free will, or that his relationship to God depends on the fact that God saw that he would believe in Him and therefore chose Him because of some thing in him, he is making a judgment about the meaning that he conveys. He is making distinctions so that it is more or less clear to him and his hearers that he is the source and the reason for the grace and the god that he confesses.
If I accept such a confession, which makes such distinctions, on its “face value,” I allow that it is true. I endorse it as proper. I judge it is acceptable. If I endorse a confession indicating agreement with any of the viewpoints listed above, I may have qualified agreement (an example of “qualified” agreement is, “I may not say it in just the way you do, but I think you are correct, and I accept what you are saying as true”), but I am nevertheless communicating agreement. I am joining the person in the positive judgment that he is confessing the true, Christian faith.
I am therefore saying that the issue of whether he thinks that he is the reason for his faith, and his own moral disposition is the reason for God’s interest does not matter where my “endorsement” of his confession is concerned. These things are irrelevant to the point.
But what if God’s Word says that giving God all the glory, and taking no credit for myself, and depending entirely on the work of God in Christ, and depending not at all in any work or choice or will on me, is the point where true faith is concerned?
Then my positive endorsement of .a confession that qualifies “grace” in terms of human faith, “free will,” or sincerity is a judgment on the Word of God, and thus is a judgment on God Himself! By saying “yes” to a confession that qualifies grace, I am making a judgment about the Bible’s insistence that grace cannot be qualified with human work and still be grace, as, for example, in Romans 11:5, 6:
So too, at the present time there is a remnant chosen by grace. And if by grace, then it is no longer by works; if it were, grace would no longer be grace.
I am saying that such an insistence, found in the Bible, is overly harsh and unyielding, overly straight and narrow, overly onesided and “black and white.”
So, I am being judgmental about God, and judgmental toward God. I am saying that I think that God should “lighten up” with His grace, and not be so “bent out of shape” over interpreting and applying His grace, as though it were His alone to do with as He wished, and we could not make a significant contribution to it by helping it along in making its edges a little softer and its distinguishing features a little more fuzzy so as to accommodate it to a greater number of people who did not all see it just the same way.
In tolerating what is not allowed in the confession of God’s Word, I am showing intolerance toward God, and His Word. I am passing judgment on God, and showing the ultimate in prideful self-righteousness.
I would rather show intolerance toward a confession of salvation that qualified grace and added human work to grace, than show intolerance toward the teaching of God’s Word, which allows for no such addition of human work.
Therefore, I conclude that intolerance toward a sinful confession is a virtue. It is right to be intolerant toward a confession of faith that does not really confess true faith at all, but rather confesses the proud assumption that I am the reason for my own salvation. On the other hand, intolerance toward the confession of God’s Word is a great evil, and is from the devil.
So, why are people like me seen as so onerous, so mean?
Why are people like me, who are afraid to say anything against God’s grace, seen as the lowest scum of the earth, as people who use the Bible as a meat cleaver?
The reason is this: I, and others like me who confess God’s grace, am seen as a mean, judgmental person by those who show a hatred for God’s grace by tolerating what is not grace.
How could I, and people like me, be seen any other way? Those who love God’s grace, and the truth of it, are always hated and vilified by those who do not.
Those who hate God’s grace see God’s discrimination in the way He gives grace to some and not to others as an expression of meanness towards those who are excluded from it rather than an expression of mercy toward those it includes in the salvation of God.
Are you one of them?
What is your fear?
Are you afraid to offend men, or are you afraid to offend God?
Do you desire to please men, or do you live for the pleasure of God?
Would you rather be accused of being judgmental of men than be exposed as judgmental of God? Is God’s love expressed in tolerance of sin, or is God’s love expressed in intolerant hatred of sin? On the cross, God displayed His supreme intolerance and judgmental nature – toward sin. To secure acceptance and forgiveness for those whom He chose to save from sin, God did not tolerate sin. Rather, He showed intolerant hatred for sin by pouring out His righteous anger on the One who was “made sin for us, so that we might become the righteousness of God in him” (II Cor. 5:21).
God is no less intolerant of sin now than He was then. When we cite the cross as the reason why we are tolerant of sin, we deny the cross and show ourselves to be enemies of the cross. Our denial is an affirming denial, the worst denial of all. And so our judgment will be the worst judgment of all.
Does your God tolerate sin, and sinful confessions, because of Jesus “covering” that sin, and those sinful confessions? Or does your God hate sin, and sinful confessions, because of Jesus resolving that sin, and those sinful confessions, by His ‘own precious blood, so that those who hold on to Jesus would turn away from and hate sin, and not tolerate and excuse sin?
Does your God allow you to see the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ as a covering, a cloak, for immorality, even the immorality of a confession of faith which is really a confession of ultimate pride, confessing one’s self as the reason for his own salvation?
Then we know why you see me as so harsh, and so distasteful.
You and I have a different God.
No wonder you fancy me to be so judgmental, so harsh, so intolerant! No wonder you see me as so picky about things that don’t matter, about minor points!
Because to you, these points about “who chooses whom” and “election and predestination” and “free will” really do not matter! They really are minor points!
They do not matter to you, and they are minor points for you, because you have made a judgment that they do not matter! You have made a judgment about God, for whom these “points,” as they speak of sinful pride and self-reliance, matter enough to demand the blood of His Son to secure the resolution of these “points” in the lives of His people. I remind you that your judgment is serious, proud, and self-righteous.
If there is one thing that darkness hates, it is light. If there is one thing that self-righteousness hates, it is the exposure of such self-righteousness as evil by comparison to the perfect holiness of God. If there is one thing that a tolerant, “non-judgmental” person hates, it is the reminder that his “tolerance” toward the “sinfully flawed” confessions of men (such as those listed above) is really an expression of intolerant hatred toward the righteous confession of God’s Word, his love for the world is hatred for God, his charity toward the lie is really love for the lie and hatred of the truth and of the one who tells the truth.
That is why the greatest slander, and the highest disdain, is reserved not for ax-murderers, wifebeaters, genocidal maniacs, or child molesters. The most refined expressions of contempt are reserved for the “judgmental ones,” who fear slighting God’s grace and the cross of His dear Son Jesus, and, by this slighting, ‘to pass judgment on God.
If you, my friend, have this slighting disdain, I urge you to see it for what it is and change your mind about what it is you tolerate, and the God you think tolerates you in your tolerance. I urge you to be intolerant about your tolerance of sincere religious affirmations of grace which are nothing more than expressions of pride. Your pride.
I urge you to look to the true Christ, whose intolerance of sin, and sacrifice for sin, is the reason why all who renounce their tolerance of sin find refuge, comfort, and righteousness, in Him.
And I urge you to join me, and suffer reproach with me, as one who would rather .express a negative judgment about a sinful confession than about the God who gives true confessions at the price of His own blood. Be willing, my friend, that men should tag you as a mean-spirited, harsh, judgmental person rather than show disrespect for the sacrifice of Jesus, whereby He was exposed to harsh, intolerant, consuming judgment for the sins of His people.
Give up your false god, the god who tolerates and “grades” grace on a curve delimited by the religious sincerity and good intentions of men.
And join me as one of the hated, intolerant ones, by God’s grace.