Judge not!

Steve Declaisse Walford's picture

Almost since its inception, much of Christianity has had a callous disregard for the principles Jesus taught. While there have been many true adherents who seemed to have grasped the moral principles Jesus illustrated, too many supposed Christians have read into the faith too much of their own prejudices. History is full of acts of the “faithful” far removed from the teachings of the New Testament.

Space does not allow a detailed reiteration here of the atrocities executed in the name of Christianity, but who is not familiar with the Crusades, The Spanish Inquisition, or the religious persecutions of the Protestant revolution? All were performed under laws intended to legislate “righteousness” as understood by the various powers, which judged from their own religious perspective who and what was wrong and right.

It is fascinating to me how many Christians condemn these historical acts while promoting “legislated Christianity” today.

A review of the character of Jesus as recorded in the Gospels shows that while he condemned the Pharisees for the way they had made the Law a burden to the Jews, in the vast majority of his public life he exercised mercy, grace, tolerance, love, healing and forgiveness. Indeed, he preached against passing judgment on others, telling us that we should remove the splinter from our own eyes before we seek to remove the speck from the eye of our brother.

That means only when we are sinless (not a very likely scenario) are we in a position to judge the sinfulness of others (Matthew 7:1-5).

Even for the woman caught in adultery Jesus had no harsh words. “Does no-one condemn you?” he asks. “No,” she says. “Neither do I,” he replies (John 7:10-11).

Take a look at Ephesians 2:8, 9. “By grace you are saved,” writes Paul, “and that not of yourselves, it is a gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast.” These words mean that we have not earned salvation, so we should not self-righteously brag as if we received it through our own merit.

And, being saved by grace doesn’t stop us from being sinners. Confession of faith in Jesus doesn’t suddenly make us perfect. What happens is that by grace through faith in Jesus, God will not see our sin. This gift doesn’t suddenly empower us to find fault in others. The fact that the Bible highlights sin and sinful behavior isn’t so we may judge others, but rather so that we may judge ourselves.

Paul makes this point early in his letter to the Romans - chapter 1 verses 16 to 32.

Here Paul sets a trap for his listeners as he details how unrighteousness in the past has led to idol worship and strange sexual behaviors; to evil, covetousness, malice, envy, murder, strife, and a whole slew of other behaviors.

“Yep,” we can hear the listeners thinking as this letter is read to them, “those unrighteous people sure are bad.” And then, the trap snaps shut. Having gotten their attention by listing all the things they self-righteously condemn, Paul adds (in chapter two, verse one), “Therefore you have no excuse, any of you, when you judge others. For in passing judgment on another you condemn yourself, because you, the judge, practice the very same things.” Oops.

A companion to the Christian “right-to-judge” attitude is the idea that Christian morality, or Christian principles, should be the legislated norm. I think Paul shows the error of that idea. Still, I wonder why so many Christians think that pushing Christian principles onto the secular populace through legislation is right. Instead of all the public posturing over putting the Ten Commandments in courthouses for example, it would be nice if activists could demonstrate they are living by those very commandments.

And think how much good could be done if the money spent on promoting a religious political agenda was spent instead on the hungry and homeless.

Attitudes of the heart are changed by example, by Christians exhibiting the characteristics of Jesus, not by laws. People are loved, not legislated, into the church. Forcing religious compliance out of a distorted concept of “love” is about the most egregious, self-serving misuse of the idea of Christian love that exists. It’s like beating a dog into compliance with your will and claiming you do so because you “love” the animal. Its obedience can be forced, but not its love.

If Christians really want to spread the love of Jesus, then it’s time for those who judge to recognize that no matter what “sin” they see in the actions or behaviors of others, they themselves are equally sinful in some other way – and their self-righteous judgment compounds their sinfulness. The safest way forward is to start loving people – all people – the way Jesus did, without reservation and through acts of genuine mercy, grace, tolerance, love, healing and forgiveness.


Steve deClaissé-Walford is pastor of National Heights Baptist Church, a CBF congregation located at the intersection of Old Norton road and highway 54 in Fayetteville. The church web page is at www.nationalheightsbaptistchurch.com

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