As Christians, what does it mean to be "called to judge?" Who, what and why do we judge?
“Only God can judge me.” You’ve probably heard that phrase. You may have even said it yourself. People live their whole lives around that idea. Rappers write songs about it. Others have it tattooed on their bodies, likely anticipating those that will judge them behind their back.
But is it true that only God can judge me?
As Christians, we are called to judge. Paul states it pretty clearly in 1 Corinthians 6:1-3:
When one of you has a grievance against another, does he dare go to law before the unrighteous instead of the saints? Or do you not know that the saints will judge the world? And if the world is to be judged by you, are you incompetent to try trivial cases? Do you not know that we are to judge angels? How much more, then, matters pertaining to this life!
While the mandate is stated clearly, it still leaves a lot of Who, What and Why questions. Does this mean we can just go judging whatever and whenever we want? Does scripture give us any guidance as to how to navigate this responsibility?
I’m glad you asked.
Who Are We Called To Judge?
I’ve never quite understood picket signs with declarations of hellfire and eternal suffering. If someone ever stood outside of my office or business with one of those condemning picket signs, I can tell you that my first though would NOT be: “Oh wow, maybe I should change my mind and join the ranks of these friendly and loving people.”
The first Bible verse I memorized was John 3:16. It’s a beautiful declaration of God’s love. But I think many forget that the follow-up verse is just as powerful:
“For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.”
The “world” here is synonymous with those that don’t believe in Jesus as Savior. God knows that the way to people’s hearts isn’t condemnation but love. Many times we see Jesus spending time with sinners, and while he never condones their sin, he forgives it and sends them off saying, “Go and sin no more.” The result was a changed heart of love, not a condemned heart of shame.
If judgement does not fall on unbelievers (at least not now), then that leaves only the believers in Christ. The apostle Peter writes that judgement begins in the household of God (1 Peter 4:17). How can we be true representations of Christ if we aren’t judging rightly amongst ourselves?
Paul clarifies this even further in his letter to the Corinthians. He is exhorting the church not to associate with sexually immoral people. He says that he is specifically referring to those in the church. He even says that if you tried to disassociate from all sin, you would have to leave the world!
For what have I to do with judging outsiders? Is it not those inside the church whom you are to judge? God judges those outside. “Purge the evil person from among you” (1 corinthians 5:12-13).
Christians judge among themselves because they are family. The purpose of judgement isn’t to appear more holy or self-righteous, it is to strengthen and sharpen those brothers and sisters of the faith. A real love relationship will be able to withstand judgement and see a brother or sister restored and reconciled.
What Are We Called To Judge?
Jesus told us not to judge. How can you say that we can judge?
Both Matthew and Luke contain verses where Jesus explicitly says, “Do not judge” (Matt. 7:1; Luke 6:37). Many people cling to these verses and use that as a way to prevent anyone from speaking into their lives. However, if you look at the context of both of these passages, you will see that Jesus is speaking about judgement which is condemning and self-righteous.
If you are judging with the wrong heart and motives, you will receive the same kind of judgement in your life. Jesus tells the Pharisees that they “judge according to the flesh” (John 8:15). When you judge according to the flesh, you judge with self-righteousness and you judge the heart and intentions of another.
We can never know the heart and intentions of another. Only God can know that. But Jesus tells us one clear thing we can look at. “You will recognize them by their fruits” (Matt 7:16). You may not be able to know the heart and intentions of another person, but good fruit will only come from a healthy tree.
The Holy Spirit will give us discernment and the ability to look past our own emotions and biases to judge a matter rightly based on fruit and from a place of love.
Why Are We Called To Judge?
“The Father judges no one, but has given all judgment to the Son” (John 5:22).
If Jesus is taking care of everything in the judgement department, why do we even need to judge?
Everything about our relationship with God is a partnership. He isn’t looking for drones to worship Him because we have to. He wants us to be co-laborers with Him to see His kingdom come and His will be done on earth as it is in heaven. Not only does He want us to colabor with Him, but He has appointed us as co-heirs with Christ:
“The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs — heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him” (Romans 8:16-17).
If you’re ever doubting your value or worth in the kingdom of God, meditate on Romans 8. It is my favorite chapter in the entire Bible. If you can get the reality of what Paul is saying into your spirit, you will understand your identity and start living life intentionally and exceptionally. There is no other way to live if you believe what it says.
God is looking for those that will understand the authority He has given to be able to execute His will on this earth. Part of that will is partnering with Him in His justice and judgment. When we learn how to judge first in the household of God, we will one day be prepared to judge the world and the angels. I don’t know about you, but I’m ready to start now!