Should Christians Judge or Not?
The Bible teaches that Christians are to apply scriptural principles of discernment regarding beliefs, teachings and actions.
Discernment is the act or process of exhibiting keen insight and good judgment. In other words, discernment is the ability to judge well.
Yet many Christians are confused when it comes to the Bible’s teachings regarding judging.
When you question the doctrines and behavior of certain teachers or movements, you often run into Christians who refuse to consider your arguments.
More often then not, they will try to prevent any discussion by quoting the words of Jesus:
“Do not judge, so that you won’t be judged.” – Jesus, Matthew 7:1
If that doesn’t stop you, you will likely be served with, “Touch not mine anointed”.
Mind you, nine of ten people will not be able to give you the reference, Psalm 105:15, or quote the second part of that verse — let alone place it in its context.
The way to respond is to ask the other person what Jesus meant when he said, “Stop judging according to outward appearances; rather judge according to righteous judgment.” (Jesus, John 7:24)
Don’t judge like that; judge like this.
The Bible shows that there are various types of judging. As Christians, we cannot pronounce eternal judgment on someone. Only God — who knows a person’s heart — can do so.
But Christians should evaluate, appraise, and discern — and we should do so in a correct manner (which, it should be said, includes a right attitude).
How else would we know the difference between true and false doctrines, or between true and false teachers and shepherds?
Articles on Judging
If you haven’t yet read our article on discernment, do that first. It will provide you with a good introduction to this topic.
- Accountability: The Way to Touch God’s Anointed, by Clete Hux
Christians are to hold one another accountable for one another’s behavior (1 Jn. 3:17; Gal. 6:2; Tit. 1:9; 1 Tim. 1:3,4; 4:16; II Tim. 4:2; Matt. 18:15-16). There is no doubt about being “thy brother’s keeper”! However, the fact that seems to escape most Christians is this: a person’s actions are the result of their beliefs. A person lives a certain way because a person believes a certain way. Doctrine frames behavior.
Christians are to be accurate and balanced when giving criticism. When a person or group that claims to be Christian and yet seriously departs from the historical biblical doctrines of orthodox Christianity, one cannot stand idly by in silence. (Matt. 18:15-16). To not speak out would be dishonoring to God and unloving, not only to Christians, but also to the propagators of the error.
- The Untouchables: Are ‘God’s Anointed’ Beyond Criticism? by Hank Hanegraaff
Nobody’s teachings or practices are beyond biblical judgment — especially influential leaders. Biblically, authority and accountability go hand in hand (e.g., Luke 12:48). The greater the responsibility one holds, the greater the accountability one has before God and His people.
Teachers should be extremely careful not to mislead any believer, for their calling carries with it a strict judgment (James 3:1). _They should therefore be grateful when sincere Christians take the time to correct whatever erroneous doctrine they may be preaching to the masses. And should the criticisms be unfounded they should respond in the manner prescribed by Scripture: to correct misguided doctrinal opposition with gentle instruction (2 Tim. 2:25).
- Is Judging Always Wrong? A Closer Look at Matthew 7:1, by Eric Johnson
In this politically correct world, “judging” anyone for whatever the reason is discouraged. After all, it is asked, what right does anyone have to judge me or anyone else? However, it needs to be understood that such a question is actually a judgment itself, thereby contradicting the complaint. (When someone tells you that it’s wrong for you to judge, then ask, “So why are you judging me?”) In addition, the words of Jesus are taken out of their context. It is a self-righteous, hypocritical judgment that He is condemning (Rom 2:1-3). But if “judging” was not to be done, then why did Jesus command His followers to “judge according to righteous judgment”? (John 7:24) And why did Paul say that the Christian is responsible to judge those inside the church (1 Cor 5:9-13, 6:2-5)? Of course, our intentions matter when making righteous judgments, as correction ought to be the goal. We must also keep a humble, non-hypocritical spirit if we hope to be effective.
- To Judge or Not To Judge: The Rights and Wrongs of Biblical Discernment, by G. Richard Fisher
It seems clear, since Jesus Himself said, “Judge not,” (Matthew 7:1), that we cannot “judge.” At first glance it appears that Jesus not only forbids judging others, but that He catches Himself in a glaring contradiction.
Verse 1 seems obvious, “Judge not,” yet in verses 6, 15-16, we are to judge “swine,” “dogs,” and the “fruit” of false apostles. How do we reconcile this apparent contradiction? Do we judge or not?
- Who are we to judge? Did Jesus forbid us from judging others? By Lewis B. Smith [Paid subscription needed to view the article in its entirety]
In three words, blunt and absolute, Jesus commanded us, “Do not judge” (Matt. 7:1). But did he really mean that we should never judge others? He goes on to suggest that it’s not the act of judging but the attitude with which we do it that God is most concerned about—”For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged” (7:2).
There are other Scriptures that either cloud or shed light on the issue. Paul told the Christians in Rome not to judge one another (Rom. 14:13) but taught the Corinthians that they were to judge sinful believers and leave people outside the church to God (1 Cor. 5:12-13). James said he who judges his brother speaks against the law (4:11) but also implied that our judgments of others must be done with mercy (2:12-13).
- Who are you to say? By Greg Koukl
The “Who are you to say?” challenge is used by non-Christians and Christians, especially by those who deplore the “heresy hunters” in the church. This rejoinder, though, deftly sidesteps the real issue.
- A Biblical Guide to Orthodoxy and Heresy, by Robert M. Bowman
For most Christians today, the challenge of learning how to discern orthodox from heretical doctrine has apparently not been faced. Either they treat doctrine as minimally important and so regard charges of “heresy” as rude and unloving, or they treat doctrine as all-important and so regard anyone who disagrees with them in the slightest as a heretic. In short, most believers seem to think either that there are almost no heretics or that almost everybody outside their own little group is a heretic.
The cause of doctrinal discernment, then, is in serious jeopardy. Although anticult and discernment ministries are mushrooming everywhere, many of them operate on the basis of an excessively narrow understanding of orthodoxy. Consequently, such groups are charged deservedly with “heresy hunting” and discredit the practice of doctrinal discernment. At the other extreme — and often overreacting to such heresy hunters — are those within the Christian community who reject any warnings of heresy among professing Christians.
In this two-part article I will attempt to set forth a balanced approach to the issue of doctrinal heresy. In this first part I will present a biblical case for the practice of discerning orthodox from heretical doctrines. In the second part I will offer guidelines for doctrinal discernment.