Our culture is really big on not judging people, and that’s definitely a good thing. From friends, to people groups, to celebrities, we are quick to make excuses for the faults we see around us or just ignore them altogether. Oftentimes it’s smart to hold our tongues, but in our attempt to avoid “judging” others, do we lose the important, biblical practice of correcting others in love?
1 Corinthians 5:12 makes it pretty clear. Paul is writing to the church, and he says, “It isn’t my responsibility to judge outsiders, but it certainly is your responsibility to judge those inside the church who are sinning.”
Ouch. Yes, these words are harsh, but they’re also important. We’re supposed to judge. That immediately rubs us the wrong way, but give it a chance to settle in. What does this word “judge” really mean? We throw it around like we know what we’re talking about, but do we? The true definition is “to form an opinion or conclusion about.” The word “conclusion” is significant. A conclusion is the end of a process. People who aren’t Christians, as Paul says, should not be judged, and when we look at the word “conclusion,” it makes sense. They haven’t reached the end of their process yet. Their hearts haven’t been sealed for Christ. They are still wandering and searching. We can’t form conclusions about them because they aren’t concluded in Christ yet.
But believers are. We’ve made our choice, and Jesus sealed the deal. We’ve reached the end of our process of living a life of sin, and Jesus said it’s time to look toward holier things. We should be vulnerable to the judgement of other believers, because they know the deal we’ve made: to give up our old selves and live the way Jesus called us to. And they expect us to keep that agreement.
Though grace still mercifully exists for the many times we mess up, Paul lays out a fairly blunt “no tolerance” policy for people who “are sinning” (AKA, sinning repetitively and consistently with no intentional steps towards change). He says we are to judge those people, but I would bet a million dollars he doesn’t mean behind their backs, but rather, to their faces. A “speak the truth in love” sort of thing (Eph. 4:15). We aren’t supposed to condemn anyone. But we also aren’t supposed to stand by and let our brothers and sisters in Christ live in a way that isn’t honoring to God just because we’re afraid to be seen as “judgmental.” We’re called to take a stance against sin within the church no matter what.
The church is notorious for judging anyone and everyone—which is flat out wrong. We need to continue to place our judgement where it is appropriate, and that means inside the church family only. Don’t judge people who don’t believe in Christ—they’re still in the middle of their journey—and you were there once too. But do judge believers who still think it’s okay to live a life of sin, and do it in a spirit of love. Be the brother or sister who will gently correct them. The more we foster an aversion to all kinds of judgement, the more desensitized we grow towards sin, and slowly we come to accept it.
Don’t accept it. Challenge it, and challenge one another.