Judging Right Judgment
By Peter Amsterdam
Download Audio (6.8MB)
There exists some confusion at times in our Christian walk between when to fulfill Jesus’ commandment to “judge not, that ye be not judged,”1 and when to “judge righteous judgment.”2 We are commanded both to not judge and condemn others and to make right judgments—which entails discerning, evaluating, and differentiating between right and wrong, and “choosing the good and eschewing [or turning away from] the evil.”3
One of the pitfalls that we face as Christians, and which is part of the process of growth and becoming a mature Christian, is the tendency to want to pin blanket labels or judgments on people or situations, or to categorize issues in a black-and-white way, in order to more easily discern and judge what is right and what is wrong. We are called, as Christians, to have conviction and to be willing to “give an answer to anyone that asks us a reason of our faith and hope,” while we are also to “yet do it with gentleness and respect.”4 Part of Christian discipleship is identifying and categorizing issues, attitudes, or actions as right or wrong, as acceptable or unacceptable in order to judge right or correct judgment; and yet in our interactions with others and sharing our faith and convictions, we are called to do so with gentleness and respect.
Christianity provides a clear moral code, and the Bible teaches us what is expected of believers. Throughout the Gospels Jesus taught the difference between right and wrong, good and evil, God’s will and self-will, and the apostles expounded on that and created rules and policies to govern the church, providing timeless principles of sharing God’s love and following Jesus’ example to live a godly life.
While Jesus spoke against judgmental attitudes and conduct toward others, it’s clear that as individuals, we still have to “judge righteous judgment”5 as far as evaluating and discerning whether something is a good choice or a poor one, or whether something is morally right or not. Those decisions don’t always come our way clearly marked and straightforward, and it’s natural to ponder attitudes, actions, or conduct that we see around us and to attempt to categorize them as right or wrong, good or bad, a good choice or a poor choice.
Not being judgmental doesn’t mean that we can’t or shouldn’t evaluate the rightness of things and measure things by the standard of God’s Word, and build our convictions accordingly. For instance, if someone does something that is morally reprehensible, you would certainly reach the conclusion that their actions are morally wrong, and you might feel led to speak out, particularly if these actions were influencing or harming others.
However, there are times when right and wrong are not so clearly delineated; the right or wrong choice is not so evident, or something that might seem right or wrong at the time later turns out to be the opposite. Sometimes we make mistakes in judgment and learn through our mistakes. Or something that is generally wrong, such as violence, might be right in the rare case when it is necessary to defend oneself or others who are in danger.
Of course, many things are clear and they are always black and white; right and wrong are immediately apparent. For example, we know that it is wrong to intentionally hurt others, to cheat people, to steal or take advantage of others, etc. We have clear markers for our conduct and what God expects of us, and He’s also given us a conscience, which speaks to us when we do something that is wrong in some way.
But it’s not always possible to place a simple “right” or “wrong” label on the decisions of others, or on situations or events. Jesus said that we would be able to recognize or discern things by their fruits,6 which may mean that we won’t know if something bears good fruit for some time, until it has played out and we are able to better discern the ultimate results of certain decisions or situations. This is why seeking the Lord’s tailor-made guidance for situations and decisions is often necessary in order to better understand how to apply the principles in His Word to specific situations.
While it’s normal, and at times necessary, to evaluate and reason out the decisions and actions of others and to weigh them on our moral scale, it doesn’t follow that we should then treat people in an unloving, judgmental way, or be quick to condemn others because of the choices they’ve made. Only God is in a position to pass wise or fair judgment. We can’t know the burdens and weights that people carry, or all the reasons why they make the choices they do. We can certainly pray for them and try to offer support, counsel, or advice when appropriate. But it’s unlikely that people will be receptive to counsel and advice that comes packaged in a judgmental spirit.
As Christians, we shouldn’t feel compelled to judge every attitude or action of others. We should be more concerned about helping people and loving them into heaven than judging them on earth. God is the judge; He knows the hearts of people and He understands everything about them in a way that we would never be able to. He doesn’t need our help to judge people; that isn’t what Jesus commissioned us to do.
So while it’s natural to internally process someone’s actions, it’s how we treat the person and how we react to them that ultimately counts. Of course, we do need to teach our children and new believers to make moral choices and to discern between right and moral behavior and wrong and ungodly behavior. We need to be grounded in the Scriptures in order to understand biblical and Christian morality, so that we can make decisions based on the Word of God. But in doing so, we also can’t lose sight of Jesus’ boundless love for all people.
We are all sinners and men and women of like passions, who desperately need Jesus’ love, mercy, and forgiveness. We are called to share His love with others, and His power to forgive sin and to conquer its foothold in our lives. Jesus’ love is unconditional and can cover the multitude of sins.7 There is no sin that Jesus can’t redeem and wash away with His blood.8
Originally published September 2010. Adapted and republished February 2017.
Read by Jason Lawrence.
1 Matthew 7:1.
2 John 7:24.
3 1 Peter 3:11 KJV.
4 1 Peter 3:15.
5 John 7:24.
6 Matthew 7:20.
7 James 5:19–20; 1 Peter 4:8.
8 1 John 1:7.