Thursday, April 16, 2015

Don’t Judge – But Don’t Condone, Either

The statement caught my eye. It’s been expressed many times, but merits reviewing again: “Don’t judge someone just because they sin differently than you.” Ponder that for a moment.

There’s much wisdom in that statement. Because, the Bible asserts, “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23). As a wise theologian noted, “When the Bible says ‘all,’ it means…ALL.” It also says, in even stronger language, “There is no one righteous, not even one; there is no one who understands, no one who seeks God. All have turned away, they have together become worthless; there is no one who does good, not even one” (Romans 3:10-12).

Wow! That sounds all-inclusive. No exceptions. So who are we to judge the sins of others?

The Bible states judging isn't 
our job. God doesn't need help. 
It’s easy to feel judgmental about the bad behavior of others if we can’t identify with their practices. For example, if you’ve never wrestled with a weight problem, it’s easy to “judge” someone who’s obese. But anyone that’s had a tendency to overindulge in alcohol can feel sympathetic toward someone with a drinking problem. Does this make the overweight person a worse sinner than the drunk? Certainly not. They both, as the passage above states, have fallen short of God’s glory, His perfect standard. As we all have, each in our own ways.

Years ago a friend called whom I hadn’t talked with in several years. He was distraught and needed someone to talk with. We met soon afterward, and he confided to being a self-described “sex addict.” His job required him to travel extensively, and he'd been diligent to feed his addiction wherever he went. Remorse came after his sins "found him out." 

Admittedly I was surprised. I’d known this fellow for years and never suspected he had this kind of problem. But I didn’t respond with words of condemnation. Nor did I wave a cross in his face, telling him what a terrible person he was. Neither did I pat him on the shoulder and say, “Hey, man, no problem. It’s all good. Nobody’s perfect.”

Jesus made it clear: Do not judge, and you will not be judged. Do not condemn, and you will not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven” (Luke 6:37). At the same time, He didn’t instruct us to condone, endorse, or even ignore the sins of others when they become evident.

We find a classic example in the gospel of John, when Jesus is confronted by religious leaders prepared to stone a woman caught in adultery. After listening to those “teachers of the law and Pharisees” describe the circumstances, He tells them, "If any one of you is without sin, let him be the first to throw a stone at her." Perhaps shamed in being forced to confront their own guilt, one by one the men walk away, leaving behind their “weapons” as they go.

There it is – don’t judge the sins of others. Jesus was making that clear. However, sometimes we forget what happened next.

After the men have departed, Jesus and the woman are standing there alone. He asks her, "Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?" She responds, "No one, sir." Jesus then replies, "Then neither do I condemn you," but doesn’t stop there. He concludes by telling her, "Go now and leave your life of sin." Or as other translations say, "Go and sin no more" (John 8:3-11).

So we're not to judge others – because we all sin in different ways and are equally reprehensible before a holy God. And yet, we’re never instructed to condone or endorse wrongful actions, even though the prevailing culture of our times seems to insist we must.

While He did not condemn the woman clearly caught in sin – Jesus knew the law – the Lord did not excuse her. He didn’t say, "Hey, girl, it's okay. Ya gotta do what ya gotta do." No, He simply told her, “Go and sin no more.”

That, to me, is the biblical model of how to react to the sins of others. We’re not to judge – that’s God’s job, and He doesn’t need our help. But contrary to what “tolerant” society advocates, we’re not instructed to blindly accept, justify or applaud the sins of others, whatever those might be.

In love, with grace and understanding, we’re to offer support and encouragement for broken people trying to deal with and overcome their sins, recognizing our own brokenness and knowing we also have fallen far short from God’s perfect and divine standard.

And we’re to apply the words of Jesus to ourselves. He’s telling us as well to “go and sin no more.” In our own ability, this often seems difficult – maybe even impossible. That’s why it’s important to remember, echoing the words of the apostle Paul, “I can do everything through him (Jesus) who gives me strength” (Philippians 4:13). We can’t – but He can.

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