The “You Can’t Judge Me!” Myth
It’s probably the most quoted phrase from the Bible by non-believers: “Don’t judge!” Of course, very few of them have any idea where to find that verse in the Bible or what the context of it is, but it sure is a convenient line to pull out when one feels like being free from a guilty conscience!
There are actually three prominent places in the Bible that speak of judgment.
- Matthew 7:1-5 “Judge not, that you be not judged.  For with the judgment you pronounce you will be judged, and with the measure you use it will be measured to you.  Why do you see the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye?  Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when there is the log in your own eye?  You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye.
- Romans 14:3-4 “Let not the one who eats despise the one who abstains, and let not the one who abstains pass judgment on the one who eats, for God has welcomed him.  Who are you to pass judgment on the servant of another? It is before his own master that he stands or falls. And he will be upheld, for the Lord is able to make him stand.”
- John 7:24 “Do not judge by appearances, but judge with right judgment.”
Let’s take a quick look at each of these in order.
When you read this whole section, Jesus is clearly not forbidding judging of all kinds but rather speaking out against judging hypocritically. This is obvious from the illustration of having a log in your own eye while pointing out a speck in another person’s eye. All of us are guilty of pointing out faults in others while we neglect massive faults in ourselves. It is this kind of scenario Jesus is addressing. We ought to be slow to judge another person, and any kind of judgment must always begin by looking in the mirror. We must be our own critics, and deal with our own issues first.
Even then, if we have judged ourselves first, we are not to judge others in a condemning way but in a helpful way. It’s possible to share the same criticism with a person in a way that destroys them or in a way that loves them. Jesus is advocating for judgment of others that is helpful in nature, as evidence by the desired end result (that you may remove the speck from your brothers eye). It’s not enough to simply judge, but to be of service to the person you are judging.
In this way, judging someone is not a bad thing but a good thing. For instance, if you have a friend who is struggling with a gambling addiction, it would be very unloving to simply pretend there were no issue. It would be just as unloving to point out the problem with an attitude of superiority. But what does help is humbly pointing out this issue and making yourself available to help.
In all of this we must keep in mind that “with the judgment you pronounce you will be judged, and with the measure you use it will be measured to you”. This means that God will judge us with as much leniency as we have judged others with. If anything ought to deter us from judging harshly, this should! We may judge if we do so without hypocrisy and with compassionate hearts.
In reality, the entire chapter of Romans 14 deals with passing judgment. The situation being dealt with is a specific one. What is happening among the Christians in Rome is that some have different convictions about their faith – in particular, what foods they should eat and what days are considered holidays. Some Christians ate all foods, while others were vegetarians. Both groups were doing so in honour to God. Similarly, some Christians celebrated certain days as holy, while others saw every day as the same. Both groups were also doing this to honour God. So, the question is, who is right?
Paul, the author of this letter, answers that both are right. Since each person is doing what they feel God has called them to do, they should not pass judgment on each other. Instead, they should give each other the freedom to live by their own convictions and not judge others for having different convictions. This is the kind of judgment that Paul is condemning, because it leads to division among the people. Later in the chapter (vs. 19) he says instead to “pursue what makes for peace and for mutual upbuilding.”
One important clause needs to be added. Paul is allowing for freedom on issues that the Bible is flexible with. Biblically, a Christian is permitted to eat meat or not – it is a free choice that God has given. If God has not spoken clearly on an issue one way or the other, a Christian is free to make up their own mind, so long as they still feel that what they are doing is honouring to God.
However, this flexibility is not permitted on issues where God has made a command. For instance, a Christian may not lie, because God has commanded them not to. A Christian cannot say “It is my conviction that God allows me to lie” since the Bible does not allow that flexibility. So, when Paul is allowing for freedom of choice among Christians in Romans 14, it is only for issues that the Bible is not explicit about. Judging a Christian over an issue that God has not judged them over is wrong. This is the point of verse 4, which asks “Who are you to pass judgment on the servant of another? It is before his own master that he stands or falls. And he will be upheld, for the Lord is able to make him stand.” Since that person has Biblical freedom to do what they are doing, you may not judge them, but instead leave it to God.
Jesus’ statement “Do not judge by appearances, but judge with right judgment” comes after he is accused of having a demon. Clearly the religious rulers who make such a judgment are not really aware of what exists on the inside of Jesus, namely, the Spirit of God. They could not possibly have misjudged Jesus worse than they do here. Their lack of wisdom and true insight is something Jesus rebukes them for.
We too are to be careful about passing judgment, especially without careful consideration. Far too often we pass judgment based only on what we have seen. The challenge to “judge me when you walk a mile in my shoes” carries some truth to it. Still, Jesus does not forbid judging others but actually condones it, as he says to judge with right judgment. The issue he is pressing is not that judgment is wrong altogether, but that judgment should be thoughtful and wise.
The Bible nowhere forbids judging other people. Rather, it gives safeguards for how we are to judge. This makes a lot of sense, since everyone passes judgment on a regular basis. Just think about it logically. By calling the police on someone, failing them in a class, cutting them from a sports team, choosing to break off a friendship, avoiding them in a dark alley, or a million other actions, all involve a measure of judgment. It is a normal part of life. Typically, when people use the “don’t judge” card they are trying to escape being held morally responsible for sin.
It is important to remember that each of us will be judged thoroughly at the end of our life by God. In that moment, none of us can accuse God of being unqualified to judge us. We will need to simply accept his judgment of us. The most glorious truth in the world is that we can know for certain that God will judge us to be “not guilty” of any sin if we trust in Jesus as our Saviour. He died to so that our sin could be paid for, therefore anyone who has faith in Jesus will be declared innocent by God. You don’t need to fear being judged by God if you have faith in Christ as the payment for your sins. I would encourage you to trust in Jesus to escape the judgment you can’t escape yourself!