Category: Judgment


Jesus’ command not to judge others could be the most widely quoted of His sayings, even though it is almost invariably quoted in complete disregard of its context. Here is Jesus’ statement: “Do not judge, or you too will be judged” (Matthew 7:1). Many people use this verse in an attempt to silence their critics, interpreting Jesus’ meaning as “You don’t have the right to tell me I’m wrong.” Taken in isolation, Jesus’ command “Do not judge” does indeed seem to preclude all negative assessments. However, there is much more to the passage than those three words.

The Bible’s command that we not judge others does not mean we cannot show discernment. Immediately after Jesus says, “Do not judge,” He says, “Do not give dogs what is sacred; do not throw your pearls to pigs” (Matthew 7:6). A little later in the same sermon, He says, “Watch out for false prophets. . . . By their fruit you will recognize them” (verses 15–16). How are we to discern who are the “dogs” and “pigs” and “false prophets” unless we have the ability to make a judgment call on doctrines and deeds? Jesus is giving us permission to tell right from wrong.

Also, the Bible’s command that we not judge others does not mean all actions are equally moral or that truth is relative. The Bible clearly teaches that truth is objective, eternal, and inseparable from God’s character. Anything that contradicts the truth is a lie—but, of course, to call something a “lie” is to pass judgment. To call adultery or murder a sin is likewise to pass judgment—but it’s also to agree with God. When Jesus said not to judge others, He did not mean that no one can identify sin for what it is, based on God’s definition of sin.

And the Bible’s command that we not judge others does not mean there should be no mechanism for dealing with sin. The Bible has a whole book entitled Judges. The judges in the Old Testament were raised up by God Himself (Judges 2:18). The modern judicial system, including its judges, is a necessary part of society. In saying, “Do not judge,” Jesus was not saying, “Anything goes.”

Elsewhere, Jesus gives a direct command to judge: “Stop judging by mere appearances, but instead judge correctly” (John 7:24). Here we have a clue as to the right type of judgment versus the wrong type. Taking this verse and some others, we can put together a description of the sinful type of judgment:

Superficial judgment is wrong. Passing judgment on someone based solely on appearances is sinful (John 7:24). It is foolish to jump to conclusions before investigating the facts (Proverbs 18:13). Simon the Pharisee passed judgment on a woman based on her appearance and reputation, but he could not see that the woman had been forgiven; Simon thus drew Jesus’ rebuke for his unrighteous judgment (Luke 7:36–50).

Hypocritical judgment is wrong. Jesus’ command not to judge others in Matthew 7:1 is preceded by comparisons to hypocrites (Matthew 6:2, 5, 16) and followed by a warning against hypocrisy (Matthew 7:3–5). When we point out the sin of others while we ourselves commit the same sin, we condemn ourselves (Romans 2:1).

Harsh, unforgiving judgment is wrong. We are “always to be gentle toward everyone” (Titus 3:2). It is the merciful who will be shown mercy (Matthew 5:7), and, as Jesus warned, “In the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you” (Matthew 7:2).

Self-righteous judgment is wrong. We are called to humility, and “God opposes the proud” (James 4:6). The Pharisee in Jesus’ parable of the Pharisee and the tax collector was confident in his own righteousness and from that proud position judged the publican; however, God sees the heart and refused to forgive the Pharisee’s sin (Luke 18:9–14).

Untrue judgment is wrong. The Bible clearly forbids bearing false witness (Proverbs 19:5). “Slander no one” (Titus 3:2).

Christians are often accused of “judging” or intolerance when they speak out against sin. But opposing sin is not wrong. Holding aloft the standard of righteousness naturally defines unrighteousness and draws the slings and arrows of those who choose sin over godliness. John the Baptist incurred the ire of Herodias when he spoke out against her adultery with Herod (Mark 6:18–19). She eventually silenced John, but she could not silence the truth (Isaiah 40:8).

Believers are warned against judging others unfairly or unrighteously, but Jesus commends “right judgment” (John 7:24, ESV). We are to be discerning (Colossians 1:9; 1 Thessalonians 5:21). We are to preach the whole counsel of God, including the Bible’s teaching on sin (Acts 20:27; 2 Timothy 4:2). We are to gently confront erring brothers or sisters in Christ (Galatians 6:1). We are to practice church discipline (Matthew 18:15–17). We are to speak the truth in love (Ephesians 4:15).

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The great white throne judgment is described in Revelation 20:11-15 and is the final judgment prior to the lost being cast into the lake of fire. We know from Revelation 20:7-15 that this judgment will take place after the millennium and after Satan, the beast, and the false prophet are thrown into the lake of fire (Revelation 20:7-10). The books that are opened (Revelation 20:12) contain records of everyone’s deeds, whether they are good or evil, because God knows everything that has ever been said, done, or even thought, and He will reward or punish each one accordingly (Psalm 28:4; 62:12; Romans 2:6; Revelation 2:23; 18:6; 22:12).

Also at this time, another book is opened, called the “book of life” (Revelation 20:12). It is this book that determines whether a person will inherit eternal life with God or receive everlasting punishment in the lake of fire. Although Christians are held accountable for their actions, they are forgiven in Christ and their names were written in the “book of life from the creation of the world” (Revelation 17:8). We also know from Scripture that it is at this judgment when the dead will be “judged according to what they had done” (Revelation 20:12) and that “anyone’s name” that is not “found written in the book of life” will be “thrown into the lake of fire” (Revelation 20:15).

The fact that there is going to be a final judgment for all men, both believers and unbelievers, is clearly confirmed in many passages of Scripture. Every person will one day stand before Christ and be judged for his or her deeds. While it is very clear that the great white throne judgment is the final judgment, Christians disagree on how it relates to the other judgments mentioned in the Bible, specifically, who will be judged at the great white throne judgment.

Some Christians believe that the Scriptures reveal three different judgments to come. The first is the judgment of the sheep and the goats or a judgment of the nations (Matthew 25:31-36). This takes place after the tribulation period but prior to the millennium; its purpose is to determine who will enter the millennial kingdom. The second is a judgment of believers’ works, often referred to as the “judgment seat [bema] of Christ” (2 Corinthians 5:10). At this judgment, Christians will receive degrees of reward for their works or service to God. The third is the great white throne judgment at the end of the millennium (Revelation 20:11-15). This is the judgment of unbelievers in which they are judged according to their works and sentenced to everlasting punishment in the lake of fire.

Other Christians believe that all three of these judgments speak of the same final judgment, not of three separate judgments. In other words, the great white throne judgment in Revelation 20:11-15 will be the time that believers and unbelievers alike are judged. Those whose names are found in the book of life will be judged for their deeds in order to determine the rewards they will receive or lose. Those whose names are not in the book of life will be judged according to their deeds to determine the degree of punishment they will receive in the lake of fire. Those who hold this view believe that Matthew 25:31-46 is another description of what takes place at the great white throne judgment. They point to the fact that the result of this judgment is the same as what is seen after the great white throne judgment in Revelation 20:11-15. The sheep (believers) enter into eternal life, while the goats (unbelievers) are cast into “eternal punishment” (Matthew 25:46).

Whichever view one holds of the great white throne judgment, it is important to never lose sight of the facts concerning the coming judgment(s). First, Jesus Christ will be the judge, all unbelievers will be judged by Christ, and they will be punished according to the works they have done. The Bible is very clear that unbelievers are storing up wrath against themselves (Romans 2:5) and that God will “give to each person according to what he has done” (Romans 2:6). Believers will also be judged by Christ, but since Christ’s righteousness has been imputed to us and our names are written in the book of life, we will be rewarded, but not punished, according to our deeds. Romans 14:10-12 says that we will all stand before the judgment seat of Christ and that each one of us will give an account to God.

  Romans 14:10-12 says, “For we will all stand before God’s judgment seat…so then, each of us will give an account of himself to God.” Second Corinthians 5:10 tells us, “For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, that each one may receive what is due him for the things done while in the body, whether good or bad.” In the context, it is clear that both scriptures are referring to Christians, not unbelievers. The judgment seat of Christ, therefore, involves believers giving an account of their lives to Christ. The judgment seat of Christ does not determine salvation; that was determined by Christ’s sacrifice on our behalf (1 John 2:2) and our faith in Him (John 3:16). All of our sins are forgiven, and we will never be condemned for them (Romans 8:1). We should not look at the judgment seat of Christ as God judging our sins, but rather as God rewarding us for our lives. Yes, as the Bible says, we will have to give an account of ourselves. Part of this is surely answering for the sins we committed. However, that is not going to be the primary focus of the judgment seat of Christ.

At the judgment seat of Christ, believers are rewarded based on how faithfully they served Christ (1 Corinthians 9:4-27; 2 Timothy 2:5). Some of the things we might be judged on are how well we obeyed the Great Commission (Matthew 28:18-20), how victorious we were over sin (Romans 6:1-4), and how well we controlled our tongues (James 3:1-9). The Bible speaks of believers receiving crowns for different things based on how faithfully they served Christ (1 Corinthians 9:4-27; 2 Timothy 2:5). The various crowns are described in 2 Timothy 2:5, 2 Timothy 4:8, James 1:12, 1 Peter 5:4, and Revelation 2:10. James 1:12 is a good summary of how we should think about the judgment seat of Christ: “Blessed is the man who perseveres under trial, because when he has stood the test, he will receive the crown of life that God has promised to those who love him.”

The first thing to understand about the final judgment is that it cannot be avoided. Regardless of how we may choose to interpret prophecy on the end times, we are told that “it is appointed to men once to die, but after this the judgment” (Hebrews 9:27). We all have a divine appointment with our Creator. The apostle John recorded some details of the final judgment:

“And I saw a great white throne, and Him sitting on it, from whose face the earth and the heaven fled away. And a place was not found for them. And I saw the dead, the small and the great, stand before God. And books were opened, and another book was opened, which is the Book of Life. And the dead were judged out of those things which were written in the books, according to their works. And the sea gave up the dead in it. And death and hell delivered up the dead in them. And each one of them was judged according to their works. And death and hell were cast into the Lake of Fire. This is the second death. And if anyone was not found having been written in the Book of Life, he was cast into the Lake of Fire” (Revelation 20:11-15).

This remarkable passage introduces to us the final judgment—the end of human history and the beginning of the eternal state. We can be sure of this: no mistakes will be made in our hearings because we will be judged by a perfect God (Matthew 5:48; 1 John 1:5). This will manifest itself in many undeniable proofs. First, God will be perfectly just and fair (Acts 10:34; Galatians 3:28). Second, God cannot be deceived (Galatians 6:7). Third, God cannot be swayed by any prejudices, excuses or lies (Luke 14:16-24).

As God the Son, Jesus Christ will be the judge (John 5:22). All unbelievers will be judged by Christ at the “great white throne,” and they will be punished according to the works they have done. The Bible is very clear that unbelievers are storing up wrath against themselves (Romans 2:5) and that God will “give to each person according to what he has done” (Romans 2:6). (Believers will also be judged, at a different judgment called the “judgment seat of Christ” (Romans 14:10), but since Christ’s righteousness has been imputed to us and our names are written in the Book of Life, we will be rewarded, not punished, according to our deeds.) At the final judgment the fate of the unsaved will be in the hands of the omniscient God who will judge everyone according to his soul’s condition.

For now, our fate is in our own hands. The end of our soul’s journey will be either in an eternal heaven or in an eternal hell (Matthew 25:46). We must choose where we will be by accepting or rejecting the sacrifice of Christ on our behalf, and we must make that choice before our physical lives on this earth come to an end. After death, there is no longer a choice, and our fate is to stand before the throne of God, where everything will be open and naked before Him (Hebrews 4:13). Romans 2:6 declares that God “will give to each person according to what he has done.”

One of the  most widespread arguments against Christians is that they are “judgmental” or  “always imposing their views on others.” Often, this criticism comes in response  to Christians who speak out against behaviors and lifestyles that God judges as  “sin” and has declared to be an outrage to Him (see Proverbs  16:1). We live in a society where “everyone [does] what [is] right in his  own eyes” (Judges  21:25)—where people insist that there are no moral absolutes, that each man  should decide for himself what is right or wrong, and that we should “tolerate”  (meaning “celebrate”) sinful activities. Those who take seriously the biblical  warnings against sin and dare speak out against evil are written off as  religious fanatics, and all Christians are, ironically, judged as being  “judgmental.”

The Scripture that is used the most to support the idea  that Christians should not judge is Matthew 7:1,  where Jesus says to His disciples, “Judge not, that you be not judged.” It’s one  verse that many unbelievers can quote. Another popular saying, taken from John 8:7, is “He that is  without sin, let him cast the first stone.” But when we read these verses in  their immediate contexts, it becomes glaringly obvious that Jesus is not warning  against every kind of judging but against hypocritical, self-righteous judging (see Matthew  7:1-5; John  8:1-11). In other words, a man should refrain from pronouncing judgment on  those who commit the very sin in which he engages, for “with the judgment [we]  pronounce [we] will be judged” (Matthew  7:2). This exhortation is similar to the point made by the apostle Paul when  he asks, “Do you suppose, O man – you who judge those who practice such things  and yet do them yourself – that you will escape the judgment of God?” (Romans 2:3). These verses are a warning against hypocrisy  and, at the same time, an exhortation to right living.

However,  hypocritical judging is the only kind of judging the Bible says that Christians  should avoid. The Christian must “judge” or discern between good and evil  (Hebrews  5:14)! We must make spiritual evaluations of the words and behavior of  others, not to find fault, but to effectively guard our hearts against error and  sin (1  Corinthians 2:14-15; Proverbs  4:23). In fact, immediately after Jesus warned His disciples against  hypocritical judgment, He says, “Do not give dogs what is holy, and do not throw  your pearls before pigs” (Matthew  7:6). How is the Christian supposed to know who the “dogs” and the “pigs”  are unless he or she exercises discernment? Furthermore, Jesus warns His  disciples just a few verses later, “Beware of false prophets, who come to you in  sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves. You will recognize them by  their fruits” (Matthew  7:15-16). This admonition is given not only with regard to “false prophets”  but also concerning anyone who comes in the name of Christ but who, by his  actions, denies Christ (Titus 1:16;  cf. Matthew  3:8).

According to Jesus, this kind of judgment is considered “right  judgment” (John 7:24) and  is strongly encouraged. We are to be “as wise as serpents and innocent as doves”  (Matthew  10:16), and wisdom demands that we be discerning (Proverbs 10:13). And when  we have discerned rightly, we are to speak the truth, with love being the  motivating factor (Ephesians  4:15). Love requires that we gently confront those in error with the truth  about their sin with the hope of bringing them to repentance and faith (Galatians 6:1). “Whoever  brings back a sinner from his wandering will save his soul from death” (James 5:20). The true  Christian speaks the truth—not merely what he believes to be the truth,  but the truth as plainly revealed in God’s Word. The truth, especially the truth  about good and evil, exists independently from what we feel or think (Isaiah 5:20-21).

Those who reject or are offended by the truth simply prove the power of God’s  Word to convict the heart of man; for “the Word of God is living and active,  sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of  spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of  the heart” (Hebrews  4:12).