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).