Judgment, Discernment, and understanding God.

“I am sending you out like sheep among wolves. Therefore be as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves.”  Matthew 10:16

I often caution people against being judgmental, saying something along the lines of this:  “God loves and desires for all of creation to be reunited with Him.  If our judgment of others separates them from the love of God that we can offer them, that is the worst kind of sin.”  That is something I believe wholeheartedly, one of the most core and fundamental tenets of my personal faith.  There are many things about my beliefs which I am willing to question and have questioned, many things which I could debate happily until my last breath.  But if any Christian tells me that they believe they have the right to judge others I feel literally ill.

Anyone who lives on milk, being still an infant, is not acquainted with the teaching about righteousness.  But solid food is for the mature, who by constant use have trained themselves to distinguish good from evil.  (Hebrews 5:13-14)

The Bible seems clear on the fact that Christians are supposed to know what is sin and what isn’t.  Christians are supposed to understand the difference between good and evil, and cling to one while rejecting the other.

Love must be sincere. Hate what is evil; cling to what is good.  Be devoted to one another in love. Honor one another above yourselves.  (Romans 12:9-20)

The problem is that while the Bible repeatedly speaks of discernment and understanding the nature of Good and Evil, the Bible often couples such terms with lengthier passages about the need for fraternity, forgiveness, and love in the Church.

This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins.  Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.  No one has ever seen God; but if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us. (1 John 4:10-12)

So why is there this coupling of preaching discernment with commanding love?  Some modes of belief preach that judgment is good and necessary.  Not a week has ever passed on this blog where someone didn’t say “but we’re supposed to judge our brethren.”  It’s undeniable- it’s in the Bible.  But the question is why? 

In Romans 14 the author of that book writes about how there are arguments between believers about what is or isn’t unclean.  Some people believe one day or another should be sacred.  Some believers eat whatever they wish while others feel that eating some things are sinful.  The author states that a person’s convictions should never become a stumbling block to their brother or sister, that a choice needs to be made to honor each other’s convictions, because:

It is better not to eat meat or drink wine or to do anything else that will cause your brother or sister to fall.  (Romans 14:21)

This is interesting to consider, but far more powerful is a verse that comes earlier in the passage:

You, then, why do you judge your brother or sister? Or why do you treat them with contempt? For we will all stand before God’s judgment seat.

Yes, we should know good from evil, and we should know which actions of our Brothers and Sisters are good or evil.  The Bible even says to expel the immoral brother from among us.  (1 Corinthians 5:13)  Yet with all of that, the scales remain tipped in the other direction, and the Bible never really spells out why.

Whoever claims to live in him must live as Jesus did.  (1 John 2:6)

We know what Jesus did.  We know that he ate with the tax collectors and sinners.  We know that he let prostitutes be in his company, he even let them hang all over his feet.  He did this prior to telling them to sin no more, so we also know that he let them do this while they were still sinners.  And, as it says in 1 John, we know that he died for us while we were still sinners too.  We know that we are all sinners, not just because we know ourselves but because the Bible reminds us of that pretty regularly too.  So here’s the thing:

If we all sin, and we all do, and we’re supposed to know good from evil and reject one and cling to the other, if we make the assumption that we’re supposed to judge each other where does that lead us?  If the judgment is about who is or isn’t worth communing with, the church is going to end up empty because we all sin and we all sin knowingly.  It’s part of who we are.  If the judgment is instead about what is or isn’t hurting ourselves or hurting the brethren and is made to edify instead of condemn, we do a good thing.  Because if we go to our brother or sister and say “I’m worried you’re doing something harmful” and they know and experience the love of God, we’re giving them a loving opportunity to lead a better life.  I’ve experienced both kinds of judgment against myself and I know which one changed me.  I’ve been guilty of making both and I know which one hurt and which one healed.

I also know that it’s impossible to tell, from who people are today, who they are capable of becoming.  One of the people most formative in my early faith was a convicted felon and murderer.  If my parents had judged him as unworthy of their friendship (an assumption many Christians would feel totally justified) I would have missed out on a tremendous opportunity to witness the extent to which God’s love can redeem a fallen man.

If we judge people by the same measure that we judge actions, labeling some people as “good” and others as “bad”, we do perhaps one of the most evil things that any Christian can.  The people we label as “good” get to experience our love and forgiveness, at times even when they reject conviction.  But the people labeled as “bad” don’t ever receive love at all.  We are only justified in such behavior if we feel we know with total certainty that God doesn’t love the “bad” people or want them to experience his forgiveness at all.  It is love, not rejection, that births repentance.

If your enemy is hungry, give him food to eat;
if he is thirsty, give him water to drink.
In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head,
and the Lord will reward you.  (Proverbs 25:21-22)

The metaphorical burning coals being a sign of mourning and repentance.  Note that the verses don’t say “picket your enemy and call him a heathen and a godless blight on your society, and in that way you heap burning coals on his head.”  The solution is the most simple in the history of man:  community.  Bring him into your home, feed him and clothe him, and he’ll learn to mourn the error of his ways.  If that is the way we are to treat our enemies, then, how our we to treat our brethren?

We love because he first loved us.  Whoever claims to love God yet hates a brother or sister is a liar. For whoever does not love their brother and sister, whom they have seen,cannot love God, whom they have not seen.  And he has given us this command: Anyone who loves God must also love their brother and sister.  (1 John 4:19-21)

Love, love, love.  There is no excuse for anything else.  So discern what is good and evil- apply it to your own life and speak it to your brothers and sisters in Christ with love.  Everyone else, treat as beloved community.  Offer food and drink and solace, express God’s love with your hands and mind and tongue.  It doesn’t matter who someone is, if they are homeless or a felon or gay or just look strange or a tattooed punk or if they are wearing one of those oh so cute “God is Dead” t-shirts, God loves them.  They deserve to experience his love.  It is that love, and that love alone that can birth understanding and repentance.  If you withhold that love from them, you do grievous harm not just to them but more so to yourself.

Love, first and foremost and the most strongly.  There is no excuse for anything less.

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5 thoughts on “Judgment, Discernment, and understanding God.

  1. Maybe I am being deceived. I know I am still learning.

    Love, that is the question. What does true love look like? Jesus, Himself, confronted evil, sin when it was before him. He told them what their sin was and told them to go and sin no more.

    I don’t confront people about what I currently understand is sin. For instance, living three doors down from us is a couple living a lesbian lifestyle. They have been here almost twenty years. The home owner has only had two long term relationships. We are polite to each other and speak (often is relative) but we speak a couple to a few times a week in passing. I would consider us good acquaintenances. I helped them with some information a few weeks ago when their home was burglarized.

    My current understanding of Holy Scripture is that alternative life styles are Written about as sin. You cant go forth and multiply if your multiplier isn’t put into the proper spot to multiply. There are a more but that is the nuts and bolts of it.

    I don’t think I condem them simply because I don’t agree with their life style. But that gets us to what is TRUE LOVE. If I firmly believe someone is engaged in a behavior that will lead to spiritual death do I have an obligation to say “hey knock that off.?” I have NEVER done that but am I supposed to? So is the real way to love someone like this to pray for t hem and leave the rest up to the Holy Spirit and God’s play of watering and fertilizing?

    I haven’t commented on the post from last week. But I have given it alot of thought. What I came up with is that I don’t go around marching and protesting about this sin or that sin. However, don’t put (what I understand as sin) in my face and not expect me to address the behavior. Regardless of what it is. Beating your wife, kids, fornicating, etc. If it is in my face I feel like I have an obligation to addres it. Its not like im breaking into people;s homes to see what they are up to.

    I had an incident with a former Blogger friend. I made a comment on my Facebook page about homosexuals. I didn’t know that her uncle had been in a nearly forty year relatiohship with his partner. That got me to thinking. That type of love and committment seems like… what God wants between two people. I just can’t reconcile the same sex thing. So here is where I have currently landed. I think there are heterosexuals who are in it for the fun, selfish reasons. The same with gays and homosexuals. The Jews are clearly on the wrong page too. However, Holy Scripture seems to have some sort of special deal made for the Jews. I;m thinking it may be entirely possible for the gay/homosexual committed couples to have some special dispensation like the Jews that I just can’t grasp at this time.

    Don’g get me wrong I’m not embracing either. But I am leaving the door open for future relevation.

    That’s the best I can muster right now. Just being honest and transparent.

    • I think what I notice most is how truly thoughtful this is. It is easy to sit in judgment (I know!) but engaging your faith, every day, is so much harder. And also engaging with people who have stepped away from that faith is challenging.

      I have learned so much from you – especially about being a parent and creating a home – and I am thankful that you have always come from a place of love instead of censure. I think that if you did sit down with me out of concern for my spiritual wellbeing, I would know that it was from a place of genuine concern and love for me.

      Of course, someone who yells at me about being a sinner (my grandmother because Sean and I are technically bastards even though our father raised us) does not get any of my mental space for rent…or any consideration whatsoever.

  2. Michael, thank you so much for your comment. First off, what duty do you have to confront the sin of those who aren’t believers? They are responsible for themselves. Those to whom we do have a responsibility are those with whom we are in community as believers. The lesbians living down the street from you would only be hurt by any confrontation of their sin. If they don’t acknowledge Christ as their savior and don’t have his spirit, all they would receive from you is condemnation. Much like your comment on Facebook probably smacked of condemnation to many who read it. That, my dear friend, is the danger of confronting the sins of this world. We create barriers to God instead of a path to him.

    When the woman in Luke 7 came and washed Jesus feet with her tears he told her that her sins were forgiven and then told her to go and live her life. I once heard an incredible teaching on that passage that spoke of the washing of Jesus’ feet as the blessing of a sacrifice. Think about that for a minute- the act of a woman who lived a very sinful life was pleasing and acceptable to God as the replacement for a sacrifice being anointed by a priest. It was only AFTER she finished that Jesus told her to go, and when he did he said only “your sins are forgiven”, not “you’d better stop whoring around or else.” Her acts were accepted as righteous because of her heart, not because of her behavior. This is incredibly important, Michael.

    Apply it to a pair of Lesbians wishing to come and worship in the church. If their worship is sincere, it is accepted as holy. Before they acknowledge their sin or promise to change. It is only through experiencing forgiveness that we learn to love God and turn from our sins. That is why in Luke 7 Jesus told the parable that he did to explain his acceptance of the woman, and said that those who are forgiven little love little but those who are forgiven much love much. Every single time we see Jesus say “go and sin no more”, it is not proceeded by an explanation of which sins are the most important, or an admonition of any kind. It is a word of encouragement, not of condemnation of sin. It’s like a dad sending a kid out to bat saying “I know you can hit this one out of the park”, not a bullying father saying “hit the ball or else.”

    I’m not saying in the above post or in any of my posts that it’s wrong to have a conviction that something is wrong, or that it’s wrong to share it with others. We could, and should, tell those with whom we are mutually accountable what we feel they are doing that hurts them. That is why I write this blog, to share with my fellow Christians my conviction that we are distancing people from God’s love instead of sharing it.

    Imagine with me that you shared God’s love with the lesbians. You demonstrated his mercy and abundance with them. You welcomed them into your home and treated them with respect and dignity. Imagine they came to know you, and through you God, very deeply. If you then said, “I’m worried that you are sinning”, they would hear it with open ears I am sure. But even if you did that, it is up to God’s spirit to bring conviction. You would be burdened to love them with God’s love regardless of whether or not they left their sin, in sincere hopes that they would in time receive conviction.

    That is, of course, assuming that it is sinful. There are plenty of people that would argue that it isn’t, that we misunderstand those verses in the Bible and what their intent is.

    And as for special dispensation, I don’t believe such a thing exists for anyone. If such a thing did exist, why would Paul have written in Romans 3:22, “This righteousness is given through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. There is no difference between Jew and Gentile”.

    I am proud of you for being able to admit that you are still growing and learning in these things. I am too, and I am glad that we can share in each other’s journey.

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