“Only God can judge me” is a statement that we hear quite often. The idea is that no one should have the right to make a judgment on anyone else. It’s a declaration that the only person that has the right to make any judgments is God Himself. I have seen this statement tattooed on people and stuck to car bumpers. I have heard it spoken by Hip Hop superstars in interviews. I’ve heard it said everywhere from MTV to the church sanctuary.
Whenever I hear this spoken, the person usually refers to a particular Bible verse found in Matthew 7. It is a verse that seems to support the idea that “only God can judge me”. Jesus says in Matthew 7:1, “Do not judge, or you too will be judged”. When this verse is read, to the exclusion of the rest of scripture, it seems to have proved the point. It seems to say that no one has the right to make any judgments on anyone else. It seems to say that if someone has the audacity to make a judgement, then they will also be judge. So, it seems like Jesus is saying don’t judge and that “only God can judge”. However, this is not at all what Jesus is saying. In fact, when all of scripture is taken into account, we see something much different.
Now, let me be clear about a couple of things. First, this judgment I am referring to usually involves sin. The “only God can judge” statement is usually used when someone feels that they are being judged because of another person’s idea of what is sinful. Second, it is important to remember that God is the perfect and righteous judge. We see throughout scripture, God described as a righteous judge (Psalm 7:11, Jeremiah 11:20, 2 Tim. 4:8.) When he judges it is perfect and just. He is not like judges of earth that are flawed and temporary. Instead God is a perfect and eternal judge. He is a holy God that will judge sin and the sinful. This was why Christ came that we might be found innocent of our own transgressions. Third, God is the final authority and judge. There is no one higher and of authority greater. In Revelation 20 we see the final judgment that is to come. We see God sitting on the Great White Throne with the Lambs Book of Life. God will be the ultimate authority over eternity and justice.
With that said, its important now to understand what scripture has to say about the topic of judgment. As always, we must look at the totality of scripture and understand all verses in their context. Let’s first start with Jesus’ statements in Matthew 7:1.
Jesus’ statements cannot be used as a blanket statement for judgments. Even if you step outside of a scriptural context, this is completely illogical on every level. We live in a culture and society that prides itself on being able to pass judgments. For example, our court system passes judgments on criminals daily. They determine a persons innocence or guilt and then pass a judgment. We will soon vote on a political candidate for president. We have decided to pass judgment on the various candidates and are now left to vote for the one that we choose. We find a sense of self and identity in the choices that we make. We pride ourselves on being able choose option A instead of option B. Our choices play a role in our identity and it makes us feel good to choose. It literally affects every decision we make. I go to the restaurants and stores I want to, because I have passed a judgment of what I desire. I listen to rock music and not country music because I have passed a judgment that country music is awful (don’t be offended it you like it. Its just my own opinion).
The point is that we make judgments all day long. It seems unlikely that Jesus is commanding us to make no judgments. It also seems hypocritical for anyone to refuse to be judged and yet make judgments in all other sorts of areas in life. So again, we must look at the full context of what Jesus is saying in order to understand.
Jesus is not referring to passing no judgments at all. In Matthew 7 Jesus is referring to judging hypocritically and without concern for the other person. It was never an indictment of judgment itself. In fact, Jesus actually commands us to judge in John 7:24 when he says, “Do not judge according to appearances, but judge with righteous judgment”. This seems to go against the very idea that “only God can judge me” and “do not judge”.
The question then is not “can I or can I not judge?” instead it’s, “how do I properly judge as prescribed in Scripture?”. Jesus has given us two standards for judgment in these verse. First, he says do not be hypocritical and uncaring in your judgment. Second, he says to “judge righteously”
Let’s take a look at each standard briefly. Scripture further expounds on both of these thoughts.
Hypocritical & Uncaring Judgment
Matt. 7:3-5 “Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, ‘Brother, let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when you yourself fail to see the plank in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.
In this verse Jesus is not saying that we can’t address the “sawdust” in our brothers eye. He is saying that you better deal with your own sin before trying to deal with everyone else’s. After Jesus says the famous “do not judge” verse, he goes on to say in verse 2, “For with the measure you use, it will be measured to you”. We cannot properly judge without first making sure that our hearts have been dealt with.
We must also only judge when we are doing so in love for another persons soul. There are many times that judgments are passed by people from their moral high horse. They look down on others that do not maintain the same righteous living as they do. They call out sin harshly and without concern. They have no mercy, no grace, no desire for restoration, and no love. These are the very people that Jesus is speaking to in Matthew 7.
However, our judgments should always come from a place of love and grace. Paul, in Ephesians 4:15, tells us that we must speak truth with love and “we will in all things grow up into him who is the Head, that is, Christ”. Our judgments should bring growth and a closeness to Christ.
Jesus tells us to “judge with righteous judgment”. How do we go about doing this? What exactly is righteous judgment? What is our standard for righteous judgment? Well, this answer is simple. The Word of God is our standard. Hebrews 4:12 says, “For the word of God is living and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart.” 2 Tim. 3:16 says, “All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness”
God’s word is what we use to determine what is righteous and unrighteous. This means that everything must be compared and understood through the lens of Scripture. To see things any other way is subjective and open for anyone’s opinion. The idea that “only God can judge” might be true in the context of final judgment. However, we cannot forget that God uses His Word as the basis for the judgment. Everything that we need to know about the character, desires, and person of God is found in Scripture.
We as believers have a responsibility to call out sin when it is committed. We have a responsibility to lovingly approach a brother or sister in Christ and make “judgments” over choices they are making. We have a responsibility to graciously lead them to restoration through this judgment. These judgments should not bring a weight of shame and condemnation, but a freedom and hope as we lead them to the person of Christ.
Bottom-line, the idea that “only God can judge me” is not a good way to live life. Yes, He will be the final judge. However, God has also graciously given us His Word and the Church. Both of these are avenues in which He will bring correction and restoration. To disregard them and embrace a lifestyle that is contrary to His Word is at best unwise if not sinful. Allow His perfect Word to penetrate your heart and mind. Let His will and desires be above your own. Do not be disillusioned in thinking that God will not try to get your attention through others, loving correcting you.
Also, don’t ever forget our judgments should be pure, loving, gracious, and righteous. Do not fall into the trap of moralism by looking down on others who sin. Do not use your judgments to bring shame, discouragement, or condemnation. Our judgments should point people to Christ and should bring a restoration. We are not the final judges and we do not know all. We must also stay subject to the full council of Gods Word.
This series, Misunderstood, will address many different topics. We will look at misunderstood scriptures, misunderstood doctrine, and misunderstood beliefs.
For more from the Misunderstood series, click here