Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Are you Judgmental? You should be...

      I had two interactions with two different fellow saints (in different states!) in the last couple days that astonished me with their similarity:  both folks had family that professed Christ with their lips, but denied Him by their lives.  After short discussions, both saints had the same response/conclusion (in so many words):
"I've only been a Christian a couple years, and I can't judge my family member's heart.  I guess I should just pray and try to be more understanding."
     Most of the time, we hear this sentiment in Christ's words misapplied:  "Judge not, lest you be judged" (Matt 7:1).  I almost want to add an exclamation point... you know the offended air of indignance that usually accompanies a person's determined decision to ignore their sin.  So I gently tried to shine the light of the glorious truth of regeneration and the new nature into this very practical situation.
     I think it's good to start with what Scripture doesn't say, using a couple key texts:
"Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come."  (2 Cor 5:17)
"The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned.  The spiritual person judges all things, but is himself to be judged by no one. "For who has understood the mind of the Lord so as to instruct him?" But we have the mind of Christ."  (1 Cor 2:14-16)
The world's allergy to conviction...
     There are many verses to draw on when sketching out the characteristics of a Christian, but there's just one concept I would like to suck out of our first verse:  the immediacy of the transition from light to darkness.  Notice 2 Cor doesn't say: "If any man be in Christ, he starts down a long road of becoming a Christian;  he might later decide to "make Jesus the Lord of his life", but just because this man continues in sin and shows no interest in the Bible, there's no reason to doubt his salvation."  Instead, we see an exclusive statement!  Our world hates them (because they exclude people!), but God in the Bible sure seems to use them a lot.  So if a person is regenerate, is really a Christian in the Scriptural sense, they are a new creation.  Right from the moment God takes out the concrete and performs His heart transplant (Ezk 36:26ff), that individual is changed.  They feel differently about God, the Bible, the Cross, and most importantly, sin.  There are characteristics and responses that are defining and distinctive, even in the first hours and days following conversion.
     In the second passage, we see the same two groups of people, identified by "natural" and "spiritual".  The same distinguishing principle is at work:  one group rejects God and His word;  they're incapable of even understanding what He says.  But the other is given and exercises true spiritual judgment (or "discernment", if you're totally allergic to the other word!);  they are, in one sense, immune to the supposed moral judgments of the world, for they serve a Higher Authority (Rom 14:4).
     So, here's the disclaimer you might be waiting for:  yes, there is a sense of judgment that is wrong and ungodly.  The Pharisees were the best examples of this form of self-righteousness, which Jesus condemns on multiple occasions (Mt 7:2-3, 23:14-28, Luk 13:15).  The best symptom I can detect is the motive of the one passing judgment, which contrasts nicely with the judgment Christians are commanded to use (Jn 7:24):  if the motive is to degrade and slander the accused offender, and thereby elevate the standing and reputation of the "judger"... congrats, you're a Pharisee.  But if you are discreetly and lovingly calling another to consider the Scripture's condemnation of an attitude or activity, and the rock-solid certainty of the Judge of all the earth holding us accountable for every thought, word and deed... congrats, you're an obedient Christian.
     This makes it crystal clear why continual study and searching of the Scripture is so necessary for us:  so that we can "rightly divide the Word of truth" and ensure that the standards used are God's, and not ours.  The only people in the world who can do this are those empowered and indwelt by God's Holy Spirit, who "have the mind of Christ".  So if Christians aren't judgmental in this good and necessary sense, no one else can be.

Photo courtesy of tantek

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