This third portion introduces five aspects of a strategy to accept and interact with people instead of inappropriately judging them. The alternative to judging compulsively may seem strange, but I know of no better way to follow the biblical restrictions that we bridle our tongues and avoid the damages of our frequent personal judgments.
As a practical strategy, what is the way out of making personal judgments of ourselves and others?
1. Accept God’s judgment of you in Jesus Christ.
Having been judged by God in Christ as righteous, we have no need to judge ourselves or others positively or negatively for assurance before God’s judgment. Christians are uniquely positioned with a mindset to refrain from judging others, since we have already been judged by God in Christ as righteous (meaning perfect with Jesus’ perfection). A few biblical passages tell the new reality of the Christian before God’s judgment (all quotations are taken from NASB).
Therefore, having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.
There is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.
Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes.
If we keep in mind the relief and assurance of God’s judgment of us, we will have much less cause existentially to measure ourselves and others in some imagined race of a million comparisons. God’s word of acceptance sets us free from the compulsion to assign labels and otherwise criticize, praise, and blame the people around us. Having been accepted by God, we are positioned to accept others as they are without further assessment (cf. Rom 15:7). Perhaps there is fear that if we give up judging others, then no one will know how to stem evil and promote good, but to think this way is to forget God’s close involvement in all things. God is active as judge, both now and at the end of this world.
2. Let God be the only Judge.
We are concerned for justice to condemn others, but this is not our job. Many times, a negative judgment seems to be a way for us to push back against evil or protect ourselves and others from harm. God is the only real judge; we are urged to let him do his chosen job of judging all evil. Accordingly, Christians are warned to refrain from taking personal revenge, since judging evil is God’s job. Judging evil is a way God protects his people.
Never take your own revenge, beloved, but leave room for the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is Mine, I will repay,” says the Lord.
I agree that it is right to judge Joseph Stalin and Adolph Hitler’s horrendous malice against tens of millions of people. We can also hate patterns of misogyny, racism, violent crime and heresy (among other evils rampant in the world today). We need to avoid the personal judgments with people in our lives because our judgments create distance from others when we desire to punish them or otherwise protect ourselves or others from them. Stereotypes and prejudice can block us from relationship with people we do not know. We tend to judge people we do not know like an allergic reaction to the Other. Because we belong to God and he is almighty, we do not need to over-judge others by appearances and a twisted instinct of self-protection. We can be relieved from judging categories of people based on appearances. God’s love is available to the Christian to enable us to love others who are different from us, or even those who may be a threat to us (i.e. enemies). The practice of loving our enemies (as God loved us while we were yet sinners, Rom 5:8) requires that we stop judging them. We can do this because we trust God to judge all people perfectly.
3. Ignore others’ judgments because they do not reflect God’s judgment of us.
No matter how well we might stop from judging others, we will still be judged by them. Their judgments will tempt us to continue the practice and suffer the damages of positive and negative pressures. The Apostle Paul and Jesus had to bear the judgments of others, but they each knew better than to listen closely. Paul explained that he had to ignore the judgments coming at him from Corinth, and then he added that even his own self-judgments were not to be trusted. The only judgment that can be trusted is above the human level—God is the only true judge.
1 Corinthians 4:3-5
But to me it is a very small thing that I may be examined by you, or by any human court; in fact, I do not even examine myself. For I am conscious of nothing against myself, yet I am not by this acquitted; but the one who examines me is the Lord. Therefore do not go on passing judgment before the time, but wait until the Lord comes who will both bring to light the things hidden in the darkness and disclose the motives of men’s hearts; and then each man’s praise will come to him from God.
Added to the judgment that we already know from God—that we are righteous with Jesus’ perfection—we may wave away as cobwebs the positive and negative judgments set about us by people in our lives. People judge by appearances, so they are not a good guide to the reality of what is going on with us. Criticism and praise are easy to do, but these are empty words at best, since they come from such unreliable sources. In contrast, God has been clear and reliable to justify each Christian—judged perfect with Jesus’ righteousness. Moreover, God’s future judgment includes the only praise that will ever matter in his spoken approval of the Christian’s brief life on earth (v. 5).
4. Ignore your own judgments because they don’t reflect God’s judgment
I know that many people desire to encourage others through positive judgments. We naturally crave the approval of others (cf. John 12:42-43). Unfortunately, these well-intentioned praises cause problems we do not intend. Human praise of humans can encourage people to perform for continued words of praise. Many people are suspicious of praise because they know the claims are not true, they sound like flattery, and nice words are easy to spend. Sometimes Christians are rightly uncomfortable with others’ praise that is due to God instead. If we are willing to try another way than making positive judgments, then we can avoid those three ways that well-intentioned praises go amiss.
Instead of making absolute declarations about reality, be more accurate to state your considered opinion of people, ideas, actions and things. A considered opinion may take some moments to pull together. Most of our personal judgments are counterfeit currency; the real money is sharing my personal experience. I have found that I can say all the positive and affirming things that are beneficial to others without burdening them with judgments if I own my statements as my experience of them. Personal experience is its own reality that cannot easily be faked as flattery. Personal experience does not pressure other people the way judgments do. The experience is mine; it makes no demands of the other person. Personal testimony comes at a cost of telling the truth that another person has affected me in some way positively. Here are some examples:
Objective judgment – Subjective experience of the other person
“You are so beautiful” – “I like seeing your eyes sparkling today.” When I see you, my whole day just got better.” “I’m glad I get to be the person looking at you now.”
“You are so smart” – “I think better when I talk to you.” “I like the way you think.”
“He is so funny” – “I laugh at the things he says.” “I enjoy his humor.”
“You are lazy” – “It doesn’t seem that you are trying here.” “Is this too hard for you? Can you do more here?”
5. Embrace God’s judgment when he is clear: condemn evil, honor good.
In terms of other judgments that pertain to actions, ideas and stuff (not people), God has been clear about good and evil. We do need to identify these actions, ideas, and stuff that are in the categories of clearly good, neutral and clearly evil. Christians have the advantage of clear revelation from God on many behaviors that are evil, and many that are good. Beyond those clear judgments that God has revealed, we are told by God that many people may develop strong convictions about matters of culturally formed opinion or personal opinion. We must not refrain from judgment in the obvious matters of good and evil, since we have been warned and must warn others for our protection. Let us not think that this clarity about some things means we have clarity about all things.
To sum up, everyone makes judgments, but we need not do the damage that many positive and negative judgments cause. Refraining from judging ourselves and others by what we say is a step on the way to escaping the internal compulsion of judging ourselves and others by what we think. Once we let go of judging others, we are positioned to accept them, as our God calls us to do.