Judge Not


One of the most difficult things for the Christian to comprehend is the relationship between law and grace.  This issue has caused more problems within churches and within families than any other concept I know.  And, at first glance, the Bible seems to give us contradictory information.  For instance, the Bible tells us: “…you are not under law, but under grace” (Romans 6:14). Phew! I like the sound of that!  I don’t have to worry about obeying all those laws the Bible gives! But elsewhere in the Bible it says, “Whoever abides in Him does not sin. Whoever sins has neither seen Him nor known Him” (1 John 3:6).  Oh-Oh.  That sounds ominous.  Maybe I do need to worry about my actions after all.  Or what about the matter of even trying to figure out what is sinful and what isn’t?  Should we even try to do that?  Well, in one spot in the Bible, we read “Judge not that ye be not judged” (Matthew 7:1).  But then elsewhere we read, “Judge among yourselves…” (1 Corinthians 11:13). What is going on?

      Well first, as traditional Presbyterians, we believe that the Bible is the inspired, infallible Word of God.  We know that the Bible is correct on all topics it means to address, and so we need to reconcile the whole of Scripture, from cover to cover, if we are going to be able to understand any concept fully, particularly something as difficult as the Christian’s relationship with sin and the Law.

      So to start sorting our thoughts on this matter, let’s turn to a

specific issue that the Bible deals with extensively: the Sabbath.  What can a Christian do and what can a Christian not do on Sunday after church? (In the Old Testament they observed the Sabbath on Saturday, in the New Testament era we observe it on Sunday. Why the day changed is a different discussion for a different day.)

      The Law is very clear that God’s people must observe the Sabbath. The command to keep the Sabbath holy is part of the Ten Commandments(Exodus 20:8-11).  Furthermore, when the Israelites did not observe the Sabbath, God was not at all pleased.  See, for example, Ezekiel 20:23-24.  Honoring the Sabbath is part of God’s Law.  And Jesus said, “till heaven and earth pass away, one jot or one tittle will by no means pass from the law till all is fulfilled” (Matthew 5:18). 

      But what about the passage we read above (Romans 6:14, and again in Galatians 5:18) that says we are not under the Law but under grace?  Does that mean we don’t have to observe the Sabbath any more?  Christians are sharply divided on this issue.

      For instance, a number of us go out to eat Sunday after church.  But when my cousin Thea and her family from Holland came to visit, they had a problem with doing that.  They consider eating out on Sunday, and causing other people to have to work at their job in order to serve food, to be something a Christian shouldn’t do.

      The Bible talks about this very thing in Romans 14:5-6: “One person esteems one day above another; another esteems every day alike. Let each be fully convinced in his own mind. He who observes the day, observes it to the Lord; and he who does not observe the day, to the Lord he does not observe it.”

      Sam Galloway and I talked about this several months ago.  He was debating about whether or not to have his store open on Sunday.  I’m pretty sure he wanted me to give him a yes or no answer about what the Bible says he should do. But, knowing what the Bible says in Romans 14, I couldn’t do that.  Now, I will admit that when Sam decided to close his store on Sunday, I was happy with his decision.  I believe he did it to glorify God.  But if one day he changes his mind and opens on Sunday again, I certainly won’t have a word of condemnation for him.

      There is no way for me to know whether or not what you are doing on a Sunday afternoon is breaking the Sabbath.  That is between you and God.  It is none of my business and it would be wrong for me to judge.

      Does that mean I don’t believe in the Ten Commandments?  I absolutely do.  I believe in all of the Bible with all my heart.  We must remember the Sabbath day and keep it holy.  But exactly how you, my Christian friend, go about remembering the Sabbath and keeping it holy in your own life is between you and God.  It’s the Holy Spirit’s job to convict you of sin, not mine (John 16:8). As we read elsewhere, “…let each one examine his own work, and then he will have rejoicing in himself alone, and not in another” (Galatians 6:4).

      Furthermore, even as Christians, we often struggle with things in our own lives that we know to be sin.  Read Romans 7 for an in-depth discussion of this.  I have spoken with fellow Christians numerous times who know they need to make a change in their life, but they just don’t have the strength to make the change yet.  I’m in that same position myself, and will be until the day I die.  We never get past the truth of Romans 7.  So what do we do with our brothers and sisters in Christ who are in the midst of some sin, awaiting the sanctification process to manifest itself more fully in their lives?  The answer is to love them, pray for them, and support them.  But we must not condemn them.  That would be judging in a manner Jesus Himself refused to do while walking this earth (John 8:15).

      Because we never know the whole story.  The classic example concerns lying. Suppose we are in Nazi-controlled Europe in 1943.  We are in a home where Jews are being hidden in a secret cellar beneath the floor.  A sharp pounding comes at the front door.  It’s the Gestapo, demanding to know if Jews are being hidden at this location.  Do you tell the whole truth?  If you don’t, you are “bearing false witness” and breaking one of the Ten Commandments.  But if you tell the truth, you are responsible for the murder of others.   Is breaking the ninth commandment in such a situation a sin?  That is a question typically posed in first-year ethics classes in seminary, and I have heard all sorts of strange answers.  But the truth is, we can’t know what constitutes a sin for someone else.  We cannot judge.

      There are times, however, when for our own protection we need to distance ourselves from others so we don’t get caught up in sin. The Bible says, “But now I am writing to you not to associate with anyone who bears the name of brother or sister who is sexually immoral or greedy, or is an idolater, reviler, drunkard, or robber. Do not even eat with such a one” (1 Corinthians 5:11).  We do not condemn others for their actions, but we need to keep ourselves away from situations in which we will find ourselves tripped up into sin or wrongly identified with sin of others.  If someone else wants to go to a show that I think is risque, more power to them.  But maybe I should choose to just stay home.

      Your elders had to deal with a situation like this a couple years ago.  Our denomination voted to deny the Bible’s authority on sexual sin.  We chose to demur and formally state that we refuse to be identified with those who will not submit to the Bible’s authority on all issues.  Since then, the question has arisen about what our position should be toward individuals who are in a situation in their private lives that may be in contradiction to what the Bible states is acceptable behavior in this realm.  I have been emphatic that we are to leave those issues between God and the individual, and your elders have supported me. 

      We need to walk a very fine line as a church, and it is a difficult road. We need to affirm emphatically that the Bible is God’s Word, and that everything the Bible calls sin truly is sinful and an affront to God.  But we also need to be the least judging of all churches when it comes to extending grace toward one another.  We are all sinners engaged in the slow process of sanctification, each with our own set of issues that are not yet resolved.  We each have a full time job guarding our own hearts.  We are wrong if we try to assess the heart of anyone but ourselves.