Today’s Unpardonable Sin

Even a Christ-hating, atheist, mocking, scoffing, secularist, media personality will know one scripture reference, and leverage it frequently: Judge not, that you be not judged.[1] The unpardonable sin of today’s secular culture is judgmentalism.

Unfortunately, there has been significant seepage from the secular culture into the minds and practices of leaders in the Lord’s church. It has reached the point where “judge not” means: turn off all faculties of discernment between good and evil, light and darkness, life and death. Any evaluation of a doctrine, practice, or behavior is considered being unduly “critical” or “judgmental”—allegedly something Christians are not supposed to do.

It has reached the point among us that to have any regard for character, holiness, purity, or death/life is considered a failure to understand the grace of God. I am a new covenant, radical grace of God guy in every way: theologically, practically, spiritually, and subjectively. In fact, I am often criticized for being just that. However, the grace that is really God’s grace is both empowering and instructive. Someone who is experiencing God’s grace in the power of the resurrection life of the Lord Jesus Christ, will be empowered to stop ungodliness.[2] They will not habitually practice sin absent of conviction.[3]

As a mentor of leaders around the world, I see (on a regular, and widespread basis) the excusing of the rankest, foulest, clearest sin possible in the body of Christ by the wave of the magic wand of being judgmental or religious for bringing the topic up. I have seen fornication, adultery, the love of money, drunkenness, witchcraft, sedition, slander, rebellion, idolatry, and other practices, all tolerated—by supposedly mature Christian leaders—because to deal with these practices is considered being judgmental by those who hold local church authority in their hands.

As is so commonly done from pulpit, street corner, and TV studio, the Matthew passage is quoted out of context, and in disregard for other “red-letter” admonitions from the Lord. If proof-texting is all we need, how can the same holy lips that forbid judging in Matthew’s gospel, turn around in John’s gospel and tell His hearers to engage in judgment, only doing so righteously, not according to appearances?[4]

Of course, propping up the “judge not” cultural virtue with a biblical proof-text cannot withstand close biblical scrutiny. For example:

Jesus was “judgmental” when He:

  • Insulted people – Matthew 12:34 et. al.[5]
  • Called them names – John 8:44
  • Threatened them – Luke 13:3
  • Whipped them – John 2:15

Paul was judgmental when he:

  • Threatened people with curses – 1 Cor. 16:22[6]; Gal. 1:8-9
  • Confronted their hypocrisy, judging their behavior – Gal 2:13-14
  • Committed them to divine discipline – 1 Tim. 1:20; 1 Cor. 5:5

The Jesus we have created in our cultural, conservative, “Christian” religion is an idolatrous fantasy, a pure figment of religiously sentimental minds.  However, that Jesus is a necessity to keep the church growing and the finances flowing.  Often an unsanctified or over-expressed pastoral or evangelistic gift defined by cultural values of success and what it means to be a “good pastor” facilitates the “don’t judge” spirit. The lack of the expression of other equally valuable gifts and graces results in a very warped and utterly unbiblical expression of the pastoral grace.

What is the difference between prohibited judgments encouraged judgments?

The context of Matthew 7 is hypocrisy, not evaluation between good and evil. Jesus is dealing with those who want to “speak from behind the mask,” those who present themselves as something other than what they are, and measure and condemn others for the same sins they secretly engage in word, thought, or deed. Discernment is not being prohibited in Matthew 7.

Assuming we can agree that being conformed to the image of Jesus Christ is the divine purpose for all humanity,[7] we cannot go wrong being like Jesus. The judgment we are to engage is the kind the Messiah engaged in. He did not judge by what He saw with the eyes and ears. He looked beyond the surface. He confronted concentrations of power in all forms: religious, political, institutional, financial, spiritual, and based His judgments on behalf of the poor.[8]

The judgments we are prohibited from engaging in are those that are inconsistent with His Word and Spirit. We are forbidden from condemnation (of ourselves and others!): the issuance of a final decree on a matter, a judicial “sentence” of finality. There is only One who is qualified to make those kinds of judgments, because only He knows the hearts of humanity fully. We cannot know the depth, breadth, and scope of His redemption concerning others. We see through a window, darkly.

If all judgment/discernment is prohibited by the Lord, then the general discernment belonging to all believers (as sharing in the Spirit of Christ) and the specific gift of discerning of spirits, are both unnecessary—there is nothing to judge. I suggest that many of the problems experienced in individual lives, relationships, and in local faith communities result from precisely this failure to exercise the most basic elements of discernment: a failure to righteously judge.[9]

Not all judgments are negative! In our culture the word “judgment” has such a negative connotation, it is hard for us to understand that it is possible to make positive judgments! Acquitted! Son not slave! Free! Forgiven! These, and many others, are all positive judgments!

We are to make evaluative judgments from the new creation nature, based on the Word and Spirit of God. Our evaluations are to be full of grace and truth: truthfully gracious and graciously truthful,[10] and severe when necessary[11] . . . remembering our frames are but dust. We must always remember the mire we have been rescued from, and extend the same long-suffering graciousness to others. The measure with which we measure others, we will be measured by. Our judgment is in hope, and in mercy triumphing, not rejoicing in another’s weakness or failure.

Never the less, judge (discern/evaluate) we must . . . starting with our own hearts and the beams in our own eyes.

[1] Matthew 7:1

[2] Titus 2:11-15

[3] 1 John 3:9

[4] John 7:24

[5] Semitic people believed that snakes reproduced asexually, without a father. To call someone the “children of snakes,” was the same in our culture as calling someone a bastard: fatherless. There was no greater insult possible toward a Jewish person. Their entire identity and “place in God” depended on their tracing fatherhood to Abraham and ultimately, God through Adam.

[6] And pronounce a grace-based blessing in the same verse!

[7] 2 Cor. 3:18;  2 Cor. 4:11

[8] Isaiah 11:3-4.

[9] Gift expression is healthy only in a fully expressive community of diverse gifts. All gift expressions are divinely designed to be in divine tension and counterbalance one with another. Truly, only the outworking of the inwrought cross and a very present ministry of the Holy Spirit can keep the whole body functioning beautifully.

[10] John 1:17

[11] Romans 11:22

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7 comments on “Today’s Unpardonable Sin

  1. Absolutely! This is a direct result of those who have accepted the concept of “relative truth”, which Barna research indicates may include over two-thirds of the people who identify themselves as “Christians”. If we buy into the idea that every man gets to decide what he accepts as the “truth”, than we implicitly forfeit the right to challenge that perception. As you point out, the “judge not, lest you be judged” scripture makes for a convenient way to try to legitimize all of that. Of course, Jesus claimed to be the embodiment of truth, so to say that we believe in Him and in “relative truth” is a grand contradiction. Certainly, we live in a time when “sound doctrine” has fallen out of favor.

  2. Too true (unfortunately) and just another symptom (in my opinion) of a church that wants to say it all, but not live it all; a church that wants a Head when it suits them and that likes being part of the Body when the Body is relaxing comfortably and ‘my’ part in it is working well. Sadly, see the difference when the Head disagrees with it, or the Body decides to do a marathon or even falter or fails in some way – dislocation is more appealing to those who have not fully grasped their Sonship and the Father’s heart for His Sons. Dislocation is a painful place though – you are still in the Body but you neither benefit from it or can give in to it. You cannot be responsive to the Head – you are limp and ineffective, but in a lot of pain.
    But submit to the wonder, the work, the ups and downs of the Body – not hesitating to follow the Head, and you find Shalom. Wholeness. The Body is more than a church fellowship and greater than a gathering of brothers and sisters in Christ. We can be meeting with 6 others and yet more connected with the Body than if we were meeting in a large church setting and just ‘doing the do’ or harbouring bitterness, unhealed wounds, envy and pride. The Body needs to take care of itself under the Head’s direction, if we shut out Godly Fatherly discipline – which surely is the root of righteous judgment, we do so to our own detriment. Hebrews 12.

  3. Thanks, Stephen, really good insight to ponder my own participation in.
    I have been reading and rereading without actually studying deeper, yet, the following verses on judgment, and was wondering if you could give me your “take” on them, and also whether or not and how they fit into the above article and discussion. James 4: 11 – 12. How is it that judging criticizes God’s law? I think I must not be understanding the part of these verses before and after this part of vs. 11, because even though they seem straightforward, this part doesn’t really gel for me. Thanks.

    • You are a blessing Susan… this post says so much about you, that you are first looking at your own beam… bless you sister.
      When we read something like this that Stephen wrote, it is usual that someone or some situation will sprint to mind.. if that someone isnt primarily ourselves, we miss the most important thing of all, to examine our own hearts.
      When we understand the compassion of Christ we can understand the old saying “there but for the grace of God go I” when a brother or sister falls into a temptation.
      However if the same is not simply falling for a temptation but is deliberately bringing the body into a place of confusion and twisting the truth into something that will bring about their own personal gain, there is a world of difference.
      We have to be lead by the Lord, to be wise and discerning. When Jesus addressed the “brood of vipers”, they were men of less than honourable status in their hearts, lording themselves over others for their own ends. however, to one who is simply overtaken by a temptation, we have to consider this… Gal 6:1 Brethren, if a man be overtaken in a fault, ye which are spiritual, restore such an one in the spirit of meekness; considering thyself, lest thou also be tempted.
      Remember king David fell but he was never dethroned, but he was faced with his sins and he was reconciled to God and God saw his heart saying it was a heart after his own. Saul on the other hand when faced with his disobedience in battle simply turned the blame to the people and defended his actions. the heart of a person is a deep thing and God is the only one who sees it complete. Even we dont know ourselves as well as God knows us. How then can we judge the heart of another?

    • Hi Susan,

      It is always important to remember context, who the author is writing to, about what:
      1. New Jewish converts. Primarily upperclass Jewish aristocracy (Pharisees) who “accepted” Jesus as Messiah, pre-Pauline in their understanding
      2. The book of James is heavily “ethical” that is, it deals with behavior in the community, interpersonal behaviors of folks, who were, frankly, behaving and thinking very “Jewishly,” both ethically and culturally
      3.The use of the term “law’ here has to be understood pre-Pauline. Think literal courts of law, a Jewish theocracy, this is the way it is meant here. To slander a fellow Jew in the court was to break the law, and to “speak against” the law. In setting one’ self above the law, one becomes judge of the law, rather than letting the law judge the behavior.

      This passage, indeed, the whole book is about rich, upper class, people misbehaving one with another and justifying their behavior “above the law.”

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