If you’ve ever called someone out on something, you’ve probably had the “judge not” Bible verse thrown in your face (Matthew 7:1).
They’ll say things like, “Who are you to judge me?”
They’ll even use God as a defense and say “the Bible says” you shouldn’t judge.
But the Bible also says to stay away from hypocrisy and evil people, it says bad company corrupts good character, and it teaches that believers are to correct one another in love.
You can’t do any of those things without first making a judgment about other people.
So which is it? Should we judge people or should we not?
To answer that, let’s first look at how the classic theologian Tupac saw the matter, then we’ll look at how the Bible sees it.
Only God Can Judge Me
Tupac once had a popular song called “Only God Can Judge Me.” As with most things Tupac, it isn’t exactly uplifting, but there’s a lot of truth to the lyrics of that song.
For example, Tupac says, “I’d rather die like a man than live like a coward.” I think we can all agree those are pretty good words to live by.
Unfortunately, the title and main line of the song’s chorus – “only God can judge me” – are complete and total nonsense.
And listen, I grew up listening to Tupac, so despite his many flaws, I have a deep respect for him as an artist. So I get where he was going with this, but I think he missed the mark just a smidgen.
The reality is, the entire world can and does judge every one of us every single day – like it or not. And the way the people around you perceive you (judge you) determines the amount of influence you’ll have with them.
So if you’re going around unconcerned with the way the people around you see you, then you’re probably not having the positive impact you could be having if you actually embraced the fact that you’re being judged by everyone whether you like it or not and started caring more about the way you’re being portrayed to the world around you.
The problem is, many people have this “who are you to judge” mentality – even Christians. Especially Christians.
They may not quote Tupac, but they have the same mentality that he did.
See, many (most) people think the way they live their life is no one else’s business. After all, they might say, that’s between them and God.
But that’s complete garbage.
The way you live your life and the decisions you make – both good and bad – affect everyone around you.
So you can say you don’t care or say that only God is your judge, but it doesn’t change the fact that your actions, the way you talk, the way you dress, and every other decision you make daily are having a lasting impact on the world around you.
So people can and will judge you.
In fact, every person you encounter in your life is judging you.
The question is, should we be judging other people?
What the Bible says about judging others
Does the Bible teach that we shouldn’t judge people?
After all, Jesus did say, “Do not judge, or you too will be judged,” (Matthew 7:1, Luke 6:37, John 8:7) and other places in the New Testament tell us to not judge others (Romans 2:1, Romans 14:10, Romans 14:13, 1 Corinthians 4:5, James 4:11).
Seems pretty straightforward, right?
But Jesus wasn’t telling us to never make a judgment about anyone. That’s both unrealistic and un-Biblical.
He was simply telling us to not be judgmental.
If you look at the rest of the New Testament, you’ll see that the Bible clearly tells us to correct other believers (Matthew 18:15-17, Galatians 6:1, Titus 3:10-11, 1 Timothy 5:20) when they are not doing something that lines up with the Christ-like life that they portray. And you can’t do that without judging.
Paul called Peter out on being a hypocrite (Galatians 2:11). Was Paul wrong for doing that? Was he being judgmental? Or was he simply speaking truth and trying to help out someone he loved?
See, what a lot of people skip over is the fact that Jesus also said that we are to judge with right judgment (John 7:24).
How do we judge with right judgment if we’re never supposed to judge anyone? That makes no sense.
It’s not that Jesus never wanted us to judge anyone, He just wanted us to use right judgment and not condemn.
You’re going to make judgments. Our brains make judgments about people and situations all the time. If you’re standing in a bank and someone walks in dressed in all black with a black hoodie on over their head, a black trench coat, and both hands in their pockets, you’re going to start making a judgment.
Is this person going to rob the place? Is there a heavy object nearby that I could throw in the event of a shootout? Should I try to be the heroic guy that secretly calls the cops while on the ground scared for my life?
These are all based on a judgment that you’ve made about someone else. I mean, what if that person just likes the color black? What if they’re just really cold?
Yes, you are judging them. But you’re not condemning them or looking down on them. You’re simply going through a thought process and making a decision based on the evidence around you. And God gave you the ability to do that for a reason – so you can make smart decisions.
So Jesus wasn’t saying that we should turn our brains off and stop making judgment calls when it comes to other people.
What he was saying was that we have to be careful not to be judgmental. There’s a difference between making a judgment about someone and being judgmental.
Making Judgments vs Being Judgmental
Being judgmental is when we look down on someone and condemn them either in our minds or out loud. It’s when we start thinking we’re better than someone else or that their actions are beneath us. Pride plays a big part in a judgmental spirit.
What Jesus was saying was that we shouldn’t look down on people or condemn them because we’re just as flawed as they are.
What’s crazy is, the verse many people love quoting where Jesus says to “judge not lest you be judged” (Matthew 7:1) is right before the verse where Jesus says:
“You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.” (Matthew 7:5)
So Jesus wasn’t saying we should never point out other people’s flaws. He said to notice our own flaws first, be humble, and don’t be a hypocrite when you attempt to correct someone else.
Because honestly, most judgmental people are only that way because of some type of issue in their own lives.
Human beings have a tendency to point out other people’s flaws as a way of making themselves feel better about our own shortcomings. That’s what Jesus is addressing here.
The Pharisees loved to look down on people who were doing things that didn’t line up with the law because they had put all their faith in the rules instead of in God. They let pride guide their lives, and therefore blocked the compassion and humility that comes from a real relationship with God.
Looking down and condemning others made them feel better about the fact that they had let their pride corrupt them. Their pride told them they could earn their way to Heaven, so they made their lives all about rituals, rules, religion, and self-righteousness. The only way they could possibly avoid the issues in their own hearts was by constantly pointing out the issues of everyone around them.
And there are many, many people in churches across the world today who act exactly the same way.
This is what Jesus was warning us about. He taught us to not be hypocrites, but He did not teach us to stop speaking the truth in love.
Think about it, Jesus told his disciples to watch out for the Pharisees. He told them to be careful and watch for hypocrisy and to not be drawn into the lies that they were spreading. How were they supposed to watch out for hypocrisy if they were never supposed to judge anyone?
After all, wouldn’t calling someone a hypocrite either in your mind or out loud be considered passing judgment on them?
The reality is, we all make judgments every day. God gave us that ability so we could make smart decisions. To say you’re never going to judge anyone is like vowing to make poor decisions the rest of your life.
You have to make judgments in order to decide who you want to spend her time around, who you allow to influence your life, who you want your kids to be around, etc. That’s called thinking.
But not only does the Bible tell us it’s okay to make judgments about what we see in other people, it also tells us it’s our job as believers to speak truth to other believers when we see them doing something they shouldn’t be doing (Matthew 18:15-17, Galatians 6:1, Titus 3:10-11, 1 Timothy 5:20).
But for some reason, well-meaning Christian still hold onto this idea that Christ followers are not supposed to judge people. That’s complete nonsense.
We are not to condemn and we are not to look down on people, but when we are simply making judgment calls and coming from a place of humility and pointing out unhealthy behaviors in other Christ followers, we are acting 100% in accordance with the Bible.
That doesn’t give you a license to go tell everyone what they’re doing wrong, but it should free you up to stop feeling guilty for speaking the truth that someone badly needs to hear.
A few quick tips on making right judgments according to the Bible
So if God is OK with us actually using our brains to make decisions about the people and the world around us, which some people call “judging”, then how should we be judging in a way that aligned with God?
Here are a few quick observations from the Bible about what it looks like to make right judgments.
Know the details
John 7:24 says for us to not judge by appearances, so that’s the starting point.
Anytime we look at a situation and make up our minds about what’s going on without actually knowing the details of the situation, we’re setting ourselves up to pass a false judgment about someone.
Proverbs 18:13 says, “Spouting off before listening to the facts is both shameful and foolish.”
This is really geared toward gossip.
People often make judgments about other people solely based on things they’ve heard through the grapevine.
Everything you hear about someone has the potential to affect the way you view them, so it’s important to understand that letting gossip in your life just by listening to it can be absolutely toxic to your life. It can cause you to form opinions and judgments that are not true at all, and those false views can cause you to distance yourself from people who could be a huge blessing to your life.
But allowing gossip to enter your mind can keep you from not only giving them a chance and trying to learn more about them before making a judgment, but it can also lead you into the trap of becoming downright critical and judgmental towards them.
For example, if you work with someone and you’ve heard a few rumors about them that have led you to believe you can’t trust them, the next step you should take is to get to know them a little bit.
If you’re really bold, you might just ask them about the rumors you’ve heard. Most of the time, rumors make situations out to be much, much worse than they actually are.
Even if you’re not that bold, simply getting to know people better can go a long way. The more you get to know someone and the more details you know about them, the better off you are to have a right judgment about them.
Which brings up the next point.
Know their heart
In John chapter 7, Jesus was technically working on the Sabbath, and anyone looking at that situation from the outside even if they knew every detail could have said that Jesus was doing something wrong by breaking the Law. But Jesus’s heart was in the right place, and what he was trying to tell the people was that the rules and the details are less important than the heart behind those details.
In this case, Jesus wasn’t actually doing anything wrong. The people had just failed to understand the heart behind the Law itself. But even when people do things that are legitimately wrong, it’s important to first try to understand the why behind the action.
That doesn’t make it right, but it can help us to have compassion for people by understanding their motivation.
King David, before he was king, ate bread that he technically shouldn’t have eaten, and he lied to a priest in order to get it. But he was running for his life and just needed something to sustain him while he fled from a madman trying to kill him for no reason.
Was he right for lying? No. But the heart behind his actions was pure, so it’s much easier to get past those things. Most people don’t call David a liar or a thief, and it’s because his heart was pure when he did those things.
Again, having pure intentions doesn’t make it right to do bad things, but knowing the intentions and the heart behind someone’s actions makes it easier for us to make a right judgment about them.
If a homeless single parent with a hungry child walks into a grocery store and steals some food, no one in their right mind would judge that person and call them out on their theft problem. They did something they shouldn’t have done, but knowing the heart behind it helps us in knowing how to judge the situation.
This seems obvious in situations like the one above, but in real life, it’s much more subtle.
What about the person who habitually drops the ball at work?
What about the person who’s constantly looking for attention and is willing to say or do anything to get it?
What about the person who is known as a liar or a gossip?
Hurting people hurt people, and more often than not, when you get the details and get to know the heart of the people involved, there’s usually a deeper issue going on. Trying to understand people’s motives can go a long way toward helping you make a right judgment about someone.
But what if you know all the details and you know a person’s heart is in the wrong place? Or what if they’re heart was in the right place, but they did something terrible that you can’t seem to let go.
For everything else, there’s grace.
Even if you know all the details of a situation and even if you know that their heart was not in the right place, you still have to offer them grace.
After all, we all receive grace we don’t deserve every single day.
Remember when Jesus was talking to the adulterous woman.
Jesus said, “neither do I condemn you,” then He said, “Go now and leave your life of sin.”
Step 1: Grace (don’t condemn)
Step 2: Truth (judging the mistake for what it was)
Notice that Jesus called her out on being a sinner. He didn’t ignore that. He could have easily told her everything was okay and not to listen to hateful people. But Jesus gave her truth with grace.
When the people wanted to stone the woman for cheating on her husband, Jesus told the one without sin to go right ahead and throw stones. Of course, no one’s without sin, so no one should throw stones.
The lesson is this: Don’t throw stones. Ever. No matter what.
It’s not easy, but that’s what grace is. You got it. I got it. So why shouldn’t other people get it? Who are we to withhold grace from people?
That doesn’t mean you never make a judgment about them. Forgiveness and trust are two completely different things. You can forgive someone while also making the decision to distance yourself from them because of their actions or their heart.
If someone does something you completely disagree with, even something that completely disagrees with the Bible, your job is to forgive them and offer them grace. The way you do that is by learning more about their details and their heart, then learning more about God’s grace for you.
Once you understand more about who they are, why they do the things they do, and who God is, offering grace is a natural by-product.
We have to get to a place where we understand that judgments are okay. They’re a completely natural part of life. You’ll never be able to stop making judgment calls about people, and shouldn’t try to.
The key is learning how to make right judgments (John 7:24).
To do that, we have to look at how Jesus did it.
Offer grace, don’t throw stones, then speak the truth in love when the time is right.
And the right time to speak truth is preferably when you’re one-on-one (John 8:9-11, Matthew 18:15) and definitely not behind their back (Proverbs 6:16-19 says God hates “a person who stirs up conflict in the community”).
But just know that it’s okay to make a judgment and speak truth to another believer. There’s definitely a time and a place for it, but that’s what Jesus did, and that’s what we’re to do as well.
Remember, truth is always a judgment, but grace keeps you from being judgmental.