Many people quote “judge not, lest ye be judged!” from Matthew 7:1, and feel this allows them to turn a blind eye to the sins of others, effectively condoning lifestyles which will lead the offenders straight to hell.
But John 7:24 (NIV) says, “Stop judging by mere appearances, but instead judge correctly.”
So how are we supposed to follow both instructions?
Galatians 6:1 (MCV) says, “Brethren, if ever a man is caught off guard by some sin, you who live by the Spirit should restore him in a spirit of gentle humility, and watch yourself that you are not tempted too,” and 1 Corinthians 2:15-16 (MCV) says, “But the spiritual man truly examines all, yet is examined by no one, for who has understood the mind of the Lord to assess him? And we have the mind of Christ.”
Obviously we cannot hope to restore a sinner whose sin we refuse to recognise, so somehow we have to judge his actions.
Jesus said, in John 5:30-31 (NIV), “By myself I can do nothing; I judge only as I hear, and my judgment is just, for I seek not to please myself but him who sent me. If I testify about myself, my testimony is not true,” and in John 8:15-16 (NIV), “You judge by human standards (in the flesh); I pass (fleshly) judgment on no one. But if I do judge, my decisions are true (righteous), because I am not alone. I stand with the Father (in the Spirit), who sent me.” (Notes in parentheses added.)
We are supposed to be like Christ, doing what He did, and, while He refused to judge anyone by the flesh, nevertheless He still judged, but righteously, by the scriptures and by the Spirit. We are supposed to do the same.
We have to know what sin is before we can identify or judge it. Our trouble is that our fallen flesh decides what is right and what is wrong. This knowledge is fallen and therefore corrupted, so this is the judgment we cannot practice. We must not base our judgment on our own thoughts. (Proverbs 3:5 (NIV), “Trust in the LORD with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding.”)
Turning the blind eye of tolerance to sin—refusing to condemn it—and thereby leaving it unchallenged, is actually judging in the flesh, because we have sided with the sinner in defiance of God. If we judge sin based on our feelings, this is judging in the flesh; if we judge sin based on what is generally condoned by our peers, we are judging in the flesh; and if we make our judgment based on what is OK for the moment or situation, we are judging in the flesh. All these are what Jesus condemns in Matthew 1.
But if we judge sin by God’s living word, which clearly defines sin in many places, and by the ‘check’ in our spirits the Holy Spirit will give us when we come up against sin—in ourselves or in others—then we are judging in the Spirit, and therefore righteously.
The whole difference is between our (evil) judgment in the flesh, drawing on the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, and God’s righteous judgment, defined and confirmed in the Bible and applied to our hearts by the Holy Spirit. >ᴥ<