As Christians, we’re to spread the Gospel and help bring others to Christ (Matthew 28:19-20). Scripture warns us not to judge others based on our own self-righteousness because we all fall short of the glory of God and only God can know the state of anyone’s heart (Romans 3:23; Proverbs 21:2). Instead, we’re to correct our own sins first by gaining discernment grounded in Scripture and, afterward, we can justly help others correct their transgressions as well (Matthew 7:4-5).
Judgment vs Discernment in the Bible
We are called not to judge others, but to exercise discernment rooted in the knowledge of Scripture.
Jesus tells us, “Judge not lest ye be judged” (Matthew 7:1). As should be obvious to any practicing Christian, Jesus didn’t intend for this verse to obliterate our ability to judge between behavior that the Bible encourages and behavior that the Bible forbids.
Instead, Jesus wants us to follow a two-step approach when exercising sound judgment. First, we’re to avoid rashly judging (i.e. condemning) others based on our own feelings of superiority since we all have the tendency to sin (Ecclesiastes 7:20). Second, and after we’ve corrected our own transgressions, we’ll have the clarity necessary to help others overcome their sins (Matthew 7:5).
We must first remove the “plank” from our own eye by learning how to Biblically discern right from wrong.
To keep from being hypocritically judgmental, we must first focus on gaining the discernment necessary to correct our own shortcomings by rooting our judgment in the knowledge of Scripture (Matthew 7:5). The discernment Christians must gain is the ability to ascertain what’s true and what’s false, to distinguish between what is Biblically right and wrong in all areas of life. A discerning person doesn’t readily believe everything he sees or hears, but keeps his reasoning aligned with God’s Word so as walk justly and steer clear of false prophesies (Hosea 14:9; 1 John 4:1).
We can grow in sound judgment by studying Scripture and praying for the Holy Spirit to fill us with discernment (2 Timothy 3:15; 1 Corinthians 2:13-14). In waiting for discernment as we study the Word, Jesus promises us that if we ask, we shall receive (Matthew 7:7-11).
The Apostle Peter further assures us that God “has given us everything we need for a godly life through our knowledge of Him” (2 Peter 1:3). Paul also advises us to grow in knowledge to be able to “discern what is best” until the Coming of Christ (Philippians 1:10).
Once we learn to exercise sound judgment aligned with Scriptural mandates, we can help others remove the “specks” from their eyes.
Once we’ve gained the ability to discern (or, correctly judge) matters through the lens of Scripture, we’ll have removed the “plank” from our eye and can move onto the second step in exercising sound judgment—namely, helping our brothers and sisters remove the specks from their eyes (Matthew 7:5; John 7:24). This second prong of judging “correctly” involves warning those who are sinning as to what the Bible says about their transgressions.
We are to use our discernment to spread the Gospel and help others live Christ-centered lives.
As disciples of Christ, we’re commissioned to spread the Gospel and bring others to Him (Matthew 28:19-20). Doing so often involves respectfully rebuking the sinful behavior of others and pointing out the path back to salvation.
In fact, the Bible encourages us in many passages to patiently confront those who do wrong, promising us that, “Whoever turns a sinner from the error of their way will save them from death and cover over a multitude of sins” (James 5:20). In particular, Scripture urges us to:
Rebuke those who persist in sin (1 Timothy 5:20)
Restore those caught in transgressions gently (Galatians 6:1)
Preach the word and correct, rebuke, and encourage with complete patience and careful instruction (2 Timothy 4:2)
Instruct the wise so that they may grow wiser (Proverbs 9:9)
Reason frankly with neighbors so as to not share in their guilt (Leviticus 19:17)
Expose fruitless deeds of darkness (Ephesians 5:11)
- Remember that better is open rebuke than hidden love (Proverbs 27:5)
Christ also wants us to discern when to move on from someone who profanes the Gospel.
In further instructing us on how to spread the Good News, Jesus commands us not to profane the Gospel by warning us not to give “dogs what is sacred” or throw our “pearls to pigs” (Matthew 7:6). The “dogs” and “pigs” are those who persist in ridiculing Scripture or using its words to harm people.
We can avoid profaning the Gospel by discerning who is open to receiving God’s Word or, at the very least, listening to it respectfully. We’re to stop sharing the Gospel with anyone who continuously rejects Scripture or who twists the Word to do us harm in any way. If we insist on ignoring our discernment of those who consistently scorn the Gospel, Jesus warns that those people may take advantage of our good intentions and “tear [us] to pieces” (Matthew 7:6).
It’s important to note here that Jesus is not dissuading us from sharing the Word with everyone we meet. To the contrary, Jesus instructs us to share the Word with those who’ll receive it.
What we’re not to do is force the Gospel on others or pretend not to notice someone’s persistent disrespect of it. In those cases, we’re to move on and focus on people who are ready and willing to hear God’s Word. This teaching is reminiscent of Jesus’s direction to the Apostles that, “If anyone will not welcome you or listen to your words, leave that home or town and shake the dust off your feet” (Matthew 10:14).
In using the light of Scripture to properly discern what steers us toward salvation or away from it, we gain the sound judgment necessary to live Christ-centered lives. We further learn how to avoid being hypocritically judgmental and, instead, justly guide others to Christ as well.
Biblestudytools.com, New International Version.
Christianity.com, “What Is Biblical Discernment? Why Is it Important?” March 21, 2007, John MacArthur.
Dolores Smyth writes on faith and families. Her work has been featured in numerous print and online publications. You can follow her work on Twitter @LolaWordSmyth.