Judgement vs Discernment

We hear all the time, “Don’t judge!” But, on the other hand, we’re supposed to promote righteousness, aren’t we? And not condone sinful lifestyles, right? So how do we do one without the other? It turns out one is Judgement and the other is Discernment. There’s a difference.

When the Bible says “Don’t judge or you too will be judged” (Mathew 7:1), it’s talking about condemnation, “to condemn like in a courtroom.” There’s a legal aspect to it. So you could read the verse like “Don’t condemn or you will be condemned.” That’s judgement.

Discernment is a whole different matter. We’re supposed to discern (or “tell the difference between”) right from wrong, righteousness from sin, the fruit of theSpirit from the works of the flesh. We’re supposed to call righteousness “righteousness” and sin “sin”, and not sugar-coat it. “Woe to those who call evil good and good evil, who put darkness for light and light for darkness, who put bitter for sweet and sweet for bitter” (Isaiah 5:20).

But with the Holy Spirit’s help, we can correctly discern behavior without condemning the person, like Jesus did. Jesus did not condemn the woman caught in adultery, but he also told her “go and sin no more” (John 8:1-11). He ate with the tax collector’s (national traitors), but did not mince words about their sinful lifestyle (Matthew 9:9-13 and Luke 19:1-10). When Jesus says “Today salvation has come to this house” (Luke 19:9), he’s overtly implying that it wasn’t there before. Strong words but put without condemnation.

He also ate with Pharisees, the religious people, and similarly did not mince words about their sinful lifestyle (Luke 14:7-24, Luke 7:37-47). He treated everyone the same. He lovingly accepted them, but still told the truth about their behavior. The tax collectors and prostitutes were teachable and accepted him and his correction. The religious Pharisees were not and did not.

When people say “don’t judge me”, what they really mean is “don’t discern my lifestyle as wrong.” They are under the deception that discerning their actions as wrong is equivalent to condemning them personally. Unfortunately, this lie’s gotten some traction from some of us who act out of religion rather than out of the Spirit.

But we are not what we do. Calling out a sinful lifestyle as self-destructive is actually very loving, as long we do it in a loving way. The media loves to run with Christians calling out sinful lifestyles in unloving, condemning ways, which furthers the deception. Let’s stop giving them ammunition.

We, as the people of God, need to be very careful that we speak the truth in love, loving the sinner while hating the sin, like Jesus did.

I think one of the easiest ways to do this is to just simply say, “I’m not condemning you, I”ll still be your friend. But I wouldn’t be a good friend if I condoned something that’s hurting you.” Often people will still disagree with me about their lifestyle, but they respond positively to the respect I give them as a person. And it gives room for the Holy Spirit to work.

How about you? What tricks and tips have you found to be discerning without being condemning? Share them with us in the comments. And if you think this would bless someone else, please share it on Facebook or your favorite social media. The share buttons below will take you right there.

3 replies
  1. Kathie Abercrombie
    Kathie Abercrombie says:

    This is a difficult topic, meaning it is very hard not to judge others YET, we are all sinners. The “Judge ye not, lest ye be judged” means how can you point a finger at others when you have a “Plank in your own eye”. We judge people in all sorts of ways; the clothes they wear, the cut of their hair, the words from their mouth, the shape of their bodies, their choice of friends, their choice of food, their attendance or lack at church, and on and on and on. Isn’t she ugly can be manifested in walking around the other side of a room. The problem seems to often be that we don’t want to do anything about the sin in our own lives but we sure love to recognize it in others.

    I think, kind of a different point of view, you can draw a lot more bees to honey than to vinegar. It is very difficult to voice to someone their sins without sounding like you are playing God. Jesus was Jesus and yes we are to emulate him by our actions but to preach like him or seek out sinners to identify their sins like he did, unless this is our God given calling, is dangerous. And appearances can be deceiving. I have met a lot of people in my life who on the surface seemed to be less than desirable only to find out they are the most Christian like people I know. It is all a matter of perspective in our own lives.

    My daughter works in an industry where many of the people she works with, many of her friends, are living lifestyles that do not follow Godly principles. She was asked, for instance, to be a witness to a lesbian marriage of her friend. She did not judge them but respectfully declined to serve this role after some admitted struggle with God. She leads her life as an example to others and ALL know her to be a Christian, albeit not perfect. When asked or when the topic of conversation comes up, she has the opportunity to give her testimony which speaks volumes. If asked point blank by her lesbian and homosexual friends what she thinks about their lifestyle she would be honest and tell them it is not her place to judge but that she feels it is not following Godly principles.and therefore she cannot condone it. That doesn’t mean she doesn’t Love her friends or chooses not to hang out with them.

    We live in a fallen world and every day it gets harder. Some would say, Well, we should do something about it. But where do you draw the line between offering the other cheek and taking out your sword. It is a difficult choice.

    Just some thoughts for what their worth.

  2. Dave Wernli
    Dave Wernli says:

    Thanks for the good insights, Kathy! I think it’s the toughest balance we as Christians try to walk. I don’t think we’re supposed to be the sin police, but if it comes up in a situation we’re in, I think God put us there to be salt and light, to tell the truth as loving as we can. Sounds like your daughter has become very good at doing that. Kudos to her!


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