We live in an interesting cultural moment.  Some topics (and people) are straight up off-limits for criticism and judgement while we are almost expected to criticize others.

And yet, many of us remember Jesus’s words, “Do not judge, and you will not be judged. Do not condemn, and you will not be condemned.”  Does this mean we are not supposed to not judge anyone?  What about the people who are all judgy?  Are we allowed to judge them?

It helps to read Jesus’s words in their broader context.  Here it is:

“But I say to you who listen: Love your enemies, do what is good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you. If anyone hits you on the cheek, offer the other also. And if anyone takes away your coat, don’t hold back your shirt either. Give to everyone who asks you, and from someone who takes your things, don’t ask for them back. Just as you want others to do for you, do the same for them. If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners love those who love them. If you do what is good to those who are good to you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners do that. And if you lend to those from whom you expect to receive, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners to be repaid in full. But love your enemies, do what is good, and lend, expecting nothing in return. Then your reward will be great, and you will be children of the Most High. For he is gracious to the ungrateful and evil. Be merciful, just as your Father also is merciful.

“Do not judge, and you will not be judged. Do not condemn, and you will not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven. Give, and it will be given to you; a good measure—pressed down, shaken together, and running over—will be poured into your lap. For with the measure you use, it will be measured back to you.”

He also told them a parable: “Can the blind guide the blind? Won’t they both fall into a pit? A disciple is not above his teacher, but everyone who is fully trained will be like his teacher.

“Why do you look at the splinter in your brother’s eye, but don’t notice the beam of wood in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Brother, let me take out the splinter that is in your eye,’ when you yourself don’t see the beam of wood in your eye? Hypocrite! First take the beam of wood out of your eye, and then you will see clearly to take out the splinter in your brother’s eye.

(Luke 6:27–42) CSB

When you read this entire passage, you see what Jesus is trying to get at. We, as Christians, should live with an entirely different attitude toward others than the world has. He talks about turning the other cheek, giving away your coat to someone who demands your shirt, not taking stuff back that has been stolen from you, etc. I don’t think this is a list of things that are universal statements of action. But together, they paint a picture. And that picture is that we often hold people to a standard that we ourselves don’t keep.

There is a time and place for judgment, especially when it comes to calling sin what it is: sin. There are also plenty of scriptural examples of judging bad doctrine, calling out hypocrisy when we see it in believers, even using the law as a way of showing non-Christians their need for forgiveness. Jesus said:

Stop judging according to outward appearances; rather judge according to righteous judgment.”

(John 7:24) CSB

There is something to be said for righteous judgment. What Jesus was getting at in this passage was that judgment should not be motivated by self-centered motives. Often we judge or criticize because it makes us look better and we are really trying to one-up another person or group.

Here are a few ways we can know we are judging inappropriately:

Inappropriate judgment is based on outward appearance / superficial stuff.

This is what Jesus was talking about in John 7:24. Merely observing something in someone without seeking to understand it first leads to this kind of judgment. You can see that when you read the entire context of John 7.

Inappropriate judgment is about personal convictions or non-moral gray areas that the Bible isn’t extremely clear on.

If you read Romans 14, you will see this. We sometimes become judge, jury, and executioner toward people on issues that God really doesn’t care about. I like what James says:

Don’t criticize one another, brothers and sisters. Anyone who defames or judges a fellow believer defames and judges the law. If you judge the law, you are not a doer of the law but a judge. There is one lawgiver and judge who is able to save and to destroy. But who are you to judge your neighbor?

(James 4:11–12) CSB

Now, like I said before, there are definitely appropriate times and places for judgment. Here are a few:

It is appropriate to judge when a Christian is unrepentant for an area of clear sin.

In Matthew 18, Jesus lays out a sobering course of judgment toward those who sin and will not repent of their sin. It starts with the person who has been sinned against confronting them and moves from there to greater numbers of people until the unrepentant Christian is removed from the church. Heavy stuff. We also see this in a few of Paul’s letters.

We are to evaluate and judge doctrine that is taught.

There are tons of verses on this. Acts 4:18; Acts 17:10-11; 1 Corinthians 10:15; 1 Corinthians 14:29; Titus 1:10-16; 3:10; Hebrews 13:7; 1 John 4:1; Revelation 2:20-24 are a few.

It is appropriate to judge when we observe blatant hypocrisy in those who claim to be religious.

Jesus modeled this for us. He was even bold enough to call religious hypocrites maggot-infested (my translation). Here’s the passage:

“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! You are like whitewashed tombs, which appear beautiful on the outside, but inside are full of the bones of the dead and every kind of impurity. In the same way, on the outside you seem righteous to people, but inside you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness.

“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! You build the tombs of the prophets and decorate the graves of the righteous, and you say, ‘If we had lived in the days of our ancestors, we wouldn’t have taken part with them in shedding the prophets’ blood.’ So you testify against yourselves that you are descendants of those who murdered the prophets. Fill up, then, the measure of your ancestors’ sins!

“Snakes! Brood of vipers! How can you escape being condemned to hell? This is why I am sending you prophets, sages, and scribes. Some of them you will kill and crucify, and some of them you will flog in your synagogues and pursue from town to town. So all the righteous blood shed on the earth will be charged to you, from the blood of righteous Abel to the blood of Zechariah, son of Berechiah, whom you murdered between the sanctuary and the altar. Truly I tell you, all these things will come on this generation.

(Matthew 23:27–36) CSB

The bottom line in judging comes down to motivation. Before you judge, step outside of yourself and see that you are not trying to make yourself look great. If you can do that and there is a clear moral or doctrinal issue that needs to be addressed, then you can judge with a clear conscience.