If there is one word that the church doesn’t understand, it is the word “judgmental.” Christians are terrified of this word, and the mere mention of it causes the average believer to crumble to the floor and play dead (much like an opossum).
Ironically, most of this stems from a terrible misunderstanding of Jesus’ teachings regarding judgment. So let’s consider the story of the woman caught in adultery (from John 8) to glean four biblical lessons regarding judgment.
1. Jesus called her behavior “sin”
Jesus didn’t shy away from questions regarding morality. He clearly identified her adultery as “sin” in verse 11. And He said it right to her face. This wasn’t the only time he voiced His opinion regarding sin, either. In Mark 7:20-23, Jesus gives a laundry list of sins (including lying, stealing, and homosexuality), which He says “defile a man.”
There is nothing wrong with calling sinful behavior “sinful.” Jesus did it all the time. You don’t get people saved by telling them they aren’t really sinning. All that does is justify their belief that they aren’t desperately in need of a Savior.
Sin is sin. And the reality of sin in our lives is what prompts us to find the One who can deliver us from our sin.
2. Jesus told her to stop sinning
Most people stop reading the story at verse 10. “And all of the mean, judgmental Pharisees left, and Jesus gave the woman a big hug and said, ‘It’s all going to be okay.’”
But what does Jesus say to her in verse 11?
“Neither do I condemn thee. Go and continue living in sin.”
“Go and try really hard not to sin.”
That’s not it, either.
“Go and read My latest book, Ten Ways to Overcome Sin.”
No, He told her to stop sinning.
“Go and sin no more.”
We often hear people say that Jesus spent much of His spare time with sinners. That’s only a half truth. He spent His time converting sinners into saints. It was time deliberately spent, and while the people He congregated with usually started off as sinners, they soon left their life of sin to follow Jesus.
We hinder someone’s relationship with God when we allow them to continue living a life of habitual sin. Let’s not forget it was sin that separated us from God in the first place. Grace doesn’t free us from the consequences of our sin; it frees us from sin itself.
3. Jesus didn’t condemn her for her sin
These are the words that most of us remember from the story, and we’d do well to remember them. “Neither do I condemn you.”
Jesus draws a line in the sand between two words that the church thinks are synonymous. Judgment and condemnation are different things. Jesus clearly judged her sin. He told her right to her face that she was sinning, but He didn’t chuck a rock at that face. He told her the truth (in love, I might add), told her to stop, and then walked away.
I’m not someone’s executioner. I’m just a guy who is filled with God’s life and knows God’s truth. My responsibility is to make that truth known and make that life available. Because the truth is, we all have sinned, and therefore deserve death. But God graciously gave us His life instead. Shouldn’t we do the same?
4. Jesus gave her a way to stop sinning
The big difference between judgment and condemnation is your willingness to lead someone out of sin.
Matthew 7 is where we find the oft-quoted verse, “Judge not, lest you be judged.” Jesus follows this up with a metaphor, saying,
“How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me remove the speck from your eye’ when you have a plank in your own eye?” (Matthew 7:4)
But then He says something we often overlook.
“First remove the plank from your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.”
The point in this discourse isn’t, “Don’t judge another man’s sin.” His point is, “You both have sin in your life. Deal with your own sin, and then help your brother deal with his.”
And Jesus called this process, “judgment.”
The point of judgment isn’t to throw rocks at someone else. The point of judgment is to get all of the planks, specks, and sins out of our lives, so we can effectively serve God. And if the church was more willing to deal with sin rather than avoid it, we’d be a heck of a lot stronger than we are.