“Pastor, how can you say that someone is going to hell or that something is even against what God says? Doesn’t God’s Word tell us not to judge? Yet “judging” seems to be going on all the time.”
Thanks for the opportunity to answer this question. I believe this is one of the most pervasive and false beliefs that people tend to have. But bear with me, the answer is fairly involved and we will want to make sure we have it right.
To begin let’s simply reference the passage that so many quote to justify what they believe. That passage is found in Matthew 7:1. It says, “Do not judge, or you too will be judged.”
The first thing we will want to do is look at the context of this passage. This passage occurs as a part of the record of Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount. That sermon starts in Matthew 5 and continues through Matthew 7. What is important to do is read that context of that whole sermon. When Jesus speaks of upholding the law (Mt 5:17) or that being angry with your brother makes you subject to judgment (Mt 5:21f) what are we to make of that? Aren’t those areas where we have to make a judgment? Or continue reading. When Jesus points out that lust is adultery (Mt 5:27f), that swearing is not to be done (Mt 5:32), that as you forgive so your Father will forgive you (Mt 6:14f) are not all of this things where we must use our judgment? Again we continue. When Jesus speaks of the eye being the lamp of the body and that you can tell if there is light or darkness there (Mt 6:22) is that not judging?
Then the Lord gets to the heart of the issue in Matthew 7. Please look at the full statement that is made: “Do not judge, or you too will be judged. For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure that you use, it will be measured to you.” The issue here is not really judging but rather being condemning. Just check out how Jesus follows that up in verses 3-5! Don’t be harsh and judgmental against your brother when you have the same or even greater problems and sins in your life! Hypocritical judging is being condemned not the issue of judging.
Please note that we are directed to think about the measure we judge with. In the Christian world the measure is to be God’s Word. Look for a moment at John 12:44-49. That section says, “Then Jesus cried out, “When a man believes in me, he does not believe in me only, but in the one who sent me. When he looks at me, he sees the one who sent me. I have come into the world as a light, so that no one who believe in me should stay in darkness. As for the person who hears my words but does not keep them, I do not judge him. For I did not come to judge the world, but to save it. There is a judge for the one who rejects me and does not accept my words; that very word which I spoke will condemn him at the last day. For I did not speak of my own accord but the Father who sent me commanded me what to say and how to say it. I know that his command leads to eternal life. So whatever I say is just what the Father has told me to say.” Please not that this section tells us that the very Word of God is going to be the standard by which God is going to judge us. If we measure our judgments by the Word of God then there is no fear. Fact of the matter is each one of us will indeed be judged by the standard of God’s Word.
Of course, we will want to be careful to properly use that Word of God. If God says, actually, SINCE God says that sexual immorality is a sin that will close the very gates of heaven to you (Ga 5:19f and 1 Co 6:9f) do we dare then nullify that Word or do WE decide that this is old fashioned and no longer applies to us? Are not all of the things listed in these passages points where the Lord himself tells us the clear outcome should we decide that we can do whatever we want and God is wrong? This is the clear issue. What God’s Word clearly speaks on we must speak and what God’s Word does not speak on, we dare not speak.
Thus we find God’s own Apostles throughout Scripture “judging.” Take the issue with Ananias and Sapphira found in Acts 5. The Apostle called them on their lie to the Lord. Isn’t that judging? Or how about what Paul says of the young man involved in sexual immorality (1 Co 5:1ff). Verse 5 is so … Wow! It says, “Hand this man over to Satan, so that the sinful nature may be destroyed and his spirit saved on the day of the Lord.” Boy, that sure seems like judging to me!
We can go on. In 1 Timothyh1:19bff Paul says this, “Some have rejected these and so have shipwrecked their faith. Among them are Hymenaeus and Alexander, whom I have handed over to Satan to be taught not to blaspheme. Nor should we overlook the many other sections of God’s Word that clearly call for us to make judgements in the name of the Lord. 1 John 2:18-25, 1 John 4:1-6, 2 John 1:3-16 and then there are the letters to the churches found in Revelation. No, my friends, we cannot determine that all judging is wrong, rather on the basis of God’s Word we learn that improper judging, false judging, using a standard other than God’s Word for judging…these things are forbidden. But clearly proper and God pleasing judging is the duty and responsibility of every believer!
Should we declare that someone has gone to hell? I try not to do so unless clearly pushed or if the facts clearly speak what God has declared. In most instances I will answer the question on whether or not someone is in hell by laying out the following things. 1. Did that person confess Jesus Christ as God and Lord? 2. Was this person life one of repentance and forgiveness? You see, we know people aren’t perfect and will indeed sin. Did their life indicate that their sin bothered them and that they turned to Jesus for comfort and forgiveness? 3. Did this person use the means of grace? The means of grace is the Gospel in Word and sacrament. It is through this means that God tells us his Holy Spirit calls, gathers, enlightens and keeps his church in the true faith. If we are not using the means God tells us gives us faith, then how can we claim faith?
If we are going to claim that so and so, because they were a good person is now in heaven isn’t that a complete denial of why Jesus came? If we can get to heaven without Jesus and without faith, without the church that Jesus gave and without belief in the Word that Jesus proclaimed, then what is the point of Jesus?
Now I also believe in last minute conversions. I believe that thief on the cross got to heaven because of his last minute faith in Jesus. But please remember that there were two thieves. One did get blessed and saved by Jesus and one did not!
So can we judge? The answer is “Yes, we are to judge by the very standard of God’s Word.” Should we forget about repentance and forgiveness in Jesus? The answer is, “No.” As always, we will trust and rely on what God’s Word says. We want to properly administer the law which condemns us and also properly proclaim the Gospel which tells us of Jesus and his redemption. Since we will all be judged by God’s Word, let use that measure and never back away from it. It is a tenet of our faith.