Over the past year, we have been focusing on a specific theme at different times in the preaching and teaching at our church. That theme is the matter of legalism. We have sought to define this term and to show examples of what it looks like to be legalistic. By definition, legalism is an attempt to define spirituality by the obedience to the law. We have said that obedience to God’s law is important, and those that are truly spiritual will obey the law because Christ has told us that if we love him we WILL keep his commandments. But, this does not mean that we judge our spirituality by our externals or that we define our spirituality by externals alone. Being spiritual is not primarily about the things you do. It is primarily about who you are! It is about your heart and about your walk with the Lord.
That being said, I want to take a moment to mention a symptom that often flows from legalism and that is judgmentalism. In this short post, I want to establish what being judgmental looks like, what the Scripture says about judging, and how we can guard against being judgmental in the first place.
What does being “judgmental” mean?
The definition of being judgmental is pretty clear and straight-forward. It means, “having or displaying an excessively critical point of view.” This point of view can be of situations, decisions, the actions of people, and of people themselves. Another way to describe this perspective of life is having a critical spirit, and it is something about which the Scripture warns believers.
An honest assessment of this critical spirit in the church reveals that believers become judgmental in this way when decisions are made in the church that they don’t agree with and all of a sudden, a fight or flight attitude begins to develop and which then carries over a critical analysis of every decision made in the church. It can also extend to our relationships in the church. When that one family in the church does something different than your family or perhaps has a different standard in an area and you begin to get critical of that family every time a situation arises. All of a sudden, our standards become the judging point rather than what the Bible says.
A critical spirit in the church stems from a lack of grace and patience with those around us. We grant grace to others when we realize that no one, including ourselves, are perfect. Our standards are not perfect, our attitudes are not perfect, and we are in desperate need of the Lord to continue to change us. An attitude of grace says that I am going to love and accept everyone for who they are in Christ and encourage them where I can encourage them all the while acknowledging that it is the Lord who ultimately changes a person’s heart and life.
What Causes a Judgmental Attitude?
We have already established that a lack of grace is the chief reason for the development of a critical spirit. But, there are other things that we can point to as additional causes:
1. Poor Theology
Poor theology in the life a believer often shows itself in cases where an unbeliever comes to church and when they do, they don’t look or act like those that are in the church. Why? They are sinners that are in desperate needs of a Savior! They are going to do and say things that reveal their depravity.
2. Spiritual Immaturity
Spiritual immaturity is seen in the believer that thinks that only their externals matter and that as long as I or my family look spiritual, then we are spiritual, and this could not be further from the case of what real spirituality truly is! The mature believer understands that it is his heart that dictates the issues of life and that his walk with the Lord is of utmost importance. The height of spiritual immaturity is to act one way at church or on the outside but to be completely different at home or when no one is watching. Another word for this is hypocrisy…another example of immaturity.
3. Personal Insecurities
Personal insecurities often stem from pride. When we want to make ourselves bigger by putting someone else down in our mind or worse, in words to others. Often, there are issues in our own lives that we need to weed out. We then need to anchor our identity in Christ and nothing else.
4. An Unrenewed Mind
A failure to read, study, and meditate on the Word of God will always cause us to become critical in our spirit. God’s Word has a way of humbling us as it reminds us of what the Lord is doing in changing us into the image of Christ. It reminds us of how far we still have to go in our journey as a believer and that we have not and will not arrive spiritually until we enter Heaven. Romans 12:1 says that the Scripture changes our thinking (renews our mind) and thinking Scripturally will absolutely help to guard us against a critical spirit.
What does the Scripture say about judging?
There are several helpful passages that we can use to remind ourselves about what Biblical judgment is and about what our role should be in the matter of judging. Notice a few of them:
1. God is the ultimate and righteous judge
2 Tim. 4:8–Henceforth there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, will award to me on that day, and not only to me but also to all who have loved his appearing.
Heb. 10:30–For we know him who said, “Vengeance is mine; I will repay.” And again, “The Lord will judge his people.”
2. We are not the judge
James 4:11-12–Do not speak evil against one another, brothers. The one who speaks against a brother or judges his brother, speaks evil against the law and judges the law. But if you judge the law, you are not a doer of the law but a judge. There is only one lawgiver and judge, he who is able to save and to destroy. But who are you to judge your neighbor?
3. Consider your own heart and life when judging
Matthew 7:1-5–“Judge not, that you be not judged. For with the judgment you pronounce you will be judged, and with the measure, you use it will be measured to you. Why do you see the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when there is the log in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye.
4. Believers should reserve judgment for the identification of false teachers
Matthew 7:15-16–“Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves. You will recognize them by their fruits. Are grapes gathered from thorn bushes, or figs from thistles?
What are some ways to Guard against being Judgmental
Thankfully, the Lord knows that we have a propensity to become critical in our spirit. He has not left us without hope in this area and has given us some reminders and principles in His Word for us to follow:
1. Learn to be an Encourager
When we see the weaknesses of our brothers and sisters in Christ, we must acknowledge that we have weaknesses too and seek to try and encourage that brother or sister to anchor themselves in God’s Word and to let the Spirit of God refine them in that area. Sometimes this means a soft word of rebuke or encouragement to make a change.
2. Learn the depths of your own sinfulness
How has God responded to our sinfulness and disregard of his standards? Has he destroyed us? Has he thrown us out of his family? Has He even become as angry as he could with us? The answer to these questions is NO! When we remember this, it serves as the standard by which we treat other brothers and sisters in Christ when they do things that are not right or that we don’t think they should be doing.
3. Learn to pray when you witness bad behavior
Sometimes we are not the ones to confront a Christian brother or sister. Sometimes the time is not right to have that conversation or perhaps if we do say something at that moment in time, we don’t understand all that is happening, or we could serve to discourage rather than encourage. In these cases, we need to learn to pray and let the Lord do the perfecting work that He has promised to do.
4. Learn to discuss matters face to face
There are times when a conversation needs to happen. Pray for the right time and the right words. Pray for the right spirit. Talk to that person about the situation you have observed. First, find out if you are wrong in your observations. Maybe you are missing something and that has caused you to be troubled. If you have not, you then have a way to discuss the situation head-on. Make sure that you have a Scriptural perspective and precedent and finally, make sure that you are seeking to resolve the issue by the end of the discussion. These kinds of conversations can be a game changer in the life of a believer. As Elders, we are always willing to sit in or lead a discussion like this so please feel free to let us help.
In conclusion, there are two Scripture passages with which I would like to close this post. They are a very fitting way to end this discussion:
Eph. 4:29–Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear.
Heb. 10:24-25–And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.
May the Lord help each of us to not have a critical spirit, but to remain humble before the Lord and before those around us!
This post was written by Pastor Ben Boeshaar for the admonition and edification of Covenant Reformed Baptist Church. © 2018. All rights reserved.