Thursday, June 14, 2012

Grace on a Thursday: Christians being all judgey

Thursday is a perfect day for me to continue this conversation.

You know, the one that started with this post. Then continued here (particularly in the comments).

And now, it's beautifully morphed into a deeper discussion on what the Bible says about judging stuff.

I emailed back and forth with a couple readers who really challenged my thinking on the topic, and in the face of conflict, I say yes please. I press in and examine and search God's word. Because I know I'm fallible. We all are. And God is not. His word is the bar and is 100% without error. So where else can we turn but to the Bible for clarification on these touchy subjects?

It's super important that we start with a definition of the word judge. lists 5 for the verb form.

#1 - to decide upon legally or to sentence
#2 - to hear evidence in a legal case
#3 - to form an opinion of, to decide upon critically
#4 - to decide or settle authoritatively
#5 - to infer, think, hold as an opinion, conclude or assess

Right away, I see God is clearly in charge of #'s 1 and 4 when it comes to mankind. He "sentences" and ultimately sits as judge over our lives. He also settles matters with authority when it comes to our final judgement. We have zero room to encroach upon His jurisdiction here. But sadly, lots of Christians have ruined it for all of us by justifying that very thing. Jesus knew that would happen so He told us, "Judge not, lest you be judged." (Matt. 7:1) He is referring to this encroachment on God's authority to judge and condemn people for their sin. (A really good Biblical commentary on Matthew 7 and what kinds of judgements this verse prohibits and does not prohibit are found here.)

On the other hand, we as believers are clearly instructed in the Bible to judge in a #'s 3 and 5 sense. But are we? What I'm afraid of is that our culture has beat the critical thinking and spiritual discernment out of us with the words like "tolerance." Suddenly, Christians are told they are "judgemental" for deciding anything is actually wrong, even if it's explicitly described as such in the Bible. Moral relativism has become the clean way of saying the truths of the Bible are no longer relevant. (I'm getting off on a tangent that is another giant can of worms. Squirrelly, controversial worms.)

Most recently, I heard a sermon at my church on this passage. It is not unclear, and it's message is also NOT what our culture wants to hear. Paul says,

I wrote to you in my letter not to associate with sexually immoral people--not at all meaning the sexually immoral of this world, or the greedy and swindlers, or idolaters, since then you would need to go out of the world. But now I am writing to you not to associate with anyone who bears the name of brother if he is guilty of sexual immorality or greed, or is an idolater, reviler, drunkard, or swindler--not even to eat with such a one. For what have I to do with judging outsiders? Is it not those inside the church whom you are to judge? God judges those outside.
I Cor 5:9-13

It's strong language. But you MUST REMEMBER that Paul is instructing Christians to judge other Christians only in alignment with the rest of Scripture: with gentleness, in love, with a sense of warning instead of condemnation, and most importantly with grace and humility. This passage is just one example of many where we are called to assess and "decide upon critically" how to interact with other believers who are blatantly walking outside of the truth. And the assumption, if you know God's word, is that we would do so under the direction of the Holy Spirit, ensuring that love was the greatest motive.

Well, there is no verse that explicitly says reading Fifty Shades is wrong. And the Bible is open to interpretation based on where we are in our journeys and what the Lord is working on in our lives. And God knows where each of our hearts is. And this issue is not a deal breaker. Obviously. I realize He could use something about reading those books to His glory if He wanted to. Of course He could. And He probably will in some cases.

But what I pursue and also struggle with, to be honest, is finding a way to obey ALL of God's word. There are many verses referring to our freedom in Christ, but there is also a clear direction in the Bible for us to exhort one another in love. says that "to exhort" means "to urge, advise, or caution earnestly; admonish urgently." We are commanded to advise and warn each other in love when we see fellow believers compromising and veering away from what we believe God's word says. It is not judgement; it is obedience. This is exactly what I was trying to achieve in my first post on Fifty Shades, and exactly what I was encouraging others to do as well with the last bit of the post regarding our sisters in Christ.

But exhort one another every day, as long as it is called “today,” that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin.

Hebrews 3:13

I think what gets messy is when exhortation is done without grace. You knew it would come down to this. All along, the heavy-handed truth was thirsty for grace.

A person cannot be judgemental (in the wrong ways) if she is maintaining an understanding of her own sin and desperate need for God's grace. It's impossible. Maybe I didn't communicate my own need for grace well in my first post. And maybe I didn't feel a need to, since I talk about it all the time on my blog. But some of the resistance to my first post could also be that moral relativism has hardened our hearts a bit so that we are not as sensitive to truth as we could be, just like the Hebrews verse above describes. Our culture's gradual acceptance of sin in various forms is certainly a cause of hardened hearts. Mine included. (I mean, I'm ashamed to say that I laughed through the vulgar movie The Hangover, which after the fact I realize I probably should not have seen. But I have a bit of a hard heart that is not as disgusted by sin as God's is, and I'm working on that.)

Exhorting another believer without a healthy balance of grace walks a line of legalism. A person who is allowing grace to overshadow truth is promoting license. For real growth to take place, both are required: truth and grace. I have always tried to offer both on the subject of reading these books, sharing God's word on the matter, and having enough humility to say I don't always get things right.

And until God tells me to shut down this here bloggy, I'll keep trying to balance truth and grace in each and every post. But because I'm not perfect, my blog will never be.

So I'll keep needing a lot of grace from you too.  I pray I've accurately handled God's word here on these touchy matters. It's not easy to publicly address these kinds of things, but I do so in love. Really. Love for God's word, love for Him, and love for you.

Have a good weekend.



  1. I found myself nodding my head over and over while reading this post! I think the word "judge" has been made ugly and harsh by a lot of Christians. The way I think about it is we're not supposed to judge the world. That's God's job. We are supposed to keep each other, as believers, accountable to His standards. We do have freedom in Christ but that freedom doesn't equal permission to abuse His grace.
    Thank you again Leslie for speaking the truth in love. Thank you for being obedient to His prompting you to share this. He's going to do good through it, I just know it!

  2. I'm a new reader and have been going back and reading your posts about this topic. I loved that you took a stand! I love that these posts got people talking, and not just talking about a book, but talking about GOD and HIS WORD! I love that it got people opening up scripture! I love that even in reading your posts I can feel the Holy Spirit moving!
    I love the line in your last post, "It is not judgement; it is obedience"
    Period. The Bible is open to interpretation in some areas, but when it flat out, in strong words says DON'T DO IT...there is no interpretation there.
    Thank you for your brave stance on this!

  3. I like this follow up to the ongoing conversation. Your perspective challenged mine, and I feel grateful for having your point of view on my radar; not on this topic, alone, but on all those I've read over the past year or so. Keep it up, because, at the end of the day, you are a rare gem, and I really enjoy the balance of truth and grace for which you strive. It's a lofty goal I can certainly try harder to reach.


  4. It's so refreshing to read someone standing up for what is right with love and grace. i know it's hard to take a stand, but you're right it's obedience.

  5. You are right on here, and I commend you for diving into a sticky topic like 50 shades. I haven't read the books and probably won't for all the reasons you stated. But I love how this opened a bigger conversation on grace and judgment and doing what really, Christ wanted us to do: encourage one another. And I couldn't agree more, todays morality is, unfortunately, all about what is relevant and true for each individual. And that has pulled us so far from God's best in our lives. For my own life I keep going back to the Psalm that says I will set before my eyes no vile thing. It's a choice I make based on what God has revealed to me. I guess that looks different for each one of us based on our walk with the Lord, and that is why I am so grateful for grace. Grace to accept my own place in my journey and grace to pray for my sisters as they walk out their own journey.

    Thank you for standing up for truth, and sticking to your guns! You are an encouragement!

  6. I didn't get a chance to reply to your email so I will do so here :) I really enjoyed this post and am much more appreciative of your intentions now. In truth (as you know) it did feel judgmental to me, but in your clarification here, I can really appreciate your stance and understand the root from where it stems. Love.

    It has been a very enjoyable dialogue to have with you and I so appreciate your candor. I do believe the Bible is open to interpretation and expansion as we review its word with relevant eyes. We live in a much different world and I think it's appropriate to seek out new meaning of the scriptures (some of them, at least) to mold to our current societies realities without allowing for too much straying from the original intentions.

    And, with that insane run-on sentence, I wish you a goodnight! Haha! Thank you for such intellectual material. It's given me much to consider.

  7. Oh, Leslie. You ARE a person who continues to offer so much grace to others and to accept and live in Jesus' grace. But, I also hope readers catch the fact that grace and truth go together. God doesn't offer us grace so that we can keep on sinning. Romans 6:1 talks about this very subject. Also, in Matt 7 it says don't look at the speck in your brothers I before you deal with the plank in your own eye. But, it does go on to say once you deal with your plank you will be able to help your brother deal with his speck. See the circle? We help each other. It is a good thing! Your tone has been nothing but loving, truthful, compassionate, and biblical.

    Another perspective is possibly we are all so used to doing what we want when we want, or having what we want when we want it that we no longer understand the difference between feeling judged and conviction. Is it possible that defensiveness towards your post from people who follow Jesus confused the two feelings? I obviously don't know, but I do have my suspicions. Am I being judgmental? No. I'm part of the body of Christ and all members belong to the others. (Rom 12) I've experienced defensiveness from feeling judged and conviction from the Holy Spirit. They are remarkably related.

    One more thought, I think growing in holiness as we get closer to God through an intimate relationship with Jesus is like a funnel. As I started my journey years ago, my funnel was wide. My understanding of living a holy life was broad and undefined. As I've grown in him, prayerfully and thankfully, my character is refined as I allow him to prune branches in my life so that I will bear fruit. (John 15) When I look at women much older than me that seriously and intimately walk with Jesus, they almost seem perfect because they are walking such a narrow road (or funnel) of holiness. They have become more and more like Jesus. I'm sure what seemed acceptable to them at a much younger age they would never consider in their current stage of life. May we all continue to grow in godliness because He is doing a good work in our lives if we allow him. May we love the things He loves, and hate the things He hates, laugh at the things He laughs at, and mourn the things He mourns.

  8. Hi Leslie,

    There's an friend from church who had asked about borrowing the books from her Facebook friends at large a few weeks ago. God has kept her on my heart since then, and so, after reading your post, I felt convicted to send her a note with a bit of my testimony as well as why I thought the books were out of line with what the Bible says God wants for us.

    Thank you for your grace and honesty and your encouragement for us to bring grace and honesty.

  9. this is such a beautiful, refreshing and needed reminder. you are such a grace-filled woman and i look up to you so much!

  10. Hi Leslie! I've been reading your blog for just about a year or so now, and I just wanted to let you know how much of a mentor you seem to me. We've exchanged a brief email interaction awhile ago about heartache and breakups and ever since then, there's been this little thread connecting the two of us through the internet. Your posts about grace, our Heavenly Father and the ups and downs of life are so inspiring and light-giving. Even though I'm a ways behind you in life experience, your words are so invaluable to me and have been nothing but encouraging and have helped me refine who I am and how to truly find my identity in the Lord. Thank you for being bold enough to share pieces of yourself. I appreciate it more than you could imagine :)

    Love love love,