Is it Judgment or Discernment?
September 3, 2020 - Lisa Tuttle
“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 you use, it will be measured to you.”
That’s a direct quote from scripture, Matthew 7:1-2. You’ve probably heard it before, and maybe even said it before. It’s an excellent principle for behaving like a decent human being. Even people who don’t know Jesus can grab onto that one.
But what about these verses:
“If any of you has a dispute with another, do you dare to take it before the ungodly for judgment instead of before the Lord's people? Or do you not know that the Lord's people will judge the world? And if you are to judge the world, are you not competent to judge trivial cases? Do you not know that we will judge angels? How much more the things of this life!
Wait–what? We will judge the world? We’ll judge angels? How are we supposed to do that if we aren’t even supposed to judge at all?
And what about discernment? How does that fit in with judgment?
And it is my prayer that your love may abound more and more, with knowledge and all discernment, so that you may approve what is excellent, and so be pure and blameless for the day of Christ. -Philippians 1:9-10
Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect. -Romans 12:2
I could list scripture after scripture to back up each of these seemingly contradictory ideas of judging, not judging, and being discerning. But if we park on any one of these scriptures without considering everything God has to say about these matters, we will end up with lopsided thinking that bangs around in our minds like a washing machine that is out of balance. It’s important for us to understand this, because the way we think ultimately governs the choices we make and the way we behave. So, I want to share a few simple practical principles that will help us as we navigate all of this while living in a broken world that doesn’t know Jesus, as well as relationships with other believers who are still learning how to translate heavenly realities into real-time earth-living realities (which includes our own selves!).
Discernment is how we gather facts. It is relatively impersonal for us as humans, at least when we are operating with that renewed mind we read about in Romans 12:2. Discernment allows us to simply see a situation as it is, as well as see it as God sees it, while remaining personally impartial on the matter. True biblical discernment is a wisdom gift, and it actually keeps humans out of the judgment seat!
Judgment is when we render an opinion about the facts. We see a reflection of this in modern courts of law. Attorneys present facts, hoping to sway the opinions of a judge or jury. When the judge or jury comes back with a verdict, that verdict represents a weighing of the facts against the law until an opinion is rendered. The opinion is then issued as a judgment.
Let’s turn this into a practical example. A purely hypothetical one, of course.
Suppose I have several tomato plants in containers on my deck. My tomatoes keep growing well, but right before the fruit is ready to pick, it disappears. I find remnants of it strewn about my yard, with toothy gnawed bites out of it. I also see several squirrels making frequent trips to inspect my tomato plants. I even see a squirrel pull a tomato from the plant. I discern that squirrels have been the reason why I have not harvested one single ripened tomato from the plants on my deck.
As I weigh out the facts of my discernment, I consider the following:
The squirrels have come onto my property without my invitation or agreement.
They are taking my tomatoes without my permission.
And then I render my judgment: THOSE SQUIRRELS ARE RUDE AND NASTY THIEVES! They KNOW those tomato plants aren’t for them! They should be banned from my yard and tormented with a plague of fleas!
But there’s a problem here. Even though I might (ahem) be emotionally involved with my judgment and can even back it up with scripture, squirrels are not part of my jurisdiction, nor are they even under the laws that govern tomato thievery. I can discern the situation all I want, but my judgment is invalid even though my discernment is accurate.
People are not squirrels. God digs squirrels, but what he really, really loves is people–so much so that he provided a way that the judgment of sin (and its subsequent condemnation) need not separate anyone from his most extravagant expressions of love and favor. Jesus bore that judgment on the cross. Every law we could possibly break was covered by what Jesus did, and our faith in the truth of that is all it takes to activate it permanently on our behalf.
The wise do not discount God’s opinion on a matter when they discern facts. They let his opinion be his opinion, and they simply come into agreement with him. It keeps us free to love people with grace instead of demanding they demonstrate perfect behavior. God has already judged their sin and put the sin to death, and now he’s invested in helping them manifest their new identities as beloved children of an eternal royal kingdom. When we step outside of that grace and decide to reinstate the law to judge a person who has been freed from it, we have just entered the judgment zone ourselves, where we will be judged by the same measure that we judge. If that idea doesn’t inspire you to avoid wearing the hat of Judgy McJudgerson, I don’t know what would.
Here is where we embrace the good news. Sin has already been judged! People have been freed! The world is still catching up to this reality, and God is still journeying with it in love and patience. As believers we discern and agree that sin is sin…but we also agree that through God’s judgment of it, Jesus crushed the power of sin so that it is no longer an inescapable straitjacket of a death sentence for humanity. We get to agree with God’s judgment that his people are pronounced eternally loved and freed from all condemnation! If we agree with any judgment outside of that, we’re on very shaky ground.
My prayer for you is that you walk in the highest levels of wisdom and discernment, and that your judgments actually be proclamations of freedom and restoration for those who are still working out that mind-renewal process. May you even extend this same level of wisdom, discernment, and judgment to yourself. If you’re anything like me, you probably need it more than anyone around you anyway.
Oh…and may your tomato gardens remain squirrel-free.