Reaping the Whirlwind: The Loss of Judeo-Christian Discernment
Ancient enemies, evils, and beliefs long believed vanquished in the Christian West are once more ominously stirring. We find ourselves disquieted and increasingly alarmed as a host of social ills, once comparatively rare, such as rampant governmental and corporate corruption, indiscriminate violence, drug abuse, sexual sin, abortion, Judeo-Christian heresy, and even apostasy ravage our land. This growing shadow has in large part been caused by the fatally misguided attempt to secularize the United States by pushing God and the morality, accountability, and voluntary self-discipline of our Judeo-Christian heritage outside the mainstream of American life. Clarence Thomas, associate justice of the Supreme Court, has warned that, “Without the guardrails supplied by religious conviction, popular sovereignty can devolve into mob rule, unmoored from any conception of objective truth.”[i]
The turn of our society away from God in academia, the media, and many churches has left far too many people confused as to the true nature of God, Christianity, and the traditional values of Western civilization. As in the days of Isaiah, such confusion and “woe” have always been caused when a society’s religious and other authority figures, “call evil good, and good evil; who substitute darkness for light and light for darkness; who substitute bitter for sweet and sweet for bitter” (Isaiah 5:20).[ii] Thus, in our time, the contents of the Bible and the history of the United States and other Western countries appear increasingly irrelevant to the manner in which many contemporary Americans and other peoples of the West conduct their lives. Indeed, it has been often remarked that it is becoming increasing difficult to distinguish a Christian from a non-Christian. Speaking through the prophet Ezekiel, God spoke of similar times when He said:
The people of the land have practiced oppression and committed robbery, and they have wronged the poor and needy and have oppressed the sojourner without justice. I searched for a man among them who would build up the wall and stand in the gap before Me for the land, so that I would not destroy it; but I found no one (Ezekiel 22:29-30 NASB).
It is time for faithful Christians to stand firm in Scripture and walk proudly like the children of God we are supposed to be under the lordship of Jesus Christ.[iii] As we will see in this article, Jesus Christ well understood that discerning right from wrong, harmful behavior from positive behavior, and good fruit from bad fruit often involves the very human process of discernment and judging. It is when a Christian society sidesteps these moral evaluations that it quickly gets into trouble.
If the description of our society’s current troubles highlighted above sounds somewhat familiar, it could also be used to describe the time in Jewish history chronicled in the book of Judges. This historical period was one of the darkest, most confused, chaotic, and violent in the Bible. Most people remember this time for the three leaders, called judges, who were also military heroes: Deborah, Gideon, and Samson. One of the objectives of the accounts in the book of Judges was “to show the moral and political degradation of a people who neglected their religious heritage and compromised their faith with the surrounding paganism.”[iv] Of this time the author of Judges states, “… everyone did what was right in his own eyes” (Judges 21:25). This was true even though this had been forbidden long before by God (Deuteronomy 12:8).
Why did God not want His people to do what seemed right in their own eyes? Because He had just taken great pains to set forth His instructions for life within His will in the Law of Moses. This is even more true for us, because, in addition to the great moral and ethical precepts found in the Old Testament, God has given us the additional revelations of His son, Jesus Christ, in the New Testament. The book of Judges is a sad history of God’s judgment repeatedly visited upon His people. They were judged for the sin of forsaking their long heritage of faith in the one true God by idolatrously integrating too much into the antagonistic cultures about them.[v] God despised their tolerance of practices and values specifically forbidden in His commandments. This sort of tolerance of values and practices clearly prohibited by God in Scripture is precisely what is occurring today within much of the Christian church. This tolerance is undermining and poisoning the delicate fabric of our unique culture of religious liberty and individual freedom. Justice Clarence Thomas has wisely noted that:
Each generation is responsible both to itself and to succeeding generations for preserving and promoting the blessings of liberty. Faith in God, more than anything else, fuels the strength of character and self-discipline needed to discharge ably that responsibility.[vi]
A Popular Bible Verse Is Misused
If asked to guess the most popular verse in the Bible many might guess a verse from more innocent times such as, “For God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16). For many today, however, the most popular and often quoted verse in the Bible is Matthew 7:1, “Judge not, that you be not judged.” Most people, however, fail to quote the verses that follow Matthew 7:1 which place it in proper context. The complete rendering of this famous biblical quote is found in Matthew 7:1-6 NKJV:
Judge not, that you be not judged (Matthew 7:1). For with what judgment you judge, you will be judged; and with the measure you use, it will be measured back (Matthew 7:2). And why do you look at the speck in your brother’s eye, but do not consider the plank in your own eye (Matthew 7:3)? Or how can you say to your brother, let me remove the speck from your eye; and look, a plank is in your own eye (Matthew 7:4)? Hypocrite! First remove the plank from your own eye, and then you will be able to see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye (Matthew 7:5). Do not give what is holy to the dogs; nor cast your pearls before swine, lest they trample them under their feet, and turn and tear you in pieces (Matthew 7:6).
The phrase, “Judge not, that you be not judged” does seem, at first, to reflect the live and let live spirit of boundless, uncritical tolerance so typical of our time. It certainly appears, without close examination, to capture the spirit of the times covered by the book of Judges wherein, “…everyone did what was right in their own eyes.” This verse and those that immediately follow it are, however, some of the most misused and abused verses in the Bible. Perhaps no verses in Scripture have been so often used to confuse and disarm God’s faithful before the great moral, ethical, and doctrinal debates of our times. Does God really want His faithful to surrender the field to those who wish to denigrate, discard, amend, add to, or subtract from the Bible, on the assumption that Jesus forbade them to judge? Does He really want Christians to remain silent when they observe a brother or sister in the faith who is on a course that will likely wreck his or her life, and who might benefit from kind scripturally based advice? This modern failure to recognize and attempt to deal with the unambiguous, straightforward moral and ethical prohibitions that are clearly and unequivocally expressed in the Old and New Testaments is no doubt a major contributing factor to the increasingly chaotic and lawless tenor of our times.
“Judge Not That You Be Not Judged”: What It Really Means
Of Matthew 7:1, famed biblical scholar, D. A. Carson, states, “Still less does this verse forbid all judging of any kind, for the moral distinctions drawn in the Sermon on the Mount require that decisive judgments be made…. Jesus’ demand here is for his disciples not to be judgmental and censorious.”[vii] Jesus did not want his disciples to adopt the highly critical demeanor, condescension, and arrogance of many of the Pharisees and Sadducees who had been so biting in their rash ridicule of His ministry. In Matthew 7: 3-5 Jesus is not forbidding judgment and discernment, but rather the hypocrisy that comes from attempting to judge or criticize someone else when you are guilty of the same or worse sins. It is worth noting that the humor of the analogy of one attempting to remove a speck from another’s eye while having a plank in one’s own eye may have been drawn from Jesus’ memories of Joseph’s carpenter shop where planks were no doubt stacked against the walls and specks of sawdust often floated in the air.
With respect to Matthew 7: 6, how can one, without discernment or judgment, avoid giving something which is holy (or one’s pearls) such as the Gospel to the dogs or swine who exhibit no interest and might despise it and kill you for your trouble?[viii] Jesus directed that we “…not judge according to appearance, but judge with righteous judgment” (John 7:24).
In Matthew 18: 15-17, Jesus goes on to provide a process for judging:
If your brother sins, go and show him his fault in private; if he listens to you, you have won your brother. But if he does not listen to you, take one or two more with you, so that by the mouth of two or three witnesses every fact may be confirmed. If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector.
In 1 Corinthians 5:1-13, the Apostle Paul likewise emphasizes the need to judge between biblical moral teachings and the disregard of such values in the secular world particularly when it affects the witness of the Church. The case at issue appears to have involved a sexual affair between a man and his father’s wife which the Corinthian church was not addressing, notwithstanding the community scandal, because it felt that it was not the church’s place to judge. This failure to apply church discipline with respect to an act of immorality on the part of a church member “of such a kind as does not exist even among the Gentiles” shocked the Apostle Paul and was the basis for the following rebuke:
I wrote you in my letter not to associate with immoral people; I did not at all mean with immoral people of this world, or with the covetous and swindlers, or with idolaters, for then you would have to go out of the world. But actually, I wrote to you not to associate with any so-called brother if he is an immoral person, or covetous, or an idolater, or a reviler, or a drunkard, or a swindler—not even to eat with such a one. For what have I to do with judging outsiders? Do you not judge those who are within the church? But those who are outside, God judges. Remove the wicked man from among yourselves (1 Corinthians 5: 9-13.)
It is worth noting that when the immoral man mentioned above eventually repented and turned away from his illicit affair, the Apostle Paul urged the Corinthians to “forgive and comfort” him and thus “reaffirm your love for him” (2 Corinthians 2:7-8). For Paul and Jesus, the object of discipline is never to humiliate or crush the sinner, but rather, if possible, to heal or restore the stray sheep back into Christ’s flock.[ix] James, reputed to be a brother of Jesus, noted that “…if any among you strays from the truth and one turns him back, let him know that he who turns a sinner from the error of his way will save his soul from death and will cover a multitude of sins” (James 5:19-20).
The Sloppy Agape of the liberal Church Makes Things Worse
We live in a time when the word love is often abused by many progressively liberal churches. It is felt that in the name of diversity or other reasons, it is not loving to apply the letter of Scripture to certain sins. Noted Pastor Gary Hamrick calls such lenient, short-sighted, church love “sloppy agape.”[x] When one sees a brother or sister lying ill on the mat of earthly sin or mugged on the dark street of worldly transgression, it is never loving to cross over to the other side of the street as the priest and the Levite did in the parable of the good Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37). This is particularly true when the failure to provide the sinner with the appropriate Scriptural context of the sin in question may give the sinner a false sense of complacency. This false sense of complacency could have drastic consequences either in terms of lost rewards before the judgment seat of Christ or eternal punishment before the great white throne of judgment if the individual involved is dissuaded from repenting and turning away from the sin in question.
In short, the church’s desire to avoid conflict or to avoid hurting a church member’s feelings in the short-term by not properly identifying sin as sin may cost the member dearly in the long-term of eternity. Again, the object is to restore the person ill with sin (Mark 2:17) to a proper relationship with God if possible.[xi] The pastor or well-meaning friend trying to advise the sinner is not trying to judge the sinner, but to rescue him or her from a situation that will incur God’s later judgment if it is not dealt with properly. As documented in early Protestant treatises such as the Book of Common Prayer and the Westminster Confession of Faith, clergy once clearly understood that “no Christian whatsoever is free from obedience of the Commandments which are called Moral.”[xii] It was once clearly understood that sin, plainly documented and defined in the Bible, needed to be addressed properly in this life through sincere belief in Jesus Christ, repentance, and turning away from such sin to avoid judgment in the next life. Jesus Christ stated, “For whoever does the will of God, he is My brother and sister and mother” (Mark 3:31-35; Matthew 12: 46-50; Luke 18:19-21; See also, John 14:21; 1 John 2:4-6).
Jesus Supported the Moral Commandments of the Old Testament
Does it seem likely that the Jesus who spoke the following words intended His followers to suspend critical judgment with respect to moral and ethical matters?
Let your light shine before men in such a way that they may see your good works and glorify your Father who is in heaven. Do not think that I came to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I did not come to abolish but to fulfill, for truly I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not the smallest letter or stroke shall pass from the Law until all is accomplished. Whoever then annuls one of the least of these commandments, and teaches other to do the same, shall be called least in the kingdom of heaven; but whoever keeps and teaches them, he shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven Matthew 5:16-19).
Today there are many in seminaries and the pulpit who have no problem with annulling any commandment of God with which they disagree, and teaching others to do the same. This is done notwithstanding the verses above and the plain fact that Jesus’ moral standards for behavior with respect to such things as anger, adultery, divorce, and love were more severe than those of the scribes and Pharisees.[xiii] Jesus’ hope is that we will pick up His cross and make the attempt to walk in His ways in the quest to become “perfect as our heavenly Father is perfect” (Matthew 5:48). One cannot be blind to sin and accomplish this goal. Jesus knows that this is an impossible quest in this life, and has, therefore, provided the free gift of salvation and adoption as children of God for those who: repent of their sins and attempt to turn from those sins, believe that He is God’s son, that He died for our sins, and that He rose from the dead to sit at God’s right hand in heaven until such time as He returns to rescue His Church and judge the world.
Why A Christian Must Judge
It is impossible to walk under the lordship of Jesus Christ and attempt to live according to the moral and ethical principles He advocated for wholesome life within God’s will without shrewd discernment and judgment. For example, when most people are rushing through the wide gate “that leads to destruction,” it takes discernment to select the narrow gate “that leads to life” when one sees so few people entering there (Matthew 7:13). One cannot detect false prophets or teachers who maybe disguised in sheep’s clothing (Matthew 7:15-20) without comparing (judging) their works against Scripture and other measures. For example, when a minister, church, or denominational hierarchy mandates a course that clearly violates moral and ethical commandments of God and injures the witness of Christ’s church, the faithful have a duty to make a value judgment of such actions and leave that church if reform seems doubtful. In fact, a God-centered, scripturally based church has a duty to maintain church disciple even if the spiritual lawlessness comes from the pulpit or church hierarchy. In a time when there is much more heresy and apostasy abroad in the land than ever before, we must remember the following words of Jesus:
[N]ow, will not God bring about justice for His elect who cry to Him day and night, and will He delay long over them? I tell you that He will bring about justice for them quickly. However, when the Son of Man comes will He find faith on earth? (Luke18:7-8).
In summary, our God is timeless and eternal. He lives outside and above the realms of time and space as we know them because He created those realms. He is never surprised. He never changes His mind nor contradicts Himself, and He does not make mistakes. God does not change.[xiv] “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever” (Hebrews 13:8). God’s Word is truth (John 17:17), and it is documented in the true and reliable Scriptures of the Bible that are virtually identical to the earliest manuscripts yet discovered. It is God Who defines truth, sin, justice, and the rules for life within His will—not contemporary clergy or mankind. These moral and ethical rules are found in the Old and New Testaments, and they are for the most part straightforward and easy to understand. One does not need to know Greek or Hebrew or be a theologian to understand the shall nots of the Bible.
The Christian thus uses God’s Word to choose or ascertain the small gate and the narrow way that leads to life within God’s will (Matthew 7:13-14). This course is not always intuitive. One must be able to judge right from wrong in the great issues of life, and God’s Scriptures are the standard. Not only do God’s children judge, but they are also obligated to judge in a world opposed to God and His son, Jesus Christ. Making moral judgments with respect to various human behaviors is a part of life as is holding others accountable for wrong behavior. Such judgment, however, must be fair, without arrogance and hypocrisy, and scripturally sound.
Lest one think that a Christian will be judging all the time, it is well to remember that it is often more practical and better theology to simply forgive most personal sins against us individually (Matthew 18:21-35) although this does not necessarily mean that one always forgets or that there is never any accountability. As in all things, one must pray for a wise and discerning heart when it appears that judgment needs to be considered.
Sins that distort Scripture, Church doctrine, Church witness in the world, or sins against others must, however, be carefully considered and weighed. Today it is these sorts of sins that increasingly threaten both our society, the Church, and one’s efforts to walk in the ways of Jesus Christ according to Scripture. The current time is turbulent and often menacing. The foundations and long-established theology of the Christian faith are under assault from within and without. Fortunately, there are still devout and faithful Christians who, in the spirit of the great “watchman” Ezekiel, are willing to “stand in the gap” for God, but their numbers are far too few. We are to “be strong and courageous” in our Faith. God has commanded that we “not tremble or be dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go” (Joshua 1:9).
[i] Clarence Thomas, “Faith and Reason are Mutually Reinforcing,” Imprimis, A Publication of Hillsdale College 48, no.11 (November 2019):3.
[ii] Most Scripture quotations are taken from the New American Standard Bible®, Copyright © 1960, 1962, 1963, 1968, 1971, 1972, 1973,1975, 1977, 1995 by The Lockman Foundation. Used by Permission.
[iii] 1 Corinthians 15:2, 16:13; Galatians 5:1; Ephesians 6:13-14; Philippians 4:1; 1 Thessalonians 3:8; Hebrews 4:14; Revelation 3:3, 11.
[iv] J. D. Douglas and Merrill C. Tenney, rev. Moisés Silva, “Book of Judges.” Zondervan Illustrated Bible Dictionary, 786 (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2011).
[v] See, Douglas and Tenney, rev. Silva, “Book of Judges.” Zondervan Illustrated Bible Dictionary, 788.
[vi] Clarence Thomas, “Faith and Reason are Mutually Reinforcing,” Imprimis, A Publication of Hillsdale College 48, no. 11 (November 2019):3.
[vii] Carson, D. A. “Matthew.” In Matthew and Mark. Vol. 9 of Expositor’s Bible Commentary, rev. ed., edited by Tremper Longman III and David E, Garland, 219. (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2012); Vanlaningham, Michael G., “Matthew.” The Moody Bible Commentary, edited by Michael Rydelnik and Michael Vanlaningham, 1464-1465 (Chicago: Moody Publishers, 2014). See also, Eric J. Bargerhuff, The Most Misused Verses in the Bible: Surprising Ways God’s Word is Misunderstood, (Bethany House Publishers, 2012), Chapter 2; Robert Jeffress, Grace Gone Wild! (WaterBrook, an imprint of Random House, a division of Penguin Random House LLC, 2005), 173,179,181-182.
[viii] Carson, D. A. “Matthew.” In Matthew and Mark. Vol.9 of Expositor’s Bible Commentary, rev. ed., edited by Tremper Longman III and David E. Garland, 221. (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2012).
[ix] Matthew 18:12-14 (Parable of the lost sheep); Luke 15:8-10 (Parable of the lost coin); Luke 15:11-32 (Parable of the prodigal; son).
[x] Pastor Gary Hamrick, Cornerstone Chapel, Leesburg, Va., Midweek Bible Study,1 Corinthians 4-5, Nov. 2, 2016, (https://cornerstonechapel.net/teaching/20161102/).
[xii] Book of Common Prayer , Articles of Religion, VII; Westminster Confession of Faith , Chapter 19, Section 5.
[xiii] Matthew 5:20, 21-22, 27-28, 31-32,43-47; 19:4-9; Mark 10:2-12.
[xiv] Malachi 3:6; Isaiah 40:8; Psalm 119:160; Isaiah 46:9-10; James 1:17; Numbers 23:19; 2 Timothy 2:13; Isaiah 40:28; Psalm 33:11.