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We can’t avoid judging others, nor should we. Jesus tells us as much in 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.” According to Jesus, we should judge others. We should take notice of those who appear to be virtuous but are dangerous, especially those who appear at first to be okay but whose message and lives don’t accord with Scripture. Judging is not optional in the Christian life; it’s essential.

The danger is in how we judge. In Matthew 7:1-2, Jesus says, “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.”

At first glance, it seems like Jesus is forbidding all judgment. Clearly this is not the case since, just a short while later, he tells us to judge the lives of false prophets. In fact, the entire chapter encourages us to make one judgment after another: to discern between different kinds of people and different ways of living. So what can Jesus mean?

Jesus isn’t warning us against judging; he’s warning us against becoming judgmental. He’s warning us against a dangerous tendency:

…to look down my long nose at my less disciplined peers and colleagues … I may look askance at those whose vision, in my view, is not as large as my own; whose faith is not as stable; whose grasp of the deep truths of God not as masterful; whose service record is not as impressive (in men’s eyes, at least); whose efforts have not been as substantial. These people are diminished in my eyes; I consider their value as people inferior to my own value. (D.A. Carson)

Judging is essential; a judgmental spirit is dangerous. Whenever we enjoy censuring others, or nurse a critical spirit, we’re in danger.

Jesus reminds us that we’ll be judged with the same standard that we use to judge others (Matthew 7:2). This truth should prompt shudders in all of us. We often judge others according to a standard we could never meet. When we understand our own faults, how can we afford to be harsh with the faults of others? Recognizing our own weaknesses should prompt humility when we encounter the faults of others.

Jesus points out that we’re often able to see the faults of others while failing to see our own faults — faults so big they’re obvious to everyone but ourselves (Matthew 7:3-5).

My biggest danger when judging others is becoming a judgmental person who’s focused on the faults of others and blind to my own.

The solution? To judge others with humility, knowing that we need mercy too. Don’t stop discerning truth from error. Be on the guard against people who distort truth or discredit the truth in how they live. But don’t enjoy it too much. Don’t think you’re better than them, because you will face God’s judgment too.

As you judge, beware the danger of overestimating the faults of others while underestimating yours.