1 Therefore you have no excuse, everyone of you who passes judgment, for in that which you judge another, you condemn yourself; for you who judge practice the same things. 2 And we know that the judgment of God rightly falls upon those who practice such things. 3 But do you suppose this, O man, when you pass judgment on those who practice such things and do the same yourself, that you will escape the judgment of God? 4 Or do you think lightly of the riches of His kindness and tolerance and patience, not knowing that the kindness of God leads you to repentance? – Romans 2:1-4 NASB
Judgment is the Right Thing
People read this and similar passages and immediately jump to the conclusion that judging is some kind of sin that they need to resist or work on or repent of. Judgment is actually the opposite of this. When I judge, I hold a standard of justice and rightness firm, and thus observe people (including myself) succeeding at or failing that standard. The power of judgment isn’t that we judge poorly or incorrectly. The power of judgment is that we judge so well. Our apprehension of justice and rightness is magically present and accurate.
Let’s call our attention to verse 2: “And we know that the judgment of God rightly falls upon those who practice such things.” Who knows? We know. All of us. Humankind knows this. Some suppress the truth (Romans 1:18-19). Some pretend to adhere to it (Romans 2:21-22). But everyone knows. How do we know? Who knows? It just says that we do, and that resonates very well for me.
What is it that we know, exactly? We know that the judgment of God rightly falls. We are somehow led to believe that judging is something we should repent of or that we should work on doing less. The reason that we don’t succeed at it is because it is nonsense. We didn’t create the judgment. We are acknowledging what is right when we judge, and making a simple and correct observation that a person – either ourselves or someone else – falls short of this standard. We didn’t make the standard. We observe the standard. And we feel it: it rightly falls.
Upon whom does the judgment fall? It falls upon “those who practice such things.” Which things? Is he talking about the act of judgment? No! Otherwise, God would be doing evil, but it says that the judgment of God “rightly falls.” He’s talking about the things that are being judged – the unjust selfish evil cruel acts that the justice of God rightly judges. So let’s be clear: we know that the judgment of God is rightly falling. We aren’t creating the judgment. We aren’t the creators of judgment — we are the witnesses of it. It is rightly falling and our conscience concurs. We magically and perfectly agree with the rightness of this judgment which falls because somehow we perfectly know the mysterious finer points of justice from the time we are 2 years old.
So I propose that it is ridiculous to treat “judgment” like a sin. It is rightly falling. Judgment is quite literally the acknowledgement of what is right as applied to the people around us. There’s no escaping it. You can’t resolve or repent of judging. It is nonsense. It isn’t yours to manage. You are an observer standing by that sees the righteous standard in your mysterious soul and easily compares those around you to the standard. You can say, “but I’m not the kind of person who compares that way. I’m not judgmental.” But you are. You have to be. Otherwise you would just be advocating that everyone should get away with it all. If someone is destroying their life with an addictive behavior, do you not rightly judge? If someone is rough and rude to you, do you not rightly judge? If someone is lazy and entitled, or arrogant, or greedy, or pompous, or has bad personal hygiene, or is a poor and dangerous driver, don’t tell me that you don’t judge. Of course you do. You’re supposed to. You’re not making it up out of thin air. Judgment rightly falls.
So judgment is a real construct that forms around us quite apart from our own management of it. We really have very little if any control over it. And the power and irritation of it is that by and large, the judgments are true. In the rare cases where the judgment is false, our sense of justice kicks in more than ever! And so we judge bad judgment more harshly than almost anything. This is the power of the popularity of the “Making of a Murderer” show – nothing is more of an outrage than bad justice. Our good sense of justice kicks in most powerfully as a witness and it is immensely satisfying.
Is God Schizophrenic?
So, what about Jesus’ teaching that we should not judge?
1 “Do not judge so that you will not be judged. 2 “For in the way you judge, you will be judged; and by your standard of measure, it will be measured to you. 3 “Why do you look at the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? 4 “Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ and behold, the log is in your own eye? 5 “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. – Matthew 7:1-5 NASB
Is God schizophrenic? Does the judgment of God rightly fall, or should we not judge? What’s this about?
If you think about it, mercy only makes sense in light of judgment. If judgment hasn’t rightly fallen on you, you have no need for mercy. But, there isn’t a person on whom judgment hasn’t rightly fallen. All have sinned (Romans 3:23). There is none righteous, not even one (Romans 3:10). We’re all caught in it. This is the exact thing which the gospel addresses. And you can’t escape the scandal of it. Grace overcomes at the exact point where judgment has its greatest power. Under the law, we cannot and must not let go of our capacity to judge. It is the one thing we have which is right! So we see, where judgment thrives, grace wins.
It is no accident or mistake that the gospel achieves what we call “justification.” We do not achieve mercy and forgiveness by simply ignoring justice. Justice is not going to go away. The blood of Jesus satisfies justice. Our very conscience is washed clean in this way in light of the rightness of our judgment:
19 Therefore, brethren, since we have confidence to enter the holy place by the blood of Jesus, 20 by a new and living way which He inaugurated for us through the veil, that is, His flesh, 21 and since we have a great priest over the house of God, 22 let us draw near with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water. – Hebrews 10:19-22 NASB
So we don’t escape the universe of judgment by exercising some kind of self-control in deciding not to judge. That is crazy-land. That kind of thinking isn’t grace and it isn’t the gospel. If you are trying to do that, your conscience is still going to tell you that justice has not been served. It will come back, over and over. You will lack conviction and power in your fake forgiveness. You will somehow keep judging because it is the right thing. The essence of judgment is the determination that it is right – so it is quite literally the right thing to do. Unless justice is satisfied you are supposed to judge.
The only way to stop judging is to believe in the gospel. You have to believe that in Christ, justice is satisfied for the other person, and for yourself, in order to escape the sentence of the judgment. It is the release your conscience requires – that esteeming the work of Christ in shedding His innocent blood on the cross is worthy to satisfy the punishment which justice demands. In that way judgment has its satisfaction, and mercy reigns triumphant. This is why the singular mark of the one who is a citizen of heaven is that they are not judged and have no need to judge. Judgment has been completed. It is finished. We have entered into this grace in which we stand.
1 Therefore, having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, 2 through whom also we have obtained our introduction by faith into this grace in which we stand; and we exult in hope of the glory of God. – Romans 5:1-2 NASB