In Matthew 7, Jesus leads off with a fairly straightforward command, “Judge not, that you be not judged.”
Those words are deceptively simple, because they cut to the heart of what the gospel accomplishes in our lives.
Jesus continues, “for with the judgment you judge, you will be judged; and with the measure you use, it will be measured back to you.” Those are heavy words of warning for those of us who have recognized our own inability to make ourselves righteous. Jesus is telling us that, if we condemn others, then the gospel that grants us forgiveness becomes pointless. We cannot accept God’s grace in our own lives while denying that same grace to others.
Yet why do we seem so eager to judge?
Why do we feel it necessary to point out all the faults of the world around us? Why do we work so hard to make sure others know their faults, their failings, and their sins? I believe it is a fundamental flaw in the way we see and understand the gospel.
Jesus, in this passage, has a word for those who pick out flaws in their neighbor while living in denial about their own flaws: hypocrite. That word, in the day when Jesus very carefully chose it, meant “an actor operating under an assumed character.” I believe this word is at the heart of why we are so quick to judge. We do not fully understand God’s grace.
In spite of our outward acquiescence to the Gospel, inwardly it is still too good to be true for most of us.
We really don’t believe we are off the hook. It’s hard to believe that God no longer holds us responsible for our sins. We see our own failure and believe we deserve to be punished. So we assume the character of one who has been forgiven and play the part of one who has been saved by grace, yet we have never let His grace change how we truly view ourselves.
In our own guilt and self-hatred we lash out at others. In our inability to change ourselves, we have made it our life’s work to change others. In pointing out their flaws, it makes us feel better about our own. The plank in our own eye becomes more comfortable and bearable when we see an even bigger one in someone else. Our own problem with lust becomes smaller when we compare it to what we consider to be the greater sin of homosexuality. We feel better about our own pride or selfishness when we see it more evident in those around us.
Children do this all the time, don’t they? I broke the lamp, so in my panic I point out something worse that my brother did, hoping to redirect mom’s wrath to him and make it easier on myself.
The cure is to understand the gospel.
God’s grace changes the playing field. In His eyes we are all in the same place: hopelessly lost. When I understand that, I can let down the facade and admit who I am. And when I admit my own depravity, I suddenly lose the need to point it out in others. Those who acknowledge their own utter failure become humble and gracious. They become acutely aware of the plank in their own eye, and stop trying to cover it up by pointing out those of others. When I realize I’m not going to be punished for breaking the lamp, I no longer feel the need to redirect and throw my brother under the bus.
Remember, it’s only the gospel that gives any of us hope. And the same grace God has extended to me is extended to all those people out there that I find disagreeable and disgusting. What a freedom can be found in letting go of my righteous act! What liberty to step down from the judge’s bench and leave grace up to the One who offers it freely! What peace can be found when I stop holding myself and those around me to a standard none of us can achieve.
That’s the freedom I find when I stop merely agreeing with the gospel, and instead allow it to change my heart and mind.