It is far too easy to judge others over their sins when our own sins are obvious, so here’s why we shouldn’t “sin shame” others when they sin.
Jesus said, “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” (Matt 7:1-2). The word Jesus used for “judge” has the connotation of condemning someone; similar to being the prosecuting attorney, jury, and judge all rolled into one. It’s so easy to judge others and have others judge us, but we can be wrong, and so can they. We may not have all the facts, or we’ve got the wrong facts, so it’s best to give people the benefit of the doubt (1 Cor 13:7). The Apostle Paul didn’t care about hurting the church’s feelings because they were being judgmental. He chastised them, telling them that they “have no excuse, O man, every one of you who judges. For in passing judgment on another you condemn yourself, because you, the judge, practice the very same things. We know that the judgment of God rightly falls on those who practice such things” (Rom 2:1-2). The whole idea is summed up by Jesus, saying, “Judge not, and you will not be judged; condemn not, and you will not be condemned; forgive, and you will be forgiven” (Luke 6:37). God commands us to “not grumble against one another, brothers, so that you may not be judged; behold, the Judge is standing at the door” (James 5:9), and He’s not you or me.
It is usually a bad idea to attribute motives and intents toward people, being we cannot really know their heart like God can. As God was choosing a king for Israel, Samuel gave some good advice to Jesse, telling him, “Do not look on his appearance or on the height of his stature, because I have rejected him. For the Lord sees not as man sees: man looks on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart” (1 Sam 16:7). Unfortunately, we (including me) tend to judge by sight, even though that works no better than judging a book by the front cover. We are told not to “judge by appearances, but judge with right judgment” (John 7:24), so even though “All the ways of a man are pure in his own eyes [it is] the LORD weighs the spirit” (Prov 16:2).
We have no business condemning or judging unbelievers, or those outside of Christ. That’s not our job (Rev 20:12-15). God’s Word and God Himself will judge the unsaved, but this doesn’t mean we don’t share Christ with them. The Apostle Peter said that “it is time for judgment to begin at the household of God; and if it begins with us, what will be the outcome for those who do not obey the gospel of God” (1 Pet 4:17). Judging those outside of the church is God’s business (Rom 2:6, 12:19). In fact, “God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him” (John 3:17). Within the Body of Christ, we’re told to “not speak evil against one another, brothers. The one who speaks against a brother or judges his brother, speaks evil against the law and judges the law. But if you judge the law, you are not a doer of the law but a judge. There is only one lawgiver and judge, he who is able to save and to destroy. But who are you to judge your neighbor” (James 4:11-12). Paul asks the church at Corinth, “[W]hat have I to do with judging outsiders? Is it not those inside the church whom you are to judge” (1 Cor 5:12)? Shaming unbelievers because they sin (by the way, we still sin too!) is unfair because they do not have Christ to help them (John 15:5; Phil 4:13), or the Holy Spirit to convict them of sin (John 16:8). That is the Spirit’s job, not ours.
When the Jews had brought a woman caught in adultery before Jesus, they told Him that the law required stoning her. It appears that they were trying to put Jesus in a conundrum. If Jesus said, “Yes, stone her,” they would have probably turned Jesus into the Roman authorities who alone had the power to sentence someone to death, but if Jesus excused the woman’s sin, then the Jews would have accused Jesus of breaking Jewish law, so apparently, it was breaking Roman law or Jewish law, but Jesus stuns the crowd. He says, “Let him who is without sin among you be the first to throw a stone at her” (John 8:7b). One by one, they all left, beginning with the oldest…those who probably had the most sin over a lifetime, and lastly, the youngest. Only Jesus was left since He was without sin. And, why didn’t they bring the man? Wasn’t he just as guilty as the woman, possibly even the culprit? In a sense, Jesus could have asked them in this setting or context, “[H]ow can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when there is the log in your own eye? 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” (Matt 7:4-5).
If we could sum up the idea of shaming people over their sin or over those who haven’t yet trusted in Christ, we quote Paul who wrote, “Repay no one evil for evil, but give thought to do what is honorable in the sight of all. If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord” (Rom 12:17-29). The Apostle Paul adds an important thought about judging others: “The spiritual person judges all things, but is himself to be judged by no one” (1 Cor 2:15). This doesn’t say “the spiritual person judges all people,” but rather, he or she is able to judge themselves and other things with good judgment. Judgement starts at the house of God, and I believe, if you draw a circle in the sand and step into it, that’s where judgment begins. We must make judgments about things in life, and about ourselves, but that doesn’t mean we should judge people in a condemning way. For example, we should never judge someone as irredeemable. Or judge them as beyond hope of salvation. God can change any human heart (Prov 21:1). He does as He pleases. He is God. He is the Judge of all things. For now, I am busy enough judging the one I face in the mirror every day. I have enough trouble with him without worrying about others.
Article by Jack Wellman
Jack Wellman is an ordained elder of the Brethren Church and a Pastor and Prison Minister in the State of Kansas, but also a writer at Christian Quotes and What Christians Want to Know which address questions about the Bible. He also plants ministries like nursing home ministries, Outreach for the poor, and other evangelistic activities, and check out his book Teaching Children the Gospel available on Amazon.