“Do not judge according to appearance, but judge with righteous judgment” (verse 24). This is the summary of Jesus’ teaching in John 7:14-24, which is illustrated in 2 different ways.
First, the Jews judge according to appearance because they judge Jesus by His formal training: “How does this man know letters, not having studied?” (verse 15). The second example is in verse 23 when the Jews accuse Jesus of violating the Sabbath by healing on the Sabbath.
I wonder how often and in how many different ways I, too, judge according to appearance and not with righteous judgment. I grew up in a household with an intellectual approach to the faith (thank God it was much more than this as well – thanks Mom and Dad!) I was born at the dregs of the vat of the modernist brew, and the typical Western Christian’s approach to the faith was through the head. So if you wanted to make someone convert to Christianity, all you had to do was prove to them that Jesus was the Christ. And in order to truly please God, you had to learn a lot about the Bible.
We think that if someone knows enough, he’ll be righteous – that we all start with the head and proceed to the heart. Maybe it’s a hangover from the Greek philosophy that is such an integral part of Western culture and in which it was believed that “to know the good is to do the good.”
This is not the anthropology of the Bible or of the Christian. A better anthropology is: What the heart loves, the will chooses, the mind justifies and the life acts out.” (In the spirit of good scholarship and full disclosure, I modified this from a statement Dr. Ashley Null made concerning the anthropology of Archbishop Thomas Cranmer, which he derived from the Bible!)
Listen to what Jesus actually says: “If anyone wills to do His will, he shall know concerning the doctrine, whether it is from God or whether I speak on my own authority” (verse 17). This is another way of saying, “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.”
The man who desires God will see Him and will know the truth and recognize God when He speaks. But the man who seeks truth as an abstraction is probably serving himself and will find no way out of self and the world.
A righteous person is not someone who dots all the i’s and crosses all the t’s according to some objective, human standard of judgment. A righteous person is not a person with the right status or authority, education or learning, outward behavior or words. A righteous person is a person who has a right relationship with God.
Righteous judgment always seeks righteousness, which is always seeking the Righteous One. Righteousness, including righteousness of judgment, doesn’t make any sense without relation to God.
This is the kind of righteousness illustrated by Jesus. Because He came to do the will of the Father, and not His own will, His doctrine was also the doctrine of Him who sent Him. Because Jesus had a heart for the Father, He delighted to do the will of the Father, and therefore He sought the glory of the Father, and spoke the words of the Father.
This is the kind of righteous relationship each of us needs.
It starts with the heart, and not with the head. Heresy is mostly a matter of the heart, and not just a wrong turn in one’s thinking. It’s not just getting a few facts wrong: it’s seeking God through one’s own means.
For this reason, heresy and any other sin of wrong-headedness or judging according to appearance is a violation of the second commandment. It is a coming to God in one’s own way and not in the way that God Himself has prescribed.
Faith and righteousness, therefore, starts with the heart, but it quickly moves to the hands. Those who will to do the will of the Father must, in fact, actually do the will of the Father. Willing to do God’s will but not doing it falls short of truly willing God’s will.
In short, obedience is essential to see God. Obedience is not what makes us righteous, since we cannot and will not perfectly obey. But it does restore us to a right relationship with the Righteous One, whose righteousness becomes ours.
In other words, faith requires faithfulness, and faith requires good works. There are those who falsely judge by the appearance of good works that they are saved, and there are those who falsely judge by the appearance of their faith (I’m not sure how they measure their faith, absent good works) that they are righteous.
Faith must be related to faithfulness, and head knowledge must related to heart knowledge and hand knowledge.
Jesus put this another way in John 3:21 when He said to Nicodemus: “but he who does the truth comes to the light.” And so truth and action, faith and faithfulness, and righteousness and righteousness [?] all go together.
But something is missing today. I’m not satisfied with what I’ve thought and written, and here’s why. I had a difficult time understanding the heart of what Jesus was saying today. I already believed that He came from the Father and spoke the truth, so what other lesson did He have in store for me today? I found it necessary to think and meditate my way through this passage, and today I found it like clearing a jungle with a machete.
But what I really wanted was to find the banana tree and eat.
And so here is my banana for today.
I want to judge with a righteous judgment today, Lord. I don’t want to continue being deceived by anything that will distract me from You, not even my own learning or thoughts. Your righteousness is my righteousness, Your truth is my truth, and Your life is my life.
May I seek You today in every way possible. With my heart, may I desire You. With my mind, may I think Your thoughts after You. With my mouth, may I speak Your truth. And with my hands, may cheerfully do Your will.
Then, Lord, having made You my Righteousness and my Truth, my Desire and my Thought, then may I see You and know You!
Prayer: Thou knowest, O heavenly Father, the duties that lie before me this day, the dangers that may confront me, the sins that most beset me. Guide me, strengthen me, protect me. Give me Thy life in such abundance that I may this day hold my soul in Thy pure light. Give me Thy power, that I may become a power for righteousness among my fellows, having accepted Your righteousness. Give me Thy love, that all lesser things may have no attraction for me; that selfishness, impurity, and falseness may drop away as dead desires, holding no meaning for me. Let me find Thy power, Thy love, and Thy life, in the things You give me today. Amen.
Points for Meditation:
- In what ways have your thoughts, even about God and your faith, been ways of judging according to appearance and not righteousness?
- In what ways have you settled for thinking about God instead of obeying Him?
Resolution: I resolve to find one way today to practice seeking God Himself instead of merely the appearance of righteousness or my own way.
Feeding of the 5000 – U.S. Public Domain