Only God Can Judge Me

Judge not, that you not be judged. (Matthew 7:1)

When I was in high school, I listened to mainly rap and country. This proved my identity crisis, I guess. There I was in my blue truck, blaring Merle Haggard or Tupac, depending on the day. I remember that one of the sayings of the time among the rappers I listened to was “only God can judge me”. Man that sounded right. I can do whatever I want and disregard what people thought because only God could judge me. I think the rappers meant they could smoke weed and shoot people and only be liable to God’s judgment, which very well could have been true for some of them.

I had my own issues – don’t judge me – that I felt I could sweep under the proverbial rug by repeating a saying like that. The problem wasn’t the saying, it was the interpretation. The truth is that God is the judge, the one and only judge – but we need to do some work here.

A judge rules on the future of a person, taking stock of their character and their track record. You can picture a judge on a bench, reading glasses perched on the nose, robed arms resting on the built in millwork in front of her. She looks at the defendant and cocks her head, deciding what to do with this accused person before her. Is this person worthy of freedom?

What Tupac and teenage me got wrong is the definition of judge. We thought that to be told you’re wrong is to be judged. For someone to disapprove of your lifestyle, yeah that’s condemnation. But this is foolishness. We all make assessments of the behavior of others all the time, and this is really unavoidable. If your friend treats his wife disrespectfully, you’ll discern his behavior. You might even judge his behavior.

The judgment Jesus is referring to here is a judgment like the judge on the bench. You know the feeling. Someone does something so detestable that you want to harm them. You decide they are not even a decent human being. In this way, what you have done is as good as murder (Matthew 5:4) and you have pronounced judgment on your brother.

Not only is our judgment wrong per se – and it is – but we are missing something. When I watch the news and see some monstrous crime, it is my default mode to determine the perpetrator a monster. And you know what, they may well be – but this misses a crucial issue. The sin in my heart is as dark as theirs and I am capable of God only knows what. By his grace he has saved me and, as Jesus says in the Lord’s Prayer, led me not into temptation. Sometimes someone possesses evil that is unexplainable except that it’s just, well, evil. But before we jump there, we might consider if we were raised in their home with their severely abusive father or drug addict mother or what have you, and then we were faced with the mental illness they face, we might end up in that mug shot.

Jeremiah 17:9 says that the heart is deceitful above all things and it’s desperately sick. An unrescued heart – a heart that has not been taken captive by Jesus – is capable of anything and everything. Those of us with redeemed hearts must bear in mind that: 1) our salvation is a gift (Ephesians 2:8) and 2) we are still capable of all kinds of darkness – but God protects us. You see, the credit belongs to God and his work in us, not our Pharisaical moral report card.

Lastly, it is important to consider that Jesus says that if we judge, we too will be judged by the real judge – God. That’s pretty scary, considering I have judged. So what then? Am I headed for hell? No, thank God. I plead Christ, I repent, and I bask in his grace. If we had a pass/fail test on judgment, heaven would be empty. Jesus is speaking to the heart here, I believe. If you constantly judge others and condemn people harshly (again, not their behavior, them), you would be wise to consider if you truly have been born again of the Spirit. Judgment is not a fruit of the Spirit and while we all fail sometimes, a heart set upon judgment carried in the same person whose mouth proclaims Christ is an incongruity.

We have seen this too often in our culture with the issues of the day. Hatred towards those outside the typical lines of Christendom is rampant. Slate named 2014 the Year of Outrage, and it seems 2015 and 2016 aren’t much different. We are mad at everything that is wrong with the world: candidates, bathroom classification, traffic, the church. But what we don’t seem to be mad at is ourselves. Somehow everyone is mad at someone else but no one realizes the sin in themselves.

Jesus says we have a log in our eye, while our brother has a speck. How we can see past the wood impaled through our cornea is beyond me, but we do. It’s so much easier to notice your sin than mine.

Friends, we must ask Jesus for his heart. We must ask for the Spirit to convict us deeply of judgment and warm us with grace and truth and love. We must understand the difference between spotting sin that is hurting our brothers and sisters and damning our fellow man for his misbehavior. Here too we return to the foot of the cross and we come with bloodstained hands.

Will you pray with me?

Help us, Jesus. Help us to see our judgment and renew our hearts such that we might see our fellow man through your eyes. Remove our log and help us to love our spiritual family members well enough to have the courage to tell them when we see their specks. And for those outside our family of faith, may we do as you did. May we engage with them, recline at table, and wash their feet. May we cast aside our judgment and love without restraint, knowing that you are the perfect judge, thus alleviating us for our need of the bench.

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The Freedom of the Law

Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. (Matthew 5:17)

 

Two trees stood on the side of a mountain. One grew towards the sun and the other one grew underneath a rock. The sun-prone tree leans over and whispers to the rock-prone tree, “Hey man, you know that we only grow when exposed to the sun’s rays. Lean out this way and you’ll see what I mean.” Well, the rock-prone tree was, so to speak, a little hard-hearted. It replied, “Have it your own way, sunny boy. I like the shade.” The rock-prone tree slowly withers and dies in the shade. As its wood rots, it provides more fertile soil for the sun-prone tree to grow.

God designed the world a certain way. Trees need sun. Fish need water. Mammals need air. And for us to consider the design of our Creator and decide to try a different way is much like the kid who tries to fly. The other day my son, Liam, jumped off the coffee table and flapped his arms. He was trying in earnest to fly. It was cute but he didn’t fly. God designed gravity.

In addition to the laws of nature, God set moral laws in place as well. Do not kill, don’t lie, don’t covet other people’s stuff. And while the effect is often not as obvious as Liam’s failed flying attempt, our attempts to live outside God’s moral law produce wreckage. Our loving God wants to see us flourish and that’s why He created the law.

 

Pharisees Fail

It’s easy to pervert the notion of God’s law, though. When we measure our righteousness by our adherence to the law, we become self-righteous hypocrites. Like the teacher’s pet who belittles the rest of the class, we lose the heart of the law. Plus we fail at keeping the law, so there’s that.

The Pharisees were hard to hang around. They demanded perfection of everyone, their hearts quiet and cold within them. They were not motivated by love. They just wanted a good score card.

 

The law creates a clear separation between us and Jesus. That may sound heretical, just stay with me. Consider Jesus. Under the law, He was perfect. Tempted and tried, but true and faithful. Try to imagine your life with zero sin. Not a careless word, a second glance at that woman, or a jealous ogling your neighbor’s new boat. It makes me tired just thinking about it. That’s the separation I am talking about. Jesus is perfection and we are not perfection. There is a chasm between righteous and unrighteous. I think we know what side of the chasm we stand on.

 

Here, Have Mine

The clear separation between us fallible people and Jesus must be accounted for. It’s not just that we fall short, but that our shortcomings are treason against God. We betray Him by not only going against His design but doing so for our own sake and our own glory. There must be a reckoning.

Here again we look to Jesus. Instead of throwing His head back and laughing at our pathetic state, He stoops down and tenderly grabs our shoulders. “You are lacking in righteousness. Here, have mine.” His obedience on the cross gives us a clean record as Jesus hands us His righteousness.

He was perfect on earth because we cannot be perfect. Then He hands us His perfection which He purchased with His slaughter.

 

 

Free to Obey

Because the record is set straight, we can return to the law of God with humble dedication. We can take up the sword of faith and fight our sin as we clamber up the hill of godly obedience. If we slip and tumble we know that Jesus will be there every step of the way.

There is a scene in Forest Gump where Forest overcomes his physical impairment in his legs. Forest is with his friend Jennie and these bullies roll up on their bikes. They start chunking rocks at Forest, hitting him in the head. Forest is slow of mind so Jennie pleads, “Run, Forest! Run!” Forest has leg braces on both legs which creak as he hobbles to a run. As he picks up speed, the leg braces move with greater range of motion. Then, as Forest reaches a sprint, the braces fall apart and fall of his legs as Forest runs like a gazelle away from his tormenters.

Satan likes to whisper lies. You are a mess. What if they found out? You’re a fraud. These lies act like leg braces, slowing us down so he can throw more rocks and keep us from intimacy with Jesus. But Jesus calls us to follow Him – at a sprint. He’s already loosened all of the screws and taken off the leg braces that trip us. Do we feel the freedom to freely obey? It’s there.

Obedience to the law of God is pure freedom. It is a ticket to flourishing. Jesus made it so when He fulfilled the law. We can consider the law and meditate on its beauty, considering it is the way God made the world to operate. We can see His loving character in His commands.

And we can freely run towards Him.

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