There are few topics relating to the Christian life that seem to elicit more self-doubt, tension, and anxiety than personal judgment and discernment. It’s a never-ending internal struggle that only seems to become more and more complicated. We constantly go back and forth in our minds over what it looks like to speak the truth in love. We desire to love others well, to be compassionate, and to be an example of Christlike humility and gentleness. At the same time, we know that we are called to be uncompromising and steadfast in our dedication to pursuing righteousness and proclaiming the truth of God and His Word. We know that this often means that we need to say hard things both to those to whom we are closest and to complete strangers. Each of these situations is incredibly difficult in its own unique ways.
You probably know this feeling well. One of the places I personally wrestled with this tension on a consistent basis was when I lived in central Florida and had the opportunity to serve every week alongside John Barros in his ministry out in front of the Orlando Women’s Center, a local abortion clinic. Every week I would see men and women of all ages—husbands, boyfriends, friends, fathers, mothers, grandfathers, grandmothers—escorting young women into this clinic to see to the murder and disposal of the child they were carrying.
You can see it on each and every one of the faces of those who enter—pain, confusion, bitterness, anger. You strive to minister to them by acknowledging the desperation they must be feeling and offering them help in specific ways, while at the same time unequivocally calling them to see the wickedness of what they are about to do and to repent of it and preserve the life of their child. As we pleaded from the sidewalk, by far the most common response we received was this: “Why are you being so judgmental? You don’t know me. Only God can judge me.”
No matter how many times I heard that rebuttal and simply wanted to write it off as the defensive avoidance of an individual who was spiritually calloused, the words still stung. They stung because, as a Christian, I do not want to be seen by a watching world as someone who is judgmental. Those words also stung because as much as I might strive to push back against it, I still live in a cultural milieu that has impressed on me from early on that empathy and tolerance are prime virtues, and therefore it is insensitive or judgmental to speak words of conviction or challenge that would in any way cause hurt feelings or urge someone toward conformity to anything besides their own experience.
So, in a world of moral ambiguity, how can a Christian know, fully and confidently, how to properly live out the words of Jesus in John 7:24, where He says, “Do not judge by appearances, but judge with right judgment”? What does Jesus mean by “right judgment,” and how does He expect His hearers to apply it?