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Judgment Comes Before Mercy. Here's Why

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One of the most popular charges leveled against the elect is that of judgmentalism. Because Christianity teaches from the Bible about the nature of sin, and declares that sin requires repentance, some people, both unbelievers and even fellow Christians charge many Christians with being judgmental or condemning instead of loving as Christ did. Yet as we shall see from this study, there are times when obedience to Christ, and adherence to God’s word requires that a Christian exercise judgment for the purpose of condemnation in turn leading to the hope of repentance.
We shall see from this study that Jesus condemned sin and certain people; that the Apostles condemned sin and certain people, and that we are enjoined to condemn sin and certain people.

Condemning a Lack of Judgment
There are times when Jesus pronounced condemnation about societies or individuals. This fact is sadly overlooked by some who tend to slice up the Bible’s text to give preference to the “positive-feeling” passages instead of the whole text. There were some that Jesus condemned and urged to repentance, and there were some that He openly condemned and left in their condemnation. Many of these examples come from the book of the Bible that many perceive to be the most gentle or representative of love in all its text. Look at these harsh examples from the loving book of John:
  • Jesus condemned religious leaders who rejected His testimony about Himself (John 8:21-24), stating directly, “You will die in your sins.”
  • He declared that as part of His mission He had “much to judge” (John 8:26).
  • Jesus called these same religious leaders sons of the devil (John 8:42-44).
  • Jesus declared that He not only came to forgive, but “For judgment I came into this world” to make those who “see” to “become blind” (John 9:39).
  • Jesus declared that those who do not receive his words (believe in the testimony He gave about Himself), that “The word that I have spoken will judge him on the last day (John 12:48).
  • Jesus declared early in his ministry that “Whoever does not believe is condemned already” (John 3:18).
Jesus’ declarations of judgment were foundational to understanding the consequences of rejecting the testimony about His identity and what He requires of us. The same God who sent Jesus Christ is the same God who gave the Law of Moses and proclaimed grave consequences for disobedience to the Law of God (Deuteronomy 28:15-68). Just as one could not expect to reject the Law of God given through the agency of a mere man and not suffer consequences, so too one cannot expect to reject the testimony of the Lord Jesus Himself and escape even greater consequences (Hebrews 10:28-31). Even the Apostle Paul followed in Jesus’ footsteps in this regard, sometimes proclaiming harsh judgment against both believers and unbelievers in certain circumstances. Make no mistake, Jesus and the Apostles did not “condemn the sin but not the sinner.” In fact, they sometimes condemned the sinner because of their sin—and they did so openly:
  • Two believers, Ananias and Sapphira were condemned by Peter for lying—and they died on the spot (Acts 5:1-11).
  • The Apostle Paul condemned a man named Elymas calling him, “Son of the devil, full of all deceit and villainy” (Acts 13:4-12). Those were strong words of a clearly judgmental nature spoken to condemn.
  • Paul ordered the church to harshly condemn sin within its midst, saying of a man committing incest, “I have already pronounced judgment on the one who did such a thing,” and “You are to deliver this man to Satan for the destruction of his flesh…” (I Corinthians 5:3-5). Thankfully this man repented, which is what the church’s condemnation in this case was designed to do (I Corinthians 5:5, II Corinthians 7:7-13).
  • Paul openly condemned those who were leading the Galatian church astray, using the harshest language: “If anyone is preaching to you a Gospel contrary to the one you received, let him be accursed” (Galatians 1:9). To paraphrase this in modern language, Paul was literally saying, “If anyone is preaching to you a Gospel contrary to the one you received, let him go to hell.” That is personal condemnation.
  • The Apostle Peter condemned false prophets and teachers—those who added to the Gospel or perverted its message, calling them “irrational animals, creatures of instinct, born to be caught and destroyed” (II Peter 2:12). Peter dedicated a whole chapter in his letter to the condemnation of false teachers (I Peter 2).
  • Jude (the brother of Jesus) also condemned false teachers inside the church saying that they were “Long ago designated for this condemnation” (Jude 4). The majority of his epistle is a letter of harsh judgment against those who pervert the doctrines of Christianity.
How do we then rectify these and many more examples with Jesus’ words, “Judge not lest you be judged?” (Matthew 7:1) It would seem upon first glance that this is a glaring contradiction. In fact even many Christians take Matthew 7:1 as a guiding principle and use that to re-interpret the already offered examples to mean something different from that which the text so plainly and clearly says.
Are Christians not to judge? On the contrary, in fact Matthew 7:1, when taken in its full context, and other similar passages reveals that we are supposed to judge—but to do so with a “righteous judgment” (John 7:24).
Immediately after Jesus said, “Judge not lest you be judged,” He did two things:
  • First, He illustrated His principle with a parable about hypocrisy in judgment, then secondly, in the same breath
  • He called certain people “dogs” and “pigs” because they reject truth.
Calling people “dogs” and “pigs” wasn’t exactly nice or nonjudgmental. Jesus was in fact strongly urging us to use sober and correct judgment. There was never a time when He urged anyone to refrain from making or declaring judgment. He simply taught that our judgment must be made upon right principles, and more importantly right behavior. The Apostle Paul did the same when he pronounced some of his harshest words in Romans 1:18-32 for idolaters, liars, homosexuals, murderers, gossips, etc. Immediately after declaring, “that those who practice such things deserve to die,” he went on in Romans 2:1-2 to condemn those who condemn such practices and commit the same sins themselves. Paul’s focus, like Jesus’, was on the hypocrisy of those who judge—not the exercise of judgment itself. But Paul himself, not guilty of the sins and people he condemned, had the moral authority to pronounce God’s already revealed judgment against such sin.
Mercy as an Act of Judgment
This brings us to the practice of judgment in light of mercy. Certainly Paul, Peter, Jude, and even Jesus were not primarily concerned with the judgment of people. While they condemned sin in the strongest terms—and even openly condemned certain people—their first acts of judgment were to demonstrate mercy. In fact, mercy is an act of judgment because judgment is not always negative. The scripture says all will appear before the judgment seat of Christ—including the righteous (II Corinthians 5:10).
Demonstrating mercy toward a sinner instead of condemnation reveals that an act of judgment (condemnation) has already taken place. Jesus taught this very directly when He told the Jewish teacher Nicodemus, “Whoever does not believe [in Jesus] is condemned already” (John 3:18). Just prior to this Jesus said, “For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world” (in other words: to condemn it again, as it was already under condemnation), “but in order that the world might be saved through Him” (John 3:17). Did you notice the order of events? God had already declared us to be sinful and damned. That judgment was final. Jesus’ role was to extend mercy by taking our condemnation on our behalf. He took our place. Judgment is therefore a prerequisite to mercy. Mercy is not exercised upon the innocent, but the guilty!
In this sense also we see that God’s judgment is part of His expression of love. For He judged us rightly as people corrupted by sin worthy of death (Romans 3:23, 6:23). His response to our condemnation was not to leave us condemned, but to offer mercy (Romans 5:6-11) by taking our judgment upon Himself (I John 2:2). Yet for those who reject His mercy, only a final condemnation awaits (Hebrews 10:26-27).
Jesus is the Model
There can be no doubt from the scripture that we are called upon to condemn sin and even at times to judge people—especially within the church (I Corinthians 5:12-13). Yet our first response to sin must always be that of Jesus Christ—mercy. “If you see your brother in sin,” the scripture says, “go and tell him his fault between you and him alone” (Matthew 18:15). Jesus lays out a process for dealing with sin that is designed to:
  • Condemn sin,
  • Avoid public embarrassment for the sinner, and
  • Encourage repentance so that
  • Mercy and forgiveness may be shown, so the
  • Person doing the confronting can openly support the person being confronted.
In fact, any confrontation of sin that does not follow Jesus’ instruction and more importantly, His purpose of mercy, forgiveness, and support, is an act of sin itself (Romans 2:1-2). However, even though we are always to confront sin with the hopes of seeing repentance and forgiveness, there are some who will not receive it. Jesus condemned such people with the words, “Let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector” (Matthew 18:17).
Conclusion
To follow Christ we must follow all of His ways. To fulfill God’s plan of becoming like Jesus (Romans 8:29) we must imitate His instructions. Do you want to be faithful to the message of the Gospel and the love of Jesus? Then you must express God’s judgment. For without expressing God’s judgment, then you cannot express God’s mercy. The Gospel of Jesus Christ cannot be expressed apart from the condemnation of sin and the subsequent offer of mercy. Without understanding our sin and our condemnation, then what reason do we have to accept mercy?
By understanding and expressing God’s judgment we come to a fuller appreciation for God’s grace (Ephesians 2:4-9). It is God’s mercy and grace that every sinner needs, and we receive it (and give it) through an act of judgment.