Jesus says in Matthew 7:1, “Do not judge, that you may not be judged.” From this statement one might conclude that judging is prohibited, but in the next verse the context helps the reader understand that the passage is not a prohibition. Rather it is a warning: “For in the way that you measure, it will be measured to you” (Mt 7:2).
Luke 6:36-37 records a similar statement by Jesus: “Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful. And do not judge and you will not be judged, and do not condemn and you will not be condemned. Set free and you will be set free.” The starting point here is following the Father’s example of mercy, and a sound standard of judgment. A few verses later, Jesus reminds His listeners to beware of the log that is in their own eye rather than trying to remove the speck from someone else’s eye.
Jesus’ comments here are given in the context of the kingdom of the heavens being offered to Israel. In that offer Jesus explains that entrance into the kingdom is not based on external behavior, but rather an internal righteousness that only can be find by trusting in Him – that is what the sermon on the mount was all about. While the comments are broadly applicable, we do need to remember His audience and His purpose in communicating with that audience.
Later Paul helps us understand, in a context directly related to the church, the believer’s appropriate use of judging. In 1 Corinthians (2:14-3:3), Paul is rebuking the Corinthians for walking as fleshly rather than as spiritual men, and expressing that in specific immoralities and wrong response to those immoralities. Paul goes so far as to specifically say that he has judged the one engaging in such immorality (5:3).
Clearly Paul did not take Jesus’ words as a complete prohibition of any kind of judgment. Paul’s words in 5:12-13 provide a clear paradigm for believers to follow: “For what have I to do with judging outsiders? Do you not judge those within? But those who are outside, God judges. Remove the wicked man from among yourselves.”
Paul wants the Corinthians not to associate with those who call themselves believers but then engage in immorality, covetousness, idolatry, reviling, drunkenness, swindling, etc. (5:11). It is clear that believers are to judge the actions of other believers, and this judgment is to effect whether or not fellowship is appropriate. Importantly, Paul does not tell believers to judge whether or not these people are actual believers. In other words, the judgment is regarding actions – practice, and not position. Consequently, we need to be very careful not to judge whether someone is actually a believer or not – only God can make that judgment (Heb 4:12-13). Actions, on the other hand, are plain to see and generally easily discerned.
Further, Paul explains that believers are to judge the actions of those in the church, and do not have jurisdiction to judge those outside the church (1 Cor 5:12-13). God handles that. So the answer is simple. Are Christians to judge others? Yes. Christians are supposed to hold each other accountable for our actions, but it is not our job to (1) make judgments regarding someone else’s position (whether they are actually a believer or not) if they are claiming to be a brother or sister in Christ, nor are we to (2) judge those outside the church. Even though in the future believers will participate in judging the world (1 Cor 6:2), it is not part of the program now.
Finally, it is important to realize that even in appropriately judging others, our intention should always be for their restoration and spiritual well being (Gal 6:1). We can’t restore others if we are not making accurate assessments regarding whether we are walking appropriately. We are to hold one another accountable, and to do so in such a way that reflects our Father’s mercy (Lk 6:36).