Judgmental Statements

Andy Naselli —  February 18, 2011 — 9 Comments

Dave Swavely, Who Are You to Judge? The Dangers of Judging and Legalism (Phillipsburg, NJ: Presbyterian & Reformed, 2005), 1–3 (numbering added):

Paul in 1 Corinthians 4:5–6 . . . says that we should not judge one another, and that we should not “go beyond what is written” (NIV, ESV). . . . [I]t seems to me that the most committed Christians are actually more susceptible to this problem than those who are not as strong.

The sin of judging is a root cause in most of the interpersonal conflicts that arise in the lives of believers, and so learning to identify and avoid this sin will go a long way toward promoting peace and joy in the body of Christ. And legalism, which is the institutional form of judging, is a dangerous disease that plagues many of our Christian institutions, from churches to schools to families, sapping their spiritual strength and weakening the work of God in their midst.

Here are some examples of judgmental and legalistic statements that I have heard from Christians, all of which we will discuss at some point in this book:

  1. “I know what you’re thinking,” or “I know why you did that.”
  2. “There is no way someone can drive a car that expensive and be a godly man.”
  3. “Rock music is the devil’s music and is never appropriate for a Christian.”
  4. “A church that does not serve weekly communion is dishonoring the Lord.”
  5. “Any woman who works a full-time job is neglecting her children.”
  6. “R-rated movies are not an option for a believer.”
  7. “Modern alcoholic drinks are more potent than the wine of Jesus’ day, so we should not drink them.”
  8. “It is a sin to send your children to a public school.”
  9. “God is sickened by the singing of simplistic praise choruses that repeat the same words over and over.”
  10. “People who take Prozac and other psychiatric medications are not trusting God.”
  11. “It’s wrong to watch football on the Sabbath Day.”
  12. “Birth control robs God of His sovereignty and rebelliously refuses His blessings.”
  13. “Smoking is a sin, because it destroys the temple of God.”
  14. “The person who practices the discipline of fasting is more spiritual than the person who does not.”
  15. “If you feed your baby ‘on demand’ or let your child sleep in the bed with you, you are bad parents.”
  16. “She’s a member of our church, but I don’t think she’s a true Christian.”
  17. [“All forms of gambling are sinful” (pp. 59–62, 74–76).]

I have thought and said some of those statements myself at different times in my life, but I now believe that all of them are wrong in some way. The issues they address are important for Christians to carefully consider, but the problem is that all of those statements “go beyond what is written” by making spiritual judgments and creating moral standards outside of what God has revealed to us. A person who falls into that error is often failing to recognize the distinction between being “fully convinced in his own mind” (Rom. 14:5) and being careful not to judge his brother (Rom. 14:13).

Related: Jerry Bridges on judgmentalism (see also the recommended resources at the bottom of that post)

9 responses to Judgmental Statements

  1. Doesn’t it seem like some of the statements on this list aren’t so much judgmental as misinformed, or overstated? I can see where all of them COULD be judgmental, but I can also imagine situations in which many of them would not be.

  2. Dr. Naselli,

    I was wondering you could tell us if you think the author does a good job helping the reader “avoid” the sin of judging. Does the author equip the reader to think about practices or behaviors that are “beyond what is written”?

    Thanks for a brief answer.

    john

  3. I argued in a talk I gave last night and posted today that anytime we define ourselves by anything other than Christ, we lapse into idolatry, which seems to me to be the root of legalism as well as many other evils like addiction or whatever.

    Anyway, thanks for posting.

  4. John, I’m prone to sin by being judgmental, and this book served me well.

  5. Andy,

    I have not read the book, yet, but as I look at this list it makes me wonder how the author avoids the sin of which he is accusing others and if there is some confusion in the author’s mind in regards to the sin of judgmentalism and the necessity of Biblical application and discernment.

    It looks like he is making a pretty strong judgment in saying that people who hold any of these things are practicing the sin of judgmentalism. I think a case could easily made that at least some of these are not (in and of themselves) judgmental statements, and to make a blanket statement that they seems to be doing what he is accusing others of doing.

    For instance, look at statement 13.

    “Smoking is a sin, because it destroys the temple of God.”

    As I look at that statement, it seems like a pretty tame statement of a legitimate application of Biblical principles.

    Using the same information in a judgmental way would be more along the lines of “Hey, Smoker, you must not love God, because you are smoking and smoking destroys the temple of God.”

    Maybe he covers things differently than the way the list makes it appear, however.

    Just thinking out loud,

    Pastor Frank Sansone

  6. Thanks, Frank. A few of the items on that list made me do a double-take as well. I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised if you read the book.

    This list occurs in the introduction. It’s a teaser. And I’m posting it here to entice people to read the book!

  7. Hi Andy,

    It is a real important topic, but at least a couple of the questions make me wonder whether the author has a proper understanding of what legalism is [e.g. 16] … although a lot of them are great. I also think that it is quite different to think of some of these things (as say convictions) versus saying them to a room full of people (or trying to mandate them on others). And obviously speaking for God or using ‘never’ or ‘all’ isn’t usually a good idea, but ignoring the issues for fear of being legalistic might not be good either. I am not trying to imply that you are the author would do this but in my experience the fear of legalism can cause Christian to avoid seeking wisdom on a given issue. Looks like an interesting read….if I ever get through Benny Morris’ 1948 I will have to consider it.

    God Bless,
    Mike

  8. Ironically some people are already judging the book and have not even read it ;-)

    Andy, you need to stop posting about all these books. I am a slow reader (read: I don’t read as much as I should) and my list of books I need to read is growing…rapidly. But please continue posting!

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