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Sunday, 21 October 2012

Judging People?

In last week's blog post, I wrote about an incident which took place during our holiday in Malta. I testified about the meeting of two guys at the pub across our hotel who, after confessing our church allegiance and our faith in Jesus Christ as Saviour, admitted to us with some hesitation that they were Freemasons. I then wrote of my reluctance to judge their group or their attachment to them, with the preference to bring their concentration on to Jesus himself. In other words, to leave the judging to the Holy Spirit.

One reader who read my article wrote to me on Facebook that I should have judged their behaviour and their allegiance to Freemasonry.  His precise words were:
We are not called to judge people however we are commanded to judge their behaviour and to confront them with their sin.

I was somewhat stunned by that statement, but in another way I shouldn't have been. I have seen this sort of thing before. It was the central belief among the elders of a church in Sacramento, California - the Calvary Community Church. The only difference was that the elders in California embraced Eternal Security of the Believer. The guy who replied on Facebook has an Arminian view that one must remain faithful to stay saved. So I need to ask myself: Did I perform my duties rightly? Did I let these two in the Maltese bar slide towards Hell by my negligence to judge? Furthermore, should I bear the guilt? Here we need to go to the Bible to get some answers.

There seem to be a case of a strong conviction of sin by the Holy Spirit found in the second chapter of Acts. Here we have the apostle Peter preaching what could be called the first Christian sermon. His sermon was centred on Jesus being the Christ as the fulfilment of Old Testament prophecy. After quoting the writings of Joel and the Psalms of David, the narrator tells us that the listeners were "cut to the heart" and asked what needed to be done. Along with "many other words" Peter exhorted them to repent and be baptised. We are not told what these "many other words" were, but most likely they were explaining how the Crucifixion of Christ had fulfilled and made obsolete every Temple ordinance. So what did these Jews do? Examine how they had failed to obey the ten commandments? Rather, was the sin that had cut into their hearts the realisation that they were responsible for the death of their Messiah by crucifying him? As a result, they were to believe that the Jesus they had crucified is the risen Christ.

This seem to fall in line with the rest of the Bible. Jesus himself on many occasions, mostly in the Gospel of John, declared to the crowds that unless they believe that he is who he says he is, they shall perish. This is the essence of repentance. To believe in Jesus as the risen Christ. Paul, in his letter to the Romans, wrote that all who believe in his heart that Jesus has risen from the dead and confess him as Lord, he will be saved. And Paul seem to indicate that this is the universal appeal to all mankind - to believe in Jesus as the risen Messiah to be saved.

But what about the conviction of sin our friend on Facebook had brought up, backed by the elders of the Calvary Community Church? Is it necessary to be convicted of sin to bring true repentance? Could be this being the reason why the Gospel of Matthew contains the Sermon on the Mount? And this sermon specifically to bring out the full meaning of the Law and to show the true depth of sin? And then demonstrate himself as the solution to the problem as narrated in John's Gospel. Certainly, these ideas all seem to fit together.

Alongside this, the church in California brings out the notion of true and false conversion, as defined in Matthew 13:1-23. In one of my blogs, 300 Young People Saved - Yippee, Er, Really? published August 29th, 2011, I brought up the Parable of the Sower, and wrote that in the case of the pathway, where the seeds just lay there until eaten by the birds - depicts the unbeliever who forgets the Word of God, represented by the seed. By contrast, the good soil is the believer who receives the Word and in due time produces a crop of fruit. But the two in between - the rocky ground and the growth of weeds depict "false conversion" when the hearer believes for a while then falls away without producing lasting fruit.

At the time I wrote my blog, I actually felt that the elders at Calvary Community Church were right and the two "in between" depict false conversion. But after reading many blogs here on this site, as well as more Bible study, I now accept that among the rocky ground and those producing weeds, there is a chance that true converts exist among them. The reason why I feel this way is to compare Scripture with Scripture. In the parable of the Sower, only those representing the pathway remained lost in their sins. Of both the rocky ground and those producing weeds, these people believed the word, and accepting it with joy. Jesus himself said that whoever believes in him, receives eternal life and he passes from death into life. And those who remain condemned remain in that way because he has not believed in the Son of God. As with the pathway, the word was rejected and forgotten.

Here again, the aforementioned church, along with our Facebook friend, could argue that without the conviction of sin, the resulting conversion could not be true. They would argue that in many altar calls, one would "receive Christ" in a high state of emotion without realising the seriousness of their sin which would call for the need of a Saviour. Unfortunately, they see many such calls responded to without a rebirth, maybe a means to satisfy the desire of a parent or friend, or for a deep feeling of sentimentality brought on by a moving song or testimony. However, the book of Acts records a number of conversions, and it may help to look at these.

In Acts 2 we have already seen that the three thousand Jews were "cut to the heart" after realising that they killed their promised Messiah. We also read of Saul renamed Paul who "kicked against the goads" before his encounter with the Lord on the Damascus Road. This could be the result of a conviction of sin due to hearing Steven's discourse recorded in Acts 7. In the eighth chapter, we have Philip in Samaria who proclaimed Jesus as the Christ. Whether any conviction of sin occurred, we are not told, but many believed and were healed by means of miracles performed there. And this is why ALL miracles were performed throughout the New Testament - to prove that Jesus is the Christ and by believing one can receive eternal life.

The case of Peter and the Sorcerer: the charge against him was about offering money for his share in ministering of the Holy Spirit, not in his sorcery itself. No doubt, the ability to perform miracles would heighten his reputation and would have given a massive boost to his business. The request was denied due to wrong motives. Yet earlier in verse 13 we are told that the sorcerer believed and was baptised by Philip. If his belief was genuine (there is no reason it wasn't) then Peter, in his rebuke, threatened physical death rather than eternal death, so no bad reputation would spread before unbelievers. The same applying to Ananias and Sapphira, whose bodies were destroyed so the church would not suffer a blow to its reputation before men. These two, by believing that Jesus is the Christ, also went to Heaven.

Then there is the case of Philip and the Ethiopian. We meet this eunuch in his cart, reading a portion of Isaiah, the bit about being cut off (slain) and pondering on whether the prophet was referring to himself or someone else. Philip boarded the chariot and explained that Isaiah was foretelling of Jesus being the Messiah, and yes, he was cut off - he was crucified. There was nothing told about the eunuch's conviction of his sin. He simply asked what was stopping him being baptised, and Philip agreed to his willingness to be submerged in water.

The conversion of Cornelius and his household is another case where little, if any, conviction of sin came before conversion. Peter's message was about Jesus, having been crucified, proved his status as the Christ by rising from the dead. Apparently, the Holy Spirit fell on them all the moment they believed.

Acts 13:13 onward is a narration of the history of Israel given by Paul and Barnabas, climaxing in Jesus Christ crucified, and then risen again, proving to be the Messiah. Going through the whole of Acts of the Apostles, the theme is Jesus crucified, then risen again to prove that he is the Christ. And the theme is always believing this and receiving eternal life. The Philippian jailer was another example. Here Paul and Silas were singing praises to God. Then an earthquake occurred which caused all the prison cell doors to fly open. The jailer, believing that all the inmates had escaped, drew his sword in the belief that the Authorities were going to execute him anyway. So he decided on suicide instead. Paul then cried out not to harm himself. Instead he asked what to do to be saved. The jailer was, most likely asking how he could be spared from the Authorities. Paul had deeper, more eternal things in mind. If he believed on Jesus as the Christ, he would receive eternal life. There is, apparently, no narration about his conviction of his sins.

And so it goes on. I have pondered, in preparation of this blog, if England being a Christian country, are most people here are saved, just because having been born here, we have a much greater chance of eternal life than the Muslims, Buddhists, Hindus or any other non-Christian countries or religions. We celebrate Christmas, Good Friday, and Easter every year. In other words, we believe that Jesus is the Christ, having a miraculous birth, death and resurrection. Really?

Actually, there seem to be a difference between true belief and nominally. The vast majority of the English do not have a new birth. There seems to be a difference between growing up with a background knowledge of Christianity and taking it for granted - from that of a trusting faith that Jesus is the Christ which brings a re-birth of the spirit and adoption as children of God. In fact, in my last blog, I emphasised that higher education and academic achievement has turned much more of the population away from the faith in God than towards it.

So the conviction of sin prior to conversion may be a good thing. But to whom this conviction may be suitable depends on the individual concerned. What I disagree with our Facebook friend and with the Calvary Community Church is about the "one size fits all" concept that no true conversion can take place without the conviction of sin beforehand. Perhaps here in England, a conviction of sin may indeed be far more of a necessity than in the ancient Middle East. But with the two guys at the Maltese pub, I left it for the Holy Spirit to convict their sin of Freemasonry. All I had the privilege was to tell them that Jesus is indeed the Christ, and not to judge them.


  1. Excellent discussion, Frank! We must speak the truth of the Gospel in love, but only God knows the hearts. It is His job to judge each heart. We can rightly judge what is sinful behavior or blasphemous speech based on God's Word, but it is up to God to judge individuals and their thoughts.

  2. Hi Frank,
    We are told that we cannot judge those outside the church, God will judge them (2 Corinthians ch.5 v.13). That verse goes on to call one inside the church who has become sexually immoral 'wicked' (the one who calls himself a brother). When we become born again of the Holy Spirit we start off as a baby in Christ, having our minds renewed gradually in Jesus as we grow in Him, being taught by the Holy Spirit. God is a patient, loving Father who wants all to be saved and allows us to learn at our own pace, and although John ch. 12 v.48 states that 'Whoever rejects me and does not receive my words has one that judges him: the word that I have spoken, that shall judge him in the last day', God alone knows whether we are fully convinced in our own minds, and it is the job of the Holy Spirit to do the convincing through the word itself. Each Christian is a different part of the body of Christ and the word of God shared by them will not go out and return void. God bless you for playing your part in it by sharing with the two men in the pub, and for encouraging brotherly discussion without arguement.

  3. I think no man has the right to judge another. Let the creator judge his creation himself.

  4. In the story of the sower and the seed, we are told that the seed which fell among rocks had no root in itself. This would imply they give mental assent without no deep commitment to Christ. They seem to b like Judas Iscariot, putting on a good show for a while but quit when something that appears better comes along.

    Those that fell among thorns have a root and survive, but are so caught up in daily life they never attain full growth.

    The other disciples thought it more likely that they themselves would betray the Lord than Judas. They were unable to make a valid judgment even though they had been closely associated for three years. How can we make better judgments with even less information? We have to simply accept that God knows which are which.

  5. This is another excellent post Frank, and always food for thought and further genuine debate.

    I think when we judge other people, for whatever reason, we are always doing it from a limited perspective and most definitely limited knowledge; how can we really know another person and what they are thinking or believing? It's not possible really.

    Also, I feel that when the temple priests and the religious authorities of Jesus' day were judging Him, they very probably thought they were in the right, and Jesus was in the wrong. We know now of course that Jesus was in the right, but was treated like a common criminal, merely for speaking the truth. Yes, I always believe it's much better to leave judgment and judging others to God; He sees the full picture and we don't.