October 05, 2005

Confessional: repenting from a critical spirit

When Jesus said, "Do not judge, or you too will be judged,” what was He talking about? He continued, “For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.” (Matt. 7:1-2) What a delicate topic to breach! So much potential exists to be judgmental of those who make critical judgments.

Jesus Christ spent much of his public ministry pointing out the hypocrisy of the Pharisees. Os Guinness writes on page 211 of The Call, “The most common equivalent to Pharisaism today is moralism, the curse of Christian witness in the public square. Moralism operates in a characteristic way. First, it removes grace from the discussion in question. Then it reduces the whole issue to the moral dimension. Next it rationalizes its own sense of superiority by using moral judgment as a weapon to attack others. In the end it reinforces both sin and hostility to God, who – alas – is blamed for the moralism dispensed in his name.”

What are the roots of this moralism? Pride. Jealousy. Vanity. Unforgiveness. Fear. Hypocrisy. I know these attitudes all too well. I’ve lived my life until the last year as “the keeper of truth.” Some of you may be able to relate. This status was even confirmed to me as a nickname developed among friends over the past year – Sword.

According to Jonathan Foreman in Ammunition, “We’re the issue / It’s our condition.” It starts in my heart. By my unacknowledged need, I forget the grace that sustains me. If I do not call on God in my need of a savior, I consequently deny this need, propelling me out into the world, believing I am like God in order to call sinners from their wretchedness.

Furthermore, truth without grace is law. If I am “the keeper of truth,” and my heart is not bathed in grace, then I define the law. If I am to preserve the truth, then I must be on the lookout for sin in order to rebuke those who need rebuking. I focus on sin, I become pessimistic, I blame others, and I hate myself for doing it. It is a sick cycle. Who will rescue me from this critical heart? Thanks be to God through Christ Jesus.

So what am I learning as I repent?

First, as every action has an equal and opposite reaction, so it is with the authority we are given to bless or curse. We can use this authority to encourage. We can use this authority to hurt. Whichever we choose will boomerang back to us – in the short term through hardness of heart and in the long term with numerous other effects, one of which is being out of fellowship with God.

Second, I have discovered that unless I am Spirit-led, I am not to mention a brother or sister’s sin. Only when I am Spirit-led will the Spirit convict. If I am ”in control” Satan uses me to condemn, and there is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. But when I allow the Spirit to lead, truth is the message bathed in grace. We see Christ doing this with the adulterer in John 8. He cleared all hypocritical finger pointing and said, “Has no one condemned you? Then neither do I condemn you.” He went the distance with her and then admonished her to go and sin no more.
Third, rebuke is personal. If I have been wronged, I am to go to the person to communicate the hurt in order to be reconciled. Anything beyond communicating the hurt is judging. Christ explains this model in Matthew 18. Church discipline is meant to restore a brother or sister to God’s mercy. It makes no room to judge another on matters not affecting the immediate offense at hand.

Fourth, necessary to God’s people is the prophet speaking His objective truth into the body. Within scripture you will see this as exhortation to submit to God’s will in light of the consequences. Out of His mercy, God communicates to His people via a statement about truth in order to keep us in His love. Encouraging us to judge, Jesus said in John 7:24, “Stop judging by mere appearances, and make a right judgment.” The communication is impersonal, although the consequences are very personal. In other words, the gauntlet is thrown down for the people of God and the Spirit leads each person through it.

Fifth, God’s timing is perfect. Along the timeline of sanctification, God has a specific way to work with each of us according to our unique souls. He gives us a new heart and aligns our desires with His. If a person is challenged out of God’s timing, most often the result is worse than hoped for due to resentment and bitterness. In His patience He will only give us what we can handle. In the words of some wise guy, “A man forced against his will is of the same opinion still.”

Sixth, unless I am on my knees beside a brother in repentance from sin (all sin, not just his specific sin), my word of judgment creates in me the heart of a Pharisee and in him the shame of condemnation. This bitterness is the sperm for Satan’s egg of dissension, conceiving division.

In John 5 (verses 22-23, 27, and 30) Jesus says, “Moreover, the Father judges no one, but has entrusted all judgment to the Son, that all may honor the Son just as they honor the Father. He who does not honor the Son does not honor the Father, who sent him. 27And he has given him authority to judge because he is the Son of Man. 30By myself I can do nothing; I judge only as I hear, and my judgment is just, for I seek not to please myself but him who sent me.”

Even the Father judges no one. It’s not that He would not be justified in doing this. He would be in His perfection, but nevertheless He gives up this right. He entrusts that authority to the atoning One. Furthermore, the Son seeks to please the Father in His judgments. Every motivation is love! The Father giving His Son as a ransom for us. The Father giving up His role as judge to the righteous One who chose to be the sacrifice. The Son loving the Father by sustaining justice. The Son loving us by fulfilling the law. The Son loving us by atoning for the Father’s wrath. The Holy Spirit quickening our hearts to holiness. Jesus creating others to come alongside us to help us bear our burdens. The Holy Spirit comforting and counseling.

Only out of my repentance back to this Trinitarian fellowship do I have the right to point to the Holy One and His ways. As the Spirit leads this repentance, I am empowered to love others to the same source. And now, in my neediness, join me in repentance.


Abednego over at Parableman raises the question of whether Biblical silence is a sufficient argument for individual conscience.


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Confessional: repenting from a critical spirit