1 Thessalonians 5:21-22 - Test everything. Hold on to the good. Avoid every kind of evil.
Satan’s Advertising Campaign
One of the most successful advertising campaigns perpetrated by Satan in our day is the idea that Christians are forbidden to judge anything or anyone for any reason. Even unbelievers know the Bible verse that teaches, so they think, that Christians are not to judge others in any circumstance. In this twisting of our Lord’s words, Satan has led many down an awfully slippery slope.
But is that what Christ, Paul, and the rest of the Bible teach? No. What Christ and his chosen spokesmen spoke against was having a censorious or judgmental spirit or attitude. They taught us to resist the temptation of signing up to serve as God’s official fruit-inspectors. These are the folks who believe it is their spiritual gift to criticize everyone else.
Instead, the exhortation of Jesus (Matthew 7:1-5), was for his followers to remove the giant telephone-pole-sized sin in their own lives first. Unfortunately, that’s where unbelievers, and many Christians, stop with Christ’s words. But Jesus had not yet finished his thought.
The Rest of the Story
Jesus actually taught we are to remove the beam or plank from our own eye first, and then (or, so that) we would be able to see clearly enough to remove the speck from our neighbor’s eye. Jesus wasn’t calling for the abolition of judgment, but for a godly attitude while exercising helpful discernment. We know this because less than ten verses later, our Lord said we must watch out for false teachers. Why? Because they are false teachers. Something isn’t right about what they teach or how they live.
How do you “watch out” for false teachers? By judging the fruit they produce – their works – not their hearts. And yet, according to our Lord, their fruit does tell us something about what’s going on inside of them. He says a good tree produces good fruit while a bad tree produces bad fruit. In both cases, being precedes doing. We aren’t privy to all that goes on inside a person’s heart, so our Lord tells us to judge their fruit, whether it be good or bad.
By What Standard?
How can we make such a judgment? How can we know the difference between good and bad? By using the only sure measuring stick we have, God’s Word.
The Apostle Paul said we are called to test everything. A word like “everything” pretty much says it all. Every idea, suggestion, worldview, moral teaching, news story, political platform, attitude, television program, and on and on and on, is to be tested. But how do you test these things?
With Holy Scripture. God’s Word is sufficient to teach, reprove, correct, and train us for all of life (2 Timothy 3:16-17), whether by explicit teaching, command, law, or rule – or by implicit principles and implications.
After you have tested something by God’s Word, you then must judge or discern whether that thing is good or evil. If it’s good you cling to it. If it’s evil you avoid or shun it. But you have to make a judgment. How else can you pursue holiness instead of sin? How else can you choose the hard and narrow road that leads to life rather than the wide and comfortable road that leads to destruction? You must exercise your faculties of discernment.
The Heart is the Heart of the Matter
Have Christians ever been guilty of having judgmental attitudes? Absolutely. And they should repent for it. But unbelievers have also been guilty of having judgmental attitudes. The difference is that followers of Christ have an objective and binding standard that tells them it’s wrong to have such an attitude. Every time an unbeliever tells a Christian not to be judgmental, they have to borrow from the Christian worldview to say so.
The key point is this: Christians are commanded by Christ to judge good from evil, sin from righteousness, without being judgmental. We are to practice such discernment so we may lovingly correct or restore another person. That is why we must first deal with the sin in our own lives. It humbles us, reminds us of what Christ has done on our behalf, and enables us to better see how to help others. It’s a razor’s edge to walk, but we must not give up walking along that edge simply because it’s hard to do. Instead, we must pray for the power and guidance of God’s Spirit, his gifts of discernment, and for his Word to dwell in us richly so we may walk that edge faithfully, consistently, and lovingly.
What do you think most people mean when they say people shouldn’t judge? Why do people dislike being judged? Have you ever been accused of being judgmental? Have you ever judged another person (sinfully)? Have you ever been judged in such a way? How did it make you feel? How does the counsel of Jesus in Matthew 7:1-5, help us turn from having a judgmental attitude? How does his teaching in those verses enable us to truly be a help to another person?
Grace and Truth,
A Tale of Two Ditches
Not too long ago a friend shared with me his struggle to faithfully teach grace to the folks he disciples. I certainly share that struggle. Faithful discipleship is a narrow path between the two ditches of legalism and licentiousness.
I didn’t come up with that distinction. The Apostle Paul dealt with the same issues. On the one hand he had to warn the Galatian Christians about the ditch of legalism espoused by the Judaizers. These were folks who claimed Jesus was great, but you still had to obey the Law of Moses to be saved. On the other hand, he had to give an emphatic “NO” to those in the other ditch whose philosophy was, “Let’s sin up a storm so we can experience more of God’s grace.” In their view, Christians don’t have to worry about obeying God, because they’re under God’s grace.
The path between the two ditches is hard and narrow indeed and Christian history is littered with examples of how individuals, (as well as groups of people), have fallen into one ditch or the other. Regardless of which ditch you fall into, you still end up dirty and smelly.
To my struggling friend, and as a reminder to myself, I offer some counsel I once heard. Take comfort in the struggle of the narrow path because the Apostle Paul experienced the same. Grace is a dangerous thing. If we faithfully and accurately teach the biblical doctrine of grace, there will always be the risk someone might distort it in a libertine direction, just as a faithful and accurate teaching of obedience might lead some into the legalistic ditch. We are called to be faithful in our message of grace, even though we can’t control what people will do with it.
Those who take the ministry of discipleship seriously will always struggle with this. However, we can use this struggle between the two ditches, the journey of the narrow path, to motivate us to be careful, loving, grace-filled, and faithful in our teaching, discipling, counseling, correcting, etc.
Remembering My Own Struggle
I know that walking the narrow path is hard for me, and I’ve been at it for some time now. I can still remember the early days of my walk with Christ. I often caught myself walking a little too closely to one side of the path or the other. Sadly, I sometimes found myself having to climb out of one ditch or the other. But in God’s goodness, he cleaned me up, disciplined me, and sent me along my way.
This reminder of my own history will hopefully encourage me (and you) to be patient with those whom I disciple, especially those who are just beginning their own way down the narrow path. Thank God for his ever-present grace!
Do you remember when you first became a Christian? Which ditch did you find yourself falling into in your early days? Now that you’ve been a Christian for a while, which tendency (or, ditch) do you find yourself struggling with? Why do you think Christians, regardless of how long they’ve been walking with Christ, find themselves struggling along the narrow path? Why do they get too close to one ditch or the other? What are three things you can begin doing today, with God’s wisdom and power, to help you stay on the straight and narrow?
Grace and Truth,
No man fails on purpose. Yet, spiritual and moral failures abound.
A few years ago I taught a lesson to our men’s group which focused on temptations men face. The workbook we were using quoted C.S. Lewis on this subject and was a turning point for many in the group. Lewis wrote,
“It does not matter how small the sins are, provided that their cumulative effect is to edge the person away from the light and out into the nothing… Indeed, the safest road to hell is the gradual one – the gentle slope, soft underfoot, without sudden turnings, without milestones, without signposts.”
The truth communicated by Lewis rings true. It reminded me of something a former mentor of mine once said. He emphasized repeatedly that comprise comes through the smallness of our daily surrenders.
It’s giving up that little bit of personal conviction each day. It’s the little piece of candy no one will ever know you ate. It’s watching that program or visiting that website when you are all alone. You get the picture.
Usually the first surrender to “small, insignificant sins” makes it easier to fall prey to them again and again. The damage comes from the “cumulative effect” Lewis was pointing to. Few men wake up in the morning planning to sin spectacularly later in the day. Yet those daily surrenders build up over time. Give a little ground here and there and before you know it, you’re in trouble. In fact, you become practically unrecognizable, to even yourself. You didn’t plan in advance for this to happen, but those daily surrenders were enough to do the trick.
Therefore we must be vigilant. We need to work from the foundation of knowing who we are in Christ. We need to count ourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus (Romans 6:11). Those “daily surrenders” needn’t reign over us. The same Spirit who raised the Lord Jesus from the dead dwells in us as well.
Yet, we also need to exercise the self-awareness that recognizes those areas in our lives wherein we are weak. We ought to ask ourselves: Are we being less watchful in some areas of our lives than others? Even the small, seemingly insignificant areas? Are we overly confident we would never again fall prey to that particular temptation? A member of my church used to remind me often, “to be forewarned is to be forearmed.”
Brothers, if you want to avoid those small daily surrenders, then pray for God to deliver you from temptation. But don’t forget to do your part. Name those temptations in advance. Talk with a godly brother you trust and ask him to hold you accountable. Renew your mind daily in God’s Word. The Apostle Paul shared God’s wisdom on this point when he wrote in Philippians 4:8-9,
Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. 9 Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me—put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you.
What are you thinking on?
Walking Points: What are those areas in your life that tempt you the most? What are some practical things you can do to resist them? Set an appointment today with a brother in Christ and ask him to pray for you and to help keep you accountable.
Grace and Truth,
If you would like to learn more about how to grow in your faith, please check out my website, DaleTedder.com. We've also started a new podcast called, Walking Points. Its purpose is to help men follow Jesus Christ in every sphere of their lives. We're working on enabling it to be downloaded, but presently it can only be listened to via streaming. Our most recent episode is an interview with a member of our church on the topic of what it means to represent Christ in the workplace.
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