One of the bigger subjects in America today is the difference between our character and our deeds. There’s a big disconnect between what people do and who they are. This happens often with criminals. When they get caught, they say it’s not who they are, or the famous, “I didn’t do it.”
And then anyone who is challenged about what they do, they say, “Who are you to judge me?” The whole conversation denigrates into arguments about everyone’s character. Anytime a person is challenged, they challenge the character of their accuser.
Of course, no human being is perfect. None of us sits in the seat of the Judge. But much of this is a misunderstanding of the relationship between character and deeds. And we often use the proof text in the Sermon on the Mount about judging others to squirm out of sticky situations between character and deeds.
Let’s take a look at some of these very serious issues. We need to understand exactly what the Bible means when Jesus talks about judging others. And for the sake of holiness, character and deeds must match.
The mix up starts with misunderstanding that character lays the foundation for everything that we think, say, and do. That’s why the Holy Spirit works so hard on our character first. It’s only after we get that foundation of who God wants us to be that we can do what God wants us to do.
For instance, if I go to a store and still food, the law judges me as a lawbreaker. Society looks down on me because I stole something. The reason for this is that character is behind the deed that I did.
The only reason to figure out the character issues behind the deeds that we do is to ask the serious questions that Scripture addresses. When I steal something, why did I do it? It all comes down to my belief that I must provide for myself instead of looking to God to provide all of my needs. The Bible tells us that God is the provider, and he makes sure we have everything we need.
Another character issue with stealing might be that I think I need something that I actually want. Sometimes we have a hard time distinguishing between needs and wants. God doesn’t always give us everything we want, but he does take care of all of our needs.
So the character issue with not distinguishing between needs and wants comes down to my desire for stuff, my materialism. That’s another issue that we have to deal with in our character. The Holy Spirit helps us to distinguish all of the issues in our character as we walk with Christ.
He wants us to have the kind of character that pleases the Lord. And after we get the character questions straight, the Holy Spirit will have less of a hard time dealing with the deeds that we do. Character and deeds are connected. Character is the foundation, and our deeds reflect the character God is building in us.
Character and deeds work together. When people see what we do, they automatically make judgments about who we are inside. They may not know us from Adam, but there are expectations in our society about character.
One of the biggest problems in our culture today is that we like to judge others. But we can’t see inside the person. We can’t see a person’s character, the motives, intentions, thought processes that cause people to do what they do without getting to know them first.
All we have to go on is what we see them do or what we hear them say. We try to figure out what their intentions and motives are based on these alone. But because we can’t see into the heart of a person like Jesus can, our judgments are off. This is because it’s not our place to judge others.
It comes down to the fact that because we connect deeds to character, and we have a habit of judging others for what they do. We make character judgments. We do it without even thinking about all the problems with judging a person by what they do.
The thinking is that what a person does is based on the foundation of their character. We are not wrong in thinking that a person’s character is based on their deeds. But we are wrong in judging them for it.
The process of judging others becomes about critical judgment. We sit in the seat higher than them. We hold them to higher standards than we hold ourselves. Somehow we become judge, jury, and executioner. And judgment is not designed to be gracious or merciful.
Christians especially must be careful of crucifying the character of brothers and sisters. Even more than those in the world who do not espouse the Christian faith, we know God is the Judge. But he has also told us that fruit matters.
In the end, we could be much more considerate of one another when we have this understanding of how character and deeds are connected. We can show a lot more grace and a lot less critical judgment when we deal with one another in the ways we think of each other.
You Be the Judge
How can we understand judging others when Jesus says we are judged when we judge others in one part of the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 7:1-5), and then in another part of his teaching he says we must judge other people’s fruit (Matthew 12:31-37)?
In Matthew 7 when Jesus talks about judging others, he is referring to critical judgment. This is when we base our opinions of someone off of what they do. We assassinate the character of our brothers and sisters in Christ, and anyone else who isn’t a believer.
It’s not necessarily that we need to do this. We just can’t help ourselves. Character judgment and judging what other people do is the basis for how we interact with one another. The way we interact with others is solely based on our observations and decisions about them.
When I was in Bible College, expecting a higher standard from those around me and myself, I was surprised to find out that the most common crime on our campus was theft. I myself became a victim of theft when someone stole a PDA I used to take notes in class.
I was concerned about losing the technology itself, but more concerned about the notes I had not backed up on my computer before it was stolen. The culprit was found, and my PDA was returned to me. That was a great day.
But when the person returned the item, I was immediately confronted with trying to figure out how to look at this person from then on. He assured me that it was a crime of opportunity and he wasn’t the kind of person to steal. But the fact of the matter was that he stole. His deeds betrayed a character flaw.
I tried to be gracious in my assessment of the person. I knew it wasn’t my place to judge him. I told him that the issue of his character was something he had to take up with God. I didn’t say it brutally. I truly meant that God is the Judge and I would not judge him.
At the same time, Jesus tells us to judge a tree by its fruit. We’re going to get into what “fruit” is in Scripture. But suffice it to say for now, I had to figure out what I would think of that person based on what I knew of him. And all I knew was that he stole my stuff.
I had a choice to make. I could get to know him as a person and understand based on my interactions with him. Or I could leave it at the fact that he stole an item that I owned and base by character judgment off of that one action. It’s far better to get to know a person based on more than one deed.
Character issues and wrong deeds also touch on the basis of trust. Trust is at the heart of every relationship. If we can’t trust a person, will always be looking over our shoulder and wondering what’s really happening.
Don’t Be a Hypocrite
So it all comes down to how we interact with one another, how we are able to make relationships and society work. It seems that there must be some kind of judgment, but the kind of judgment we bring must please Jesus. We would do better to judge without a critical spirit and with mercy.
A critical spirit is the approach of a person who wants to find fault. It’s one thing to try to be impartial in our judgments, although that’s virtually impossible for a human being. Everything that we are enters into our judgment of others.
Our background, views on issues, philosophy of life, education, occupation, and a host of other issues that make us who we are go into our judgments. When we have a critical spirit, we are looking to prove why a person is wrong instead of weigh the evidence.
It seems to me that the best way to approach the issue of judging others is to look closely at the difference between Jesus’ command not to judge others in Matthew 7 and how to judge a person’s fruit. When Jesus told us not to judge others, lest you will be judged (Matthew 7:1), he was referring to critical judgment with impunity.
When we judge others, looking for wrong with a critical spirit and finding fault, this is what Jesus was talking about. He doesn’t want people who bear his name to judge with impunity.
The only way to avoid judging with a critical spirit to find fault is to judge with mercy. One of the best ways to do this is to judge based on what we know about ourselves. As they say, “Walk a mile in that person’s shoes.”
When I realize that the person I am judging is like me, having the same character flaws and dealing with temptation and sin, I can be much more merciful. What if I were the one who did what that person did? How would I want to be treated?
There isn’t a person among us if we took the place of another person in judgment who wouldn’t want grace and mercy instead of a heavy sentence brought down on our heads? And if that’s not how we want to be treated when we make mistakes or violate high standards, we shouldn’t do it to others.
The golden rule enters into our judgments. We don’t want to be the hypocrite. A hypocrite in the Bible is one who judges with two faces. He holds a high view of himself and a low view of others. The actors presented one emotion as they acted, wearing a mask in front of their face, but having a different emotion behind the mask.
We must resist the natural desire to have two faces as we judge. We must judge rightly, and we must give every consideration before we judge. I start by praying and asking the Spirit to help me understand all the complex issues involved before I offer any judgment.
Humility should enter into our judgments of others. We can presume we know everything that goes into a person’s actions. It’s wrong to arrogantly pass judgment. We must approach judgment thinking to ourselves, “I will do my best to understand the issues, but I’m not perfect and my judgment may be wrong.”
A humble attitude and an uncritical spirit give us the best ability to judge impartially. When we must judge a person or action, it gives us the best approach. So many factors go into being a good judge.
Most importantly, we represent Jesus, the final Judge when we must consider matters of judgment. When society puts us in the place of judgment, we must show the character of Christ in our judging.
What’s the process you use to judge others? Do you catch yourself judging without mercy, with a critical spirit, or without the character of Christ? Leave a comment and tell me how you avoid judging others with impunity.