As children of God and followers of Christ, our goal is to be more like the Father and his Son. We should desire to be transformed into the image of Christ (Rom. 8:29) and to be holy like God (1 Pet. 1:15). In Romans 2, Paul speaks of God as a judge with two important attributes that govern how he deals with humankind—he is both righteous and merciful. If we are to be more like God when we deal with people, it is important that we learn how to judge righteously and to be merciful.
We must aspire to have the ability to discern between right and wrong and to guide those who are not inline with God’s moral standard. However, we need to be careful when we do this, because when we judge others, we could condemn ourselves. After exposing the sins of the Gentiles in Romans 1, Paul accuses the Jews of practicing the same sins. He says in verse 1, “Therefore you are inexcusable, O man, whoever you are who judge, for in whatever you judge another you condemn yourself; for you who judge practice the same things” (Rom. 2:1 NKJV). The Jews condemned the Gentiles for practicing sin, yet they indulged in the same behavior. Sin is sin in God’s sight, and he does not excuse anyone’s transgressions based on any distinguishing factors, such as heritage. He simply “renders to each one according to his deeds” (Rom. 2:6; 1 Pet. 1:17). The Jews were just as guilty as the Gentiles, and therefore when they judged the Gentiles for their sinfulness, they condemned themselves in their hypocrisy.
Jesus taught on this principle in his sermon on the mount. He said, “judge not, that you be not judged” (Matt. 7:1). The measure that we use to judge someone will be the same measure that is used on us. If we judge others according to their sins while practicing the same, we are considered hypocrites. We must remove the sin from our lives before we attempt to correct the behavior of others (Matt. 7:2–5).
God does expect us to judge. He does not want us to become desensitized to sin to where we do not even notice it in our own lives. We should not call evil good, and good evil (Isa. 5:20). However, we must judge with righteous judgment (John 7:24). When the people sought to kill Jesus because he had healed a man on the Sabbath, he accused them of being hypocrites. They wanted to condemn him, but yet they had no problem circumcising on the Sabbath. They showed partiality in their judgment, and they considered the good work of Jesus Christ an evil thing (cf. Matt. 12:12). We must be careful not to oppose what is good and to support what is wrong.
23It is not good to show partiality in judgment. 24 He who says to the wicked, “You are righteous,” Him the people will curse; Nations will abhor him. 25 But those who rebuke the wicked will have delight, and a good blessing will come upon them (Prov. 24:23–24 NKJV).
When we judge others without recognizing our own faults, we excuse ourselves, and thus show partiality. The same is also true when, in the appropriate circumstances, we fail to point out wrong behavior. If we strive to be more like Christ, we must learn to discern between good and bad, know when to point out what is wrong, and be able to recognize our own errors.
The other trait seen in God is mercifulness. Although God is impartial in his judgment, he also delights in mercy and withholds punishment when we indeed deserve it (Micah 7:18). He is forbearing and longsuffering (Rom. 2:4). God gives us several chances to get things right. This attribute of God is what should lead us to be the same way; that is, because he has been merciful to us, we should be merciful to others (Matt. 18:33).
We read in Matthew 12 that when the disciples were walking with Jesus through the grain fields on the Sabbath, they became hungry and began to pluck the heads of grain to eat. The Pharisees saw this and questioned Jesus on why they were doing an unlawful thing on this holy day. Once again, Jesus’ response pointed to their hypocrisy, because knowing that David entered into the house of God to eat the showbread, which was unlawful, the Pharisees did not find fault in him. Nor did they find fault in the priests who offered sacrifices on the Sabbath.
What the disciples did was not unlawful; however, the Pharisees desired to twist the law in order to condemn them. Jesus therefore quoted Hosea 6:6: “I desire mercy and not sacrifice.” That is, holding fast to the law is worthless if one does not show mercy toward his fellow man. James says that mercy triumphs over judgment (Jas. 2:13). Although judging with righteous judgment is essential, God also requires us to love mercy (Hosea 6:7–8):
7 Will the Lord be pleased with thousands of rams, ten thousand rivers of oil? Shall I give my firstborn for my transgression, the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul? 8 He has shown you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justly, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God?
When we find ourselves in a situation in which we are required to correct a brother or teach a non-Christian, it is important that we examine ourselves first to see if we are in error. Furthermore, we need to remember that God is a forgiving God who shows mercy, and therefore we must also do the same.