Wednesday, August 31, 2011


During high school, I was one of those annoying teens driving down the road making everyone listen to, not only, my music, but the rattle of my car from the 15” sub woofer I had in the trunk. Knowing that I was a white, middle-class kid growing up in western South Dakota, you may find that hard to believe. What probably made it more annoying to innocent bystanders at red lights and stop signs was that I used to be big into gangsta’ rap (I know, I was both original and cool). And to be totally honest and bare my soul to you, I still occasionally need my fix. Among my favorite was Tupac Shakur (you less hip folks probably know him as 2Pac).

'Only God Can Judge Me' is one of his more popular songs. Unless you are a few cards short of a deck, you would probably guess the one line he continually repeats is: 'only God can judge me.' Little did I know that the church considered 2Pac a prophet, or at least a great teacher. If you hang out with one of Jesus' followers today, you will probably hear them recite the same line--'only God can judge me.' More than likely, this is the only instance in which Christians agree with the philosophy of 2Pac. But it is not only Christians that believe 'only God can judge me.' Even secular society (including atheists, which just baffles me) can be heard saying the same thing.

Here is yet another case in which the church, and the rest of the world, is sadly mistaken. Now, before you begin casting stones and labeling me a heretic, hear me out. Yes, God is the only one capable of judgment. You would be entirely accurate to point out that Jesus said "let he who is without sin cast the first stone." One day, we will all be accountable to God (Romans 14:12). But I think we are missing something here. While there may be a lot of truth to 2Pac's statement, the Bible, in some instances, seems to have a contrary teaching. Perhaps we can simply equate it to a misunderstanding of terminology; but the fact remains there are clear Biblical teachings showing we are responsible--to an extent--for the actions of one another.

Paul gives us some guidelines on calling out a brother caught in sin (Galatians 6:1-2). We can find similar guidelines to confronting another in Matthew 18:15-17. Paul also informs us we are to use our spiritual gifts to help cultivate spiritual growth in each other (1 Corinthians 12). We are also told to "spur on one another toward love and good deeds" (Hebrews 10:24). At least one occasion Jesus himself uttered the words “stop making false judgments and start judging correctly” (John 7:24). In Thessalonians 5, we are advised to "encourage one another and build each other up. If you care to look up more Scripture, be my guest and turn to Hebrews 3:12-13 or James 5:16 just to name a few.

Please understand, in no way am I saying we are given free reign to cast judgment upon one another and the world. That is not what these passages are talking about and that isn't even close to what Jesus was referring to. However, I do think these (and other) passages make a very bold and important statement about how we are to live and our responsibility to one another. And this is a message we all need to hear. The message is this: Yes, only God can judge me, but that doesn't let me off the the hook from being accountable to others for my actions (or inaction).

We will begin by tackling the more difficult discussion on this idea of judging. In the matter of Christians judging other Christians, we often miss the mark. On one hand, there are those who cast judgment on their fellow followers of Christ for anything they do that doesn't align with Scripture. While this takes some gumption to do, it can be some dangerous territory to navigate. But, in just as dangerous territory are those who, on the other hand, agree with 2Pac and shun any discussion on how they ought to live, having no regard for another Christian calling them out. I believe both of these is an incorrect interpretation of Scripture and an incorrect assessment of our responsibility to one another as Christians. It seems to me, the answer lies somewhere in the middle. While we are not called to judge one another, I do believe it is our responsibility to do something that looks an awful lot like judgment to some. That something is called accountability.

At this point, I need to throw some warning flags out when it comes to accountability. The first is that, for accountability to work, a relationship is required. True accountability cannot exist outside the confines of a relationship. There must be a two way avenue of communication and trust built; otherwise any attempt at accountability will always fall flat on it's face. The next warning is that, believe it or not, in the Christian life, there are some gray areas. Scripture doesn't clearly lay out each and every behavior that is appropriate or inappropriate (while it clearly lays out some, it is in no way exhaustive). What is acceptable behavior for you may not be acceptable behavior for me--and vice versa--for several reasons. This is why it is important that we have some convictions in place; but more importantly, we need to be sure our convictions are Biblically based. Furthermore, we need to understand that we cannot place our convictions on everyone else. While you are probably hoping I will lay some of these gray areas out for you, I am going to plead the fifth. The reason being, I do not want to make a list that fuels one persons legalism or adds to another's licentiousness. I don't know where you are at in your walk of faith, so I am going to simply refrain.

When laying a foundation for accountability and establishing some convictions, Andy Stanley gives us a great question to ask ourselves: "In light of my past experiences, my present circumstances, and my future hopes and dreams, what is the wise thing to do?" I may have a past that doesn't allow me to participate in certain behaviors that Scripture does not condemn. For example, if my past involves addiction, drinking (not condemned by the Bible) would not be a wise thing for me to do. If my present circumstances involve some sort of purity battle, dating (perfectly legitimate way to interact with the opposite sex) may not be a wise thing for me to do. Perhaps my future hopes and dreams hinge on being debt free; buying that brand new vehicle would not be a wise thing for me to do. As I hope you see, there is nothing wrong with any of these things in and of themselves--until they are put under scrutiny and we ask ourselves, "what is the wise thing to do?"

Now, let's address our (Christianity) judgement of the secular world. One thing is for certain, as disciples of Jesus, we cannot hold everyone to our standard of living. If people don’t claim to know or live in the truth--of Christianity--why would we expect them to follow and obey it? This would be similar to a vegetarian trying to convince me, am omnivore, that eating meat is bad. Even if it's logical and you have sound scientific support that eating meat is bad for me, I'm not going to relegate meat from my diet. I enjoy charred cow off the grill and am more than willing to take the risk that it could shorten my lifespan. No amount of dialogue will make me change my mind. The same is true with faith issues. No matter how much we try to convince people this way of life is the fullest, they won't buy into it by simply hearing us make those statements. For this reason, trying to hold those with varying beliefs accountable to our beliefs will never work. If they do not claim Jesus as Lord, what makes us think they would willingly subject themselves to his teachings? (Another warning: It is absolutely essential that we take a stand for our faith and convictions. It is more than acceptable that we voice our beliefs. However, we need to be careful how we do so. Personally, I don't think standing outside an abortion clinic with signs picturing the process is either acceptable or Christ centered).

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