No doubt you’ve seen them.
You’ve seen the cars with the “Christianese” catchphrase bumper stickers on them…or the “Jesus Fish” or the crosses….or even the bumper sticker for a local church plastered on a car…and the rare car that has all of the above plus some.
And it also just so happens that the driver of that car drove by you at like 100MPH, flipped you off, cussed you out, and cut you off. You may have even seen another driver of a car with these cultural tidbits plastered to the back of their cars pulling into strip clubs, abortion mills, and all sorts of other unsavory locations.
I know I’ve caught myself thinking it…but it goes something like this, “Man…driving like that” or “Going into that place with those stickers on their car…surely they can’t be a Christian”…almost as if I actually believe that those stickers on their car actually act as any kind of evidence toward the validity of one’s faith.
The last time I checked, when Jesus told us to look for the fruit in one’s life as evidence of who they really are…I don’t think “bumper stickers” or “cross necklaces” was on that list.
This is what Jesus said to do in John 7:24
Do not judge by appearances, but judge with right judgment.
Are we really judging with right judgment if we look to bumper stickers as evidence of a person’s faith in Jesus?
Boy…I sure hope not…but as I’ve already stated, I’ve done it myself. So, apparently we are, and I think we too often look to these material things as evidence of something spiritual when it is not. When we ought to be looking at the fruit of their lives, which Jesus tells us is the evidence of what a man truly is about (Luke 6:45).
So, what exactly is “right judgment”?
What does that look like?
How do we deploy it?
First, “right judgment” does not take subjective realities around someone and make them into objective truths about someone. In the case of the bumper sticker, the bumper sticker is a subjective reality around someone, but it is hardly an objective truth about that person. Yes…it is real that they have a Jesus Fish sticker on their car…but this does not make them objectively a Christian.
Second, “right judgment” does not take appearance into consideration, but does as God does and looks at the heart. You may be saying, “We cannot see into a man’s heart”. And to that, I would say that you would be partially right. No, we cannot see into a man’s heart the way God see’s into a man’s heart, but we can see it the way God gave us…according to Jesus in Luke 6:45:
The good person out of the good treasure of his heart produces good, and the evil person out of his evil treasure produces evil, for out of the abundance of the heart his mouth speaks.
In other words, we can judge rightly by looking to their actions and listening to their words. Do their actions and words reflect that of a believer? Perhaps it doesn’t…and this is why you shouldn’t stop there and we should be moved to dig a little further still.
Perhaps they are new believers and have not been properly brought into discipleship.
Perhaps they are not believers after all.
We won’t truly know if we simply leave it at judging their actions and words alone.
Finally, “right judgment” uses objective truth as its standard and not subjective experiences.
It is easy to take whatever experiences you may have had and paint wide swaths over groups of people that represent those experiences. They may have never had anything to do with what you experienced, and they may not even engage in the things you experienced…but because they look similar to what you experienced, you project on to them the outcome of your subjective experience.
Unfortunately, you would be walking in grave error by doing so.
I’ve personally learned this the hard way. I was raised as a Southern Baptist preacher’s kid and saw the ugliest side of the church. I have also served as a minister in a church in one capacity or another for the last 15+ years, and have seen things that most would consider unreal for churches to engage in.
However, I currently serve in a church and under a pastor that is nothing like what I experienced growing up or in my early years of ministry.
It would be extremely wrong of me to project onto my current church and pastor my past experiences as if they are one and the same. They are not. In fact, they are far from it. And yet, in my early months at my current church, I did exactly that. Maybe even the first couple of years.
I had to repent of this because I was not using right judgment. I was using subjective experiences to paint for me the realities of my current situation rather than using objective truth for opening my eyes to the reality of my current situation.
And I, not my current church, was in error because of that.
For the believer (and really for everyone, they just choose to ignore it), our standards are found in the pages of scripture. When actions, words, beliefs, etc. do not align with what God’s word says is true…then we can rightly judge that person to be in error, or that person to not be a true son or daughter of God.
It isn’t wrong to judge in this way…it is simply coming to terms with the reality of the situation and making a correct assessment of who they truly may be.
This shouldn’t come from a place of arrogance. Paul said that “such were some of you”…so who are we to judge with arrogance these things? We have no right. We judge from a place of compassion and understanding, knowing that we were once in the same place, but God ordained someone to walk into our lives and help usher us into the light of truth.
And this is why bumper stickers and cross necklaces simply cannot be a standard by which we judge one to be a believer. It takes something very complex and tries to boil it down to something material and simple.
So my friends, go and judge rightly. Do not find yourselves in the places I have been. Learn to judge rightly and find yourself free from the burdens of assumption. Embrace the truth in God’s word and allow it to be the lamp unto your feet and the light unto your path. You will be all the better for it…I promise.