When the scriptures admonish the believer to make righteous judgments it is not unlikely that he feels a bit at loss. “Really? Make righteous judgments? How on earth do I do that?” However, the Spirit hasn’t left us without clues. The perhaps most potent example of someone making righteous judgments is Jesus in His encounters with the Pharisees and the Scribes. He said to them: “You brood of vipers. How can you speak good when you are evil?” And: “You are like unmarked graves, and people walk over them without knowing it.” Those are harsh words.
In effect, to make righteous judgments is to see beyond the obvious, that is, the outer and penetrate to the core of the person. As persons the Pharisees and the Scribes are just as much loved by God as the rest of mankind. What is vital to understand is that God uses those two groups as a powerful example to teach us not to judge in accordance with what we see with our natural eyes. The Pharisees’ and the Scribes’ contemporaries viewed them as pious and god-fearing people whose relationship to God far superseded their own. Jesus saw it otherwise. He saw which spirit that reigned in them. If the source is contaminated everything the fountain yields is contaminated.
The converse is equally true. Thus, we cannot judge a person solely on performance and countenance. In those days when Samuel was commissioned by God to find Saul’s successor God said about Himself: “The LORD does not look at the things man looks at. Man looks at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart.” The heart is our core. The heart is our source. It is in our heart we find what motivates and guides us. In other words, which spirit dwells in our hearts? David wasn’t picked as the new king because he was a person who all by himself had cultivated a nice and well-behaved heart. Not at all! God recognized and found His own heart in David.
David is more than a historical person. He is a type of the new creation whose life is forever transformed because God has found a dwelling place in him. “Keep thy heart with all diligence; for out of it are the issues of life”, does not mean that we are to fearfully watch over our heart, because if not we might in the next instance be wading in sins. The whole issue revolves around who owns our heart. Whose ‘slave’ are we? David was God’s ‘slave’. Out of his heart flowed the springs of life. Out of the Pharisees’ and Scribes’ heart flowed the springs of death, as it were.
When we encounter a self-righteous Christian are we then able to make righteous judgments? Will we use those same words about our brother as Jesus did when He faced the Pharisees who were of a different spirit? Haven’t we all been self-righteous? It is an attitude that follows spontaneously from partaking from the wrong tree. We partake from it in an outer way because that union with the wrong tree is forever dissolved in Christ. However, isn’t this one of the things the Spirit takes us through in order to convince us that we are utterly dead?
The problem really boils down to faith. Those who believe dare to take the next step and move beyond the law and therefore also self-righteousness. But, there are some about who we have to ask; have they really moved an inch? We find people who tell us that we are dead to the law and that we are under grace now, but who reek from self-righteousness. May God take them to the end of themselves.
Faith is the mean we are given which can take us to the next level, as it were. Those who dare not believe are stuck in self-righteousness trying to erect their own righteousness. Despite this, they are still God’s children who operate in genuine love even though Christ is not formed in them. They very much resemble the brother who stayed with his Father in the parable of the prodigal son. It was Paul who said that everything that is not of faith is sin. What did he mean by that? Does it mean that every time we do not have faith we are sinning? Did the Father ever accuse the self-righteous son of being in sin? No, He didn’t. He even embraced that son in love too. Why do we then accuse those who still are caught in self-effort as being in sin? Why do we say about them that their attempts at keeping the law is sin? Did Paul say about himself when he wrestled with the law in Romans 7 that he was sinning? No, he didn’t!
We also know the harsh words from Paul’s lips to the Galatians when they returned to self-effort and performance. Did Paul ever accuse them of being in sin? No, he didn’t! What does Paul mean when he states that everything which is not of faith is sin? Is he talking about the faith that saves? Or is he saying that faith does not see sin? Perhaps both. Doesn’t all this mean that we are to trust the Spirit from situation to situation and that every situation is unique and thus every situation requires a unique approach, and that only by the Spirit’s wisdom are we able to pronounce and make righteous judgments?
“And the servant of the Lord must not strive; but be gentle unto all men, apt to teach, patient, in meekness instructing those that oppose themselves; if God peradventure will give them repentance to the acknowledging of the truth;and that they may recover themselves out of the snare of the devil, who are taken captive by him at his will.” (2 Tim 2:24-26)