Discernment vs. Judgement

In an effort to not be judgmental, I believe that we’ve lost discernment – and while discernment may look like judgment, it is actually entirely different.

“Who are we to judge?”

This is the phrase that is most often said when the average Christian explains why they decided not to confront a friend about their sin. I have recently come to the belief that this is blatant misunderstanding about what it means for a Christian to recognize sin.

Why are we afraid of appearing judgmental? Mainly because that’s the stereotype that Christians have been handed and unfortunately, this isn’t unfounded at all. Christians who fall on the other end of this spectrum are equally guilty of muddying the waters of judgement and discernment.

Scripturally speaking…

“Do not judge, or you too will be judged.”
Matthew 7:1

I’m going to take a stab at an interpretation of this scripture: we’re not supposed to judge. I guess that’s pretty clear. I think the first mistake about this is a misunderstanding about what it means to judge. In the modern context of the word ‘judge’ we get it half right. We understand that saying ‘that is morally wrong’ is judging. But we neglect the other side of that same coin, that saying “that is morally right” is also judging. If you follow Christ you no longer have the right to decide what is right and what is wrong. You’ve given that up – that is up to God and God alone. You never really had the ability anyway and by following Christ you have given up your imagined right to do it, placing it on the cross.

This was a mind blowing revelation to me – the idea that “Judge Not” applies to either direction. The idea that when a person says “that’s ok” they’re being equally judgmental as the person who condemns. Looking now, I know I’ve been guilty of both. I brought this before a friend of mine and he asked me what I though about those times where a clear judgement call needs to be made – that is where discernment enters in. Take a look at this scripture, it may seem to conflict with the one mentioned earlier, but it actually has a very different meaning:

Those who are spiritual can evaluate all things, but they themselves cannot be evaluated by others. 1 Corinthians 2:15 NLT (emphasis added)

Krino vs Anakrino

In Scripture there are two common words that are translated as “judge” ἀνακρίνω “anakrinō” and κρίνω “krinō” – the greek prefix “ana” means upon or against, so krino happens first, followed by anakrino. Krino means judgment as to condemn, to rule, to damn, to determine the law, to decree. This is the word used in the phrase “Do not judge, or you too will be judged.” Matthew 7:1. Anakrino means to examine, to reason, to search, to ask questions or to discern. This word is used in the passage “…for they received the message with great eagerness and examined the Scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true.” Acts 17:11.

What we now know as “judgement” is krino. What we now call “discernment” is anakrino. Judgement is a function of God; he makes the law, he makes decrees and he decides what is right and wrong. Discernment is a function of His followers; it’s a gift of the Holy Spirit. Discernment is different from Judgement in that it recognizes instruction from an external source and puts it into practice.

When a cop pulls you over for speeding, do you say “don’t you dare judge me!” No, because you know that there are laws that he’s abiding by – he’s not making the judgement on what speed is dangerous – that was already done – he was merely doing his work as an officer of the peace; following the authority that has been placed over him.

The man without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him, and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually discerned. Corinthians 2:14 NIV (emphasis added)

What many people today call judgement is actually discernment, someone expressing what the Holy Spirit is speaking to them about what is right and wrong. God has already judged – now it is for us to discern what that judgement is and that only comes through the Holy Spirit. Just as judgement is always wrong for us to do, discernment is never wrong. Though, it can be carried out incorrectly; we are told that we must be gentle in our use of discernment.

Brothers and sisters, if someone is caught in a sin, you who live by the Spirit should restore that person gently. But watch yourselves, or you also may be tempted. Gal 6:1

This is often when people call christians judgmental. Instead of being gentle, they are ungracious, condescending and ultimately un-Christ-like. Gentleness is a key to the proper use of the gift that is discernment.

To Conclude

We’re not supposed to judge; we’re not supposed to make a call on what is wrong OR right based on our own internal moral code. We’re supposed to discern, with the guidance of the Spirit, what God has already judged. To do otherwise is to say you believe you’re smarter than the creator of the universe. So give up your gavel to God and leave the judging up to Him, but don’t neglect discernment; those with the spirit can discern all things.

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Posted on November 1, 2011 in Bible Study, Spirituality, word study

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About the Author

William H. Adams does creative work for a church. He enjoys sandwiches, jet skis, legos, ultimate frisbee, and living life to the fullest. Will is most passionate about using creative media to tell the story of what God is doing in the lives of those who love Christ. He believes the purpose of his life to glorify God and encourage others.

Responses (6)

  1. ron
    September 21, 2012 at 4:31 am · Reply

    I think that was the best explanation of “judge not, lest ye be judged,” that I’ve ever heard or read.

  2. Linda Allen
    May 17, 2013 at 2:21 pm · Reply

    I have struggled with the biblical definition of judgement and discernment for decades. The author explains the right to judge is isolated to the rule maker Himself and we are like the police officers enforcing the rules. The officer uses discernment to determine if the rule has been broken or violated. He is not judging but enforcing the rules through the discernment that he has learned. With God in our lives, He brings the Holy Spirit into us to guide using judgement. If you try to judge others for ourselves, we essentially are telling God we’re as powerful as He. In my own life, I am guilty of this. I truly did not know the difference between knowing the rules of God and following the rules of God.

  3. Leke
    April 4, 2014 at 8:30 am · Reply

    Keep on with the good work in the vinyard and may the Almithy God fulfill your heart’s desire. SHALOM!

  4. […] where there are both truths and inconsistencies in the stories you’re consuming. You should do so with discernment*, looking for areas where it is true and areas where it isn’t true, and also understanding […]

  5. Johnny
    September 28, 2015 at 11:22 am · Reply

    Awesome…thanks! Been studying this and your article helps. It is getting harder and harder to discern the right way to go when the court of public opinion and facebook “mob rule” sway away from humble, intelligent conversation. There are current examples of people who have discerned to do or not do something in the news everyday according to thier conscience and are horribly villified and abused for it.

  6. Name (required)Thomas
    November 20, 2017 at 7:34 am · Reply

    William,
    thank you for your article.
    I think you are right that there is a whole generation of Christians that are shying away from discernment in order not to judge.
    So, your discernment is right.
    However, form a greek standpoint, anakrino and krino overlap, and it is by far oversimplified to say that anakrino is judging, and krino discernment. As there are passages that use them differently.

    Blessings,

    Thomas

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