How Often Are Our Opinions Actually Judgments?

Learning how little my opinions actually matter, as my hidden judgments are exposed.

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Sadly, if you ask nonbelievers what they think of Christians, many would characterize them as judgmental. Though this is not an accurate assessment of all Christians, I still wonder why there is such incongruence between the lifestyle Christians claim to live and the way the world views us? Is it possible that we are so conditioned to judging others that it flies under the radar of our discernment? Recent events in my life have challenged me to examine this more carefully, and while searching God’s heart on this issue, several questions surfaced:

  • Is it judgment if I think something but don’t actually say it?
  • Is it judgment if we are speaking the truth, simply calling things like they are (when the behavior is clearly inappropriate or sinful)?
  • As Christians, do we really have a right to our own opinions? Does it matter what I think, or only what God thinks?
  • How can I be authentic and vent my frustrations with others in a healthy way, without passing judgment in the process?
  • Is there a right time to judge others, or should we always leave this up to God? And if so, how can we know our perspective is in alignment with God’s heart?

I first became aware of hidden judgment while wrestling through a conflict with a friend. I shared the details of this incident with my husband and a few trustworthy friends, and they all sympathized with my pain. They validated my feelings and agreed this person had mistreated me. But even if I had been wronged, I wanted to navigate through the conflict with love and grace. While praying about the situation, I asked God to show me if I was at fault in any way. A few hours later, one of my friends asked me if I had passed judgment on this individual for what she did to me. Her question initially confused me, because even she agreed that what this person did was not okay . . . but my friend went on to say, “There is a difference between rightly discerning that someone is wrong, and passing judgment on that person for their wrong behavior.

Until that moment, I could not see my fault, but suddenly I realized this was exactly what I had done. Even though I had already made a conscious decision to forgive her and not take offense, I had judged her for what she did to me. I had every right to be upset about the situation, but I did not have the right to judge her - only God knew her heart and the details of her life that contributed to her choices (and there is always more to the story than we know or understand).

Not long after this situation, I found myself irritated at a family member. I know I should not try to impose my opinions on others, but sometimes I have to remind myself that I am not the Holy Spirit, and any attempt to control other people’s decisions would be fruitless. Yet, I was still aggravated by this person’s choices. Suddenly, I realized this was similar to the other situation - I had done more than just disagree with this individual, I had passed judgment on this person. Only after repenting of this was I free to fully love them as they were.  The wonderful thing is - after purging my heart of judgment, this person no lost any power to “trigger” me to frustration.

Scripture reminds us that mercy triumphs over judgment (James 2:13), but God wants more than just our acts of mercy, He wants our hearts. In Micah 6:8, it says God has called us to do justice and love mercy. He didn’t call us to do mercy and love justice. There is a big difference. I was beginning to learn what this really meant.

In his book “Unoffendable,” Brant Hansen states that people should stop trying to parent the whole world. He says,

It’s not our job to ‘set people straight’ or ‘take a stand.’ Quit offering advice when exactly zero people asked for it. Quit being shocked when people don’t share your morality . . . Quit thinking you need to ‘discern’ what others’ motives are . . . It’s all so exhausting. There’s no such thing as righteous anger. To think that our anger is righteous is to assume that our beliefs and motives are always right, and the other person’s are wrong. If this is, in fact, what we’re supposed to do – experience ‘righteous anger’ whenever we’re made aware of one of God’s commands being broken – we’ll be precisely what the world doesn’t need and largely believes we already are: a bunch of uptight, seething hypocrites.

I started to pay attention to my regular thoughts and opinions . . . and I realized I was unknowingly passing judgment on people every day as I interacted with them! I had thoughts like, “Those clothes are too tight on her,” or “They can’t afford an expensive vacation like that,” or “Why don’t they prioritize their time better?” Other times, I realized that after disagreeing with someone on an issue, I was left with a feeling of disdain towards that individual (which translated into judgment against them). Instead of giving people the benefit of the doubt, we can often focus on the worst in people. Sadly, our culture says it is acceptable to rate others by their appearance, take inventory of their life based on our own moral code, and form opinions solely based on what other people say.

In reality, maybe their clothes were too tight (or maybe it was simply my perception of style and modesty that shaped that thought, and who is to say I am right about that?) Maybe that family really went into debt to go on that vacation, but maybe it was a gift, or maybe they saved a long time so they could go – either way, when did their choices become my business?

Whether spoken or not, the judgment in my heart (from opinions, impressions, isolated interactions, etc) led to labeling. I noticed that when I disagreed with someone, my tendency was to put distance between me and that person, and then view everything that person said in the future through a stricter lens (instead of offering them grace).

I started to realize that my thoughts were not just my opinions; they were often soulish judgments that coddled feelings of superiority. There may have been times that my thoughts were factually correct (based on the limited information that I had), but that did not mean they were always acceptable - I am learning that truth is not solely based on the accuracy of a thought or belief, but also on the right heart attitude that accompanies it.

Of course it is okay for us to have our preferences, or feel strongly about certain beliefs - it is even GOOD for us to be passionate about certain things and take a stand for them. We are not supposed to be naïve, walking blindly through this world accepting everything as good (and there is a time to confront people and situations when we have been wronged). However, there is a big difference between discernment and judgment – and it is key that we understand this. We are called to be wise and remain spiritually alert . . . but we are called to rightly discern sin without passing judgment on that person for their sin.

I did a little research and learned that there are three different Greek words in the Bible that mean “discern:” dokimazo, anakrino, and diakrino. These words all have a similar meaning, “to test, examine, evaluate, search out, or weigh thoroughly.” There are places in the Bible where these words are translated into English as “judge,” but they refer to using discernment. However, krino is the only Greek word that means “to pass judgment on or sentence,” or to “mentally or judicially condemn.”

Unlike discernment, judgment condemns a person, and is often connected with a desire to see them “get what they deserve.” There was a time when the disciples were not well received, so they wanted to call down fire from heaven on the people in this Samaritan village . . . but Jesus rebuked them for this (Luke 9:54-55). When I first read that story, I thought the disciples were awful . . . but then I realized how I often have the same emotional response towards those who reject or hurt me. I secretly wish for them to fail or experience the wrath of God – “that will teach them,” I think. But I can’t even count the times I was SO certain I was right about someone, and then later realized there was more to the story.

In his book, "The Three Battlegrounds," Francis Frangipane writes, “If we do not move in divine forgiveness, we will walk in much deception. We will presume we have discernment when, in truth, we are seeing through the veil of a 'critical spirit.' We must know our weaknesses, for if we are blind to our sins, what we assume we discern in men will merely be the reflection of ourselves. Indeed, if we do not move in love, we will actually become a menace to the body of Christ.” 

Jesus did not even come to judge (krino) the world, “but to save it” (John 3:17, John 12:46-48). So if I want to see God’s redemption in a situation, and to align myself with the heart of Christ, my concerns should move me toward prayer, not “krino” judgment. This response can take time to cultivate in our lives, but as we spend time in His presence, and surrender ourselves to His lead, we will grow in our “right” discernment . . . and find that when God speaks, it is always a merging of truth with love. James 3:17 describes what this should look like, “But the wisdom the comes from heaven is first of all pure; then peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere.”

David asked God to search and examine his heart, and see if there was any offensive way in him (Psalm 139:23-24). He knew that he could not see clearly on his own, so he even repented of his unknown sin (Psalm 19:12-13). Similar to David’s perspective, Paul acknowledged that though his conscious was clear, that didn’t prove him right (1 Corinthians 4:4). Paul knew he could only be responsible for that which God had revealed to him, and this meant he could still get things wrong.

What if like Paul, we acknowledged that we are doing our best to get it right, but that we all have blind spots? What if we sought to grow in meekness and humility, not just in wisdom and stature? Since in our humanity, we can only “see in part” (1 Corinthians 13:9-12), none of us will ever get it all right. Only when we come to God with a teachable spirit, and without bias or agenda, will we be able to grow in Godly wisdom and revelation.

I once heard Michele Perry teach about those searching for God’s will – she said, “You can’t get it wrong; you are going to get it wrong, but you can’t get it wrong.” Initially I had no idea what she meant by that statement, but then she said, “It’s easier for God to steer a moving ship.” It took a minute, but I got what she was saying; we will probably get some of the details wrong in our journey forward, but that is okay. Our job is to step out and start moving, and as long as we are seeking God to the best of our ability, He will ultimately guide us in our journey and help us arrive at our destination. I’m wondering if this is similar to our quest for truth and our ability to discern things “rightly.” What if the first step to discerning well is a heart that recognizes its dependence on God? David and Paul pursued God’s heart while weighing things with His Word, but in the end, they knew they were not infallible. What if God cares more about our heart than He does the mistakes we make as we are trying to find Him?

We know that Paul had a sharp disagreement with Barnabas over whether to bring John Mark on their next missionary journey, and the two ended up parting ways (Acts 15:39-40). Barnabas ended up taking Mark on a separate mission, while Paul chose Silas as his companion. So who discerned rightly? In the sovereignty of God, their ministry was doubled because of this disagreement, so is it possible that they were both right? When a believer does their best to discern and follow God’s will, He can orchestrate all the details (even the mistakes) for good. It’s His nature to do so.

What I’ve learned . . .

1 – If I feel restless inside, or am still “triggered” by someone, even after I have chosen to forgive them, I am likely carrying around a wound, possibly connected to a judgment I have made against them.  Repentance is the road to freedom.

2 – Choosing not to judge is not a one-time event; it is a daily dying to self, which takes a continual surrender of thoughts and opinions to the Lord to “test and examine.” Because I realize my ability to err without knowing, I am praying more like David these days, asking God to search my heart and see if there is any offensive way in me . . . and lead me in His ways.

3 – God cares more about the condition of my heart than my behavior. We can speak truth in the wrong spirit, or without authentically agreeing with it, so correct words without a correct heart are not truth. He wants to give me a new heart (Ezekiel 36:26), and mold my thoughts and desires in alignment with His, not just my words and actions.

4 – There are certain things I can do to safeguard myself from judgment: honestly examine my own life before I even consider evaluating someone else’s (Matthew 7:3-5), thoroughly check the accuracy of the facts before reaching a conclusion, and keep things private when possible (so I don’t publicly expose or humiliate others).

5 – More often than not, I should keep my opinions to myself (Proverbs 17:28, 10:19). I should weigh my thoughts and feelings carefully with the Lord before I share them with others. Our words carry power to influence the people around us, so we should choose them wisely. But God cares also about what we think - a negative mindset built on falsehoods will cripple us. We empower what we believe, so if we can’t win the battle in our minds, we will struggle to win any other battles. Where the mind goes, the heart follows . . . so Scripture directs us to be transformed by the renewing of our mind (Romans 12:2). Only then will we be able to “test and approve what God’s will is – His good, pleasing and perfect will.” Instead of sanctioning our judgments, we should be empowering the thoughts that lead to life, liberty, and love.

6 - We don’t “overcome” through stuffing or ignoring our emotions. At times, venting our feelings and frustrations to a trustworthy person can be healthy. We need a “safe” spouse or friend with whom we can be totally honest, and who will listen lovingly without breaking our confidence, or joining our anger with plans of revenge. God already knows our hearts anyway, and He is not intimidated by our anger, doubt, pain, or offense. Many of the Psalms are David’s heartfelt laments to God, a good example of how we can come honestly before God.

7 – I should leave the “krino” judgment to God; however, I should regularly use the “anakrino, diakrino, and dokimazo” judgment (which actually means using discernment). We are not always going to get it right, but if we position ourselves before God in a place of humility, with a teachable and pure heart (to the best of our ability), He will help remove any barriers that are obstructing truth and love in our lives.

Ultimately, people don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care. Unlike much religious culture today, the outcasts in society never felt judged by Jesus – instead they were drawn to Him. It was His kindness that led people to repentance (Romans 2:4), and somehow He did this without compromising truth. It’s only when Christians love people where they are, apart from any judgment, that our lives will truly represent the heart of Christ, and we will attract to the world again, as we were always meant to do.

Hansen offers us a challenge when he writes, “Love people where they are, and love them boldly. And if you really want to go crazy, like them too.” 

Carey McNamara

I am a wife to Bob, a mom to Connor, and a physician assistant who is passionate about beating heart disease. As a devoted lover of Jesus, I am on an unending quest for more truth, love, and wholeness through Him. I have come to a place in my life where I realize God is not afraid of my questions, and I have learned the joy of pursuing Him until I discover His heart. As a result, I created a blog to encourage others in their own journey towards Life, Liberty, and Love in Christ. I am passionate about doing life authentically in community, and am thrilled to share a bit of that with you here.

*Please comment respectfully. I welcome honesty as you share your thoughts and feelings. However, since many of these subjects are controversial, I ask that you take care to honor others in the process. I reserve the right to delete any inappropriate comments.