Judgment and Liberty

This past week Rodney and Ken started an excellent discussion on the church's web page on issues of liberty, judgment, legalism, the Regulative Principle and other related concepts. And I thought it was a nice segue into today's sermon, which is titled, "Judgment and Liberty." It is so easy for us to slip into the role of being God on the issues of law and time. Next week we will look at the issue of time in verses 13-17, but today I want to address the issue of judgment and liberty.

You might think that there is nothing to preach on in this passage. It's obvious: "James wants us to be nice, He doesn't want us to hurt anybody's feelings. We're not supposed to disagree with anybody. We can't call anything sin." That's the conclusions that some people come to.

The obvious problem with that viewpoint is that it makes James a hypocrite. What's he been doing for the last three chapters! James has engaged in a lot of disagreement with people in this congregation. He has hurt some feelings. He has called things sin. He has come down on people's behavior. He has called people to repent. What does he mean that we can't judge!?

What did Jesus mean when He said, Judge not lest you be judged? Did He mean that we couldn't obey the rest of that chapter when he told us just a couple of verses later, that we need to see clearly to remove the speck from your brother's eye"? or when He said in the next verse, Do not give what is holy to dogs; nor cast your pearls before swine… It takes some kind of judgment to make those distinctions. In fact, isn't it rather judgmental for Jesus to even be calling some people swine? What gives? What's going on here? What are James and Jesus saying?

Was John the Baptist in sin when he pointed out all the sins of Herod in Luke 3? What are we to do with people from the Metropolitan Community Church here in town who are going to seek marriage licenses for lesbians this coming Thursday? (And by the way, if any of you want to join me down there in bringing a testimony for the state to hold firm to righteousness, please join me and some other pastors. These are supposed evangelical Christians who think that God has ordained homosexuality as a virtue and that it is a sin for a homo to try to be a hetero. And they appeal to James, who says, "do not speak evil of one another, brethren." Can we no longer call homosexuality a sin? Is that what it means? I think you see the problem.

Let me read to you a bit from a web page put up by that denomination. It waxes eloquent on why we can't judge homosexuals. Here's what they say was the real problem in Sodom and Gomorrah. "It wasn't homosexuality," they claim. The paper says, "The purpose of the story is to show that misunderstood, strange, or feared minorities in any community are in danger from violence by the majority when that majority is ignorant, ungodly, selfish and afraid. The real message of Sodom is backwards from the claims of homophobic preachers and teachers. The Gay and Lesbian minority in our society today is more like the guests in Lot's house who were protected behind closed doors ("in the closet") than like the frightened mindless mob that wanted to expose, humiliate and destroy people that they did not "know" and control.

Set the record straight! Genesis 19 is about the fear (like homophobia) and anger of a mob (like many misguided religious fanatics) directed against a small group of isolated strangers (like Gays and Lesbians today) in their midst."

Isn't it amazing how Scripture can be turned on it's head? They say that a Scripture that condemns homosexuals is actually condemning so-called homophobes. Somehow that version of "Do not judge" does not seem Biblical. And yet, we will see that James does not want us to judge. Verse 12 says, Who are you to judge another? Verse 11 says, He who speaks evil of a brother and judges his brother, speaks evil of the law and judges the law. No worse thing could have been said than that you are a judger of the law. And yet James makes clear that you engage in that blasphemy if you judge one another.

What in the world is he saying? I hope by the end of today's sermon you will see that getting this straight is the foundation of both Law and Liberty. This is a profound, yet simple doctrine. If you can wrap your head around this paragraph, you will be able to avoid both legalism and antinomianism. You will be able to confront sin when sin needs to be confronted, and yet you will steadfastly refuse to impose your opinions if they are merely opinions. You won't call things sin that aren't sin. This passage will give you the moral backbone to promote both law and liberty. And isn't that what James has already called the law? He called it the perfect law of liberty. And this paragraph has a pretty simple lesson. There are only three things that you need to know.

Judgment is God's Prerogative

First, judgment is God's prerogative. Now listen to what I mean by that. James is not saying that people do not deserve judgment. Nor is he saying that no one will judge them. Nor is he saying that believers cannot bring God's judgment. He is saying that they cannot bring their own judgment, and to try to do so is to usurp the role of God. God alone has the right to give law. God alone has the right to save or destroy. Verse 12 is absolute. There is one Lawgiver, who is able to save and to destroy. Who are you to judge another?

Any judgment we bring that is not the judgment of the one Lawgiver - in other words, that is not found in Scripture is a violation of this principle. I think you can already see that this has profound ramifications for civil government or church government. Their laws must be based upon the Bible or they are judging rather than bringing God's judgments. In the Old Testament, when a judge made a decision based upon Biblical law it was said to be the judgment of the Lord (2 Chron. 19:8). They were trained in the Bible so that they could bring the judgment of the Lord. They weren't bringing their own judgments. They were proclaiming God's judgments. In Deuteronomy 1:16-17 God told the judges that had been selected to judge righteous judgment according to the Scripture, and He gave this reason: for the judgment is God's. If they judged righteously, it wasn't their judgment. It was God's judgment. Now we will get to that later. But here is how Jesus worded it: Judge righteous judgment (John 7:24). That's a command. The Pharisees had judged Him by human laws and human traditions. They had become Lawgiver and judge and on the basis of their own authority they said that Jesus was breaking the Sabbath. And Jesus blasted them for making up their own judgments rather than giving God's judgment. We are allowed to proclaim God's judgment, but we are not allowed to judge.

This is universal: it doesn't just apply to humans. Jude 8-10 says that Michael the archangel dared not bring a railing accusation or judgment against the devil, but said, "The Lord rebuke you." The Greek in James 4:12 has the word "one" as the very first word of the verse, and it is the Greek way of emphasizing that there is one and only one lawgiver and judge. And this is such an important point because we have civil magistrates who try to bind people's consciences with man's laws. We have pastors who legalistically try to bind people's consciences with man's laws. And as the DCC forum discussion made clear, it is easy for any of us to fall into this problem of judging people based on our opinions rather than the clear testimony of the Bible. So that is the first principle: Judgment is God's prerogative, and for our judgments to have any validity, they must simply be proclamations of God's judgments, or the application of Scripture.

God Uses His Law to Judge

The second principle is that God uses His law to judge. In verse 11 these bad judgments were pitted against the law. So it's not just any judgment - he is talking about unfaithful judgments that the one Lawgiver has not given. In verse 12, God's right to judge is pitted against our right to judge. And what makes the difference between God's right to judge and our right to judge is the fact that God is the Lawgiver; the only Lawgiver. The clear implication is that the source of true judgment must be the source of true law. Without God's Law you can't have true judgment. That's exactly what he is saying. To despise God's Law is to despise God's judgments. Outside of the law of this Lawgiver, none of us has a right to judge. Now "them's" radical words. And so when Jesus said, judge righteous judgment, He meant the same thing that Deuteronomy 1 meant when it commanded human judges to judge righteously between a man and his brother or the stranger who is with him. Judge according to the Law. You cannot judge righteous judgment if your judgment is not a proclamation of the bible. Now that too, is a revolutionary principle.

So to review, principle 1 is that judgment is God's prerogative. Principle 2 is that God uses His law to judge. There is no other standard of judgment.

We must not engage in independent judgment

To do so is to speak evil of the brethren

Principle 3 is that we must not engage in independent judgment. To do so is evil. It speaks evil against the brethren and judges them; it speaks evil against the law and judges the law, and in verse 11 he says, But if you judge the law, you are not a doer of the law but a judge. Any judge in the nation who legislates, judges independently and he places himself or herself above the law and ends up condemning the law in the process. We see that happening all the time. American lawyers and judges make up their own opinions rather than proclaiming what American law says. Let's examine each phrase.

Do not speak evil of one another, brethren. To speak evil is the Greek word katalaleo. Laleo means to speak, and kata means down or against. So it is to speak down to or to speak against someone. Well, every time we chew out somebody we are speaking down to or against that person, aren't we? When we tell a child that he has done wrong and we discipline him, we are speaking against him. You don't have to be a judge to engage in judgment.

Notice that this speaking against another person is called judging that person. He who speaks evil of [or literally, speaks against] a brother and judges his brother, speaks against the law and judges the law. How does that follow? Well, if we are calling something sinful that the Bible (the law of the Lawgiver) does not call sinful, we are disagreeing with the law, aren't we? And that means that we have not only set ourselves up as judge and jury, but also as the standard of the law by which to judge these people. Can you see why that is serious? We have become a substitute Judge and a substitute Lawgiver. When you think about it, that is heavy. We may think that that is a good thing we have done, but in reality we have replaced God with our independent thinking. And evangelicals do it all the time.

If we get all over the case of a person for drinking wine when Jesus drank wine, we are not only judging the person, but we are judging God's law. We are saying that what God allowed is bad. We are promoting a false repentance and a false revival that we looked at last week. We are saying that God's law is wrong. If we say it is sinful to vote for a given candidate, we better have pretty good Biblical evidence that this voter doesn't have that freedom, because if the Bible does't condemn the voting as sinful, then we have not only spoken an evil or a lawless word against this person, but we have judged him and judged the law of God in the process.

Every judgment we make presupposes a law that has been violated. Yet in verse 12 James says, There is one Lawgiver, who is able to save and to destroy. Who are you to judge another? Who are you to make up new laws, and to enforce those new laws? No independent judgments allowed.

To do so is to evil of the law and to judge it

Therefore, to do so is to play God rather than keeping the law

Application

Self-judgment and liberty of conscience

Well, let's apply these three principles to the eight areas listed in the outline. First of all, is it possible for us to violate these principles of judgment and liberty privately? And the answer is, "Yes." It is easy to condemn ourselves for very things that the Bible says are good, or to excuse ourselves for the things that the Bible says are bad. To excuse our sin and to say, "I'm not guilty," is an act of a judge as well. But let's deal with self-judgment or self-condemnation first. In 1 Corinthians 4:3 Paul not only refused to judge others, he said, I do not even judge myself. For I know nothing against myself, yet I am not justified by this; but He who judges me is the Lord. Wow! This is the basis for personal liberty. My soul is free from independent condemnation.

Let me read that verse again. Paul said, I do not even judge myself. For I know nothing against myself, yet I am not justified by this; but He who judges me is the Lord. What he was saying there is that we ought never to allow our own consciences to be bound by any law other than God's laws. Can you see how this is a recipe for true liberty? It doesn't matter what other people think about my actions: if God approves, that is all that counts. And the moment we succumb to the touch not, taste not, handle not laws and traditions of men, we have supplanted the one Lawgiver with another, and we have judged God's law. Larger catechism 105 makes the following a violation of the first commandment: "making men the lords of our faith and conscience." Westminster Confession of Faith chapter 20, paragraph 2 has a marvelous definition of this liberty of conscience. It says, "God alone is Lord of the conscience, and hath left it free from the doctrines and commandments of men, which are, in any thing, contrary to His Word; or beside it, if matters of faith, or worship. So that, to believe such doctrines, or to obey such commands, out of conscience, is to betray true liberty of conscience…" Don't judge and condemn yourself for things that the Bible says are perfectly okay.

Secondly, don't judge yourself innocent of sin when the Bible condemns it. Romans 2:15 says that such excusing of sin in oneself is just as much acting as judge, jury and law unto ourselves. When Paul said, I do not even judge myself, he went on to say that he submitted to God's judgments. The bottom line can be summed up in 1 Corinthians 4:6. When it comes to definitions of sin and righteousness, Paul said, that you may learn in us not to think beyond what is written. On an individual level, if it isn't in the bible, you have liberty. If it is condemned or commanded in the Bible, you have no liberty. You are bound to obedience. James calls the law the perfect law of liberty because God's law alone can protect us from having a conscience bound by every conceivable scruple on the one hand or bound by sin on the other. It's the only thing that will give us that balance. The law is like railroad tracks. Stick to its definitions and the train of your life has power, speed, liberty and joy. Jump off the tracks in either direction and you have bondage.

Judgment of others and liberty

But the liberty that you enjoy in your conscience, you need to extend to others. This is point B. Paul didn't just refuse to judge himself. He refused to independently judge anyone. Of course, that did not mean that he didn't confront sin. That's not judging. Confronting sin with the Bible is proclaiming God's judgments, isn't it? And so James is not a hypocrite after all. And James indicates that we must give liberty to others where the Scripture gives liberty and we must proclaim judgment of God's Word to people where Scripture does. But if we restrict ourselves to Scripture, we will never have to bind another person's conscience. When the sin word comes up, ask yourself, "Where is it sin? Where does the bible say it is sin?" If it doesn't, you have liberty. There is only one Lawgiver and only one law that can bind your conscience.

Judgment of children by parents

Does this apply to the raising of our children? Absolutely, yes it does. Every time we discipline our children, scold them or tell them to change their behavior, we are either proclaiming God's judgments or are making up our own. If we train our children to obey simply because we say so, we are making their consciences sensitive to our approval, but we are failing to form the conscience to find its approval in God. In the process we develop a social conscience (that is sensitive to men) rather than a moral conscience (that is sensitive to God's law). Especially when the rod of correction is applied, the child needs to understand what Scripture is being violated. And if you need a topical index, I have one that has a ready verse for most any problem that parents face. I have handed out many of these topical indexes. We need to model to them that we have no other authority than the authority of the Word. We must both yield to God's authority and wield His authority by the Word according to Deuteronomy 6. Then we judge righteous judgment when we bring rebukes or correction to our children.

Judgment of parents by children

But children, you can violate this passage by judging your parents by an unbiblical standard as well. If you children are hard on your parents for their decisions and speak evil against them, you need to ask yourself if you have set yourself up as the standard and judge or if you can really appeal to the Bible for what you are doing and for the way you are doing it. You may think your parents are judgmental and legalistic, and in the process be speaking against them in violation of James. James is not saying that you cannot disagree with your parents, but Scripture is clear that any subordinate who disagrees needs to do so not by way of rebuke, but by way of appeal. 1 Timothy 5:1 says, do not rebuke an elder, but appeal to him as to a father… Many children have no idea that they are judging God's laws and the one Lawgiver by judging their parents.

Judgment of the church by individuals

Can individuals act as judges of churches in ungodly ways? Again, the answer is "Yes." This church and its doctrines have been evil spoken of by people who have not been willing to study whether what we believe is biblical. We must be careful not to do the same thing to other churches. If they are out of accord with the Bible – fine, proclaim God's judgment. But we must be careful that we do not set up our opinions and preferences as things by which to judge others.

Judgment of individual liberty by the church

But just as frequently, churches have judged individual liberties. They have imposed certain practices without convincing people from the Bible that those practices are truly biblical. That is why in your worship notes I have sought to be ever so careful even on practices that I believe to be biblical – like headcoverings, not to take away the liberty of individuals to be convinced by and judged by the Lord. Paul told the Bereans that they were more noble minded than the Thesalonians because they searched the Scriptures daily to see if these things were so. The Thesalonians in contrast were too prejudiced to be willing to study what Paul said, and it was evident that they had a higher standard than God's law. Their higher standard was what they thought made sense. And so points E and F need to be held in balance. Churches need to respect the individual liberty of individuals, but individuals need to listen to the Biblical teaching of churches. If we reject a message of sin from the Bible, we have violated James just as much as if we adopt a message of legalism. According to verse 11 we must be doers of the law, and not use liberty as an excuse for sin. And so there is a balance there.

Judgment of the state by others

The last area is the state. We need to make sure that we do not glibly accuse the President, congressmen or Senators of sin when the Bible hasn't defined their vote or behavior as sin. In the heat of political debate, this is so easy to do. On the other hand, we must not be timid to proclaim God's judgment if the state is violating the Scriptures. Don't worry that others might disagree with you, or that you might be called a legalist. John the Baptist proclaimed all the sins of Herod according to Luke 3:19. The state is subject to God's law, and it does not have authority to go beyond it.

Judgment of others by the state

Finally, God has freed individual conscience from the judgment of the state. According to Deuteronomy 1, the state must judge according to the judgments of God. I have heard Christians say that if the state makes a law, you are bound to obey it. But that would make it impossible to call any law a wicked law. Yet Psalm 94:20 condemns wicked rulers… who frame evil by statute. Herbert Schlossberg, in commenting on that verse said, "…if there are wicked statutes, it must mean that there is a law above the statutes by which their wickedness is identified and judged. There is a transcendant principle, a higher law, that relativizes all statutes and all sovereigns." So we need to ask, "Are they proclaiming the law or are they judging the law?" Those are the only two options. They are either proclaiming God's law or they are judging God's law. And I am not willing to side with a law that is judging God's law. No way. This is why modern judges who legislate are particularly vile. They are judging the law. But in terms of James' principle, there is only one lawgiver, and unless the state judges in terms of that one law-word, the Bible, they have no authority. The theory that law has authority simply because it is passed is legal positivism, and it is not Biblical, nor is it Constitutional.

If the state were to turn around and say that we can preach anything we want, but we may not preach against homosexuality, we must obey God rather than man. In China, the state church is allowed to exist, but they were not allowed to preach on the book of Revelation. The state does not have the jurisdiction to say that. They are speaking evil against the church, judging the church, and in the process judging God's law and the Lawgiver Himself. If we have liberty of conscience in every other area, then we have liberty of conscience in this one too. There is not two law-givers or one and a half lawgivers. There is one lawgiver, and to deny that, is to deny God's authority. We need to be promoting Biblical law in the state. Nothing else will restore true liberty to our nation.

So let me end simply by reading this section that defines how we can have true liberty and true judgment. Do not speak evil of one another, brethren. He who speaks evil of a brother and judges his brother, speaks evil of the law and judges the law. But if you judge the law, you are not a doer of the law but a judge. There is one Lawgiver, who is able to save and to destroy. Who are you to judge another? May we not be judges, but proclaimers; not destroyers of liberty, but givers of liberty. Amen.


Judgment and Liberty is part of the James series published on February 8, 2004


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