In this episode, we explore the balance between mercy and judgment. We begin by jumping out of The Book of James to see what Paul has to say about judgment. We look more closely at the law of liberty and how it sets us free from judging other people. There are similarities between James and Paul’s letter to the Romans that help us discover the depths of truth behind these two significant characteristics of The Kingdom of God.
What Paul says about judgment
Here’s what Paul says about judgment. In fact, we ought to turn there. 1 Corinthians 4. Now listen to Paul. This is his own statement about this judgment stuff.
Paul and James—this is part of the point I’m making—they’re not at odds at all. They’re speaking to different audiences from different perspectives, but they’re saying the same thing.
Listen to Paul.
Let a man so consider us, as servants of Christ and stewards of the mysteries of God.
Moreover it is required in stewards that one be found faithful.
But with me it is a very small thing that I should be judged by you or by a human court.
I’m getting judged by all these people. I’m being rejected by all these people. I’m being criticized by all these people. You know how much weight I put on all that? Just a tiny bit. In fact, I don’t even judge myself.
Are you judging yourself?
There’s a way to get away from this. Listen.
For I know of nothing against myself—So he’s done self-examination, and he’s cleaned out every closet he knows how to clean out. Does that justify him?
Verse 4. For I know of nothing against myself, yet I am not justified by this;
There may still be a bunch of stuff I’m not even aware of.
Have you found in your life that there’s more garbage where the first garbage came from you became aware of? That you thought you cleaned out the attic but there’s a lot more there?
I have. It just keeps on coming. Why? Because we’re full of filthiness and overflow of evil. And we only displace it a little at a time as this word comes in and displaces it. This is how life works.
And what he says is, look, I don’t know of anything against myself,
but He who judges me is the Lord. Therefore judge nothing before the time, until the Lord comes, who will both bring to light the hidden things of darkness and reveal the counsels of the hearts. Then each one’s praise will come from God.
Look, I don’t know how I’m doing. I’m doing the best I can. I’ve examined myself as best I can. But you know what? I’ll find out. I’ll find out. And Jesus will tell me. And it will be awesome. Maybe I’ll have a bale of hay that gets burned up. But you know what? Then that bale of hay is gone, and I’m better, and I have those rough edges sanded off. Now I’m ready to go into the new earth, and that’s great.
Look, I want to get as many things rounded out as I can here, but thanks be to God, I’m going to have those rounded out eventually. I’m not going to have to live with this wickedness-and-overflow-of-evil self. I’m going to go to sort it all out. That’s great.
So judge nothing before the time.
Let’s go back to James while you’re thinking about it. Judge nothing before the time.
The law of liberty sets us free from judging other people, example 1
You know, we were talking to some folks last night. I went to this club in college. Actually, my brother’s the one that got me in there. So this is the way this string goes. This is awesome.
Going to Tech. Don’t know anybody. You know, I only applied to one school. Never occurred to me that it was a choice. I didn’t even think about it. My brother went to Tech. He was an engineer. I wanted to be an engineer, so you go to Tech. One data point. Just draw the line.
So, I’m going to Tech, and Al says, hey, “My volleyball friend’s son”—he played volleyball in Abilene—“My volleyball friend’s son, he has this thing, this club. You ought to go.”
And somehow I found out it was at a two-story greenhouse some place on Friday nights. I don’t even remember how that worked.
So I go to this two-story, green house. It was probably a 50-year old house at the time. A little rickety. And there were like a hundred kids in this house. Most of them are on the second floor, and it’s kind of wobbling a little bit, and it was called Friday Night Tape Class.
And what these kids had done—they had mostly come from Richardson, TX, and they didn’t want to go out drinking and stuff on Friday nights, and they wanted to play basketball together as a club. And they wanted to hang out with the girls without having to date them. So they came up with this deal of we’ll listen to Bible tapes on Friday night, and then go out and do something fun together.
And to play basketball together they had to incorporate as a club, so they went and they just called it Friday Night Tape Class. And, so, that was the club. That’s how it came together.
And then it turned into this thing, like 150-200 kids coming. And it was all run by the students, and it was a bunch of Young Life guys.
I had not done Young Life in high school, but I found out what it was like because they did all the Young Life skits and all the Pass It Down and the Whoopee Cushion and all that kind of stuff. It was a lot of fun.
And then they did all these Bible tapes by all these DTS guys. And I had never heard anything like that before, like this really in-depth Bible teaching. Very intriguing.
And, part of their ministry was to steer people into a Bible church. So, that’s the first time I really got introduced to stuff like this.
So anyway, we had a reunion, and last night we met some guys that had been there at a different time than us. And they started telling us their story about their adopted child. And they had adopted a child who had had, probably, natal alcohol syndrome. You know, mom was an alcoholic. So this child was born, and just, never had a chance. The kid—I think they said he was in rehab six different times.
They were explaining to us why they were never intending to retire because they had had to borrow so much money to try to get their kid rehabbed. And just all the struggles they went through and all that sort of thing.
They weren’t complaining. They were kind of just telling us their story. And the thought that crossed my mind was, you know, if you were just on the outside looking in and you didn’t know all this, wouldn’t it be easy to say, “Where did those parents go wrong?”
Wouldn’t that be easy to say?
The law of liberty sets us free from judging other people, example 2
I have a couple of friends who are active with me in the political arena, and one of them’s a Jewish guy who’s come to the Lord, come to Christ. And he started off as an atheist. And his path towards the Lord came at a very interesting place. One of the early starting places.
His wife got him to go to some kind of a weekend retreat. It was one of those “get better” retreats. It wasn’t a Christian thing. And they sat in a circle.
He went because he didn’t want to break up with his girlfriend, not because he thought there was anything he thought he could get out of it.
And they’re sitting in a circle, and there’s this morbidly obese woman there. And the morbidly obese woman starts telling her story. And she says, you know, when I was a young girl my dad raped me. And I discovered the fatter I got, the less I got raped.
And he said, I thought to myself what an arrogant jerk I am. I just look at this morbidly obese woman and say she’s a slob. And now I learn she has a story.
So, he learned mercy triumphs over judgment before he came to Christ. Isn’t that cool? Because that’s one of the main things that started his journey to say maybe I’m not okay after all. Maybe I need something more.
So, this law of liberty sets us free from a lot of things, including judging other people.
You know, everybody’s got a story. Everybody got to where they are for a reason.
Does that mean we should not give people truth? No, of course it doesn’t mean that because we might be able to help point someone to the perfect law of liberty so they can stare into it and get freedom from their own chains that they have inside.
But is it just them that has the chains? Is it only them that has the wickedness and overflow of evil? Is what we’re supposed to be doing figuring out who’s wickedness and overflow of evil is worse and whose is better?
See, my wickedness and overflow of evil is not nearly as bad as your wickedness and overflow of evil. My wickedness and overflow of evil only creates small problems. Yours creates huge problems.
Is that really what we’re supposed to do? No!
And when we judge that way, what measure that we measure to others is going to be added to this perfect law of liberty that it’s going to be judged to us. Take a dose of that!
And then what we should say is “Mercy! Mercy.”
What do you want at the Judgment Seat? Know what I want? Mercy! Lots of it!
So what should we give other people? Lots of it! Right?
So, you see here this flow of James’ argument. It’s really tight. And he’s saying the same thing Paul says.
The argument in Romans
So, let’s just look at the argument of Romans, the book of Romans. The book of Romans starts with slander. There’s slander in the Roman church against Paul’s gospel. It gets back to Paul. Paul responds with a letter. He sends it with Phoebe, as I recall.
He tells the Romans, here’s the people that are dependable that will tell you the truth. These are my friends. “Give them greetings,” he says. I would reinterpret that as, “Here’s the people to listen to. I’m giving them my mantle of authority. Listen to them.”
And here’s the big controversy. The controversy is, does faith justify you in the presence of God alone, or does it have to be accompanied by religious deeds before it counts? That’s the controversy, and Paul is absolutely adamant that it’s only faith that justifies you in the presence of God, alone. The works have nothing to do with it.
Paul’s detractors argue this: Well then, if that’s true, then you would sin as much as possible because, obviously, sin is a more fun life than not sinning. And so, your argument, Paul, is that you should do evil that good may come because, see, the more evil I do, the more fun I have, and the more gracious God is shown; so everybody wins. That’s what your gospel says.
That’s what the detractors say.
And Paul comes in and says, absolutely not. I’m not saying that at all. However, I am saying the first part. I am saying where sin abounds, grace abounds all the more. That is true. Because in the presence of God we can’t outsin the grace of God.
But this thing about sin being the the preferred way of life—if you could get away with it, you would—that’s just totally wrongheaded. And most of Romans is talking about not that living and getting away with sin is the best thing; it’s slavery.
Let’s rethink our thoughts about what sin really is. It’s slavery. It’s death. It brings condemnation. It brings separation. It brings judgment. All these things we’ve been delivered from and have the power to walk apart from—and you’re saying that’s desirable?
You can do that. God gave you the freedom to do that; it’s just nuts to do it! It’s craziness! It’s self-destruction. Why would you want to do that?
That’s Paul’s argument.
James is saying the same thing
Well, James is saying the same thing here.
If we don’t take what we learn, this implanted word, and actually put it into action, instead of being profitable, we’re unprofitable. Instead of being blessed, we’re not being blessed. Instead of fulfilling this royal law, we’re chafing against it. Instead of being useful, we’re being useless. Instead of helping people, saving them—you know, if someone says he has faith but doesn’t have works, can faith save him? If a brother or sister is naked and destitute of daily food and says be warmed, be fed, do those words help another person any?
You may believe that that’s good for them, but if you don’t do anything, is that helping them? Is that saving them from being naked and destitute? Is that saving you from being useless? No, it’s not! It doesn’t help you a bit.
So, what we want to do is have scripture fulfilled.
Would Rahab have escaped the city falling on her had she not actually done something and said, would you deliver me from this? I want to be on your side.
Would we know that Abraham is the friend of God if he had not done anything?
See, it’s an opportunity to take what we know and actually do it. Is an opportunity to be an heir of the kingdom.
Let’s end with verse 5.
Listen, my beloved brethren: Has God not chosen the poor of this world to be rich in faith and heirs of the kingdom which He promised to those who love Him?
It’s a reward! James is absolutely not talking about what you have to do in addition to believing God to be a Christian. He says the word brethren in here 15 times! These are brethren! These are believers. There’s no question about that! But these are believers under severe persecution.
You know, at this time, there’s Christians being fed to the lions during this era. There’s Christians being burned on poles. And they’re experiencing this persecution, and the tendency is to say, “How can I get away from this?” Right?
And he’s trying to give them a perspective to say, look, count it joy when you have difficult circumstances because when you’re in difficult circumstances, take this royal law and do the best for others anyway, and you listen anyway, and you serve anyway, and you continue to live your faith anyway. That’s how you win. That’s how you win at life. That’s how you take the opportunity you’re given in this world and turn it into victory. You, as a person, have the opportunity to be an heir of the kingdom.
And Paul says exactly the same thing in Romans 8. He says we all have God as an inheritance. We can’t lose that. But we’re a joint heir with Christ if we suffer his sufferings.
So we can’t lose being a child of God. That’s just given to us. But if we want to win at life, then what do we do? Walk in faith, walk in the wisdom of God. What’s our alternative? Walk by sight and the wisdom of the world.
The world’s always giving us all this “wisdom.” What happens in Vegas stays in Vegas. OK, we know that. If you go to Vegas, you’re really going to, what it up? Live it up, right? And what do we do in Vegas? Sin! Sin City! You go to Sin City to live it up, and there’s no consequences. What could be better?
That’s the message of the world in every area of sin. That’s just the best advertised form of it.
Is that true or not? Well, if you see that and you agree with that glamor, and you walk in that, then you get the winning of the way the world gets it. It’s a gambling addiction and bankruptcy. Welcome to Vegas!
I think I’ve told you about this book where they interviewed this striper, and she says, “Really, we hate all these people that come to Vegas. We hate their guts. All these men. I take their money, but I hate their guts.”
So, really live it up. Yay! Hate. Have all the hate you want. Pretend relationship.
But if you walk in the wisdom of God, what you do is really care about people and really look at what’s in their best interest and serve that best interest, even when it’s painful to yourself. Then what are you doing? Winning a glorious victory. And Jesus is going to say, “You! You! I want you on my throne with me to reign the world.” That’s unbelievable!
Well, that’s James’ message. Let’s take our faith and do something.
Now, are we all supposed to do the same thing? No. This is the Romans 12 message. Everybody’s got a different gift. Everybody’s got a different opportunity.
But, are we supposed to say, because I don’t have Herman’s opportunity, therefore I don’t have to do anything? Because I don’t have Herman’s giftedness, I don’t have to do anything? Because I don’t have Herman’s appearance—well, we can just stop there.
No, we all have the opportunity. So I think James 2—hopefully we’ve landed it, and this isn’t confusing anymore. I get it.