Sometimes I hear people say, “Only God can judge me.” What are we, who are Christians, to make of such a statement?
The statement often occurs in the context of opposing self-righteous judgementalism. When we hear someone say, ‘Only God can judge me,’ we are meant to infer that ‘since only God can judge a person, no one else should.’ In this sense, the phrase is a call to reject judging other people’s actions and leave the judgment to someone more qualified: whether it is a lifestyle choice, a belief, or a practice we are called to remember that ‘only God can judge a person.’
In one sense, we ought to agree with this. God truly is the only person who sees the motives of our hearts. So, if we are judging a person’s motives, we almost always are in error. Only God can know our hearts. Sure, we might have some insights and clues into motives, but only God can perfectly see a person’s motives.
Further, we who are Christians ought to avoid a posture of self-righteousness toward others (whether they are in or outside the church). We are all sinners and have no place to look down on other people. It is only God’s grace that saves us, not anything we do (Eph 2:8-9). “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Rom 3:23).
And, as Christians we should reject hypocritical judgmentalism. We see this in Matt 7:1-5. Jesus warns his followers: “judge not, that you be not judged.” We’re given the image of the plank and speck, and shown how absurd it is to criticize another when we have the same sin in our own lives. This is a call to avoid self-righteous, hypocritical judgmentalism.
On the other hand, all of us make moral judgments. There are some things we know are evil and others that are good. From the person who takes advantage of the weak, to an employer who treats an individual unjustly, to a neighbor who is inconsiderate–there is a place to call out and speak against and work against evil. Such a thing requires moral judgments.
Further, we know good when we see it: the person who goes out of their way to help another, the individual who tells the truth, the man who is faithful to his wife. We praise the good, and this is to make moral judgments.
Thus, we all make moral judgments, and this is right—it is part of our design. We are moral creatures and bear the image of God.
As Christians we must not be naïve. Jesus calls his followers to be “shrewd as serpents and innocent as doves” (Matt 10:16). This also requires moral judgments.
But getting back to the phrase “Only God can judge me,” I think we have to respond with this very fact: God does indeed judge us all. God judges everyone! He is the righteous judge, and one day every single person will give an account of his or her life to God (Rev 20:11-12). Some people will be judged for their wickedness by God and end up in a place of eternal hell: “But as for the cowardly, the faithless, the detestable, as for the murderers, the sexually immoral, sorcerers, idolaters, all liars, their portion will be in the lake the burns with fire and sulfur” (Rev 21:8).
This is a sobering reality. God will indeed judge us. And even one sin against God makes us guilty before Him. Hence our need for the gospel: Jesus the righteous one was judged in our place (2 Cor 5:21).