“The first step beyond salvation for the believer should be a deep understanding of grace and sanctification.”
I think we have all felt the sting of a judgmental look or comment, piercing our hearts like an arrow. We may have been in a great mood, but we find ourselves knocked to the floor with a hollow, empty feeling in our chests. If this had come from anywhere else, we could have easily brushed it off. But this happened in church! Isn’t church supposed to be a safe place? Isn’t this where “we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need” (Hebrews 4:16, ESV)?
Think back to the moment that you realized you needed a Savior. You were intensely aware of your own sinfulness, the weight of which was too much to bear. When you called out to Jesus, you found that which weighed you down was gone. Lifted. “Cast…into the depths of the sea” (Micah 7:19b, ESV).
In the days and weeks that followed, you found things in your habitual behavior that were inconsistent with your newfound faith. The Holy Spirit had begun His work in you from the moment you were saved. The desire to change had been birthed in you. You knew you were different on the inside and you wanted to be different on the outside as well.
Maybe you began to hang out with different people. You found a Bible study or small group, and you began to grow. The Holy Spirit opened your eyes to more areas of your life that needed some modification. But it was never a burden; He never gave you so much that you were overwhelmed.
Still fresh in your salvation and growing in sanctification (becoming more like Jesus), you say something to someone and they react as if you had just blasphemed (bad-mouthed God)! They may have even gone so far as to shun you and speak badly about you behind your back. They have forgotten their own past and have set themselves up as prosecutor, judge and jury. Their own history of sin and salvation has been stolen from their minds. They have hardened their hearts to the voice of the Holy Spirit. James 2:13 says, “For judgment is without mercy to one who has shown no mercy. Mercy triumphs over judgment” (ESV).
The first step beyond salvation for the believer should be a deep understanding of grace and sanctification. When this is deeply ingrained in the heart, being judgmental will never cross the mind. A true disciple views a brother or sister in Christ as another person on the path to becoming like Jesus. He sees the work of God in others, fertilizing and watering it so that it will bear fruit, never wielding the ax.
Grace is how Jesus treated us, “while we were still sinners Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8, ESV). We all received our salvation as a free gift. Nothing that we could have done could have earned our salvation. And we continue to live in His grace.
Sanctification, as mentioned earlier, is the process of becoming more like Jesus. Have you ever noticed that a room can look perfectly clean until you turn the light on? The Holy Spirit is the light of our “dirty room.” He illuminates areas that need to be dusted, polished or thrown away. But it is impossible to view the entire room at once. There are always spots that we can’t see. The Holy Spirit shows us one or two areas at a time and gently and patiently reminds us until we have completed the cleanup job in those areas. We can’t do it without His help.
Does this mean that we should never point out the shortcomings of a brother or sister in Christ? Absolutely not! Every believer should have someone in their life that is further along in their faith. Someone who can speak into his life from a fountain of experience. This person should be someone who is compassionate and loving. Proverbs tells us that, “Iron sharpens iron, and one man sharpens another” (27:17, ESV). The International Standard version reads, “Iron sharpens iron; so a man sharpens a friend’s character.” The whole is greater than the sum of the parts. But this is a relationship built on trust and love, never judgment.
I’m fairly certain that we’ve all been judgmental at times, toward Christians and non-Christians alike. The world will never be won over with judgment. Your brother or sister cannot be “judged” into holiness. “By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:35, ESV).