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Did Jesus only Condemn Religious People’s Behaviour?

By: Jojo Ruba

Just a few months ago, I engaged in an on-line debate with a Toronto pastor and blogger. He wrote a blog called, Why Christians Should Let Non-Christians Off the Moral Hook,[1] which argues that we shouldn’t expect non-Christians to behave like Christians. This is of course, a biblical truth that the Apostle Paul affirms in passages like 1 Corinthians 5. In that passage, Paul rebukes the church in Corinth for tolerating an incestuous relationship in their congregation. In contrast, he says not to judge outside the church in the same way, saying, “I wrote you in my letter not to associate with immoral people; I did not at all mean with the immoral people of this world, or with the covetous and swindlers, or with idolaters, for then you would have to go out of the world[2] (v9-10).”

But the pastor took this argument further and suggested that we should never condemn non-believers for their actions. I responded (in comments since deleted) that I agreed with him when it comes to things like divorce or sex outside of marriage—we shouldn’t expect non-Christians to live like Christians on those issues.  It’s also hard to convince most people, Christian or not, that Christians should advocate for laws solely because the Bible teaches Christians to behave a certain way. In fact this would contradict the passage in Corinthians.

But I also asked if this applies to issues like murder or rape? Would he speak out against these laws because they also reflect biblical teachings?  What if he saw a child being beaten or a gay person being beaten by a non-Christian would he not tell that person to stop? Wouldn’t he expect a just society to make those acts illegal?

His response? 
I can see we’re in very different camps. Let’s respect that. I also live in Canada where things are very different than in the US. That said, I take incredible comfort in a first century church that turned the world upside down through a subversive spirituality that eventually captured people from all walks of life. And changed hearts change culture. Deep change happens from the inside out, not just from the outside in.
Aside from assuming that I was American, this answer seems only spiritual if you ignore the fact that he didn’t tell me what he’d do if he saw a non-Christian beating a child or a gay person!
How then should we respond to this challenge? I think there are four basic ideas we need clarified that help us get to a biblical answer. 
1. There’s a difference between expecting non-Christians to behave like Christians and expecting non-Christians to behave in a civil society.
I often cringe when I see Christians debate non-believers. An obvious example is when the Westboro Baptist Church protesters hold signs that say, “God hates fags,” at public events. Citing biblical verses condemning homosexuality, they expect non-Christians to read their signs and understand biblical teachings.[3]  But that won’t happen when most people, including Christians, can’t even explain concepts like morality or even what the Bible is.[4]
But arguing that you should never expect non-Christians to behave as Christians or that we should never judge their behaviour, becomes another extreme. That principle justifies not stopping your Muslim neighbour from practicing honour killings or a secular neighbour from aborting a child or beating their spouse. Moreover, that principle could be used to prevent Christians from being lawyers or police officers or food inspectors—all occupations that require you to judge behaviour. Worse, that also means people like Queen Esther who judged that Haman was doing wrong in trying to wipe out the Jewish people, should have not said anything.[5] I don’t think the Bible justifies refusing to judge Haman’s actions.
And this doesn’t contradict what Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 5 if you understand the context:

For what have I to do with judging outsiders? Do you not judge those who are within the church? But those who are outside, God judges. Remove the wicked man from among yourselves.[6]

Paul, remember, is talking about the specific sin of incest. He’s talking about sexual sin that we can’t judge outside the church because we can’t expect those non-believers to behave like us.

But even if he is talking about every sin, verse 13 is key- Paul says, “God judges.” And the question we need to ask is how does God judge? The Bible mentions many times how He judges and punishes people directly. Other times, He judges through His followers – as prophets (Deborah, Elijah, Elisha, Jonah, John the Baptist etc) or soldiers (Joshua, Samson etc.) or as rulers (David, Esther, Daniel etc.)—all of whom spoke out against the behaviour of non-believers. 
In other words, we are justified in pointing out sin that God has judged and has told us to publicly condemn. The key here is to see how God deals with public and private sins. It is also clear that some sins, like murder, are so disruptive, God mandates secular governments to stop it.  Christians need discernment as they look at how they should deal with the variety of sin in our society – something we’ll discuss more in future blogs. What is important for this article, is knowing that judging bad behaviour outside the church is not condemned in the Bible.

For example, in Romans 13, Paul specifically mentions the role of government to judge actions and to prevent evil from coming to society. Why? Because they are institutions given by God to create a civil society.  That means, particularly, for those of us who live in democratic societies where we are responsible for making laws, we have a duty to help create laws that form a civil society. We have a right to expect that those who live in these societies behave a certain way.[7]

2. The Pharisees were not Christians.
Another point to remember is that Christians are held at a higher standard – but that requires us to discern who is and who is not a Christian! I once got into a discussion with a Christian so committed to not judging other people’s faiths, that he said he doesn’t distinguish between who is a Christian and who is not a Christian. I asked him how he evangelizes. How does he know who needs to hear the gospel? His response was that he just evangelizes to everybody!
But that passage in 1 Corinthians clearly states that we are to judge those in the faith and those outside the faith differently because we should expect more from Christians. That means we have to be willing to judge the fruit of people’s lives – what they say and what they do and see if they match how we should live as Christians. I don’t think that requires us to stand at the door of the church and filter out the non-believers. It means we can’t simply affirm that someone who calls himself a follower of God, is actually one. [8]

That’s why the analogy fails when people try to argue that Jesus’ treatment of the Pharisees is comparable to how we should treat fellow Christians. The Pharisees weren’t Christians! They didn’t even claim to be followers of Christ.  When Jesus interacted with them, it was very different with how He interacted with His followers.

3. We need to do more than WWJD.

I know that sounds jarring for those of us who had a wristband, “What Would Jesus Do,” but Jesus Himself said, “Truly, truly, I say to you, he who believes in Me, the works that I do, he will do also; and greater works than these he will do; because I go to the Father.”[9]
Jesus isn’t saying of course that His followers will die for the sins of the world. When He is using the word “greater,” He’s talking to Philip about the miracles He had performed up to that point and was promising that His disciples would be doing much more in scope.
Jesus is underlining here that we don’t have the same work as Him. He never wrote a gospel, or preached outside of Israel or even had a website! In other words we can’t determine our behaviour solely on whether or not Jesus acted the same way. Clearly Jesus condemned unbelievers’ behaviours but even if He didn’t, that isn’t a good enough an argument to say we should never condemn nonbelievers’ behaviour.
4. Jesus and His disciples did condemn the sin of non-Christians too because they loved God and loved their neighbours. 
Jesus interacted and judged the Pharisees, He judged what Pilate said about Him (John 18: 33-38) and He even judged the thieves on the cross by determining which one went to heaven. This did not contradict His loving nature – this was because of His loving nature. His followers did the same.[10]  
So does this mean we become spiritual busybodies always judging non-Christians’ actions? Well no.  And it isn’t always going to be easy to determine which times we do this and when we don’t. What helps me is to simply ask, what is the most loving thing I can do? What is the best way to serve my community? Even a loving parent allows their child to choose harmful things so they can learn from them but will prescribe limits to ensure that the harm is meant to teach, not destroy their child. I would think a similar principle applies—but that is a discussion for another article.  For now, suffice to say it’s important we acknowledge that we can judge a non-Christians’ behaviour. We could never truly love our neighbours if we couldn’t.

[2] 1 Corinthians 5:9-10, NASB.
[3] In a response to a Baptist church, a church elder argues that the world will not endure sound doctrine. He argued, “It is required that the people of God make good on that charge to reprove, rebuke and exhort. We come from a long line of bold preachers in the Bible that preach God’s word without apology.”
[4] The Bible Engagement study found that 55% of Canadians have never even read the Bible. The survey can be found here http://www.bibleengagementstudy.ca 
[5]  Esther Chapters 1-9.
[6]  1 Corinthians 5:12-13, NASB.
[7] The Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms begins with a preamble recognizing both rights and responsibilities of Canadians :  1. The Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms guarantees the rights and freedoms set out in it subject only to such reasonable limits prescribed by law as can be demonstrably justified in a free and democratic society.
[8] Matthew 7: 15-17 says, “Beware of the false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly are ravenous wolves. You will know them by their fruits. Grapes are not gathered from thorn bushes nor figs from thistles, are they? So every good tree bears good fruit, but the bad tree bears bad fruit.
[9] John 14:12, NASB.

[10] John the Baptist was jailed for speaking out against Herod for sleeping with his brother’s wife (John 14:3), Peter’s sermon in Acts 2 convicted many in Jerusalem of their sin and helped them become Christians and Paul “admonishes” his Roman guards for not listening to him and causing a shipwreck in Acts 27. Other biblical examples abound.

  • Anonymous

    Amen for good conscience in be thankful after Jesus blood has washed aways our sin and bad habit will change to good habit and be living by the Holy Spirits power to quard us and not so much religion or law but grace are so import today again ,thanks and bless,keijo sweden