Should Christians allow people to behave badly?

We seem to have a problem these days with bad behaviour. It seems Christians have taken the idea of not judging others to an extreme it was never intended to go. It results in Christians refusing to say that certain kinds of behaviour that are prohibited in scripture are wrong, on the grounds that we should not judge.

We need to appreciate what Jesus is talking about when he says we should not judge others. A judge is someone who can see bad behaviour in someone and who when the guilt is proven will pass sentence on them. So there is the establishment of guilt or innocence and the passing of sentence.

First, then there is the question of guilt. It is not our place to condemn someones behaviour on hearsay. Just as a Judge should presume innocence until guilt is proved, so should we. However, the establishment of guilt might be very obvious. Perhaps the person is caught in the act or freely admits their guilt.

We might look to the story of the woman caught in adultery (John 8) to see this in action. In the story, Jesus is consulted after a woman is caught committing adultery and without denying it (presumably she is aware she has been caught). The guilt is established so what happens next has nothing to do with the establishing of the guilt. Jesus does not attack anyone for saying the woman committed adultery, he does not defend her actions. At the end he says do not do it again.

What happens next is key. The crowd is going to sentence the woman to stoning. This is where Jesus steps in. Let whoever is without sin cast the first stone.

Surely, this is what Jesus means when he says we should not judge. That is we should not pass sentence.

God makes it clear that he will bring justice.

Now, this does not mean that within a society it would be wrong to have courts of law etc where felons can be sentenced. For the sake of society we must have a system of keeping the law – otherwise we might as well not have them. Laws are important for society to work – of course. That is a topic for another day, perhaps.

But for us as an individual it is wrong for us to pass sentence on someone. We should understand that we are all guilty of something – even if it is just bad thinking – and so cannot pass sentence on an individual.

So then, we can – and should – point out when people do not behave according to God’s standards. But we should do it in a way to reform them not to punish them. Jesus goes to the trouble of explaining how a church can do this (see Matthew 18). Of course, this is how to deal with a believer but I think it makes the point that bad behaviour should not be ignored on the grounds of not judging.

So if someone is behaving badly we do have the right – indeed the responsibility to point it out and do something about it.

Now, this does not mean naming and shaming or saying look at how bad you are and how good I am (that is passing sentence and arrogance).

So if, say, a politician is living an immoral lifestyle we are within our rights as Christians to point this out. In my opinion. As long as we understand that in doing so we are also sinful people and in need to grace, to ignore bad behaviour is to allow it to continue.

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