We strive and long so passionately to not be judged. We hate criticism, our egos shatter when someone disagrees with us, and we never want to be second guessed. We boldly proclaim (and quote 2Pac) “Only God can judge me”, but unfortunately we fail to recognize the simple fact that God actually does and will judge us. We place ourselves second only to God in authority with our words, but in actuality we believe ourselves to be the ultimate sovereign. We give ourselves momentary gratification by ignoring reality. We even claim statements of Jesus out of context to appease our consciences such as:
“For God did not send the Son into the world to judge the world, but that the world might be saved through Him.”
– John 3.17
Jesus did not come to judge. Therefore, He is all love, He accepts us how we are, and he expects nothing of us. Right? Wrong.
When we look at the passage in context we understand more fully what is meant:
“For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life. For God did not send the Son into the world to judge the world, but that the world might be saved through Him. He who believes in Him is not judged; he who does not believe has been judged already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God. This is the judgment, that the Light has come into the world, and men loved the darkness rather than the Light, for their deeds were evil.”
– John 3.16-19
What exactly does that mean? God loved the world so much that He sent Jesus – His only son – to die on the cross to pay the punishment for all of the sin of everyone who would believe in Him. Jesus’ mission was to save the lost: those who would believe in Him. The one who believes in Jesus is not and will not be judged in the sense that the punishment due his sin is transferred to Jesus in His death. His debt is paid, his time is served, he is not without guilt but he is a free man because the wrath has been appeased. The one who does not believe, however, is already judged. God condemns those who do not believe as guilty, they will pay the punishment for their sins throughout eternity, and their debt is still outstanding. The judgment has already been passed and they stand condemned. Jesus did not come into the world to judge anew, He came to save those who would believe.
However, Jesus is fully God and He is also the one who will be the final judge at the end of time. He will separate the believers from the non believers, He will send the condemned to Hell, and He will require us to give an account of our deeds (Rom 14.12, 2 Cor 5.10, Rev 20.15). Not only is part of His role the final and perfect judge, He also did and does judge on the Earth as a small part of His overall mission to be savior. Thus we see just a few chapters later in John:
“And Jesus said, ‘For judgment I came into this world, so that those who do not see may see, and that those who see may become blind.’ Those of the Pharisees who were with Him heard these things and said to Him, ‘We are not blind too, are we?’ Jesus said to them, ‘If you were blind, you would have no sin; but since you say, “We see,” your sin remains’.”
– John 9.39-41
What does this mean? How can Jesus have not come to the world to judge, but yet come to the world “for judgment”?
God sent Jesus to save the lost and redeem those who would believe. That was His mission and purpose. “To seek and to save that which was lost” (Luke 19.10). Any time we set out to accomplish a goal, there are many smaller facets and steps which must be completed in achieving that overall goal. When we build a company, we hire people with specific roles and these employees all work together to achieve one overall mission. Jesus, to be the Savior, necessarily had to condemn those who do not believe in order to save those who do believe. The nature of His mission is to divide the saved from the unsaved. Judgment was not His primary objective, but it was a necessary part of the mission. He gave sight to the blind and blinded the eyes of those who heard Him and yet did not believe.
What, then, does the exchange with the Pharisees mean? The Pharisees heard Jesus say that He came to give sight to the blind – immediately after He healed a man who was physically blind. But Jesus turned the conversation to Spiritual matters in teaching the blind man and the Pharisees heard him. They understood that they were those “who see” and thus tried to give themselves an excuse by asking if they are Spiritually blind. They wanted to be free from the guilt of sin by being labeled as blind, but Jesus would have none of it. They were educated in the Law and the expectations of God and they had heard the teaching of Jesus. They were the self-declared pious and religious leaders and they knew the things God had commanded. However, they did not believe in Jesus and thus their sin guilt remained upon them. They were judged. By Jesus.
Jesus does judge us. In fact, He judges us with the most pure and righteous standard. We give ourselves immense freedom and grace to continue in the sins we enjoy, and we expect God to give us grace and a pass on our sin because “He is love”. And yes! He is love! But He is also righteous and will leave no sin – not even the smallest white lie – unpunished. The only hope that we have is to hide ourselves in Jesus, to believe in His sacrifice and He pays the punishment that we deserve. He serves our time. He pays our debt.
The next time we are tempted to justify our actions or make peace with sin, let us remember that God does in fact judge us. The next time we see someone wearing a baseball cap that says “Only God can judge me”, let us grow in humility and recognize that this is not only an extremely profound statement, but it is the reality around which all of eternity pivots. Yes, our society and legal system can judge us. Yes, your friends and people in your community will judge you as well. But only God will judge without partiality and with complete righteousness, never overlooking a sin.
Then let us confess our sins, and hide ourselves in Jesus, so that when we approach the throne of grace we will ultimately hear “Well done, my good and faithful servant”.