In the Biblical book of Hebrews we find a most unsettling passage of Scripture that has been a thorn in the side of many people who have often misunderstood it. It comes complete with statements such as “there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins,” “a terrifying expectation of judgment,” “trampling under foot the Son of God,” “vengeance is mine” and this apparent summation: “It is a terrifying this to fall into the hands of the living God.” [Hebrews 10:26-31]
The argument among Christians is not generally whether these things are true or can become true, but to whom do they apply. For example, for someone who struggles in their faith regularly, lets say a babe in Christ, they might wonder if these verses might possibly apply to them, especially if they were struggling with sin. For others who may be more mature as well as secure in their faith, these verses pose them no threat whatsoever and they don’t view them specifically applicable to themselves. In most cases and with most people, IT IS HOW THEY CHOOSE TO VIEW THEMSELVES IN RELATION TO CHRIST that makes the difference.
SEEING OTHERS AS WE SEE OURSELVES
By the statement above I do not mean that we shall see everyone as being necessary likeminded as Christians, we know better than that at least practically, but that we each have a tendency to judge others based upon our own perceptions of truth and reality. For example, I know people who immediately react adversely every time they hear someone reference or quote the statement, “once saved, always saved.” Even if you are one to quote scriptural verses that appear to speak to an opposing position, let’s say like those above in Hebrews, you would also have to be honest in admitting that there are verse after verse that speak to a Christians security in Christ found in the same Bible. Instead of admitting this, most people outright reject that fact because their own experiences seem contrary to that fact, ie; the many people they know who have and who do claim Christ and yet continue on in their sinful ways. Because living in sin and being saved are polar opposites, they use that argument to renounce what the Scriptures plainly teach as “the security of the believer.” (which is not the same as making a decision for Christ years back and claiming that as proof of one’s salvation despite how they live). This mistake is made because one’s focus is upon WHAT SOMEONE ELSE IS DOING at the expense of what the scriptures actually say.
LOVING OTHERS LIKE OURSELVES
If we’re truly honest as Christians, we will quickly admit that we prefer to be around other believers who both believe and act the way we do. Sure their are exceptions, but not many. It’s simply easier to fellowship with people we know we will agree with and as a result will cause us little trouble if any. How prone we are to settle for this superficial “peace” verses the peace that results from all eyes remaining upon our Lord Jesus Christ despite disagreements and various stages of growth among us.
When we meet other professing Christians that are different than us several things happen almost instantaneously:
- We quickly discern in what ways their beliefs and practices differ from ours.
- We view the above differences as either a threat to us or something that needs to be changed in them.
- We’ll either attempt to silence what we believe threatens us, mandate what we deem are appropriate changes, a combination of both or outright reject these people.
ALL OF THESE ACTIONS ABOVE ARE INTENSIFIED IF THE INDIVIDUAL IN QUESTION ACTIVELY PROMOTES WHAT THEY BELIEVE.
Obviously, not everything one believes or practices as a Christian is acceptable before God. There are both beliefs and practices which are contrary to true Biblical Christianity, just as there are some practices that we are called not to judge such as what people eat or upon what days of the week them deem to be special as in Romans chapter 14.
JUDGING FROM OUR OWN VANTAGE POINT
For those of us having had our share of internet interaction through email, we’re well aware of how easily our words can be misunderstood and as a result our beliefs and actions called into question. This happens all the time. These “judgments” are compounded all the more based upon the manner we each discern, the manner we believe we are led by the Spirit, the manner we choose to exercise our spiritual gifts and the degree of previously established trust that exists among those with whom we fellowship. And that’s just a few of the potential conflicts!
On one hand we can understand just why people judge others in the manner that they do. They are in one sense, “a product of their religious environments” over the years, combined with what they believe God has taught them. And sad but true, most people claiming Christ have only thought that most of what they claim is actually from God. Many of these people use terms like “God told me” or “The Spirit led me” and woe to anyone who might question their judgments in these things. It almost seems as if when people claim such leadings that others are just supposed to believe them and throw out all the verses that talk about judging these very things. Judgment itself isn’t the issue, Christians are called to judge one another on some points, and certainly in relation to the truth. The problem isn’t the fact that we judge, it’s that we don’t judge rightly or along the lines that are prescribed in the Scriptures. We ought to be confident in our defense of the Scriptures and holding others to the highest of Scriptural standards, but we must follow the appropriate path in doing so, lest we cause more harm than good. We do well to remember what Jesus said in regard to judging others in Matthew 7:1, 2:
“Do not judge so that you will not be judged. For in the way you judge, you will be judged; and by your standard of measure, it will be measured to you”
Obviously this is not a prohibition to judge, but a prohibition to unjust judgments in relation to others. The context makes this obvious. There is a passage as well in 1 Corinthians 6 where Paul asks these believers, “Is it so, that there is not among you one wise man who will be able to decide between his brethren?” Even in the previous passage it states, “Do you not judge those who are within the ekklesia?” [1 Corinthians 5:12] Obviously there is a time that judgments must be made among brethren and even against brethren.
The key to any proper judgment can be found in Jesus’ words in John 5:30.
“I can do nothing on My own initiative. As I hear, I judge; and My judgment is just, because I do not seek My own will, but the will of Him who sent Me.” Before anything else, I must be sure I have no vested interest in any judgment I make against anyone else. How can anyone make a proper and just judgment about anything if they desire or intend to benefit from their judgment? Secondly, I must be willing to allow “what I hear” (or think or say I’m hearing from the Spirit) to be judged by others. There is simply no such thing as exercising a judgment without this system of checks and balances in existence. This isn’t altogether different from any words we speak (as if from God) here:
“Let two or three prophets speak, and let the others pass judgment” [1 Corinthians 14:29]
If there was, anyone could pronounce a judgment and then expect others to simply acknowledge what they supposedly hear from God. That would be naïve as well as potentially dangerous. The truth is, we have plenty of people speaking (all kinds of things about other people) and few if any want to involve themselves due to the conflict they know will result. But that doesn’t help, it only makes matters worse! C’mon people, weigh in, takes sides, that’s how the truth is ultimately discovered, certainly not by going to worldly courts or hiding in the wilderness.
Is giving others “the benefit of the doubt” Scriptural?
Whether we agree or not, we all see what we choose to see. We can paint any picture we choose to paint, of a situation, or of an individual- and we can use the words of others, what they write publicly and even the Bible to do this. Once we start down that road, no amount of information nor explanation will alter what we’ve decided to believe. It won’t matter how many Scriptures others quote or how many times people plead their particular case. Some of us will choose to believe the best in people while others will do just the opposite.
One definition of the above phrase goes as such: “To believe something good about someone, rather than something bad, when you have the opportunity of doing either” Then the example given, “Hearing his explanation, I was prepared to give him the benefit of the doubt”
The fact is, some people just won’t do this. And that leads to premature judgments, faulty discernment and judgments where those judging do have selfish interests at heart. It pins some saints against the others, and ultimately leads to those in judgment labeling others so as to justify their positions. Do they have a right to do this? Yes they do, and they also have the right to reap the consequences thereof.
When someone speaks or writes in the public realm, those words are open to critique and many of us have learned this first hand. In the midst of wanting to share the truth, we open ourselves up to what others think about what we say- or even what they think we said! It’s just part of the risk we all take in making our thoughts, words and even our lives public before others.
To one degree or another we kind of expect the above. But seriously, you would think that in the midst of one’s own assembly, if anywhere, “the benefit of the doubt” would be evident. You would think that these brothers and sisters would take you at your word and have your best interest at heart- that they would believe you instead of continually questioning your words and writings and using them against you. When this happens, there’s going to be a conflict and eventually a separation. Again, it’s not wrong that a judgment was spoken against one or more persons, it’s the vague and unsubstantiated judgments that cause these problems. At times, and even after a conflict is resolved, some still want to revisit it- proof positive of a selfish motive where somebody wants somebody else to “own” their mistakes. That goes for attempting to use the scriptural process of discipline for one who is no longer part of an assembly as well. There is no reason nor warrant for such an action whatsoever, seeing that the supposed “offender(s)” are no longer within the fellowship. Why continue to debate or discuss problems that no longer exist, that is, unless one has some selfish motive in mind?
When a believer truly trusts God in the midst, there is simply no reason to question every little disagreement or difference in discernment people have. There is no reason to fret or make a small problem into a crisis, nor is there a reason to point fingers at brothers and sisters because of what we don’t like about how they participated in the process. We ought to overlook and forgive every single grievance where possible, holding NO RECORD OF WRONGS (or perceived wrongs which most usually are anyway), and only deal with serious issues that HAVE BEEN MADE KNOWN FACTUALLY (on the basis of a corporate testimony- not on what some think they are hearing from God).
THROW NOT AWAY YOUR CONFIDENCE
All of us as Christians are confident about a whole list of various things. Some are confident they hear rightly from God, others confident they know the Bible well, others confident in the ability to discern various situations and people. I wonder, “How confident are you in the people that are walking next to you, do you really believe they have been sent to you by God Himself and for the reasons you think?”
The verses above in the book of Hebrews deal with those who were confident in God in the midst of severe difficulty such as a “great conflict of sufferings,” being made a public spectacle through reproaches and tribulations” and “seizure of your property.” Do any of us really believe that all of the above are within the realm of our own futures? I do, but I’m not at all convinced that those who can’t or won’t even believe their brethren’s words as trustworthy will ever make this stand together. To believe that is plain fantasyland. No one can work with people they don’t trust, either in business or their service in Christ.
Regardless of the manner and level of confidence each of us have as believers, that manner of confidence can and should occasionally be called into question by others if that appears to be a need. This is a difficult and sometimes heartbreaking process as sometimes lifelong convictions are called into question by others. The only way this can be successful is after a deep trust has been established between brethren, not before. This process cannot be dictated but discussed, it is not one party ruling and the other submitting. All parties must remain open to being mistaken, or even wrong about their judgments.
By all means brothers and sisters, retain your confidence in God and what you believe to be your convictions from Him. But remember this, no conviction is without consequence of some sort, so prepare yourselves for what will result in and through them. If your confidence is in men you will likely be disappointed, but if in God, the result can only be good for those found in Him.
“Such confidence we have through Christ toward God. Not that we are adequate in ourselves to consider anything as coming from ourselves, but our adequacy is from God”