One day, in downtown Montgomery, I saw a homeless stranger sitting on a bench. Because of his haggard appearance, I walked past him without acknowledging him. A half-hour later, a friend and I were walking toward a coffee shop. Suddenly, he sat down next to somebody. To my astonishment, my friend sat down next to the homeless stranger that I had passed earlier. As the man began to talk, my countenance reeked of cold and distant disinterest. But the Holy Spirit slowly revealed my hypocrisy throughout the conversation and melted my heart to be consumed with compassion for Conté and contrition over my poor judgment.
As the Holy Spirit transformed my heart, Conté became more than a homeless man. His profession of faith in Christ resounded with awe, wonder, and thanksgiving. He talked about the non-necessity of abundant material possessions. He recounted God’s faithfulness in sustaining him. Conté delightfully pointed to the trees surrounding us, attesting to the glory of God revealed in them. He had a heart for the other homeless, leading him to buy and share meals with them.
My initial judgment of Conté speaks to how we wrongfully judge one another. But as we reflect on God’s perfect and loving judgment, we learn how we should treat one another.
God Judges the Heart
God’s standard of judgment is defined by his holy character. At birth, we are all deserving of his judgment. But, out of his infinitely rich mercy and steadfast love, he sent the perfect Lamb, Christ, to be the perfect sacrifice for our sins. Christ took on the judgment we deserved. Washed in Christ’s blood shed on the cross, we are transformed from strangers and aliens into children of God (Ephesians 1:7-8; 2:19). Overwhelmed with joy and thanksgiving, we ought to extend the same olive branch of peace and love to all our neighbors.
God judges perfectly and totally. While our judgment of each other is often superficial, his judgment is eternally significant. We judge our neighbor according to outward markers (i.e. wealth, social etiquette, health, intellect, influence, eloquence, pedigree, and beauty). But God judges the heart.
Our judgment is often self-centered. We accept people who will increase our glory and praise. We ignore those who will not increase it.
But God judges all humans according to the highest and purest standard, his perfect and holy character. Rightfully, God is concerned with the hallowing of his glory, and since we fall short of his glory, we all fall under his judgment. He looks at our heart and sees all of our desires. He sees we are consumed with self-worship, caught up in schemes designed to increase our own glory.
Looking at this truth, we realize that we simply cannot do what God does. His judgments are true, but ours are faulty and self-centered. Therefore, we should be critical of our own judgments instead of trusting them right away.
God Redeems the Faulty
For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. For one will scarcely die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die—but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. (Romans 5:6-8)
This is a big difference between our judgment and God’s judgment. We know that God cannot peacefully abide with rebels, guilty of cosmic treason against his perfect law. He would be just and fair if he chose to lift his gaze from us lowly traitors. This is precisely what we would do. Paul shows above that we would be unlikely to die for a righteous person, let alone an unrighteous person! For when we judge others we use that judgment as a reason to dislike them or separate ourselves from them. When someone is found guilty of our judgment, we cast them away.
But God does this amazing thing that we do not do after we’ve judged someone. He takes it on himself to redeem that person. God uses judgment to show us why we need redemption. Consider Paul’s words:
If it had not been for the law, I would not have known sin. (Romans 7:7)
The judgment we learn of as a result of the law is not God telling us that he is done with us, but that he wants to redeem us. We must recognize our sin before we can be redeemed. How many of us consider judgment as a way to help another person? Too often we use it as a way to distance ourselves from them. But God in his love and mercy, uses judgment to help us become more like him. And so, we should also use judgment, with caution and contemplation, to help others grow in their relationship with Christ.
God Welcomes the Stranger
Not only does God redeem the guilty, but he makes them a permanent part of his household. Those who have responded in repentance and faith to the judgments pronounced by the law, he welcomes as sons and daughters.
The Father knew our rebellion and depravity. In love, he predestined to adopt separatists, aliens, and strangers into his household through Jesus’s blood (Ephesians 1:5, 7-8; 2:12-13, 18-19). He chose us in Christ to make us holy and blameless before him (Ephesians 1:4). Jesus is our peace. Now, we are citizens of his Kingdom and members of his Father’s household.
Additionally, the Father has granted us the Holy Spirit, so that we can call out to him in times of need, screaming, “Abba Father!” The Holy Spirit joins us in our screaming with his own groans. In Christ, we have access through the same Spirit to the Father.
When we reflect on this outcome of God’s judgment, we realize that our method of judgment is inherently flawed. While we tend to reject the ones we judge, God means to welcome them into his family.
Taste His Kindness
God delights to use us to welcome strangers into the body of Christ. Thankfully, through my conversation with Conté, I realized my hypocrisy. The Lord of glory lowered his gaze to the lowly and dwelled among them, including me. If we are the children of God, how could we lift our gaze and walk past the hurting?
How could I do such a thing?
If God has been so radically hospitable, if God, who knows perfection, can love us, then how can we be any different? Friends, we need to look beyond outward markers; we need to reduce our judgments of others. We need to take our focus off one another and refocus our eyes on Christ. When we taste the Father’s good and sweet kindness in Christ, we will grow in kind acts toward all different people.