Matthew 7:1 could potentially be one of the most abused and misunderstood quotes in scripture. Satan has had incredible success in convincing good people in believing they are simply not to hold anyone accountable for their choices in life. I mean… who am I to judge right? I’m not perfect. How dare I look at the splinter in someone else’s eye while ignoring the log in my own.
There are several problems with this interpretation but I’m only going to focus on two.
First, we are called to have standards AND to hold other believers (key word there) to those standards. We are NOT to hold non-believers to the same standard but we are called to seek and save the lost. So if and when they do become a believer, we are then called to hold them to that higher standard.
Almost the entirety of Paul’s letters to the churches of Asia deal with this exact same issue. These letters are filled with statements about how the world acts one way but as followers of Christ, we are called to act another way. Since the fall in the garden, man has been captured by pursuing the desires of their flesh. This can come in greed, lust, coveting, etc. “Flee from sexual immorality. Every other sin a person commits is outside the body, but the sexually immoral person sins against his own body” (1 Cor 6:18). Jesus even points out that the world says one thing but He says another. “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you” (Matt 5:43-44)
Secondly, while we are saved by grace, this is not a get out of hell free card. It is all a question of the heart. Paul says “if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved” (Rom 10:9) This means that calling yourself a Christian does not make you one. You have to believe in your heart that he died for your sins. If you truly believe this in your heart, then you will want to live as He instructs, and not how the world instructs. We don’t live to a higher standard to earn favor from him or overshadow other sins or anything like that. We choose to live to a higher standard because He calls us to do so.
Getting back to the judging of others, there is a clear distinction between judging other believers and judging the world. God has already judged the world and “For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Rom 6:23) That death will either be paid by the person of the world, or they will accept that payment was already made on their behalf by the Son of God.
However, when a believer falls, we are called to judge, but then to help correct. “Brothers, if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness. Keep watch on yourself, lest you too be tempted” (Gal 6:1)
So while Matthew 7:1 is telling is to not sit back in a hypocritical style and judge others but claim we are without fault… it is in no way suggesting that we sit back and allow other believers to live and dwell in their sin.
The most frequent application I hear this used is around the homosexual movement. And I will admit that plenty of Christians get this issue wrong. The world away from Christ lives in sin. There is nothing we can do about that and there is nothing we should expect to change in that. However, believers in Christ should not live in that sin. As Christians, we should not suggest that it be illegal to live in sin. However we should continue to fight for our rights to call a sin, a sin. More importantly, when we see a believer fall into sin, we absolutely should try everything to correct them gently.
Believer who misquote Matthew 7:1 as an excuse to ignore the sin of other believers, has fallen to Satan’s twisted application of scripture. That has been his #1 tactic from Genesis 3. Don’t fall for his lies.