The Difference Between Judging And Discerning

Morning friends,

I'm up at our little cabin in the White Tank Mountains of Arizona. It's an entirely different world than Phoenix up here. It's rustic, green and reminds me of a lot of Northern Michigan or Minnesota. My granddaughters are here for the next few weeks, so we are having fun planting flowers, reading Anne of Green Gables, and doing our artwork. The restaurants are starting to open once again, and I am anxious to get my summer pedicure. I know not all States are opening at the same rate, and ours isn't fully operational, but it feels a little bit more like usual.

Question: You talk about putting consequences in place not to enable one's spouse. You teach about not repaying evil for evil. I try very hard not to respond negatively.

Also, I examine myself to see if I am becoming bitter, which I don't think I am. But I find myself wanting God to judge my spouse for what he does. Is this wrong (Biblically)? In several verses in Psalms, we see the psalmist praying for justice and punishment.

Answer: This is a tricky question because I think you struggle with what we all struggle with when we are wronged. I am so glad that you are aware that you are tempted to respond with more evil, but you don't want to. And you are also examining yourself for roots of bitterness which you know give the devil a foothold. But you also long for justice.  

So let's first focus on the idea of judging because I think that's the lynchpin of your concern.

God is the only true judge because he is the only one who fully sees someone's heart. Biblically I see nothing unbiblical about praying for God's justice, punishment, or even just judgment on someone.  Click To Tweet

The tricky part comes when we act as if we are the judge. That's where I think we get into the unbiblical territory. In some ways, we are called to judge a believer by his or her fruit. We are not to simply believe someone's words if his or her actions are inconsistent with those words, but I would use the term discernment more than a judge in these cases. 

Let me share a personal example. A few years back, I was heading to the grocery store after a massive snowstorm. I needed food (as did everyone else), and the parking spots in the parking lot in the grocery store were not all accessible because of the enormous snow mounds. People were waiting in line for parking spots to open up. As I was waiting for someone to pull out, another car whipped around the corner and pulled into the spot I was waiting for.  

In my anger, I yelled, “Jerk.” Thankfully he could not hear me, but in that moment I judged him as a jerk. I judged him as an inconsiderate, selfish person. The Holy Spirit convicted me that my judgment was sinful. It was a condemning statement, not a statement about the truth. The truth was he took the spot I had been waiting for. I don't know why he did that. I didn't need to whitewash the truth of those facts. But the problem was I condemned his motives and actions as if I knew why he did it or as if I had never been guilty of selfish, inconsiderate acts myself. I acted like I was the righteous one judging the sinner. I think that's what God warns us against. That is not our place. We are not qualified to be the judge or condemner of another. 

Therefore, I think you can discern someone's behaviors as sinful. I think you can implement consequences for destructive behaviors where appropriate or set boundaries for yourself to be less injured by those behaviors.  

But I don't think we are qualified to judge someone's motives or condemn them as if we are not guilty of sin, even if they are different sins. The prodigal son was guilty of lascivious living, but his older brother was also guilty of self-righteousness and hard-heartedness. But it was the older brother who judged the younger because he acted as if the younger brother's sins were terrible and that he wasn't guilty of any sin himself.  

That was not true, but in our self-righteousness, we can feel like that's true. Only God has the right to judge.

Friends, what do you think about this idea of judging? How do you handle the difference between naming sin for what it is, both in your life or in someone else's life without being superior, haughty, or judgmental?


  1. Connie on May 20, 2020 at 1:46 pm

    I definitely believe that it is right for us to want justice for wrongdoing. Abuse is entitlement and selfishness. Sin, plain and simple. Sin against the Holy Spirit, who is trying to guide them to maturity through the Bible, others, and directly, and they simply refuse to listen. I think the Bible teaches that justice is not separate but a part of mercy and love. Justice causes pain, and we have learned that we often don’t change unless the pain of staying the same is worse than the pain of changing. This is why we set boundaries, stop fluffing their pillows so to speak, to help them wake up. Sure, partly for our own safety, but also largely because we want them to know the joy of living a godly life and knowing the Lord intimately. We have stayed so long because we care, not realizing that we’ve enabled sin.

    Sure, if you want justice just to glory in their pain and say na-na-boo-boo, that’s wrong, but I don’t see that in this questioner.

    I have seen, in the world and in the church, where people coddle the abuser, believe his lies and half truths, gives him a position in the church, praises him for anything they can think of, thinking that will help him be good, and shun the victim. What happens? The abuser never changes. He finds new supply, gets full of himself. Matthew talks about church discipline. I believe if every church practiced that, THAT would be mercy, and we would have far more repentance and maturity. Jesus didn’t say, “Win as many people to the Lord as possible”, He said to disciple. Comes from discipline.

  2. Beverly Schmader on May 20, 2020 at 3:37 pm

    I am looking for teachings on JADE or the BIF? I do not see that in the titles to the left.
    I would love it if there were.
    Thank you for this teaching it is hard not to judge & in being accused of sometimes even when not judging, I feel like I am become indifferent myself so as not to be accused of judging. I am glad for discernment. This is hard stuff to practice I would like more teachings & examples of discernment versus judging . Thank you.

    • Lynette on May 20, 2020 at 10:22 pm

      Do you mean BIFF?
      Brief, informative, friendly, firm? A way to respond to toxic people
      There is a book by that name.

      • Beverly Schmader on May 21, 2020 at 12:05 pm

        Yes, BIFF, thank you.

      • Bethamy J Carrig on June 16, 2020 at 10:27 pm

        I break every. one. of. BIFF!! I tell all about the WHY of my “boundary” without truly identifying and communicating WHAT my boundary is…and then I end up not setting up or doling out a consequence! I expect them to be a mind reader and then get angry when they get it wrong.

  3. LuAnn Young on May 20, 2020 at 5:19 pm

    For me, I look at my motive behind the desire for judgment. For a time, it felt like judgement on him would validate my experience in the world’s eyes. In other words, I wanted to be able to see public retribution for my pain. I am now more than 5 years out from when I finally held to my boundaries, followed by protective orders and divorce. Those who still have contact with him say he has no remorse. I do desire God’s judgement, but now it is so maybe his hard heart will be softened so God can work within him. No ulterior motive on my part; I have no desire for reconciliation. I just see a life wasted and it is sad.

    • Free on May 23, 2020 at 8:49 am

      LuAnn, I would like to hear how life is five years out. Do you have children? How are they doing? How do you think differently at this point? Do you finally feel free?

  4. Calalilia on May 21, 2020 at 3:03 am

    While I don’t pray for God to judge my husband, I find comfort in justice being part of the character of God. This has become one of God’s qualities that I appreciate the most. I know that one day there will be an accounting by the One who sees all actions and motives and that that will be so much more satisfying than anything I might attempt myself, so I can let my husband off my hook and experience greater emotional and spiritual freedom.

  5. Kimberly on May 21, 2020 at 8:36 am

    Hi everyone, I believe that sometimes judging is like our second nature, we can become so used to it that we don’t even realize that’s what we’re doing. I also believe that sometimes when we judge people, there’s fruit that comes with this (from my own experiences) – gossip and back biting, self-righteousness, fear of what other people think about us, avoidance, and body language to boot. We need the Holy Spirit to convict us in this area just like He did for Leslie. When the fruit of love is involved, we care about another person’s interests and want the best for them – we will esteem them and their interests above our own. Having discernment though, helps us to stay clear of dangers and unnecessary situations that God has not appointed for us to be engaged in. Situations that just won’t be fruitful.

    • JoAnn on May 22, 2020 at 3:46 pm

      Well said, Kimberly.

  6. B on May 21, 2020 at 9:30 am

    We are told that only God knows the heart, but if we see a pattern in a person, is it not appropriate to say that person is a “blank” based on that pattern? Labels aren’t always harmful or even truly judgmental (tone and heart matter here). Getting diagnosed with ADHD allows me certain foundational truths to work on myself from as well as some grace to say that it isn’t all character issues. Acknowledging his addictions and abusive behaviors could potentially help my ex, but he is in denial. His action patterns show fruit of a hard heart. Is it wrong to say, then, that he is an abusive, hard-hearted addict? Is that judgment, or discernment? I do struggle with intense negative feelings toward him. Much of this hurt is still fresh. I have released him to God to do what needs to be done.

    • JoAnn on May 22, 2020 at 3:39 pm

      B, I would say that it is acknowledging a truth to say that his behavior is abusive and he is addicted to ____. That is not judgmental. It is what it is. I believe that it might be harder to admit to the damage that this behavior is causing the people around him, and especially yourself. Then you have to decide what to do to protect yourself and children, if there are any, from his harmful behavior. As many here will attest, when you are still in that fog, you don’t realize just how damaging his behavior has been.

      • JoAnn on May 22, 2020 at 3:44 pm

        B, regarding your last statement about releasing him to God, that is the essence of forgiveness….letting go of the pain and hurt and releasing your abuser to God. You might find it helpful to go to the web site for Transformation Prayer Ministry, transformation, and they have a book there called “Effortless Forgiveness.” Very helpful to receive healing for the wounds that are in your heart.

    • Aly on May 23, 2020 at 2:27 pm

      I’m confused on who is diagnosed ADHD? You or your spouse… and is it being treated?
      Saying that someone’s BEHAVIOR is ‘abusive or showing patterns of hard heartedness’ is stating your experience and can be discerning and wise just like we are called to be. I think saying a person (is) versus the behavior of something is harsher in terms of judging or labeling.
      Also, someone in denial of their behavior and how their behavior affects another person, is often an indication of an unhealthy relationship.
      The person who is trying to speak truth in love & inviting the other person to living in ‘growth & transformation’ is often the only one feeling the pain and consequences of being in a one-sided relationship. Far too many (little people) walking around & getting married in grown -up bodies!
      But from your post you are away from your ex., while not directly affected daily, it still is a painful grieving process. I’m sorry for your situation and will pray that God will continue to bring comfort for your heart.

  7. Janet Eck on June 17, 2020 at 1:06 am

    I used to unwittingly allow my husband to manipulate me. He would say things like, ” Do you think it’s hot in here?” and I would jump up and adjust the thermostat even though I might think the temp was just fine. If he stubbed his toe he would try to blame it on me. I spent some time with an excellent Christian counselor who taught me to respond with “No, the temp is fine with me” and remain seated, or, tell the —- “it’s his toe and he’s in charge of it.” Made him mad but I feel lots better about myself.

  8. Suzanne Davis on October 25, 2020 at 2:40 pm

    Well said 😊

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