Paul on the Topic of Self-Judgement

 I was chatting with some friends at church last week, and we started trying to figure out what Paul meant when he said he didn’t judge himself. Bible-readers know a lot about Paul’s history, and we can come up with plenty of reasons why he might have judgmental, condemning thoughts about himself and his past actions. He persecuted the church of God! Shouldn’t he judge himself for that? And yet it seems that he didn’t.

What did Paul mean when he said “I do not even judge myself”? And what might that mean for us as we look back on our own past sins and failures?

Judicial Investigation of the Self

Paul spends quite a bit of time in his epistles talking about judgement–judgements we’re supposed to make as we exercise discernment, judgements we shouldn’t make since we’re not permitted to condemn others, and judgements that God will make of us at the end times. There are only three passages that I’ve found where Paul specifically addresses self-judgement. We could perhaps include passages about self-examination, but that seems to be a separate concept.

The three passages we’ll look at all use the Greek word krino or one of its derivatives. This word means “to judge, to form an opinion after separating and considering the particulars of a case,” and it can include the passing of judgment as well (Zodhiates’ Word Study Dictionary, entry G2919). A related word, which Paul uses in the passage where he says he doesn’t judge himself, is anakrino. This word means “to judicially investigate,” “examine accurately and carefully,” and “to question in order to pass a judicial sentence” (Zodhiates, G350).

So for me, it is a minor matter that I am judged (anakrino) by you or by any human court. In fact, I do not even judge (anakrino) myself. For I am not aware of anything against myself, but I am not acquitted because of this. The one who judges (anakrino) me is the Lord. So then, do not judge (krino)anything before the time. Wait until the Lord comes. He will bring to light the hidden things of darkness and reveal the motives of hearts. Then each will receive recognition from God.

1 Corinthians 4:3-5, NET

For context, Paul has been talking about divisions in the church (1 Cor. 1:10-17; 2:1-5; 3:1-9) and the need for individuals to take responsibility for their own spiritual journeys (1 Cor. 2:6-16; 3:10-23). We belong to God and ought to follow Him, not some human no matter how impressive his qualifications. So now here in 1 Corinthians 4:1-21, Paul is talking about the apostles’ ministry using a courtroom analogy. He doesn’t care if others presume to “judicially investigate him,” and he doesn’t do that to himself either–that’s something he leaves to God because He’s the one with the perspective needed to pass an accurate and righteous judgment. Finally, Paul gives us warning not to judge (krino) anything before the Lord comes and reveals “the motives of hearts.” 

Image of scales, with text from 1 Cor. 4:3-4, CJB version: "And it matters very little to me how I am evaluated by you or by any human court; in fact, I don’t even evaluate myself. 4 I am not aware of anything against me, but this does not make me innocent. The one who is evaluating me is the Lord."
Image by OpenClipart-Vectors from Pixabay

Taking a Proper View of Ourselves

Later in this same letter, Paul returns to the idea of judging ourselves when he’s talking about Passover. This is one of the self-examination passages I mentioned earlier (1 Cor. 11:26-30), but it also talks about self-judgement. Paul starts wrapping that discussion up with these lines:

But if we examined ourselves, we would not be judged. But when we are judged by the Lord, we are disciplined so that we may not be condemned with the world.

1 Corinthians 11:31-32, NET

“Examined” here is diakrino, and Zodhiates says that in this verse it could be translated “if we took a proper view” or “formed a just estimate of ourselves” (G1253). More generally, it means “to separate thoroughly, discriminate, make to differ, judge thoroughly.” It seems from these verses that there is a certain type of self-judgment Paul encourages, but it’s one that involves seeing ourselves accurately rather than seeking to condemn. It works alongside God’s accurate judgement (krino) to make us more and more like Him.

When Paul says he doesn’t judge himself, it doesn’t mean he ignores who he is. He knows he persecuted the church and is only an apostle by God’s grace (1 Cor. 15:9-10; Eph. 3:8). He realizes that he needs to keep moving forward in faith with Jesus’s righteousness applied to him, not become complacent (Phil. 3:8-14). But he doesn’t let a realistic look at himself lead to getting stuck in self-condemnation. Paul knows he has received God’s grace. He knows he has righteousness that comes from Jesus. That’s what lets him say he doesn’t judge himself and isn’t aware of any charge against him. 

For us, this seems to indicate that we shouldn’t beat ourselves up over past mistakes. When God says He has removed our sins and forgiven us, He really means it (Ps. 103:12; Rom. 3:25). He’s not going to say our sins are gone, covered and paid in full by Jesus’s blood and then hold those over us in a judicial examination of our character. We need to have a realistic view of ourselves and not forget the things that we once did (so that we can learn from them, not do them again, and appreciate the magnitude of God’s forgiveness), but we’re not to keep judging ourselves for things in our pasts. 

Avoiding Judgmental Doubt

The final passage where Paul talks about self-judgement is found in Romans. For context, this is the section in chapter 14 where Paul is discussing mutual respect in the church. He exhorts readers not to judge others, but rather to take a close look at their own lives. “Each of us will give an account of himself to God,” and we ought to care more about that than pointing condemning fingers at God’s other servants. It’s our responsibility to “be fully convinced in” our own minds about the choices we make and act in a way guided by faith. (Rom. 14:1-12). We’re also to respect when people make other choices in matters where God hasn’t given clear guidelines one way or the other (the example Paul uses here is eating meat vs. eating only vegetables). Whichever choice we make, though, we need to be careful we don’t act in a way that causes others to stumble. Indeed, we ought to refrain from doing anything that would harm other believers (Rom. 14:13-21).

The faith you have, keep to yourself before God. Blessed is the one who does not judge (krino) himself by what he approves. But the man who doubts is condemned (katakrinio) if he eats, because he does not do so from faith, and whatever is not from faith is sin.

Romans 14:22-23, NET

Since it’s linked to doubt, it seems here that not judging yourself is basically the same thing as not letting doubt take you to the point where you aren’t even walking in faith anymore. If we take self-judgement to an unhealthy extreme, then we could be so caught-up in it that we can’t live the vibrant lives of faith that God has planned for us. That leads to being “condemned;” another derivative of krino. It means “to pronounce sentence against, condemn, adjudge guilty” (Zodhiates G2632) and “to judge worthy of punishment” (Thayer).

It’s not easy to live a life of faith if we’re constantly second-guessing and beating ourselves up. Self-examination is vital, and when we discover something in ourselves that isn’t in line with God’s righteousness a certain amount of self-judgment can be productive if it brings us to repentance. But constant self-judgment–condemning ourselves for sins Jesus has already removed or questioning every choice over and over–is not productive. We don’t need to keep tormenting ourselves with past mistakes. Focus on actively engaging in your relationship with God, striving to follow Jesus’s example, and faithfully repenting when you miss the mark. Then, as Paul did, leave the judgement on your life in God’s hands.

Featured image by OpenClipart-Vectors from Pixabay

Am I Living A Flesh Life Or A Spirit Life?

Do you desire the same things God desires? That’s one of the questions asked in a new book I’m reading called What Does Your Soul Love? It’s written by Alan and Gem Fadling, and it’ll be available for purchase September 17th. I’m about halfway through right now and it’s given me quite a bit to think about. One thing I really like is the way they explain how our resistance to living a godly way of life is connected to Paul’s discussion of flesh versus spirit.

Our desires lie at the root of why we act the way we do. But even when we line-up the things we say we want with the things God wants, we might still find ourselves in the same position Paul was in his letter to Rome. He said he delights “in God’s law after the inward person,” but still finds “the good which I desire, I don’t do; but the evil which I don’t desire, that I practice” (Rom. 7:14-25). When we try to follow God, we encounter resistance from within ourselves as well as from without.

The resistance from outside is usually easier to identify and counter, at least to a certain extent. But what about the resistance inside? What can we do about that?

What Is “The Flesh”?

Just a couple weeks ago, I shared a 2-part post about Galatians. It’s on my mind again now since that letter seems particularly relevant to today’s discussion. If we’re going to talk about how our flesh resists living in the spirit, the last two chapters of Galatians are crucial. But first, let’s clear up a potential misunderstanding.

“The flesh here is not the physical body, but a way of life we’ve grown used to living in a world that does not recognize the reality of God and his kingdom. It is a dynamic within whereby we grab for what we need, not trusting (or knowing of) God’s generosity to provide. It is an ‘I can do it myself’ approach to living that presumes the absence of the loving God” — Alan and Gem Fadling

I’d also add that “flesh” includes an attitude of “I can decide right and wrong for myself” that presumes to know better than God or to think that He doesn’t really care. When we look at Paul’s description of the flesh, it includes following desires and taking actions that God has said are wrong. To keep doing those things when we should be walking in the spirit is to disregard our Creator and Savior’s wishes (Gal. 5:16-21). Read more

Crash Course In Galatians (Part Two)

A couple days ago, I shared Part One of a two-part post about Paul’s epistle to the Galatians. In this letter, he combats a destructive heresy spread by Jewish legalists in the early church. If you haven’t read that post yet, you’ll want to start there before you continue reading.

I like writing these “Crash Course In …” posts because it’s so important to look at context when figuring out what passages of scripture really mean. With Galatians, it’s easy to misinterpret if you don’t look at the whole of Paul’s purpose for the argument he makes in this letter. It also helps to look at some of Paul’s other letters, like we did last week by comparing Romans to Galatians.

Truly Fulfilling The Law

Now that he’s laid the ground work for his argument, Paul starts to clarify what it means to walk by faith as people who are no longer under the law. It’s kind of a weird balance to wrap our minds around. Much of Galatians 5 parallels Romans 12-13 in showing how walking in the Spirit means we’re fulfilling the true meaning of the law. However, Paul also makes it quite clear that we should not seek “to be justified by the Law” (Gal. 5:1-6). To say that we could earn  salvation by our own works introduces a harmful doctrine that spreads like leaven and corrupts the truth (5:7-12).

For you, brothers, were called for freedom. Only don’t use your freedom for gain to the flesh, but through love be servants to one another. For the whole law is fulfilled in one word, in this: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” … But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you won’t fulfill the lust of the flesh. For the flesh lusts against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; and these are contrary to one another, that you may not do the things that you desire. (Gal. 5:13-14, 16-17)

Being free from the law doesn’t mean we’re free to break it (i.e. does not grant us license to sin). Rather, we’re released from the curse of being under the law. Now the law is written inside our hearts. Being filled with God’s Spirit and transformed to be like Him will turn us into a person who naturally does the things we’re told to in God’s law. The law’s not our schoolmaster anymore, though. We’re taught directly by God through His spirit inside us. Read more

Crash Course In Galatians (Part One)

When Paul wrote his epistle to the Galatians, he did so to combat a destructive heresy. From his comments in this letter, it appears that a group of people came through Galatia teaching the Christians there that they had to be circumcised and follow Jewish law in order to receive salvation. Paul refutes this, along with the false teachers’ claim that he wasn’t really an apostle.

I like writing “Crash Course In …” posts because it’s important to look at context when interpreting passages of scripture. Ecclesiastes, for example, doesn’t make much sense unless you follow Solomon’s whole trail of thought from beginning to end. Similarly, Galatians is easy to misinterpret if you don’t look at the whole of Paul’s purpose for the argument he makes in this letter (and put it alongside some of his other writings as well).

Another Gospel? Really?

Paul opens this letter by introducing himself as an apostle who was made so by “Jesus Christ, and God the Father, who raised him from the dead” (Gal. 1:1, all scripture references from WEB). He also reminds his readers of the message he preached to them before — that our Lord Jesus Christ “gave himself for our sins, that he might deliver us out of this present evil age, according to the will of our God and Father” (1:4). With those facts established, Paul immediately jumps into his purpose for writing this letter. Read more

Are You Spiritually Minded Yet?

One of the many issues Paul addressed in his first letter to the Corinthians was that of disunity. The church of Corinth was suffering from a spiritual malady all too common among churches today. They were split into factions, squabbling over which leader to follow, happily tolerating sin, and looking down on fellow believers. Paul’s words to them can give us guidance for finding a way out of similar problems today.

Disunity is Ridiculous

Now I beg you, brothers, through the name of our Lord, Jesus Christ, that you all speak the same thing and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be perfected together in the same mind and in the same judgment. For it has been reported to me concerning you, my brothers, by those who are from Chloe’s household, that there are contentions among you. Now I mean this, that each one of you says, “I follow Paul,” “I follow Apollos,” “I follow Cephas,” and, “I follow Christ.” Is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Or were you baptized into the name of Paul? (1 Cor. 1:10-13, WEB)

Paul is begging these people in the name of our savior to stop their contentions and divisions. His questions, “Is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you” shine a spotlight on how ridiculous their squabbles and disagreements really are. Christ is not divided and He’s the one into whom we were baptized. There is no division when we’re in Him.

The Mind of Christ

When Paul talks about being like-minded with each other in Philippians, he follows it with “Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus” (Phil. 2:1-5, KJV). Our unity comes from all of us learning to think like Jesus. It is the height of arrogance to think we could come up with a better plan, interpretation, or idea than what He has given us. Read more

Crash Course In Romans

We’re going to talk about all of Romans in one blog post. That looks like a crazy idea as I type it, but I think sometimes when we zero-in on just one section of Paul’s letters we miss the bigger picture of what he’s trying to say. Perhaps there’s merit in studying overall messages as well as minute details.

Romans is a confusing letter, especially when you read pieces out of context. To really get a sense of what Paul is trying to say in any given chapter or verse, we have to read the entire letter. That’s true of any book in the Bible, but I think it’s more true for Romans since Paul connects his arguments so closely. Especially in the first half of the letter, he frequently makes a statement that could lead readers to make an incorrect assumption, then he asks that assumption as a rhetorical question and refutes to read article, "Crash Course In Romans" |

Also, even though we’ll stay mostly in Romans, it’s important to remember Paul wasn’t writing in a void. Reading Romans (or any other book of the Bible) by itself can lead to misinterpretation. We must frame our understanding of this letter in light of the Old Testament (the only scriptures around for Paul to reference) and the teachings of Jesus (for Paul would never contradict our Lord’s words). Doing that well would take a book instead of a blog post, but last week’s post serves as an good introduction to this one.

Doing The Law

Romans opens with a discussion of “ungodliness and unrighteousness” which brings people under the judgment of God (Rom. 1:16-32). This applies to all people since even if they didn’t receive a special revelation from God (as ancient Israel received God’s Law) they still can see evidence of Him in creation and can be held accountable for aligning with general moral principles God built into the world. Paul then takes his readers to task not, as some assume, for keeping the Law but rather for teaching it and then acting in a way that dishonors God (Rom. 2:1-29). Paul indicates that the more you know about God’s law, the more accountable you are to do things God’s way.

After saying, “not the hearers of the law are just in the sight of God, but the doers of the law will be justified,” Paul shifts to explaining that even if you do keep the Law you’re still “under sin” because we’re not perfect. He also says it is righteous with God to judge the world, which is guilty before Him because the Law gives knowledge of sin and cannot justify us in God’s sight (Rom. 3:1-20).

Read more