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Accountability: Judgment and Forgiveness
by Judy Fulton
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I have a pet peeve. It is when people accuse me of judging them. It doesn't happen often, but it does happen. These people, Christian and nonChristian alike, usually don't care what Scripture says; they jump to "how dare you judge me!" faster than you can explain the Old and New Testament precepts on judgment and accountability. That is really the bottom line; as Christians, we need to hold each other accountable for our actions. We also need to make nonbelievers aware of what God says is right, and why we disapprove of their activities, whatever they may be, when their actions are in opposition to God's Word. If we don't do this, we can't share the Gospel of Christ with them.

Incidents of these accusations of judgment have been happening more and more in my life, and I am sure others who are growing in the faith have noticed an increase in their own lives, of these charges. Their favorite Scripture to quote in an effort to silence us, is "Do not judge, or you too will be judged." (Mt 7:1 NIV). Of course, they usually throw the King James version at us. We have solid ground to stand on in the Word, if we know where to look, to defend our holding each other to a higher standard than the rest of the world.

A good place to start is Lev 19:15 and 19:18; "Do not pervert justice; do not show partiality to the poor or favoritism to the great, but judge your neighbor fairly", and "Do not seek revenge or bear a grudge against one of your people, but love your neighbor as yourself. I am the LORD." Keeping in mind that "neighbor" means anyone we come in contact with, it is obvious that we should want as much good for all those around us as we want for ourselves. The fact that these verses are so near each other must mean something. Could it be that while we are to love each other, we should judge the actions of everyone by the same standard, regardless of their social stature? I believe this is true, and it is apparent that Jesus demonstrated this in the New Testament.

Looking at Luke 10:25/37, we see Jesus having a discussion with an expert in the law (a lawyer by today's standards, as I gather from the text). In these verses, the lawyer asks Jesus to explain the meaning of "neighbor", which He does through the parable of the man who fell among robbers, and eventually was aided by a Samaritan. It was so obvious who the neighbor was in the story, the lawyer could not deny it, when asked to define which person had been like a neighbor to the robbery victim. However, the Jews of the time viewed Samaritans as half-breeds; spiritually unclean, and lesser persons than themselves, so the lawyer could not bring himself to say, "the Samaritan". Instead, he admitted that the neighbor was the one whom had demonstrated mercy to the injured man. Jesus admonishes to look past differences such as national boundaries, and regard everyone according to their need rather than their stature, by saying, "Go and do likewise."

Jesus demonstrated to us that mercy was not the only quality of love that was to be exercised equally. In Mt 18:15/17, he expresses the need to hold each other accountable for one's actions: "If your brother sins against you, go and show him his fault, just between the two of you. If he listens to you, you have won your brother over. But if he will not listen, take one or two others along, so that 'every matter may be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses.' If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if he refuses to listen even to the church, treat him as you would a pagan or a tax collector." When speaking of witnesses, Jesus is referring to Dt 19:15, noting that the truth of an infraction cannot be born out simply by one person's word. The need for this verification becomes important when we note what He says must be done with an unrepentant person, "treat him as you would a pagan or a tax collector." Since the Jews were forbidden to associate with pagans, and the tax collector was commonly shunned by the Jews for collecting money for Caesar, it is obvious that the same rule is to apply to those who refuse to turn from sin. Paul emphasizes this idea further in 1 Cor 5:3/8, including the church leadership in the role of responsibility to hold each other accountable, explaining that acceptance of sin by the leadership can and likely will encourage sin among more and more members of the congregation.

Holding believers accountable does not stop at pointing out the sin, and separating from them if they continue in it; it continues to forgiveness and reconciliation for those who realize that they have erred, and make an effort to seek God through prayer and the church to effectuate the necessary change in their behavior. They may even slip back into their sin from time to time, as they learn to trust God to help them avoid it. In cases such as this, God tells us to forgive the sinner, as Jesus explained in Mt 18:21/22. Here, Peter asks how many times we must forgive each other, and Jesus answers with a number that is impossible for a human to keep track of, unless one is making a conscious effort to record all infractions made, which is not only impractical, it is counter to God's Word. Paul helps exemplify forgiveness also, as is demonstrated in 2 Cor 2:5/8, encouraging the church leaders to forgive those who are repentant, and allow them to be reconciled with the church, thereby demonstrating God's love to the fallen, and reaffirming their own love for the members of the body who have turned from sin. By doing so, the church ignores their social status, political stature, and even their physical appearance, and accepts all for who they are in Christ. We are, as Christ admonished, to "go and do likewise," giving gentle correction in love, and forgiving those who receive it.

We will be accused of judging the person rather than the action, and it will bother, as I noted it annoys me. But, to God be the glory, for by being obedient in this issue, we reflect Christ to the world, and prevent sin from growing like a cancer on the heart of the church.

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Member Comments
Member Date
Jim Fulton 27 Nov 2002
I forgot how excellant this article is. I cannot add anymore comments to what has already been posted, but I will add this though - Is it judging when brothers or sisters hold each other accountable, knowing what the rules of the household are? I think if we come with this approach, we're not coming off as "holier-than-thou" and we are reaffirming our standards and absolutes.
Tom Phelps 03 Dec 2001
Excellent! We should hold believers accountable for their actions. Non-believers need to know where we stand but we need to show them grace. To many in the church see someone who they consider "a terrible sinnner" and actually are upset they are there. We should never be "Holier than thou" in our attitude. God's grace was extended to us in our sin and we must extend God's grace to all we come in contact with. We are not to beat people over the head with the truth. We should never forget where we came from. This helps us have compassion on others.
Deborah Porter  02 Dec 2001
Very good points Judy. I think it comes down to how it's expressed and who is expressing it. Part of being in the Body of Christ is to make sure that we hold one another accountable and keep on the right track. Some people will never cope well with correction though, no matter how well or lovingly it's expressed. Deb


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