Phil Robertson's Proof Passage and Judging Others

Are you a judgmental person?

A judgmental person is someone who looks down on others and thinks he is better than them. For example, a gay person looking down on a straight person would be guilty of being judgmental. And a straight person looking down on a gay person is likewise guilty of being judgmental.

If a gay person says, "I disagree with the traditional biblical interpretation regarding homosexuality," that is an opinion. Likewise, if a straight person says, "I agree with the traditional biblical interpretation regarding homosexuality," that too is an opinion.

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The sharing of opinions is often done by gay and straight people who genuinely care for all people, and who don't look down on others and place themselves above them. Then again, there are both gay and straight people who do indeed seem to look down on others, and thereby "judge" them.

Words, tone and motive are good indicators of whether or not a person is judging others. And yet, it really boils down to what is in the heart. Ultimately, only the Lord knows each man's heart.

So does Phil Robertson, in his heart, think he is better than gay people? My opinion is that he doesn't think so. But if he does, then that of course is judgmental, and wrong.

A separate issue is the way in which Phil described his theological beliefs when asked about "sin." Many of us would have framed it differently, and worded it differently. But the general message Phil seemed to want to get across is that the Bible does indeed present a path of righteousness which leads to heaven, and a path of deliberate sinfulness which prevents a person from "inheriting the kingdom of God."

Our society seems to have lost any understanding of what it truly means to "judge" someone. If you are "judging someone" simply by declaring certain behavior to be wrong and sinful in God's eyes, then Phil Robertson definitely judged people who are listed in 1 Corinthians 6:9-11; and many people have likewise judged Phil Robertson by stating their belief that his behavior was wrong.

If that's what it means to "judge" others, then no one can have any view about "right" and "wrong" without it being "judgmental." But I would like to say here that this is not what it means to "judge" people.

Christianity clearly teaches that judging others is wrong. (see Romans 2:1) But even many non-Christians realize it is wrong to judge others. There seems to be an almost universal awareness that looking down on others is wrong.

Enter Phil Robertson. When asked to define "sinful behavior," he paraphrased this Scripture passage which states, "Do you not know that the wicked will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: Neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor male prostitutes nor homosexual offenders nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers or swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. And that is what some of you were. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God." (1 Cor. 6:9-11)

Much confusion as arisen over the years because of a misunderstanding of this passage.

First of all, notice how "adulterers" is mentioned before any homosexual sin. In other words, sexual sin is wrong in God's eyes no matter the type. And for every person who engages in homosexual behavior, I suspect there might be 100 people who engage in fornication or adultery. So it would be ludicrous to state that this passage focuses primarily on homosexual behavior.

Secondly, notice the range of sins mentioned. While sexual sin is the only sin against our own body, (see 1 Cor. 6:18 a few verses later) all other sins are equally as damning.

Thirdly, God is rightly able to make judgments. It isn't a sin for Him to judge people. He is God, and the Judge of all. He rightly views Himself as better than us because He is a lot better than us. He is completely holy and without sin.

Fourthly, the sinful "labels" in 1 Corinthians 6 are used to describe people who intentionally plan to pursue things like slander, greed, and sexual immorality. You never find one of these sinful labels used as a noun for a believer in the New Testament. That is key. And it doesn't mean that we as believers don't struggle with temptations and setbacks in any of these areas. But it means that a believer has been washed through faith in Christ and His blood, and is therefore someone who by God's grace is sincerely trying not to sin. Period.

You don't ever find the Bible referring to someone as a "Christian drunkard," or a "Christian swindler," or a "Christian adulterer." You just don't. These "sinful nouns" are only used in the Bible in reference to those who are still committing the greatest sin (unbelief,) and are therefore outside of God's family. About the closest Paul came to using sinful words for Christians is when he addressed believers who were engaging in "jealously" and "quarreling." (1 Cor. 3:3) Those verbs described actions that were wrong, but were nevertheless being willfully committed by believers. Paul referred to those immature believers as "infants in Christ." (1 Cor. 3:1)

But the nouns in 1 Cor. 6 are labels used only for unbelievers. And it wasn't Christians who came up with that original usage of these terms. It was God Himself. "All Scripture is God-breathed." (2 Timothy 3:16)

If you are a believer in Jesus, you still struggle with temptation and the "verb stuff" of "doing" wrong things; but you are no longer that former person. Your noun today is "believer," and "Christian," and "child of God." And you now want to do things (verbs) that are pleasing to God. It is only your old nature that still desires to sin, but that is no longer "the real you." (see Romans 7:14-25) A large part of Christianity is knowing who you are in Christ, and who you aren't anymore.

St. Paul wrote this about believers: "And that is what some of you were..." (1 Cor. 6:11) Catch that word, "were." If you are in God's family through faith in Jesus, these sinful labels no longer describe your new life in Christ. The real you is who you want to be, and not who you used to be, or even who you are still tempted to be at times.

Do you see that? It is very important to get it. Otherwise, the proof passage used by Phil Robertson will zoom right over your head. And you will miss the real meaning.

Only God has the right to judge people. I suppose if you ever create a world and create some people, you too will have the right to judge them, and define "right" and "wrong" for them. That appropriate "judging" just goes with the territory.

Having said that, I think there is definitely a wiser way to make the point Phil Robertson wanted to make, especially in America today. But who among us isn't guilty of looking back at something we said and realizing we could have stated it much better, or clearer?

Phil Robertson is to be commended for his decision to point to God's Word when was asked to define "sin." (Or are you and I qualified to define ultimate right and wrong?) That doesn't mean all of us would commend Phil's choice of words, or the way Phil framed his answer. Phil is not a politician to be sure. He is, however, a committed Christian who believes the Bible, and who claims to love all people regardless of their beliefs and behavior.

Personally, I believe him. But I am not going to stake my soul on my perception of his motives because I don't know Phil's heart with 100% certainty. Instead, I am going to stake my soul on God's Word and the cross where Jesus gave His life and shed His blood for sinners like myself, and Phil, and you. I do know that place of grace with 100% certainty because my Savior said, "It is finished." (John 19:30)

This upcoming week of Christmas will be joyful if we remember Who it is that came here to save us, and why none of us has any room or any right to judge others. Period.

Dan Delzell is the pastor of Wellspring Lutheran Church in Papillion, Neb. He is a regular contributor to The Christian Post.

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