When we read about the narrow gate and the broad gate in v13-14, we probably think those on the broad road to destruction are completely irreligious drug addicts and prostitutes who love listening to heavy metal bands like Megadeth and Black Sabbath. If you follow Jesus’ argument throughout the Sermon on the Mount, it seems like there will be a sizeable contingent of religious Pharisees who think they are on the narrow way, but they’re not.
How do I know this?
21 “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. 22 Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and in your name drive out demons and perform many miracles?’ 23 Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!’
How tragic! These people spent years and years doing religion. Even prophesying and driving out demons and performing miracles. They were devoted. They were dedicated. They gave their lives to live as servants of God. How tragic, that on that Day, they’ll say, Lord, Lord, it’s me. And Jesus will respond coldly, I never knew you.
Jesus is teaching us how to tell the difference between authentic faith and dead religion. And the fact that in Jesus’ very first sermon, he addresses this topic extensively, it tells me that this is not merely a common problem back in his day, but he already had the foresight to know that it would continue to be a problem throughout the generations, all the way to the present. We need to evaluate and discern and judge between a faith that saves and a religion that does not.
There are 2 steps in understanding the statement–do not judge. Step 1: Interpret the verse in light of its immediate context. And step 2: Interpret the verse in light of the whole counsel of God. If the immediate context leads you to a particular interpretation, but that interpretation contradicts other parts of the Bible, then you have to go back to the drawing board. Why? Because the Bible does not contradict itself.
In 1 Cor 2:15, it says, the spiritual man makes judgments about all things. Similarly, in John 7:24, it says, Stop judging by mere appearances, and make a right judgment. Did Jesus have a case of amnesia? Did Jesus forget what he said in Matthew 7? One minute he says, do not judge, and the next, the spiritual man makes judgments and so if you are a believer, go and make a right judgment.
If we are to take the verse–do not judge–at face value to mean, never judge and be tolerant always, then this interpretation not only fails the test of its immediate context, but it also fails the test of the whole counsel of Scripture. So that should be a red flag. There is a contradiction here. I need to go back to square one and revisit my original interpretation of that verse.
In Greek, the word for “judge” can mean to separate, to discern, choose, determine, condemn, it can mean a lot of different things depending on the context. It’s no different from the English language. Take for example the word “set.” Did you know that there are 464 different definitions for the word “set?” To set a vase on a table. To set a house on fire. The sun sets early in winter. He’s set in his ways. A set of china. Back in the day before wikipedia and the internet, many people owned an encyclopedia set in their homes. We always meet at a set time. Set your clocks ahead one hour. Let’s set apart our fine silverware for special occasions.
How do we know which “set” a person is using? Context. The context of the verse–do not judge–is the Sermon on the Mount. Clearly, Jesus is not forbidding the use of judgment. How else can you judge for yourself between authentic faith and dead religion. You need to use judgment. So here’s the key. We are to use judgment, we are to discern and use good common sense. But there is something that Jesus is forbidding us to do. Jesus is telling us, judge, but do not judge with a judgmental spirit. Judging with a judgmental spirit vs. judging without a judgmental spirit. There is a world of difference. There is the right kind of judging – judging legitimate sin, using good judgment and discernment to tell right from wrong, true vs. false. But there is also the wrong kind of judging and we are strictly forbidden to judge in this manner.
From the context, Jesus is forbidding a judgmental spirit that looks only on the outside. This is the attitude that permeated the Pharisees. The Pharisees saw something that they perceived to be wrong and they looked down their noses at everyone else. They always spoke and acted with a condemning attitude. Think of how many times the Pharisees questioned Jesus throughout the gospels. Why aren’t your disciples fasting? Why are they working on the Sabbath? Why are you hanging out with prostitutes and low lifes? Countless times, over and over.