{Lessons Learned} Judge Not – There, But for the Grace of God, Go I

Posted on: March 14th, 2013 by Laurie Coombs 9 Comments

There but for the grace of God...

“Judge not, and you will not be judged; condemn not, and you will not be condemned; forgive, and you will be forgiven…” – Luke 6:37

A 16th century English church Reformer named John Bradford allegedly said, “There, but for the grace of God, goes John Bradford,” as he watched executioners lead his fellow prisoners to their deaths. Bradford, who had been imprisoned in the Tower of London for his Protestant faith by Queen Mary I of England, was later burned at the stake, dying a martyr’s death.

It is said that, “Before the fire was lit, [Bradford] begged forgiveness of any he had wronged, and offered forgiveness to those who had wronged him. He subsequently turned to his fellow and said, ‘Be of good comfort brother; for we shall have a merry supper with the Lord this night!'” (Wikipedia).

What an amazing man of God!

Forgiveness was the last sentiment Bradford felt, not judgement. How easy it would have been for him to judge those who harmed him, but instead, as he stood chained to a stake facing his accusers, this man echoed the words his Lord had spoken a century and a half before. Just as when Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do” (Luke 23:34) as He hung on that cross, Bradford spoke words of love in the face hate. Words of mercy and grace in the face of great darkness. And words of forgiveness in the face of unimaginable persecution.

From Bradford’s quote, “There, but for the grace of God, goes John Bradford,” came the well-known statement, “There, but for the grace of God, go I.” Bradford didn’t look upon the offenses of his fellow prisoners with condemnation, though he had every opportunity to do so. He––being a righteous man, imprisoned for his faith in Christ––didn’t judge those around him for their sins. He didn’t compare his sins to others, considering himself greater than the other inmates, but instead, he knew his place. He knew he was no better than any other. He knew that apart from God’s grace, we are all capable of doing the unthinkable.

And I think that just may be the key. Perhaps humbly accepting our propensity to sin is the very thing that protects us from sin. Maybe recognizing our proclivity toward sin is what enables us to keep a humble heart. To judge ourselves with sober judgment. To not think more highly of ourselves than we ought (Romans 12:3). All of which should drive us to God. When we rightfully believe we’re capable of doing things we never thought we could, we begin to understand what I believe Bradford understood––our incredible need for God’s amazing grace. Paul wrote to the church in Corinth, “By the grace of God I am what I am” (1 Corinthians 15:10), and he was right. It is by grace alone that we stand. That I stand.

We are all prone to folly; we are all prone to sin. And so, it is not our place to judge.

How have you been judged by those around you? How have you judged others? Join the conversation on my Facebook page.


** Scripture says quite a bit about judging others. Join me as I share more on this topic in future posts.

  • Jef Cotham

    Compared to some people, perhaps I’ve lived a sheltered life. Nonetheless, my career has allowed me to help others learn about cultures of the world and see much of the world in an immersive fashion, including while working in another country and
    participating in cooperative exchanges that required extensive cultural indoctrination. Although I’ve been humbled to be in the presence of people I consider morally, intellectually, and even spiritually more enlightened than myself, I’ve never met anyone qualified to cast the proverbial first stone.

    Yes, there is undeniable evil of an incorrigible nature in this world and all men of good hearts must be vigilant towards such evil lest civil society fall into anarchy. In
    Exodus, God’s order to completely annihilate the Amalekites stemmed from
    protective love because the Amalekites attacked the Israelites without provocation. Today, we have legal systems, inspired in part by Biblical commandment, designed to protect people from those who commit wrongdoing. As with all human institutions, its processes are not immune to the vagaries of political and other insidious machinations. For that reason, there is an appeals process.

    For all its safeguards, however, the law of man is still a
    human creation susceptible to human imperfection. Unfortunately, while man is incapable of establishing infallible law, he is also incapable of perfectly compiling with
    God’s law, which leads to sin and separates man from God. There are many ways in which man can sin. He can break the law of man or the Commandments of God with his conduct. He can think unclean thoughts. He can insult or merely fail to extend consideration to his neighbor with his words or his actions, thereby breaking the Golden Rule of Christ that “Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself.”

    Fortunately, Jesus Christ, the Son of God, lived as a man. If man were capable of rejecting all sin, the life of Christ would have served as a sufficient example and His
    brutal, humiliating crucifixion wouldn’t have been a requisite part of the process. No man in recorded history, however, has replicated the life of Christ.
    So, Christ—who was above the judgment of any mortal man—shouldered the
    cross and suffered an agonizing crucifixion to take the place of man. My sins drove those nails into Christ’s hands, just as your sins drove them into His feet, and someone else’s sins pierced his side or placed a crown of thorns on his head. None of us are without fault and if we truly believe in the mission of Jesus Christ, we understand that He established one Golden Rule so that we could learn to open our hearts and love each other despite our faults, not vainly spend our lives trying to atone for our sins that can’t be washed away without His blood.

    How often has the media or even we as individuals rushed to judgment only to learn of extenuating circumstances much later? We should not only remember that when we consider ourselves worthy of judging another that we stand in the peril of judgment, but also that whatever man does unto the least of his kind, he does
    unto God. King David committed a repugnant series of atrocities and yet God found favor with his heart. I shudder to think I would be so imprudent as to, in my own heart, condemn such a man.

    There are men who deserve to be incarcerated for life based on their crimes against society and the potential danger they represent to their fellow man. Perhaps, though, some of them are greater men than me. I’ve had the privilege of teaching prison courses, so that would not shock me. Nonetheless, that is between them and God. My flesh is weak and I have impure thoughts, which Jesus told us is a sin. My mind is unable to fully comprehend God’s plan for me, and yet I have the temerity to question how the order of things unfolds sometimes when
    retrospect reveals that order as part of His plan and when retrospect wouldn’t even
    be necessary if my faith were stronger. (Yet, luckily for me, the Bible speaks of moving mountains with the mere faith of a mustard seed!)

    So, I certainly lack the credentials to judge others. Sin is sin and it’s not my place to judge sin, especially when the sinner is repentant. Jesus did not die simply for the rich or the poor or those who attend a particular church or any organized church at all. He died for everyone. If we’re not comfortable with that, we need to examine our priorities. Indeed, the Bible holds a particularly contentious view of slander because it is in direct opposition to the Golden Rule. Don’t speak evil of others and you’ll be surprised what they tell you about themselves. Don’t delight in the misfortune of others because their misfortune hurts God and limits our collective potential. Instead of judging others, we should listen without judgment because we do not know their hearts. We also do not know the circumstances that drove them to commit their sins. But, if we listen, we might be able to help them turn to Christ and overcome those

  • BJ Theis

    @LaurieCoombs  Thank you for you response…. I agree with the simple statement…. We are not to judge.. Jesus is….. I have recently been put in the position to speak to the action of a person I care about.  Here is how I used my ‘better judgment’ but did not condemn: I spoke of disliking the action but loving the person…completely!  I can speak to the action of another with the understanding that it is not my place to condemn nor judge.  I may speak to the ways one’s actions hurt others but ultimately it is the separation from God’s grace that is the most hurtful of all.  It is in this kindness of communication that God’s word can lead them back to grace.  I like the wisdom in a tribal custom I heard of once…. In some African cultures (sorry if I cannot speak to the accuracy of which one) when someone commits a wrongful act, instead of separating themselves from the person, they surround them in a circle and for two weeks speak of the wonderful things the person has done.  The method is centered in the belief that all people are centered in goodness but the human condition we expect them to stray or fail.  By surrounding them and speaking of their goodness the hope is that it will remind them of that spiritual center and that they will return to goodness.  The faith spoken in this action is so strong that I wish we would do this in all cultures.  Can you image the soul as a young child and he commits an act we don’t want him to repeat, do we surround the child and bash him repeatedly with what he has done wrong?  Or, do we inspire him to act well and with God’s grace return to the kindness that exists in us all?  I find the story of choosing to belief in goodness as an internal part of us all as close as I can get to understanding the enduring love of our Lord!  I have found this morning’s lesson inspiring as I have taken this time to reflect and draw myself closer to God…. thank you!

  • wades55

    Actually, that’s a myth. John Bradford NEVER said that.

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  • Bob Goodnough

    There is a difference between righteous judgement and self-righteous judgement.

    • LaurieCoombs

      Absolutely, Bob!

      All too often, however, people judge under the guise of “righteous judgement” while they are simply acting out of a self-righteous heart.

      Thank you for you insight!

  • https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?fbid=4762694396954&set=a.1929333804710.107736.1583160241&type=1&relevant_count=1

    The same Lord did not say we should not judge but said, “Judge not according to appearance, but judge a righteous judgment.” The point of Matthew 7:1 is not to judge without considering your own judgment by the same standard.

    It is interesting how people pick & choose the scriptures that suit them. Makes me think that some did not learn comprehension while in school. Some read but never comprehend what they read.

    The Bible says in 2 Tim 3:16. “All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for reproof, for doctrine, for correction, for instruction in righteousness…….

    Still not convinced read this article:

    This article is given by: Get your facts straight and is a straight and narrow path that leads to God through Jesus…
    Are we, as Christians, to judge other people? Did Jesus judge people in his ministry?

    As you know, there are many in the religious world today who claim that it is an outright sin to judge other people. They say these things especially at times when they, individually, are caught red handed within some particular sin or another or some particular false doctrine or another. They say this as an excuse from dealing with the truth of God’s word on any particular subject in which they have learned that they stand condemned before God. The passages that are often cited in support of this defense are: Matthew 7:1, John 12:47, James 4:11. I will endeavor to deal with these passages in this answer as well as cite a few passages that support the idea of making appropriate judgments.

    First Matthew 7:1 is often cited as the quintessential passage against judging another. Verse one is quoted most often, “Judge not that you be not judged.” Many times this passage is quoted and completely taken out of its original context. It is quoted to mean that one should NEVER judge another. However, this is not what the passage means and this is not what the original context of this passage means. By examining what the passage says in verses 2-4 you will find that Jesus is not talking about all judging. Jesus is talking about hypocritical judging. Jesus says, “Or how wilt thou say to thy brother, Let me pull out the mote out of thine eye; and, behold, a beam is in thine own eye? Thou hypocrite, first cast out the beam out of thine own eye; and then shalt thou see clearly to cast out the mote out of thy brother’s eye.” The point of judgment about which Jesus is referring is when the one judging has a fault within his life bigger than the fault in the life of the one whom he is judging. So this person is being a hypocrite in judging. That is the kind of judging that Jesus is condemning. So to use this passage to say that ALL judging is wrong is simply a misuse of the passage. To use this passage to say such would to bring Jesus into contradiction with himself, because Jesus said in John 7:24, “Judge not according to the appearance, but judge righteous judgment.” So there you have Jesus saying directly to “judge righteous judgment” and therein lies the difference between the two. The one type of judgment–hypocritical judgment–is condemned. The other type of judgment–righteous judgment–is approved and encouraged.In John 12:47 we read, “And if any man hear my words, and believe not, I judge him not: for I came not to judge the world, but to save the world.” This passage, upon initial reading, certainly appears as if Jesus is saying that he did not come to judge the world. Does Jesus mean by this that we are to make no personal judgments in our life regarding others? This is not what Jesus is saying at all. Once again, context is key to understanding this verse. In the very next verse, John 12:48, Jesus says, “He that rejecteth me, and receiveth not my words, hath one that judgeth him: the word that I have spoken, the same shall judge him in the last day.” We see from verse 48 that Jesus DOES judge. He judges at the appropriate time–at the last day. We will be judged by Jesus’ words and so we must live by them and judge ourselves by them each and every day of our life, to prepare for that great Day of Judgment. We also use Jesus words to teach other people and in so teaching them, it is not we who judge, but the words of Jesus that judge. In addition, the word judge in verse 47 is used in the sense of condemn. It was not Jesus purpose when he first came to condemn mankind. It was his purpose to provide for man’s salvation. So the judging that Jesus is saying that he does not do in this passage has no bearing upon personal judgments that we may make one with another.

    James 4:11, 12 states, “Speak not evil one of another, brethren. He that speaketh evil of his brother, and judgeth his brother, speaketh evil of the law, and judgeth the law: but if thou judge the law, thou art not a doer of the law, but a judge. There is one lawgiver, who is able to save and to destroy: who art thou that judgest another?” This passage is a little more difficult to understand, but I think that we can get the essence of it. First, this type of judging has to do with speaking evil of someone else. The Christian ought never to do this. In fact, we are to give blessing to others, not cursing according to 1 Peter 3:9. So the passage starts with the idea of a Christian who is speaking evil of another Christian. When we personally make judgments against another brother and speak evil of him, then we become a judge instead of one who is practicing the law. We also then judge the law, because we pronounce our own personal judgments upon others particularly when the law does not condemn them. I think that is what this passage is discussing. That is, it is specifically in regard to speaking evil against others. So the judgment that is being made has already been condemned–it is an “evil” judgment, not a righteous one.

    The Bible teaches that there is a sense in which the Christian must judge. This is to judge based upon the word of God. Remember, when we judge in this manner, we are not judging someone, but the word of God is judging. Let’s look at a few passages. First, in 1 Corinthians 5:12 Paul says, “Do you not judge them that are within?” Here, Paul is talking about judging Christians who are not living according to the standards that Christ sets for them. In particular, he was talking about the fornicator that was among them. However, Paul does not limit this process to just fornication. He says in verse 11, “But now I have written unto you not to keep company, if any man that is called a brother be a fornicator, or covetous, or an idolater, or a railer, or a drunkard, or an extortioner; with such an one no not to eat.” We are, in fact, obligated to judge Christians who are engaged in these sinful situations. In the very next chapter, we also notice 1 Corinthians 6:1-3. This passage teaches that instead of going to a court of law to settle differences between Christians, we are to judge such matters among ourselves. Here is another form of judging that the Christian is to do. Finally, notice also Matthew 7:16-20. This passage teaches that we are to judge men according to their fruits. As we mentioned earlier in John 7:24, Jesus said, “Judge not according to the appearance, but judge righteous judgment.” Jesus also said in Matthew 7:6 “Give not that which is holy unto the dogs, neither cast ye your pearls before swine, lest they trample them under their feet, and turn again and rend you.” Who are the “dogs” in this passage? Who are the “swine” in this passage? How do we determine that? We must make judgments. We, as Christians, have obligations to judge certain situations. Jesus taught us to do this in regard to false teachers, people who are not living morally, and those who have proven themselves unworthy of the gospel. Jesus also taught us not to judge inappropriately. We should not judge hypocritically. We should not judge unrighteously, and we should not judge in a condemnatory fashion.

    • LaurieCoombs

      Agreed, but we must be careful.

      More often than not, we are prone to judge others based upon our own self-righteousness, thereby condemning others.

      It is never our place to stand in judgement of the sins of others. We can, however, recognize folly and sin (thereby judging or identifying sin correctly), and we are called to point out the sins of others in an effort to bring them to repentance. But we are never to stand in condemnation of other people. For when we do so, we lift ourselves up higher than we ought.

      Instead, a healthy understanding of the depth of our own sin allows us to see that we are prone to the same folly and sins of others.

      It is absolutely true: we need to look at all of scripture as a whole to gain understanding. We cannot pick out verses to suit our own purposes, but God’s word does say that we are not the judge. Jesus is.

      Thank you for your comment.