My Bill Moment

I probably shouldn’t write about this, but I will.

Last week at theology group, I threw out the statement that we are not to judge others, assuming this was something that everyone agrees to.

The first question shot at me was something about fruit.  So I responded that yes, we can look at the externals, the fruit of a person’s life, but we aren’t able to know what is in another person’s heart.

Ha!  You would think I said something totally outrageous.   Suddenly I was on trial, and the presbyterian pastor with the starched collar began his line of questioning, with a smugness that made me suspicious.

Laying out his argument, he said, “So you would call someone a non-christian, wouldn’t you?”

“As I already said, we cannot know the condition of another person’s heart.”

In the meantime, I wondered if during the weeks that I missed, they had concluded that I was a universalist, which I’m not (not that there’s anything wrong with that), and I was trying to figure out how to answer their questions without proving their conclusions about me.

“But you would say that someone isn’t saved, right?”

This was where I missed my moment to turn the question around.  With a thousand thoughts running through my mind about how I view people and their relationship with God and His with them, I stalled and stood up to refill my water instead of answering.

“Well, you would say someone is an unbeliever, wouldn’t you?”

“It depends on what the meaning of the word ‘is’ is . . .”

Shoot, that ended weakly, leaving me thinking all week about what I should have said. Oh well, maybe next time.

(BTW, we do this for fun. No sacred cows are harmed in the debates.)


22 thoughts on “My Bill Moment

  1. So what do you wish you had said?

    Me … I would spend all week wishing I’d said, “And what is this belief of which you speak?” “How is it measured?”

    1. Sonja,
      I do wish I had turned the question around, saying, “You believe you do know the condition of another person’s heart?” And as you said, have them begin to explain how they determine this.

      “Non-Christian”? Yes, I believe there are people who are not following Christ, maybe even some people who call themselves Christian.

      “Saved”? I see that as an ongoing process. We were saved, are saved, and are being saved.

      “Unbeliever”? Again, I think that most people are in a progression of belief and understanding. This isn’t a label I would choose to use.

      I believe there is a longing within every soul to know God and in some that longing hasn’t yet been realized.

      I believe there can be more work of God and His Spirit in the heart of a person than even the person himself is aware of.

      I believe that the relentlessness of God’s pursuit of those He loves is beyond my understanding.

      I believe that a heart and life can be changed in a moment.

      I do not believe in trying to determine if a person is in or out, but rather in encouraging each person toward the love of the Father and letting Him worry about the condition of their heart.

      I have yet to meet a person who doesn’t want or need to be encouraged in this truth.

      Maybe more than you asked for. You got my first-of-the-morning thoughts.

      1. Looks to me like I got the cream of the crop ;-)

        I like what the direction you’re headed and I hope you get the chance to have a more thorough conversation about this with your group. It would be a good, redemptive convo to have.

  2. It might have provoked an interesting conversation to press the group into a bit of a thought experiment based on not being able to label or categorize people (saved, unbeliever, etc). What happens when we take the claim that only God knows the heart seriously, and deal with people as they are without boxing them in? Come to think of it, it’s a conversation I’d love to have with a few folks of sporting temperament!

  3. To claim one does not judge is the most utterly ridiculous thing anyone can say.

    Every second of our existence we judge in order to stay alive. You judge some food is bad, so you stay away from it, and everything in life is like this.

    You notice a man following you in a dimply lit area, but you see clearly he’s carrying a large knife in his hand. If you do not judge that man, then sure, you can be sure that within a few brief seconds, you’ll never judge another person again.

    Yeshua wants us to judge as He would, not to not judge at all.


    1. Yes, Israel, we do judge or discern many things, including behavior, which was why I clarified that I only meant that we are not to judge the condition or motives of another person’s heart. We do not have God’s ability to judge another heart rightly.

  4. Years ago I became aware of the fact that I spoke two languages.. one with church folks and one with everyone else. I didn’t like it and began to try to speak one language.. it is still a journey because so many religious folks like the religious lingo (i.e. “saved”).. and I am sometimes a bit guarded with folks who do not seem “Christian”. Amazingly though.. when I let down my guard.. some of these “unbelievers” say the most spiritual things. :)

    The issue with classifying the world into two camps is that we subtly create an adversarial system where it is really difficult to bear our hearts to each other.. the very thing that attracts people into considering the claims of the kingdom.

    1. So true Bob. If we’ve predetermined that someone is outside the camp, we may overlook what the Spirit is doing in their life. And I think we vastly underestimate our potential to be condescending to “unbelievers”.

  5. LOL, love the Bill moment….reminds me of the conversation with my former sr. pastor when he said: “So, you wouldn’t use the Sinner’s Prayer?”

    I agree that we are to judge as Jesus would judge, but we have to be careful when we think we actually are able to judge as Jesus would. Actually, I like using the word “perceive” better than judge.

    I really prefer to practice believing that all humans are loved by the Father and saved by the finished work of Jesus and are being pursued by the Holy Spirit in order to make them aware of their true situation, so that they might perceive this Reality.

    It’s getting easier, but that is because I’m not hanging out at church buildings and programs anymore. ;^)

    1. “All humans are loved by the Father and saved by the finished work of Jesus and are being pursued by the Holy Spirit in order to make them aware of their true situation, so that they might perceive this Reality.”

      This is perfect Peggy! I wish I had your ability to express myself.

  6. What you should do Grace is wear a “Christian Christmas” sweatshirt next time you attend your theology group – covert like, so no one notices, with something like –


    on it?

  7. What if we made the distinction that we may be able to judge a certain situation and perhaps the intent of someone’s heart for this very moment only and that final judgement is not ours to make?

    For example, my brother openly admits his doubts about God TODAY, but I have no idea what God is doing now or will do in his heart tomorrow. I may be able to somewhat accurately make a judgement call about his life today, but my judgement is only temporal, limited in understanding, has no eternal decision-making ability, and is filtered through my own lens of knowlegde and experience.

    One danger in judging, it seems to me, is that we are reluctant to give up our judgements in the face of new evidence and admit we were wrong. Judging assumes we are right. Or perhaps we were right for that day but still have trouble allowing for changes and decisions that come tomorrow. We are neither omnipresent nor omniscient.

    Well…that’s just my 2 cents for the afternoon.

    1. Mary,
      I considered that I can know what a person tells me about their heart and their relationship with the Father. And I think that is true to a point, as you say. However, I also think that there is usually more going on than most of us are aware of, often even in ourselves.

  8. There is a strong desire amongst many Christians to label who is in and who is out… I do not think this is a Christian tendency, I think it is a human tendency… and one that I believe Christ would have us uproot (mostly because I believe it is founded in insecurity).

    1. True Andrew, I think it is a human tendency to label, categorize, define, delineate, include, exclude, to compare and contrast in order to assess our standing.

  9. I have lots of conversations like this with people. Yeaterday someone asked if the storytelling team I lead was ‘evangelistic’.

    I asked what she meant by evangelistic, and we ended up with a good conversation and a new friendship: thankfully I somehow was able to put our work in a language she could relate to. It doesn’t always happen that way.

    1. Andy,
      Asking questions to open the conversation is a great approach in any situation. It is what I should have done in this case also instead of feeling like I needed to explain myself.

      1. I agree. It seems that Jesus’ favorite approach to critics and seekers alike was to answer with a question. It is a very subtle technique for shifting from a defensive to an offensive position. “Just how much do you really know as opposed to how much you think you know?”

  10. Judgement is such a complex subject in the scripture. Tough one to understand.

    Do not judge, so that you won’t be judged (Matt 7:1)

    Ye Judge after the flesh; I judge no man (John 8:15)

    I came not to judge the world, but to save the world (John 12:47)

    Therefore, anyone of you who judges is without excuse. For when you judge another, you condemn yourself, since you, the judge, do the same things. (Romans 2:1)

    Who are you to criticize another’s household slave? Before his own Lord he stands or falls. And stand he will! For the Lord is able to make him stand. (Rom 14:4)

    — Then after all of that —

    Judge not according to appearance, but judge a righteous judgement (John 7:24)

    But he that is spiritual judgeth all things, yet he himself is judged of no man. (1 Cor 2:15)

    But with me it is a very small thing that I should be judged of you, or of man’s judgment: yea, I judge not mine own self. (1 Cor 4:3)

    For I verily, as absent in body, but present in spirit, have judged already, as though I were present, concerning him that hath so done this deed (1 Cor 5:3)


    So – tough subject – and this is a small sample from scripture – not exhaustive at all ….. would take a lot of meditation to sort this all out – and some lively group discussions.

    Maybe you should take a bunch of scriptures to the group and ask for everyones viewpoint on the scriptures?

  11. Great discussion going on here. I know topics like this have the ability to go crazy (in the best of ways of course).

    Interesting you’d bring up the Bill quote. I was thinking about this just last week. As much as it sounds stupid (from Bill, not from you :P ), I think it’s a valid question. I mean, I can think of at least two very different definitions right now:

    -is equal to, the exact same (e.g. 4 = 4)
    -has these characteristics (e.g. the ball is red)

    Depending on the definition, the sentence could have a completely different meaning. For example:

    -The lion has the characteristic of furriness
    -The lion is equal to furriness.

    Fun stuff to think about. :>) (For some of us anyway…)

    -Marshall Jones Jr.

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