Where’s the line between judgment and accountability? Jesus is clear that we are to be wary of the first (Matthew 7:1–5) but Paul calls us to seek out and practice the second (Galatians 6:1–5). The problem, though, is that a fundamental part of accountability is recognizing when people are acting outside of God’s will, and then holding them to a higher standard. That can sound an awful lot like judgment, and many interpret it as such. After all, few people take great pleasure in having others point out their faults, even if they would otherwise be blind to them.
There is a natural tendency in most of us to view our criticisms of others as holding them accountable while we see their critiques as judgment. This contrast in how we perceive negative comments is further complicated by the fact that we often can’t fully know what has motivated someone to point out our faults, and a person’s motivation is the key difference in forming the line between judgment and accountability.
When Jesus told us not to judge in Matthew 7, it was in the context of ignoring our own sins in order to point out the faults of someone else. The motivation behind such an action is selfish and meant to build ourselves up by tearing someone else down. By contrast, the accountability of which Paul writes in Galatians 6 is about helping others grow in their walk with the Lord. The focus is on building our fellow believers up so that the community of faith and all those in it might more effectively expand the kingdom.
Do you see the distinction between those two concepts? The act of rendering a criticism may look the same in either case, but the reason behind it makes all the difference.
As Christians, we are frequently labeled as judgmental hypocrites who ignore Christ’s teaching to love our neighbors because we do not accept a particular behavior or lifestyle. Sadly, such criticisms are often accurate. When we lack grace, love, and humility while defending biblical morality, traditional marriage, or any number of other beliefs that God’s word calls us to uphold but that run counter to the opinions of popular culture, then we are being judgmental and society is right to call us out on it.
However, if our primary motivation is to help people live lives that the Lord can bless and better understand the God who wants nothing more than to pour out his abundant love and mercy on a culture that desperately needs both, then we can trust that we are acting in a way that pleases him. Others may not see it that way and, unfortunately, in such cases there’s really not much we can do about it.
The hope, of course, is that as they come to know us better they will begin to understand that such critiques really do stem from love rather than hate. However, even one instance of our pointing out their sin in judgment will often be enough to undo whatever progress has been made. That’s why it’s so crucial for all followers of Christ to think carefully and prayerfully before speaking when such opportunities for accountability present themselves.
God wants nothing more than for all people to know him better and live in accordance with his will. As Christians, he has called us to play a role in helping others do just that—which also means accepting similar help when someone else points out our mistakes. But the manner in which we speak and the heart from which our words come will determine whether such efforts serve God’s plans or those of the enemy.
There’s a fine line between judgment and accountability. Tread carefully.