Is it a sin to doubt or question another person’s salvation?
A woman once complained that a man had expressed doubts that she was a Christian. Then she judged him saying that it was wrong for him to judge her and quoted part of Matthew 7:1, “Judge not lest you be judged.” She was furious. The question that we are concerned with is, “Is it a sin to doubt or question another person’s salvation?” Was she correct?
Two Or Three Witnesses Required
The first point that we should discuss is that throughout Scripture God warns us to not judge others before we have all the information. For example, in Deuteronomy 19:15-21 God told Israel to hear from two or three witnesses before making a judgment.
A single witness shall not rise up against a man on account of any iniquity or any sin which he has committed; on the evidence of two or three witnesses a matter shall be confirmed. Deuteronomy 19:15 (NASB)
It is common for people to conclude that certain individuals are guilty of some evil deed before they have all the information. They have a limited amount of information about a person’s actions but they jump to a conclusion that they are guilty. This is a common reaction in our society and especially in politics because truth is not always the goal. At times, condemnation is the goal. Even worse, people often manufacture false witnesses to condemn a person. God warns false witnesses that they will not go unpunished (Proverbs 6:19; 19:5, 9; 21:28).
A false witness will not go unpunished,
And he who tells lies will not escape.
Proverbs 19:5 (NASB)
The message is simple. Do not listen to false witnesses and do not reach a conclusion based on incomplete information.
God Teaches Us To Make Judgments
The above passages reveal that God expects us to make judgments about individuals but we must avoid false witnesses. Truthful witnesses are required since God expects us to make righteous or just judgments about a person.
In Deuteronomy 18:20-22 we discover that God wants us to determine who is a false prophet and then tells us how to make that determination.
“But the prophet who speaks a word presumptuously in My name which I have not commanded him to speak, or which he speaks in the name of other gods, that prophet shall die.” You may say in your heart, “How will we know the word which the LORD has not spoken?” When a prophet speaks in the name of the LORD, if the thing does not come about or come true, that is the thing which the LORD has not spoken. The prophet has spoken it presumptuously; you shall not be afraid of him. Deuteronomy 18:20-22 (NASB)
Other passages teach that God expects us to make judgments about individuals. A few examples are Genesis 49:16; Exodus 18:13-26 and Number 35:24.
God Warns Us To Not Be Judgmental
We often hear people say, “Do not judge lest you be judged.” Sometimes this statement is followed by a display of anger. It is an accurate quote of Matthew 7:1.
Do not judge so that you will not be judged. Matthew 7:1 (NASB)
But the meaning that some people apply to the verse is wrong. Jesus was not saying to not make judgements about individuals. We have already discovered that God encourages us to determine if someone is a false prophet (Deuteronomy 19:15). He encourages us to use truthful witnesses in order to reach a true and valid conclusion. In John 7:24 Jesus said,
Do not judge according to appearance, but judge with righteous judgment. John 7:24 (NASB)
God expects us to make judgements, but they must be honest and righteous. What Jesus condemned in Matthew 7:1-5 was unjust and judgmental attitudes. Romans 2:1-3 warns us against the practice of repeatedly judging others.
Do Not Speak Against One Another
Therefore, how do we understand James 4:11-12?
Do not speak against one another, brethren. He who speaks against a brother or judges his brother, speaks against the law and judges the law; but if you judge the law, you are not a doer of the law but a judge of it. There is only one Lawgiver and Judge, the One who is able to save and to destroy; but who are you who judge your neighbor? James 4:11-12 (NASB)
Since we have already discovered that God urges us to make righteous or just judgments, we must conclude that James 4:11-12 is not prohibiting us from making judgments. Instead, it is warning against the practice of speaking against one another. This conclusion is supported by the fact that the Greek word that is translated as “speaks” is katalaleo. The word actually means “to incriminate” or “speak evil against.” The verb is a present participle which refers to an ongoing activity of incriminating or speaking evil against others. The Greek word that is translated as “judges” is krino. It is also a present participle verb. Therefore, we have a warning to not be habitually speaking against or habitually judging other individuals.
Some people are constantly judging or finding fault with others. Such behavior is a sin. Therefore, God commands us in James 5:9 to not complain against one another.
Do not complain, brethren, against one another, so that you yourselves may not be judged; behold, the Judge is standing right at the door. James 5:9 (NASB)
The Greek word translated as “complain” is stenazo. It literally means “to groan.” Christians are not to groan against one another. James is concerned about Christians who are judgmental.
James 4:11-12 does not eliminate making judgments about other people, but it does warn us to not be habitually speaking evil against others. Both Matthew 7:1 and Romans 2:1-3 warn us against habitually judging others and against making wrong judgments. This is God’s will.
Can We Judge Another Person’s Salvation?
Since God clearly teaches that we must make judgments in order to determine if someone is qualified to be a leader in a church (1 Timothy 3:1-7; Titus 1:5-9), if someone is a false prophet (Deuteronomy 19:15-21), or if church discipline should be followed in order to rescue someone who is sinning (Matthew 18:15-18), we must conclude that we can also evaluate the possibility that someone is not a Christian or is a Christian. We must remember that judgmental attitudes based on little or no facts are sin. One is not permitted to “groan against” one another.
It is obvious that the apostle Paul questioned the salvation of the Corinthians because of their sinful behavior.
Test yourselves to see if you are in the faith; examine yourselves! Or do you not recognize this about yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you — unless indeed you fail the test? 2 Corinthians 16:5 (NASB)
In this verse the apostle challenged the Corinthians to examine themselves to determine if they were Christians. He questioned their salvation because of the sins they were committing. One can read 1 and 2 Corinthians to discover that the apostle rebuked them for some sin in almost every chapter for a different sin.
The book of Hebrews also repeatedly expresses concern that the group of people to whom the book was written might not be Christians. Hebrew 6:1-4 is a major warning that some individuals had heard the gospel about Christ but were thinking about walking away from Christ. Some of them were not growing in their knowledge of the Scriptures (Hebrews 5:11-14), no longer ministering to others (Hebrews 6:10), not regularly attending church (Hebrews 10:24-25) and were not walking by faith (Hebrews 11).
In fact, believers must evaluate prospective spouses in order to determine if they are a Christian since Christians are commanded to only marry believers (1 Corinthians 7:39). From this we conclude that we can evaluate the salvation of another person. In fact, we must warn them if they are not in the faith.
The major signs that a person is a Christian is that they are sinning less and less (Romans 8:13-14; Galatians 5:16-21) and are being filled with the Spirit (Galatians 5:22-23). 1 Corinthians 12:3 also reveals that they regard Christ as their Lord and are obedient. For a list of more marks or indicators that a person is a Christian, visit “Looking For Evidence You Are a Christian?”
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