Do not speak evil against one another, brothers. The one who speaks against a brother or judges his brother, speaks evil against the law and judges the law. But if you judge the law, you are not a doer of the law but a judge. There is only one lawgiver and judge, he who is able to save and to destroy. But who are you to judge your neighbor? (James 4:11-12)
I visited a man working in his yard to ask him what he thought of Christianity. When he saw my collar, he took me to his car, opened the passenger door, and there on the dashboard was a little sign that had a gavel with a "no" symbol over it. He told me that he was against judgment of any kind. I agreed with him that people should not judge each other, because of what it says in the Bible, which I will delve into below. I did not, however, go further and explain to him that the dashboard sign was a form of judgment on others. He did, after all, see my collar and immediately take me to the sign. Wouldn't that mean that he had judged me as a judgmental person?
Many unbelievers' favorite verse in the Bible--usually because it has been told to them and not because they have actually read it or the context--is "judge not," a partial verse. But what does that Bible actually say about judging? Well, according to James, we are not to speak evil against each other, because speaking evil against or judging another speaks evil against the law and judges the law. For clarification of this, we need to go, once again, to the sermon on the mount:
“Judge not, that you be not judged. For with the judgment you pronounce you will be judged, and with the measure you use it will be measured to you. Why do you see the speck that is in your brother's eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when there is the log in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother's eye. (Matthew 7:1-5)
There's our "judge not" fragment. But there is the second half, too: "that you be not judged. For with the judgment you pronounce you will be judged." We, each of us, every human on earth, believer and unbeliever, is under the law of God, exemplified perfectly in the 10 commandments. We are, likewise, all breakers of the law. To judge someone else who is under the law, like you are, is to say that you have an understanding of the law, and you do not break it, so you have a right to judge people by the law. After all, the law is all we have with which to judge others. So, by calling someone a liar, you are hypocrite, because you also are a liar. By accusing someone of theft or adultery or hate, you are pointing fingers at yourself, because you also are a thief and an adulterer and a hater. When I see bumper stickers that say "stop hate" or "stop bullying," I have to shake my head, because we all hate; we all bully; because we are all sinners. In judging another by the law, which is all we have to judge with, we are putting ourselves above the law, claiming to have a perfect understanding of it, essentially judging the law itself, and by judging the law itself, we judge God himself. By putting ourselves above the law, we end up violating the same law to a greater degree than the one we are judging.
There is only one lawgiver, one who is above the law, God himself, and he is actually not above the law, but he IS the law. He cannot change his nature: he is perfectly holy and righteous. To say he is above the law is wrong, because if he were above the law, he could alter the law. To say he is beneath the law is wrong, because that implies another being who is above the law and God would be subject to that new being. No, God IS the law. He cannot change it, because it is his nature. And there is no other law or lawgiver in existence. This is just the way things work.
James tells us that "there is only one lawgiver and judge, he who is able to save and destroy." There is only one in all the universe who is able to save and destroy, and this is God himself. You cannot save another human being, and you cannot destroy another human being. In Matthew 10(28), Jesus tells his disciples, "do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell." Only God can truly destroy. Man can destroy the body of man, but he cannot destroy the person of man. He cannot destroy the essence of man. Only God can do that. Likewise, only God can save another. We can save someone physically or emotionally, and we talk about doing those things in our art and literature all the time, but only God can truly save someone. Jesus tells this to Nicodemus in John 3:
“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God. And this is the judgment: the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil. For everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his works should be exposed. But whoever does what is true comes to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that his works have been carried out in God.” (John 3:16-21)
God gives eternal life through his son Jesus Christ. Notice that Christ did not come to judge the world but that the world might be saved through him. Christ came to save, not to judge. All are already judged by their works and their breaking of the law, but those who believe in Jesus (have faith) have their sins taken away, and therefore there is no condemnation--no judgment upon those individuals who put their complete, penitent faith in Jesus. But those who reject the son, they have rejected the father, too. They are not then placed under condemnation, because they were already under condemnation, under judgment. Jesus only extracts individuals out of judgment, he does not put them there, because our sin already has well established us there. The only judgment that is a true judgment is the rejection of the light that has come into the world. It boils down to one thing: all are under judgment, and anyone who grasps Christ through faith is removed from that judgment. That is all.
When Jesus talks about the log in our own eye and the speck in our brother's eye, the removal of our log does not come through obeying the law or judging others on their disobedience. The only way to remove the log is through faith in Christ. Jesus said himself in John's gospel that the only way out of condemnation is belief in the son, not in any works that we can perform or any pretense of holiness we can drum up. The log can only be removed through faith, and we can then attempt to remove the speck from our brother's eye by sharing the gospel.
What is the Gospel? The beautiful gospel, the only truly good news there is, is that God created a way for us to be saved. Without faith in Christ, we are, all of us, dead in our sins, and we await eternal destruction, eternal ruin. But God so loved the world that he sent his only begotten son, to die in our place, to be ruined in our place, so that we might be saved from that same destruction, that same ruin. He proved this was true by raising Jesus from the dead. He, too, will raise us all from the dead, those who believe in Jesus to eternal life, and those who reject Jesus to eternal ruin after all. The only judgment we really should make is the judgment that Jesus was who he claimed to be and that he is our only way to salvation.