To be honest, I much prefer all Jesus' talk about love and mercy to this idea of judging others. So when I find a passage in my Bible that is entitled Expel the Immoral Brother!, it kinda makes me queasy. But it is in the Bible, and I've learned that you can't just skip over the parts that make you uncomfortable. When I read it, however, I discovered something wholly unexpected and beautiful.
I discovered that we have absolutely no right to condemn nonbelievers, or even to disassociate with them. Here, read with me:
"I have written you in my letter not to associate with sexually immoral people--not at all meaning the people of this world who are immoral, or the greedy and swindlers, or idolaters. In that case you would have to leave the world. But now I am writing you that you must not associate with anyone who calls himself a brother but is sexually immoral or greedy, an idolater or a slanderer, a drunkard or a swindler. With such a man do not even eat.
"What business is it of mine to judge those outside the church? Are you not to judge those inside? God will judge those outside." -1 Cor. 5:9-13 (emphasis added)So yes, there is a place for our judgement. But it is not for those outside the Church; it is for those within it. In doing this, Paul is advising us not to condone hypocrites--people who claim they know Jesus, but live habitually in a manner that totally contradicts Him. No, not just a Christian who struggles with sin, but supposed Christians who continuously engage in sinful behavior, with no sign of repentance or remorse. For these people are not ignorant to the truth; they know it, and yet spit in its face, slandering the name of Jesus before the whole world (Heb. 10:26-31).
And when we do address sin in the Church, this passage is not saying we do so by ostracizing any Christian who sins. God asks us to deal with His children much more tenderly than that. Rather, "If anyone is caught in a sin, you who are spiritual should restore him gently. But watch yourself, or you also may be tempted. Carry each other's burdens," (Galatians 6:1-2). Notice, it says, "you who are spiritual"; in other words, only those of you who have already removed that two-by-four out of your own eye (Matt. 7:1-5). And when any of our fellow brothers or sisters does repent of sin, we are immediately to "forgive and comfort him [or her]" (2 Cor. 2:7).
When I thought about this principle of judgement in the larger context of the New Testament, I found it to be, to the best of my knowledge, universally true. Whenever the apostles are giving instructions about what is right, and condemning what is wrong, they are speaking to the Church. And we are never called to deal with it in a way that is cruel and self-righteous, but in a way that reflects the way God has dealt, and continues to deal, with us--out of a heart overflowing with great love and mercy.
Ultimately, God is the only true and perfect judge. I find myself only inexpressibly thankful that ours is a story of incredible mercy, and grace, and a love that covers over a multitude of sins.