Summary: What is the difference between judgement and discernment in the scriptures? The Bible says don't judge your neighbor, for the same measure you judge them by, you will be judged by
What is the difference between judgement and discernment in the scriptures? The Bible says don't judge your neighbor, for the same measure you judge them by, you will be judged by (Matthew 7:1-2). The Bible also says "test everything" (1 Thessalonians 5). Jesus said don't judge by appearances, but judge with right judgement (John 7:24, 1 Cor 2:15).
But there are two different contexts here. The first form, "judgement" is in the context of condemnation. If I were to judge someone, say they are in sin, and I would say "they are hopeless, they are doomed, nothing can save them." I've just sinned by condemning them by "passing judgement over them." If I were to say a person is evil, beyond repentance, again that's passing judgement. If I were to say that person deserves 20 years in prison, that is passing condemning judgement. If I were to look at a person and think less of them because of their sins, that would be condemning judgement. But there is another.
1 Corinthians 2:15 (ESV) says "The spiritual person judges all things, but is himself to be judged by no one."
Or the NIV translates it as: "The person with the Spirit makes judgments about all things, but such a person is not subject to merely human judgments."
The second context is discernment, or "testing everything." The scriptures interchange the words "judgement", "discernment", and "evaluate." So this can be somewhat confusing. Many Christians seem to think that when Jesus said,"You must not judge" he was referring to all situations where anyone might point out anything about anyone. Jesus' statement is not unqualified. There are qualifiers, barriers around all of his statements. We don't want to get out of control with "just love" or "just never judge." Because the overarching moral themes of the Bible contain numerous, interwoven moral teachings that include mercy, love, truth, judgement, discernment, evaluation, growth, holiness, fairness, justice, and many other themes. All of these teachings are interwoven into a lattice of moral precepts that are applied as a contrariety in any given real life situation. For most of you, you already know this and if you don't you should.
So in any given situation I may apply love to a certain extent, truth to a certain extent, grace to a certain extent, and evaluation, and exhortation, among many others. We study the scriptures thoroughly and daily to be aware of how and when to use which precepts in which situations.
If one of my friends were struggling with pornography, I could go to him and say, "Friend, pornography is wrong, it's evil. I'm encouraging you to change your ways in that area." I've just "exhorted" him to change. Exhortation is a spiritual gift. He has not been judged in anyway. He has been exhorted. I've politely and humbly rebuked him in private. I've applied some love, some mercy, some grace, some truth, matched with evaluation of his circumstance and a humble rebuke to encourage him to change.
The world today thinks that love means accepting any behavior in anyone no matter how destructive it is to that person. That is not the Christian way. We don't encourage people to be in sin, or stay in sin, why? Because sin is destructive, and sin leads to spiritual death. It's loving to warn people of the bad paths they choose. Would you tell a drunk to keep drinking? Would you encourage an addict to keep using drugs? Would you encourage a homosexual person to stay in a culture that often leads to drug use and a sexual practice that can often lead to the spread of disease? Of course not. It wouldn't be loving to do so.
A second example of discernment matches with "exposing evil" (Ephesians 5:11). If someone indicates that an institution is in sin, or that homosexuality is sinful, or that pre-marital sex is sinful, or that pornography in general is sinful, or that drug abuse is evil, or human trafficking is wrong, this person has not "judged" anything in the context of condemnation. But if they were to condemn sin as evil, they would be free to do so. But if they were to condemn the person as evil, that is sinful judgement. When someone calls out an institution practicing wickedness, or a group, or a culture, or a civilizations, they are not sinning. They are engaging in discernment (Hebrews 5:14), exhortation (2 Tim 4:2), and a prophetic role of calling out the sin in the world. The prophetic gift is a spiritual gift (1 Cor 12:10).
Someone might say that you are only allowed to rebuke someone in person. That is true that the standard model for rebuking a fellow believer is in the context of first meeting them in person. But it also says if they refuse the rebuke you are to come back with several others. If the person still refused the rebuke you are to make the sin known to the entire church congregation. Once again we need to look at context, and qualifiers surrounding a statement.