An interesting pattern continues to emerge in ministry. Professing Christians who seem strangely quick and severe in pronouncing judgment on others are often themselves living in hidden sin. It has happened enough now for it to function as a kind of warning sign for me – or at least a reason to lean in and seek to understand what might be going on beneath the surface.
One American man in a former small group I led was very knowledgeable in the faith and usually pretty easygoing, but he would sometimes lash out at the church or other Christians in ways that seemed out of balance and inappropriate. Turns out he was involved in secret adultery.
A Central Asian man who knew the Bible extremely well and whose entire family had professed faith for years would also unexpectedly lash out at certain kinds of sin and sinners. Again, the vehemence and intensity of these comments just didn’t feel right for someone who professed to be himself saved by the grace of Jesus. In fact, while condemning others, this man was involved in secret theft and shameful financial dealings.
Another local man had a testimony worthy of a missionary biography. He seemed to be growing in his faith and was very faithful in participating in Bible study, though strangely, there were two or three other believers that he seemed to have no mercy at all for. Turns out that behind closed doors this man was extremely manipulative, gas-lighting, and making veiled and direct threats against the physical safety of other brothers in the faith.
In John 12, Judas even rebukes Jesus and the woman’s costly gift of pure nard – while secretly robbing from the money bag himself.
But Judas Iscariot, one of his disciples (he who was about to betray him), said, “Why was this ointment not sold for three hundred denarii and given to the poor?” He said this, not because he cared about the poor, but because he was a thief, and having charge of the moneybag he used to help himself to what was put into it. (John 12: 4-7 ESV)
Again, this pattern has happened enough that I sniff at least correlation, and perhaps causation. As my local friends say when something doesn’t feel right – there’s a hair in this yogurt. Secret sin is a wretched, miserable thing. It tears us up on the inside and we develop all kinds of attempted defenses in response. One of them seems to be a particularly judgmental spirit toward others, perhaps an attempt to deflect the conviction we feel from our own hypocrisy by focusing on others’ shortcomings. What husband and father hasn’t wrestled with irritability toward spouse and kids when he himself is feeling condemned? I know this one has.
Sadly, all of the men I mentioned above ended up causing great damage to the church through their secret sin. In all three situations, I sensed that something was off, but wasn’t quite sure what it might be. Going forward, I have a better sense of what to look for if a professing Christian seems to be unusually harsh and unpredictably judgmental. Something is likely happening behind closed doors. There may be other explanations also, but wisdom would seem to commend barking up this particular tree.
If there is someone like this in our circles, we need to pay attention. That kind of a judgmental spirit is at least indicative of a heart that is not living in the assurance of the gospel. Or worse. It might be indicative of a heart wrestling with the sad and destructive state of secret sin. Let us take heed.