Say you’re walking down the street as a family. There on the sidewalk, an argument erupts at full volume between a couple you don’t know. She’s spewing vile obscenities and venemous accusations; he shoves and vehemently threatens her. Someone they know comes out to successfully intervene, but your kids’ wide eyes are brimming with questions. Do you

a. Cover your kids’ eyes with your free hands, and shoot the couple the evil eye as you stalk off. (Some people…! Get your act together, folks.)

b. Smile at the couple. Act like nothing happened.

c. Wait till you’re out of earshot, then mumble, “WHOA. What a jerk. And what a witch! How does he live with her?! If I ever see you kids acting like that…”

d. ?

Kids present or not, we joust with these situations daily, right? That teenager mouthing off to his mom in Target; the friend who gossips at our dinner table; the colorful language on prime time.

I’m guessing I’m not the only one wrestling with what values look like in light of compassion and mercy. Lately, we’re encouraged more to keep our own “version” of truth and values to ourselves: Your values are okay as long as they don’t interfere with mine.

But (work with me here) I actually see rich possibility in choosing to discern right from wrong. On my grace-filled days, running into someone else’s wrong is a chance to remember how much I’ve been (continue to be!) forgiven. How much the very air I breathe is grace. It’s a chance to play out all over again what God does for me.

You know the people who exude this, I think. They’re the people who make you feel…at home, I guess. Like you can take your shoes off and process life, even if you’re just meeting them on the street. They make you want to slide down your inner masks and examine what’s really going on under there.

In the context of a loving relationship, discernment and grace extend a chance to help someone gently, precisely apply healing to what robs life and true comfort from themselves and those they love, with as little damage as possible. I think of it like a fellow athlete throwing an arm around a shoulder: We’re in the game together. Try this.

So what’s the difference between humbly, firmly identifying what’s right, even if only in our own minds…and bulldozing people?


In a couple of words: humility and love. Discernment, I think, dwells in that place where we lay down the stone we were about to lob. (I’m amazed by this in John 8. Even now, I’m fascinated by the metaphor of the killing power of judgment and the space for a restored life that grace carves out.)

Deuteronomy 6 does say we must talk about God’s commands as they lay their loving grid over all of life—on the road, in our home, when we lie down, when we rise. Maturity has its “powers of discernment trained by constant practice to distinguish good from evil” (Hebrews 5:14).

Yet discernment whispers when we’re about to slide others’ faults under the microscope: “What do you have that you did not receive? And if you did receive it, why do you boast as though you did not?” (1 Corinthians 4:7). I like how Paul David Tripp says it:

It is very clear that no one gives grace better than a person who is deeply convinced of his own need of it. (New Morning Mercies: A Gospel Devotional)



There’s more than a little Pharisee inflating all of our chests. We feel it in that subtle inclination to utilize someone’s weakness to quietly acknowledge ourselves as making better choices, possessing better character. Or view a certain type of people with mild disdain. Or mentally rehearse a friend’s inadequacies. Honestly, I was so ashamed a few months ago to realize I’d been selectively comparing myself to other women to make myself feel good as a mom. C.S. Lewis’ quote was me:

It is the comparison that makes you proud: the pleasure of being above the rest. Once the element of competition is gone, pride is gone.

The opposite of judging, I am convinced, is the gospel. It’s keeping my own need for effusive grace in front of my eyes.

It’s acknowledging that everything I have to my name is a gift.


So one possible solution to the above dilemma (and it’s a working solution; grace appreciated) could be

d. When you’re alone as a family, ask your kids questions about what they noticed, your concern for the couple evident in your tone. Ask what they could do if someone treated them like that. Acknowledge what you don’t know about the couple, and what they might be going through. Pray together for the people you saw.

I’ve created a rough table helping me to slice  between judging and discernment. I wish I’d known this–as in, making it a part of me–before I’d left such a wake among people I care about.

So much more now, I long for the scent of Christ I leave–from the bank teller to my seven-year-old–to be that of compassionate truth-telling and graciousness.


self-serving loving; operates from a place of humility that cares enough to say something at the proper time and in the proper way (see Ephesians 4:29)
works to curse and punish works for deep, lasting goodness for the other person and to lovingly build them
separates; creates “us/them” categories creates unity, removing the sin in our way and remembering we’re all equal at the Cross
condemns offers hope; bears the burden together: love “bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things”
Looks at the outside and makes a self-serving judgment call; does not seek to see oneself in the person’s situation: “Can you believe that?” “I don’t understand how anyone could…” acknowledges what we don’t know; seeks to compassionately understand
wields shame takes its cues from grace: “Neither do I condemn you. Go and sin no more”
sees people without hope and faith in view sees people as being “in process” with capacity to change
makes self superior works not from above, but diligently alongside (see Galatians 6:1-2). Keeps our own utter and constant struggle with sin in mind: “Have mercy on me, a sinner”
often focused on outward behavior works prayerfully with the Holy Spirit to understand the whole truth in someone’s heart, asking God to first work change within self (Matthew 7:5)
Often operates out of fear, pride, and/or control Beckons into the light, like God’s kindness leads to repentance (Romans 2:4)

Interested in how to communicate these principles to your kids? Check out 8 Ideas to Teach Our Kids to Say “Yes” to Discernment and “No” to Judging Others.


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