When someone is defending against criticism, they may use the expression “only God can judge me.” On one hand, there is an ounce truth to the statement as it stands. On the other hand, it’s important to observe the underlying motives and attitudes behind the statement when people use it. In my experience, most uses of this expression tend to be a self-defense or evasion tactic, and that isn’t always a good thing. Some use it as an way to escape from the responsibility of their actions, or as a way to ignore objective facts regarding their sin, or as a way to avoid godly correction from fellow believers. Others use it to downplay the valid opinions of others and seek to evade any type of constructive criticism. They do this by emphasizing God as the only one who gives punishments and rewards to mankind.
Two things can be true at once. God truly exists as the ultimate judge of mankind but simultaneously, people use this as an “easy way out” of criticism. Though the statement has been misused by people, I’d like to focus on what is true about the words: God is truly the ultimate judge of man.
We deal with criticism constantly. There is no getting around it. As Christians, living a godly life will invite the critiques both from the unbelieving world and from within the local church.
God’s vindication is a comforting truth to the believer. It helps us endure through the ministry difficulties and the troubles. It encourages us when we face varied types of criticism. Knowing that God will affirm and confirm us in the end allows us to persevere through the here and now.
As a disclaimer, we have to be introspective about ourselves and make sure our actions are in fact pure, and that there is no hidden sin deep within our hearts (Psalm 26). We could be a in a great delusion and God is gracious to use the critiques of man to bring our attention to a sin.
But if in fact we are people of integrity and we are doing the Lord’s work, then we have confidence before Christ and in the day of judgment. Here are a couple ways God’s judgment will encourage you:
1. God Will Test Every Work with Fire
The quality of every man’s work will be tested by fire from the Lord (1 Cor 3:11-15). This is a judgment of legitimacy. Everything that is burned up in the fire will prove itself to be a useless work that was done for temporal purposes. But the work for Christ will stand and will prove its worth for all eternity and for the glory of God. All of our life’s work will be put under this divine scrutiny.
This helps the person who struggling under the weight of criticism and paralyzing statements of man. We do need to put any effort into verifying our work before man or strive to validate ourselves before our critics. God will validate our work with fire in the end, and He will graciously reveal to us the useless ways that we spent our time. But for the useful work, that will be proven in the end. If you are in the will of God in how you are living your life, this is of great comfort to you in criticism. Look forward to the fire in the future. It will be your vindication.
2. God Is the Ultimate Evaluator
Since God is the ultimate evaluator, we don’t have to be so quick to defend ourselves and our ministry. As the number of our critics increase, there is only One to whom we incline our attention: God. Paul says this to Corinth,
For I am conscious of nothing against myself, yet I am not by this acquitted; but the one who examines me is the Lord. Therefore do not go on passing judgment before the time, but wait until the Lord comes who will both bring to light the things hidden in the darkness and disclose the motives of men’s hearts; and then each man’s praise will come to him from God. (1 Cor 4:4-5, emphasis mine).
The passage states that God examines people righteously, and He will reveal people’s true motives in the end. In this world, motives are nearly impossible to judge (even though people attempt to judge them all the time), but God knows the heart of man and will disclose such motives at the end of time. The result of the believer’s righteous motives ends in God’s praise of their faithful obedience. God, the one deserving of all praise and glory, will bring genuine praise and recognition to the faithful believer who sought to serve Him in this lifetime.
There is not need to worry if someone evaluates you incorrectly, or judges you unbiblically, or questions your motives without any merit. This is passage is truly the “only God can judge me” passage (and the appropriate context for such a statement so commonly misapplied). If you are under the scrutiny of unwarranted criticism, then that’s okay. Remember, Job was under heavy criticism from his close friends, but his confidence was in the Lord and in God’s future vindication (Job 13:1-28).
Whether or not you are facing a host of ungodly critiques or your holy living, or a barrage of unrighteous opposition to your proclamation of the Gospel, you can hold fast to this truth: God is pleased in your obedience to Him and He will validate you in the end.