Years ago I knew a legislative staffer who suddenly joined a church. That seemed out of character for him, so I asked him about it. “I’m thinking about running for office,” he admitted, “and my boss told me it looks good.”

Contrast that story with Max (not his real name), who works in a country where it’s dangerous to declare your belief in Jesus. Yet he started a house church to share Christ with his neighbors.

It takes genuine commitment to attend Max’s church. But what about those who identify as believers in areas where it’s normal to call yourself a Christian? Should we judge the validity of each other’s faith?

In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus presented a paradox. He said, “Do not judge others, and you will not be judged” (Matthew 7:1). But just a bit later He warned, “Beware of false prophets,” and told us how to detect them (Matthew 7:15). “A good tree produces good fruit,” He said, “and a bad tree produces bad fruit” (Matthew 7:17). Then He added, “Just as you can identify a tree by its fruit, so you can identify people by their actions” (Matthew 7:20). But isn’t that judging?

In the first instance Jesus is instructing us to be self-discerning. We have no business judging others because our focus should be on what we need to repent of. In contrast to that, Jesus teaches us to be wary of false teachers. We’re to judge their deeds to see if they can be trusted as brothers and sisters in Christ. And clearly, they can’t. Their bad fruit proves their false religion (Matthew 7:17-18).

I didn’t need to judge my friend; I needed to share my faith with him. Ultimately, the key question to ask isn’t, “Is that person a true believer?” but rather, “Do I have a passion to obey Jesus?”

NLT 365-day reading plan passage for today: Isaiah 6:1-13