Andrew C. Schroer
On July 22, 2018, a 34-year-old man named Eric Stagno walked into a Planet Fitness gym in New Hampshire. He stopped at the front counter, took off all his clothes, and then proceeded to do yoga in the buff. Those exercising at the time were both shocked and disgusted. The police were called immediately.
Upon his arrest, Stagno claimed he thought he was in a “Judgement Free Zone,” referencing the company’s longtime slogan.
With 1,500 locations and over 10 million members, Planet Fitness is one of the most successful gym franchises in the world. Its claim to be a “Judgement Free Zone” resonates with many people. The pressure of exercising with sculpted body builders and embarrassment over their own bodies often keep people from going to the gym.
They feel like they are being judged.
Planet Fitness has found a way to create a comfortable and welcoming environment for the casual gym user. But, as Eric Stagno found out, there is no such place as a completely judgement-free zone.
One of the things our world today fails to distinguish is the difference between judging and being judgmental. Being judgmental means being quick to judge or harsh in your judgment. It means setting yourself above other people or thinking you are better than them.
God doesn’t want us to be judgmental. We have no right to set ourselves up as judge and jury for someone else. In his Sermon on the Mount, Jesus speaks strong words about those who pridefully judge others (Matthew 7:1-5).
God, however, does judge. He is the Supreme Court of all creation. His moral code will be the standard by which we will all be judged one day. Every single person will be judged by God for what they do in this life. Before God there is no such thing as a judgment-free zone.
When we as Christians lovingly and humbly share God’s moral code with the world—when we call sin “sin”—we aren’t being judgmental. We are simply sharing the decrees of the Judge of all creation.
Our world, however, calls that judgmental. It doesn’t want you or me to say that certain actions or attitudes are wrong. That is considered unloving and intolerant. For our world, love is living judgement free.
But then when a guy gets naked in a gym or a pedophile molests a young boy or a terrorist massacres the innocent, suddenly the world sees the importance of judges and juries. Then there is a higher moral code by which people should be judged.
Deep down we all know there is a higher moral code. We know we haven’t lived up to that moral code. We deserve to be declared guilty by God the Judge.
And yet because Jesus lived and died in our place—because he suffered our guilty verdict in our place—God declares all those who believe in him to be innocent of all charges. Through faith in Jesus, we don’t have to be afraid of judgment day.
But that doesn’t change the fact that judgment day is coming. Even here on earth there are no judgement-free zones, as Eric Stagno discovered. Don’t fall into the trap of thinking that all judging is judgmental. God wants us boldly and lovingly to proclaim his moral code and his judgments even when people don’t want to hear it. Only then will they be able to see how desperately they need Jesus as their Savior.
There is no such thing as a judgement-free zone.
Author: Andrew C. Schroer
Volume 106, Number 4
Issue: April 2019