Question #2: Why are some Christians so judgmental when the Bible teaches compassion, understanding, and kindness?
We’ll just dive right in with this one...
As a Sunday School teacher, it’s interesting for me to think about the different aspects of God’s character that different kids hold more firmly to. Some hop on the Jesus Loves Me train and ride straight on ‘til morning. Whether it’s because of their backgrounds or personal temperaments, it’s easier and more intuitive for them to latch on to the concept of a loving God. These are the kids who might get scared or anxious at the mention of God’s wrath.
Then there are the kids on the other end of the spectrum who can understand God’s wrath more readily than His love. These kids are very well-behaved, disciplined and logical. They hold on to the idea that actions have consequences and they sometimes get confused when the topic of forgiveness comes up.
Whether a person is born into a Christian family or comes to Christ later in life, it’s not uncommon for us to begin our spiritual walks with a leaning in one of these two directions. Especially as adults, our backgrounds and experiences inform our view of God and can bring us to a starting point in our faith.
The hope, of course, is that our understanding of God’s character would continue to expand and evolve as we grow in our faith. That our hearts and minds would learn to hold both His love and His wrath simultaneously—and that we would learn to live out of the most God-honoring balance of the two.
Historically, we as the Church have failed pretty miserably at balancing these scales. In fact, this painfully apparent shortcoming can be traced all the way back to biblical times.
In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus says it plain and clear: “Do not judge, or you too will be judged. For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you” (Matthew 7:1-2).
So the question stands: why do we do it?
1. We point people to Jesus’ rules before pointing them to Jesus
Being a Christian means having a relationship with Jesus. Imagine meeting somebody for the first time and immediately receiving a rulebook for how to be friends with that person. We need to talk every day and you need to change X, Y, Z about yourself. Also, your whole life is about serving me now. How interested would you be in building a friendship with that person? Exactly.
All too often, this is the abrupt introduction that people get to Jesus. We define Him by the standards He sets, and not as the grace-filled Reconciler we know Him to be. This reversal is a critical misstep that pushes people away from experiencing His love.
Why would somebody who doesn’t know Jesus care whether or not they’re meeting His standards? The explanation of That’s not how Jesus wants you to live means nothing if the person hearing it doesn’t care what Jesus thinks about their life choices.
In a lot of ways, it’s easier for Christians to draw lines in the sand and play referee when somebody goes out of bounds. It’s easier to apply cut and dry rules than it is to build a relationship, hear a person’s questions and walk through Jesus' words on the topic. When we take the Change this-Change that-You’re-wrong-I’m right approach, it just reads as self-righteous judgment.
Jesus is the why. We need to start with the why.
2. We miss the mark on “speaking the Truth in love”
In his letter to the Ephesians, Paul tells us what it means to speak the truth in love:
Then we will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of people in their deceitful scheming. Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will grow to become in every respect the mature body of him who is the head, that is, Christ. From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work. (4:14-16).
The first part of the passage is all about remaining firm and rooted in what we know to be true—namely, the Gospel message. Instead of being tossed by the waves of uncertainty, we are to be confident in the Truth that Jesus died for our sins. When we have the confidence in Jesus, we will be built up in love and hence enabled to speak the truth in love.
Those are pretty words, but what does it look like in practice? Similar to the Sunday school students I mentioned before, I think that many grown Christians struggle to strike this balance. I don’t want to compromise the Truth, but how do I share this radically offensive Truth in love?
To me, this is a matter of It’s not what you say. It’s how you say it. If you’ve ever seen a street-corner evangelist with a megaphone and a sign that reads God hates sin or You’re going to hell, you know what I’m talking about. Nothing about how that message is being communicated is in love. It’s all about judgment and hate.
It really boils down to relationships. Paul wrote: “I have become all things to all people so that by all possible means I might save some” (1 Corinthians 9:22). Paul was committed to understanding the perspectives of others, meeting them in their questioning and sharing the Gospel in a way that created bridges between their differences. We can’t do any of that unless we’re in relationship with others. In order to speak the Truth in love, we need to actually love the person we’re speaking to.
3. We’ve wrongly responded to the gift of God’s forgiveness with pride instead of humility
This is at the root of the judgmental thoughts and actions of many Christians. “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23). Any person who professes faith in Jesus Christ was at some point humbled by this verse. But somewhere between acknowledging our own brokenness, being forgiven and searching for wisdom and knowledge in God’s Word, a toxic sense of worthiness creeps into our hearts. The little voice that says I’m actually pretty good at following Jesus.
When we listen to that voice and forget our brokenness, we are living out of a place of pride that separates us from God and others. Suddenly, we don’t need God nearly as much as we used to—and we’re probably looking down on others. Later in Romans, Paul writes: “Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the faith God has distributed to each of you” (12:3).
Choosing pride over humility makes it easy to be judgmental and impossible to be compassionate. Once I start believing that I’m better than the person next to me, I’ve lost sight of the core message of the Gospel that I claim to have mastered: that we were all buried under the weight of sin before Christ atoned for it all.
So now what?
I believe that we as the church can do better. In fact, Jesus demands better from us. He will never stop demanding better from us. That’s just sanctification.
I wish I could promise you that all Christians will one day stop being judgmental. I wish I could promise you that all of us will model Christ-like humility and compassion in every moment of every day. Unfortunately, that’s just not going to happen on this side of heaven.
We are imperfect people serving the perfect God. The God who “so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16). Many are weary from dealing with the church’s shortcomings, myself included. While developing my response to this question, this sermon reminded me that the church is messy because it’s filled with sinners.
Mark 2:17 reads: “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.” The church is the hospital where dying sinners come to see the doctor. Jesus is the doctor who offers new life to anybody who asks for it.
I’ll leave you with this excerpt from “Mere Christianity” by C.S. Lewis:
If what you want is an argument against Christianity (and I well remember how eagerly I looked for such arguments when I began to be afraid it was true) you can easily find some stupid and unsatisfactory Christian and say, ‘So there’s your boasted new man! Give me the old kind.’ But if once you have begun to see that Christianity is on other grounds probable, you will know in your heart that this is only evading the issue. What can you ever really know of other people’s souls—of their temptations, their opportunities, their struggles? One soul in the whole creation you do know: and it is the only one whose fate is placed in your hands. If there is a God, you are, in a sense, alone with Him. You cannot put Him off with speculations about your next door neighbors or memories of what you have read in books. What will all that chatter and hearsay count (will you even be able to remember it?) when the anesthetic fog which we call ‘nature’ or ‘the real world’ fades away and the Presence in which you have always stood becomes palpable, immediate, and unavoidable? (C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity).