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How to Help People without Judging Them

Apr 11, 2023

Have you ever stopped yourself from saying something helpful to someone because you didn’t want to come across as judgmental? Have you ever lost a friend or co-worker because you tried to help them but they saw it as being judgmental?

What does the Bible say about judging or being judgmental? How do you truly help someone improve their lives without coming across as judgmental?


The Survey Says ... 

Survey after survey indicates that Christians have a reputation for being judgmental.

A 2007 Barna Research report revealed that a majority of young people (16-29) in America describe modern-day Christianity as judgmental, hypocritical, and anti-gay.

David Kinnaman, Barna Group president and author of the book, UnChristian: What a New Generation Really Thinks About Christianity, writes, “The anti-homosexual perception has now become sort of the Geiger counter of Christians' ability to love and work with people.”

According to the survey, The majority of non-Christians — 91 percent — said Christianity has an anti-gay image, followed by 87 percent who said it is judgmental, and 85 percent who said it is hypocritical.

Such views were held by smaller percentages of active churchgoers, but the faith still did not fare well: 80 percent agreed with the anti-gay label, 52 percent said Christianity is judgmental, and 47 percent declared it hypocritical.

Kinnaman said one of the biggest surprises for researchers was the extent to which respondents — one in four non-Christians — said that modern-day Christianity is no longer like Jesus.

Jesus, they like ... us, not so much.


Three Questions

There are three questions I want to address.

1. What does the Bible say?
2. Is this perception of Christians true?
3. If true, what can I do about it? How can I help people without perpetuating this perception?

What Does the Bible Say?

The consistent message of the Bible is that no human being is in any position to judge another person or to be judgmental. The Bible has a consistent negative opinion of those who are judgmental.

There are numerous morality or cautionary tales in the Old Testament that warn against judgmentalism. The books of Jonah and Job were written, in part, to condemn judgmentalism. 

The New Testament is just as hard on those who are judgmental. In fact, it is the defining characteristic of the main foils of Jesus in the gospels — the Pharisees. The name Pharisee has become synonymous with hypocrisy and judgmentalism. And Jesus reserved his harshest criticism for the hypocrisy and judgmentalism of the Pharisees.

Let me just go to three places where Jesus condemns judgmentalism — I choose these three because they are representative, but also because each has an important underlying theological basis for the Bible’s disdain for judging.


Do Not Judge

The first is the most direct — Matthew 7:1-2 — “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.”

Pretty straightforward. He drives his point home with an illustration — The Speck and the Log.

Here Jesus connects judging with hypocrisy. Every moment of judgmentalism is at the same time a moment of hypocrisy. The underlying theological principle is that we are all sinners and not a single one of us is in a position to judge. We are just as guilty as the one we are judging.


Good Seed and Bad Seed

The second is a parable Jesus told in Matthew 26 about a man who sowed a good seed in his field.

The underlying theological principle is that we must not judge because we are lousy at it. We have a myopic vision. We always judge subjectively and with limited knowledge or information. We have no tools with which to judge fairly or impartially. It’s impossible. So we get it wrong — a lot.


The Pharisee Problem

The third is the strongest and most direct — it is Jesus’ rant against the Pharisees in Matthew 23 —

“Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You shut the door of the kingdom of heaven in people’s faces. You yourselves do not enter, nor will you let those enter who are trying to. “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You travel over land and sea to win a single convert, and when you have succeeded, you make them twice as much a child of hell as you are."

The undergirding theological principle is that when we act with judgmentalism we push people away from the gospel message. We destroy the gospel that is built on grace and grace alone.


Are Christians Really Judgmental?

A 2013 Barna Group study examines the degree to which this perception may be accurate. The study explores how well Christians seem to emulate the actions and attitudes of Jesus in their interactions with others.

In this nationwide study of self-identified Christians, the goal was to determine whether Christians have the actions and attitude of Jesus as they interact with others or if they are more akin to the beliefs and behaviors of Pharisees.

In order to assess this, Barna researchers presented a series of 20 agree-or-disagree statements. Five actions and five attitudes seem to best encapsulate the actions and attitudes of Jesus Christ during his ministry on earth. The researchers did the same for the Pharisees (10 total statements, five reflecting behaviors, and five examining attitudes).

Using these 20 questions as the basis of analysis, the researchers created an aggregate score for each individual and placed those results into one of four categories, or quadrants. The four categories include:

• Christ-like in action and attitude (the quadrant you want to be in)
• Christ-like in action, but not in attitude (doing the right thing for the wrong reasons)
• Christ-like in attitude, but not action (the hypocrisy quadrant)
• Christ-like in neither (the full-blown Pharisee quadrant)

The findings reveal that most self-identified Christians in the U.S. are characterized by having the attitudes and actions researchers identified as Pharisaical. Just over half of the nation’s Christians qualify for this category (51%). They tend to have attitudes and actions that are characterized by self-righteousness.

On the other end of the spectrum, 14% of today’s self-identified Christians—just one out of every seven Christians—seem to represent the actions and attitudes Barna researchers found to be consistent with those of Jesus.

In the middle are those who have some mix of action and attitude. About one-fifth of Christians are Christ-like in attitude, but often represent Pharisaical actions (21%). Another 14% of respondents tend to be defined as Christ-like in action but seem to be motivated by self-righteous or hypocritical attitudes.

Evangelicals are notably distinct from the norms in two ways: first, they were slightly more likely than other Christians to be Christ-like in action and attitude. However, among those in the “middle ground,” with so-called jumbled actions and attitudes, evangelicals are the only faith group more likely to be Pharisaical in attitude but Christ-like in action.

Kinnaman explains: “This research may help to explain how evangelicals are often targeted for claims of hypocrisy; the unique ‘sin’ of evangelicals tends to be doing the ‘right’ thing but with improper motives.”


How Do We Help People Without Being Judgmental?

The Bible does tell us to help people with the sin problem. The Bible does tell us to be discerning about the spiritual problems of this world.

How do we do that?


STEP 1 — Recognize Your Judgmental Thoughts

You might be judgmental if you:

- Jump to negative moral conclusions about others.

- Have a moral rating system that is skewed in your own favor. In other words, you believe the worst in others but the best in yourself.

- Move very quickly from thinking, "This action is morally wrong," to "This person is morally corrupt."

- Decide that what someone did was wrong even when you don't know much about the context of a person's behavior.

Call your judgmental thoughts what they are. Then you can manage them. 

STEP 2 — Manage your Judgment Using O.P.A.L.

O — Observe what is happening; Don’t pass judgment.

P — Place yourself in their shoes for understanding.

A — Accept that person for who they are, without trying to change them.

L — Love them or try to love them, even if you don’t understand them.


STEP 3 — Create a safe, non-judgmental space.

Manage by asking yourself a series of questions as soon as the intrusive, judgmental thoughts hit you.

- Am I putting my expectations for myself onto this person?

- Have I had a similar experience? How did I feel?

- Am I projecting my own anger onto this person or situation?

- Be a safe space for them and listen

- Let the other person vent

- Practice empathy

- Help them name their feelings

- Let them know they're important to you

- Cut off the person when they're talking

- Tell them to get over it

- Make them feel guilty about their feelings

- Make the conversation about you


This is obviously a difficult one for all of us. There are no easy or quick solutions.

If you genuinely want to help people without judging them then you are going to have to invest a lot of time in the relationship and get good at the non-judging, non-advice-giving, skills BEFORE you can ever get to the place where you can help them with advice or solutions.

Sometimes you might have to say — I can’t do it. I don’t have the time or energy to help you the way you truly need it and anything I do now will short-circuit the process and end up feeling like I’m judging you.

That's okay. Don't feel guilty. You can't help everyone. 

However, if you can invest the time and energy into helping someone without judging them, you will find your efforts incredibly rewarding. 




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