Lesson 6 – Overcoming a critical attitude

Matthew 5:7, “Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy.”

James 2:13, “Mercy triumphs over judgment!”


In Matthew 5:7, Jesus blesses those who overlook faults, forgive failures, and show mercy to those who have fallen. This type of people can see the good in every situation, even when that situation has hurt them personally. They see the glass as half full instead of half empty.

The Bible says Christians ought to be these type of positive and encouraging people—not because we are unrealistic or blind to the facts, but because we believe in a God who can turn around bad situations and forgive the most heinous betrayal.

What is a critical attitude?

Some people always see things in a negative light. In every situation, they will have some complaint or find some fault. They lack mercy in their judgments of themselves and others.

Definitely, it is helpful to carefully consider ourselves and situations. But if we fall into a deep negativity, we will eventually harm ourselves and those around us. What are the dangers of a critical attitude?

A critical attitude tears down, but doesn’t build up

If we have a critical attitude, we are playing judge, jury, and executioner all at once. This type of criticism is not constructive, but destructive. In 2 Corinthians 13:10, Paul said that God gave him authority for the purpose of building people up, not tearing them down. Even though Paul was passing judgment on the Corinthians in the letter by pointing out their wrong attitudes, he was warning them and not condemning them. He used his authority to pass judgment on them (judge), with the hope they would decide his judgment true and repent (jury), and he would not have to exercise his authority to discipline (execute). If Paul, an apostle who wrote 13 books of the Bible and pioneered Christianity throughout the Roman empire, was so careful to use his criticism to build people up, how much more careful should we be!

A critical attitude steals our joy and poisons our relationships

A critical attitude is like a disease. Some people know they have a critical attitude, but can’t change. We may find some small satisfaction in passing judgment on this or that, but that satisfaction is short-lived. A more lasting satisfaction comes from recognizing improvement and celebrating success. People want to be around positive people, not critical people.

A critical attitude makes us resemble Satan

Satan is famously critical. He has the worst attitude in the universe and wants us to share in his misery. He always is able to see the downside of every situation, plan, or action. Satan used to be a powerful angel in heaven, and many Christians believe he was thrown down out of heaven because he found fault with God and rebelled. If we have a critical attitude, we resemble Satan more than we resemble God.

What causes a critical attitude?

We develop a critical attitude it doesn’t all come at once. Several factors contribute to our forming a critical attitude:

  1. Past experiences. If our parents emphasized guilt and punishment, we may use harsh standards to judge ourselves and others. This type of past experience makes it hard for us to compliment others.
  2. Physical tiredness. If we are too tired or are sick, we may become easily annoyed and judgmental.
  3. Negative company. Who we hang around with often shapes our outlook and the way we talk. If we are always around negative people who enjoy criticizing others, we are likely to pick up on that.
  4. Desire for justice. Some people may criticize and judge because they have a strong sense of right and wrong. Even if they do not say things out loud, they may pass judgment in their mind.
  5. Pride. At the root of our critical attitude is pride. We put others down because it feeds our pride. Sometimes, our pride is without shame. It will cause us to criticize those who in nearly all respects are better people than ourselves. We enjoy pointing out their weaknesses and failures.

How to overcome our sinful habits

1. See people as God does

Our perspective on ourselves, other people, and situations in life should change once we become Christian. When we recognize that God is sovereign and loves people unconditionally, it will have a dramatic effect on how we look at the world. For every difficult person or situation, we will be able to see how God can work a miracle to change that person.

Take a moment to consider some difficult person that you have criticized in the past. Can you see the possibility of God changing that person? If you can, then why not pray that way?!

Our God changed Saul, the persecutor of the church, into Paul, the apostle whose heart was wholly for Jesus. Nothing is impossible for Him.

Luke 18:27, "Jesus replied, 'What is impossible with men is possible with God.'"

2. See situations as God does

If God is sovereign, omniscient, and loving, then logically we should also expect that God will work out everything for the good of His people. We have no reason to be negative because God is in control. Even if we suffer some difficult situation or learn some painful lesson, God must have a good purpose in it.

James 1:2-4, “Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.”

We are in a spiritual war, where we are battling to save souls from a ruthless enemy. In this war against sin and Satan, we will face opposition and trouble. We should remember that even Jesus paid a high price in this war—and we are not exempt from the fight. However, we have hope because we know God will win. In the end, no sacrifice or suffering we face for the sake of Jesus and the gospel will be in vain.

Matthew 5:11-12, “Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.”

3. Humble ourselves before God

A powerful antidote to a critical attitude is humility before God. When we recognize our own sin and humble ourselves before God, it is very difficult to have a critical attitude toward others.

In Galatians 6, Paul is telling the very fractious Galatian church how to live according to the Holy Spirit. The Galatians were caught up in proving heir holiness by outward actions, and as a result, became prideful and judgmental of one another. In Galatians 6:3-5, Paul says that everyone should examine themselves as to whether they live up to God’s standards, not how they compare to someone else.

Galatians 6:3-5, "If anyone thinks he is something when he is nothing, he deceives himself. Each one should test his own actions. Then he can take pride in himself, without comparing himself to somebody else, for each one should carry his own load."

We need to realize that we entirely dependent on the grace of God in our lives. If anyone else fails at any point, we should realize that we are no better than they are. John Bradford, a 16th century reformer that was imprisoned and eventually martyred by English church authorities, saw a group of prisoners being led to their execution for their crimes. Realizing that he was no better than those criminals in terms of sin, he said, “There, but for the grace of God, goes John Bradford.” We need to have the same humility before God when considering the sins of others.

4. Let God Judge

Throughout the New Testament, there are warnings not to judge others. We need to let God judge. People are born with a sense of right and wrong, but our justice is imperfect. Moreover, we are sinners in need of forgiveness ourselves—we have no right to receive God’s grace in our own lives when we do not extend that grace to others.

Matthew 7:1-3, “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. Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother's eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye?”

James 4 says that when we judge our brother or sister, we put ourselves above the law of God. In effect, we are saying that God is not doing His job and that we need to step in and deliver our own judgment. Our job is to obey God—we should leave the judging to Him.

James 4:11-12, "Brothers, do not slander one another. Anyone who speaks against his brother or judges him speaks against the law and judges it. When you judge the law, you are not keeping it, but sitting in judgment on it. There is only one Lawgiver and Judge, the one who is able to save and destroy. But you—who are you to judge your neighbor?"


When we become a Christian, our outlook on life should change. We should trust God to take care of injustice, consider ourselves with humility, and anticipate God will cause good things to come from difficult situations. Moreover, we understand that a critical attitude is dangerous spiritually because it harms others, poisons our relationships, and prevents us from receiving God’s forgiveness for our own sin.

Discussion Questions

1. Why do you think that people sometimes have a critical attitude?
2. After reading this lesson, how will you change in terms of judging yourself or others?
3. Describe how God has been merciful and gracious in your life?
4. Talk about one person that is merciful, kind, and gracious. How do you respond to them?