• Matthew Thornton

Grace before critique

Matthew writes an honest article encouraging us to ponder whether, as Christians, we are known to those around us by our love, or by our judgement. He urges us to follow the footsteps of Jesus, showing love before judgement, and grace before condemnation.

It’s interesting to see how views and approaches to morality have evolved through the ages.

I was reading a thought-provoking article by National Geographic titled, “The World’s Newest Major Religion: No Religion”. In it, they highlighted the continual demise of religion in the 21st century. Unfortunately, there is no way around it: the world is becoming increasingly secular.


Statistics prove this emphatically. Between 2007 and 2014, the share of the US population who were “unaffiliated” with religion rose from 16.1% to 22.8%[i] - a 6.7% increase. A little closer to home, New Zealand census data has shown that the share of the NZ population with “no religion” has risen from 29.6% in 2001, to 34.6% in 2006 to a larger 41.9% in 2013[ii] – this is a trend that is very real in our world.


This increasing secularization, naturally, means people’s views on morality are changing too. Having a religion gives an individual external guidance and a set of moral principles for them to abide by. However, having no religion means that there is nothing to hold an individual’s actions accountable to. Decisions on behaviour, on whether something is right or wrong comes from within – morality becomes purely subjective.


Subjective truth?


Authors Josh and Sean McDowell are accurate when they say, in our modern age, “it doesn’t really matter what religion or religious book you choose to believe; the one universal truth is that you have the right to create your own truth”.


What I might think is truth to me, what I might think is right and just to me, may be different for you, and today we are told that is okay. This ethos has manifested in an “anything goes” (Josh and Sean McDowell) culture. Whilst I will not discuss my views on these issues (as you’ll see, its not the point of the article), the increasing acceptance of the LGBTQ+ community is an example of this.


This trend of growing personal freedom births a new challenge for the church. I think that we can no longer preach legalism and religion and expect people to be drawn to Christianity.

Today, if you went up to someone and said: “According to the Bible, what you are doing is wrong”. I imagine the response would be, ‘thank you for telling me, but I don’t care. That may be truth to you, but it certainly isn’t true for me’.


It may sound blunt, but it’s the truth.


When we talk to non-believers, are we reminding them of the sickness that is sin, or are we pointing them to the cure? People are drawn to love, not religion.

But, let me make this clear, when I talk about the ‘church’, I’m not talking about the building or the pastors, I’m talking about everybody who professes Jesus to be their saviour. We are all a body of believers and we each have an equal responsible to convey Jesus’ love to those around us. Westborough Baptist, Brian Tamaki, they are all examples of how, if one part of the body faulters, the perception of the whole body is affected.


I really love what Phillip Yancey writes, “All too often the church holds up a mirror reflecting back the society around it, rather than a window revealing a different way”.


Traditionally, the church has been susceptible to pointing out the flaws and evils of society – gaining a label of condemnation and judgement. I’m not saying we should compromise on our Christian views, nor refrain from making it clear where we stand, and that the Bible is our authority. What I am saying is that, as Christians, are we known to those around us by our judgement and condemnation, or by our love?


A changing approach


I was speaking to friend and I asked her how she deals with the conversation of the LGBTQ+ community with her non-Christian friends. When asked by others about the Bibles view on the LGBTQ+ community, she responds: “Firstly, you aren’t asking me what I think about the LGBTQ+ community; I’m sure you already know what the Bible’s view is. I think what you are really asking is: will you treat me any differently?”


“The answer is: no. I won’t treat you any differently than my other friends. Sin is sin, I have no right to throw stones when I’m a sinner myself.”


Just like Jesus with Mary Magdalene, with Zacchaeus, with the adulterous women, her focus was on love first. Love before judgment, grace before condemnation.


“For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world

through him”, John chapter 3, verse 17.


When we talk to non-believers, are we reminding them of the sickness that is sin, or are we pointing them to the cure? People are drawn to love, not religion. So, I aspire to live by the words sung by Tenth Avenue North in their song Love Anyway:


“Oh, will we ever learn We can stop drawing lines? Enemy lines, enemy lines I wanna hear before I speak Offer grace before critique I wanna live like I got no enemies Lord help me, Lord help me To love anyway, love anyway”


I don’t know about you, but I want to love others with everything I got. I don’t want love to just be a complement to everything I do, I want it to be the reason for everything I do. I don’t want to live and love. I want to live to love.


So, let’s “love loud” (Dan Reyonds), give grace relentless and captivate others with our kindness. For that is how “everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another” (John chapter 13, verse 35).


Love before judgment, grace before condemnation.


Matthew Thornton is studying at the University of Auckland, Matthew finds that writing is one of the prime ways he connects with and grows closer to God. He loves seeing the way in which God has wired everyone uniquely and finds immense fulfilment in seeing others discover who God is to them. He would love to hear from you: matthewcthornton13@gmail.com // Photo: Caleb Van Essen


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[i] http://www.pewforum.org/2015/05/12/americas-changing-religious-landscape/ [ii] http://archive.stats.govt.nz/Census/2013-census/profile-and-summary-reports/quickstats-culture-identity/religion.aspx

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