The greatest regret I have in my life is relationships broken by my poor handling of criticism. For many years, I felt unjustly accused and misunderstood by those close to me, and so, I was indignant and heartbroken by what I felt were unfair accusations.
With incredulity, I asked myself for years, How could they say those things or think that way about me?
But God has been relentlessly shattering my arrogant heart and puncturing every weeping wound with the beauty of his good news. The gospel breaks the chains of guilt and pride, enlightening dark and shadowy strongholds of self-righteousness and self-promotion.
The raw truth of the gospel — that Christ died for my sins, that he was buried, that he was raised for my justification, and that he always lives to make intercession for me — helps me to make sense of my violent reactions to criticism. It teaches me how to respond to criticism, whether or not I believe it’s warranted.
The Crucified Opponent of Pride
The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost. (1 Timothy 1:15)
As I’ve replayed criticisms over and over again in my mind, I have mentally defended my maligned motives: That is not what I meant. Why would they think so poorly of me? I’m not that kind of a person. I would never do that.
I realize now that my feelings were so hurt because my pride was so devastated. A proud heart like mine is shocked and offended at an accusation of imperfection. I want to be liked and admired, but instead, my desperate need for a Savior was shamefully exposed.
But the gospel frees me to receive criticism without anger and indignation. In the reflection of God’s holiness, I realize and embrace that I am much more sinful than my accuser can ever think to express. Even if the specific accusations I receive are without merit, when it comes to my deceitful heart, they don’t know the half of it.
Freedom from Criticism
To defend myself, I’ve thought things like, If only I hadn’t botched things so poorly in that conversation, then maybe I’d have a leg to stand on. But I never did have a leg to stand on. I am not qualified or unqualified before God or men based on the accuracy of the criticism I receive. My righteousness is in Jesus.
The Father looks at me and sees perfection because of the imputed righteousness of his Son. Cloaked in the very righteousness of God, the Father’s words to his only begotten echo in my heart: “You are my beloved; with you I am well pleased” (Mark 1:11).
In the gospel, I have found the beautiful, glorious, I-can-sleep-now-at-night freedom that comes with knowing that my righteousness is settled. I have freedom to examine criticism, confess any sin, and love the one who criticizes me. I don’t have to fear condemnation or shame, and I don’t have to hold on so tightly to my fragile reputation.
It’s not the end of the story if I messed up (or if others think I messed up), for I know that “Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes” (Romans 10:4).
Who Can Be Against Us?
It is a very small thing that I should be judged by you or by any human court. . . . It is the Lord who judges me. Therefore do not pronounce judgment before the time, before the Lord comes, who will bring to light the things now hidden in darkness and will disclose the purposes of the heart. Then each one will receive his commendation from God. (1 Corinthians 4:3–5)
When I am criticized, I can look beyond the immediate gratification of being exonerated in this life. Whether the truth is uncovered during our lifetime or once our Judge brings to light “the things now hidden” to disclose “the purposes of the heart,” in a very short time God will bring all things into the light. The murky, hidden messes will be untangled. It is indeed a small thing to be judged by man. God is the righteous Judge, and the only one whose opinion of us ultimately matters.
There is nothing that I can be accused of, or any shame I will ever bear, that his Son has not already borne in my stead. Whether the criticism I receive is true or not, Jesus was condemned in my place, and my only hope is to plead his righteousness. Jesus himself is my one defense.
What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things? Who shall bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died — more than that, who was raised — who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us. (Romans 8:31–34)