Hate the Sin, Love the Sinner

“Hate the sin but love the sinner.”

This was a phrase I heard regularly growing up. It seems to be one our culture has deemed both offensive and impossible.

It is offensive because it suggests there are things people do, or even parts of who they are, that are not as they should be. As a culture we still consider assigning sin, or at least wrong, to some of the most heinous actions–murder, molestation, human trafficking, and the like. Yet the number of things we are willing to acknowledge as wrong is ever-shrinking. Different people make different choices and we shouldn’t judge the actions of another.

But not only is it offensive, it is also impossible. Culture has decided that hating (or even something more mild like disagreeing with) the action of a person precludes you from saying you love that person. Making any statement of morality with regard to actions is equal to making a judgment of all people who take those actions.

I have a problem with this, but not for the reasons you might think. I’m not on some Christian moral crusade to take on the hot button issues of our day. No, my problem with the melding of the condemnation of sin and sinner hits much closer to home.

I have a problem with this because I know I am a sinner. I will not list my sins here for you, I’m not sure who that would benefit, but the people who are close to me know them. My wife knows them. My kids know them. These parts of me that make me less than what I could be–that work destruction in me. I have no problem calling them sin–it is not offensive to me. In fact, knowing myself it seems ridiculous to propose there is nothing in my life that causes any level of destruction. Does this mean I hate myself? If my wife comes alongside me to challenge and encourage me to change does this mean she hates me?

I need to be able to hate the sin while loving the sinner. I need my wife and kids and friends to be able to do it too, because I am a sinner. I want to be better than what I am. I hope my wife and friends want me to be more than what I am too. Not because I need to impress God or tilt the scales but because sin is destructive. It is not hating sin that is unloving.

Even more broadly in culture we embrace this at times. We long for our friend to stay sober, and hate it when he doesn’t, because we love him. We rejoice when a co-worker catches a real glimpse of the plight of the poor and turns from selfishness to generosity (and so we affirm that something is better in her now than it was before). We hate that a family member runs from one broken relationship to another, because we long for him to experience more. Yes, there are times when we hate the sin and love the sinner, even if we don’t call it that.

The Bible is replete with the call to leave sin behind and walk in love, peace, and righteousness. Jesus himself called people to change things about their lives–to walk in his way. This acknowledgement that not all things in their lives were as they should be was not an act of hatred but an act of love. He, more than anyone else, could and can see what people could be if sin were completely stripped away, and he hates the sin for what it does to the people he loves.

So is it possible to hate the sin and love the sinner? I sure hope so.

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About Trevor Lee

Proud to be the husband of a wonderful wife and the father of two great kids. I love to hang out with them, hang out with others, read, lis

Posted on August 9, 2012, in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink. 7 Comments.

  1. While it has been used against LGBT persons like myself, I still think the phrase has value because, well, it’s what God call us to do. We are to love one another, but that doesn’t mean we ignore sin- I think we have to be able to lovingly hold each other accountable. Too much of our culture has become about self-esteem (which has found its way into religion) and not about how we can lift each other up to be the kind of people God wants us to be.

    Long way of saying, I agree with ya. šŸ™‚

    Dennis

  2. It is a not necessarily a challenge to love a being and hate what the being does. If we have any kind of attachment to a person, it is easy to excuse in that person that which may be called “sin.” In fact, the infamous “love chapter” of 1 Corinithians 13 exhorts everyone who loves to “keep no record of wrongs/sin.” It is also Jesus’ word that in Him, “…All things are made new (sin is forgiven).” For the Christian who is not offended by a person, but by some aspect of that person’s character, it is easy to love the sinner and hate the sin. However, this is not the purpose of loving a sinner. The purpose is
    to love someone when we, in our humanity, should (and often do) hate the sinner; not just the sin. A recent example is James Holmes of the Aurora Theatre shooting. How many people who lost family/friends in the shooting incident can honestly say they love James Holmes? How many of those same people can forgive James Holmes for the murder/wounding/maiming of a friend or family member? How many of those same people call themselves Christian? In this case, it is first the “sinner” that is hated; not just the sin. The same may be said for people like Timothy McVeigh, the Unibomber, and those who perpretated 9/11. Which is hated most — the sinner or the sin? The criminal or the crime? That is easy; the person — not just the act. If it were not for the person, the act would not have occured.

    Now the tricky part for the Christian. One must not only love but forgive. We must remember verses like Luke 6: 27 (Love your enemies), or Leviticus 19:18 (Do not seek revenge or bear a grudge against anyone among your people). Without forgiveness, love is impossible. And, as we all know, forgiveness is not primarily for the one who needs to be forgiven, but for the one who is hurt/angered or offended. Unforgiveness is a potent toxin that can ruin a soul; a spirit; a life. Jesus, of course, was the ultimate example of love and forgiveness (on the cross, he said: “forgive them for they know not what they do.” He forgave FIRST the people (sinners), then the sin. It is said that unforgiveness is like a drinking a poison and expecting someone else to die. Therefore, forgiveness may be said to be the highest form of loving. If we can truly forgive those who offend us, then — and only then — is it possible to begin to learn to love them. And in doing so, we begin to truly mirror the love of Jesus. To begin to do this, we must first ask Jesus to forgive US our sins (as we pray in the Lord’s Prayer) — and He does so because he loves us. We are sinners no more. And when we do sin, that sin is foregiven. So, yes, as we learn to emulate Him who we profess to follow, it is indeed possible to hate the sin and love the sinner.

  3. There is the worst massacre than James Holmes: Adam Peter Lanza. Lanza shot 27 people before turning the gun on himself. He is gone for good.

  4. I personally dislike this phrase. It puts the gavel of judgment in a person’s hands for deciding what is “sin.” We should not be judging others like this. We do and have done a terrible job of interpreting Scripture and deciding what is sin. For example, we now know that alcoholism is a disease and alcoholics usually need help to break the cycle. It would not be loving to label the alcoholic a “sinner” as in days of old, punish the person for getting drunk, treat them unlovingly and without understanding or empathy. Similarly with those oriented toward same-gender relationships, it is unfair, patronizing and hurtful to say part of the essence of a person, as integral as their personality and connected to who they are, is a “sin” and you hate that part of them and are loving them in spite of it and are praying “it” will go away. This is not true Christian love. Love listens and is understanding and accepting.

  5. Lisa, I mean this with all due respect, but I feel like you didn’t even read my post. It seems like you just saw the title and then posted these thoughts.

  1. Pingback: Hate the Sin, Love the Sinner, Yada Yada Yada « The Clockwork Pastor

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