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.