Hate the sin, love the sinner. It’s an evangelical cliche as old as “grace through faith.”
Fun fact: that cliche is not in the Bible. The concepts are there and are true, but there’s no one verse we get that exact phrasing from. Apparently the phrasing was originated by Augustine and then modified a bit by Gandhi.
Whenever the sin of the day – currently homosexuality or choosing to have an abortion – comes up, we know we’ve got to show the love of Jesus, but we qualify, “You’ve got to hate the sin, love the sinner.” And it’s true. We can’t sit idly by while our sin tries to drag us away from God, but we can’t forget that God loves us and cares for us.
We love to spread the cliche, we love to make it a catchphrase because it removes the burden from us. It takes away our responsibility to really challenge ourselves to love others.
Two quick questions on this phrase:
1. Do we really hate our own sin, or do we spend more time hating others’ sins?
When we see the world express their love for sin, their love for doing things their own way, we come at the world with the cliche: hate that sin, love those sinners. It gets to be so much sometimes that we forget that we sin too.
A believer who has a healthy view of their own sinfulness will realize that they are just as worthy of that cliche as anyone else. “If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us…If we say we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us” (1 John 1:8,10).
There can be a tendency in all of us to look over our own sin and instead worry about the sins of others. It’s good to be concerned about the sins we see in others. If a brother or sister in Christ comes to us with a sin they want prayer or counsel for, we should jump at the opportunity to bear their burden, because in doing so we will fulfill the law of Christ (Galatians 6:2).
But if we get too concerned about the sin of others and overlook our own, we just might miss out on the fact that we sin too, and are in desperate need of the reminder that we should hate our sin so much that we should fight it with every bone in our body, seeking the Holy Spirit for help all along the way.
2. Do we really love the sinner?
I think sometimes we can use “hate the sin, love the sinner” as an excuse to not care too much about the sinner we’re speaking of. As long as it’s not hate, we’re good, right? As long as there’s no vitriol, no nasty words, etc., we’re straight.
From Brennan Manning’s wonderful book Abba’s Child (which I’m currently reading through for the second time, HIGHLY recommend):
“The command of Jesus to love one another is never circumscribed by the nationality, status, ethnic background, sexual preference, or inherent lovableness of the ‘other.’ The other, the one who has a claim on my love, is anyone to whom I am able to respond, as the parable of the good Samaritan clearly illustrates…This insistence on the absolutely indiscriminate nature of compassion within the Kingdom is the dominant perspective of almost all of Jesus’ teaching.”*
Our love for others should not be affected AT ALL by whatever sin they might be engaged in or anything else. You don’t see Jesus withholding his love from the tax collector or the prostitute. We should love without restraint.
“But that doesn’t mean we should accept what they do!” you might exclaim. And you’re right. We shouldn’t love what they do. We should not accept their choices. Part of loving them means speaking truth into their life, even if it directly contradicts their lifestyle.
But ask yourself: do you truly love them the way Jesus does? Not just speaking truth into their life, but also being a friend and loving them in spite of their sin. That’s what Jesus did for us.
I know I struggle with that. I know that I don’t love everyone around me the way I ought. I know I need to grow in that. I confess that I tend towards apathy much more often than love. I don’t care about people the way I should, and I should be seeking God, begging the Holy Spirit to grow me in that area.
If you struggle as I do in these areas, I would encourage you to ask for forgiveness, something God freely offers those who trust in Him, and ask for the strength and grace to grow to be more like our Savior, who could have very easily looked at us and taken the attitude we take towards sinners in our day.
I’m so thankful He didn’t.
* Brennan Manning, Abba’s Child: The Cry of the Heart for Intimate Belonging (Colorado Springs, Colo.: Navpress, 2002), 75.