Hate the Sin, Love the Sinner?

Have you ever heard the phrase “hate the sin, love the sinner?” If you have been a Christian for any length of time, this phrase is probably familiar to you, and you have probably even used it yourself. After all, it certainly sounds right on the surface. God hates sin, but loves sinners, right? But have you ever stopped to really consider what that phrase means and what it communicates to the “sinner?” Or, quite possibly, has it become another arrow in your Christianese quiver; one that you have learned to draw and fire with seemingly perfect accuracy in situations where someone you know is involved in a “serious” sin?

Too close for comfort
This short phrase implies that sinners and sins can be separated, yet it is not found in the Bible (much like the phrase “God helps those who help themselves”). What if we said, “love the artist, hate the art” or “love the singer, hate the song?” In these cases, the creation is directly and unbreakably tied to the creator. Artists create art, singers create song, and sinners create sin. Each of us, as fallen children of Adam, create sin every day; sin that God hates and cannot even look upon. The Bible tells us that our sinful condition, apart from the work of Jesus, makes us enemies of God and objects of wrath (Ephesians 2:3). The amazing good news is that, in Jesus, our sins are obliterated in God’s sight and we are made completely right with him (2 Corinthians 5:21). Although we continue to sin until the day we die, God loves us – as constant sin creators – wholly, completely and perfectly in Jesus. As Martin Luther put it, we are simul justus et peccator, meaning “at the same time, both righteous and sinful.” As such, when the arrow of “hate the sin, love the sinner” is fired, it pierces not just the sinful act or behavior, but the very heart of the sinner himself.

Righteous yet sinful
This statement, and the logic behind it, is often applied to “big” sins that are easily seen and identified: adultery, homosexuality, drug abuse and the like. We love the person who has “fallen” into sin, but we hate their sinful behavior that has violated God’s law and is destroying their life and the lives of those around them. However, in the process, we fail to remember that we all violate God’s law in a thousand different ways each day, and are therefore just as big of sinners as “those bad people over there.”

Jesus said that if you have looked at a woman and lusted after her, then you have committed adultery with her in your heart. He also said that if you have unjust anger towards another person, then you are guilty of murdering them in your mind. On top of that, in the book of James, we read that if we know the right thing to do and fail to do it, then we are in sin (James 4:17).

There is not one day that goes by that we can say “God, I did it. I didn’t sin today.” If that were possible, then we would not need Jesus. As Luther said, we are all guilty and deserving of punishment in God’s sight, yet those of us who are in Christ are found without fault because of his righteousness that covers our failure. In light of this, there is no basis for us to judge ourselves as righteous and others as sinners. As we read in Romans 3:27, “Can we boast, then, that we have done anything to be accepted by God? No, because our acquittal is not based on obeying the law. It is based on faith.”

Hate OUR sin, love the sinner
Maybe it’s time to coin a new phrase, one that lines up a whole lot closer with what Jesus actually taught. How about we drop the pride and judgment of “hate the sin, love the sinner,” and instead purpose, in humility, to “hate our sin, love the sinner.” In Matthew 7, Jesus talks about removing the sin-log in your own eye before trying to help your brother remove the sin-speck from his.

Many people are painfully aware of their own struggles, failures and shortcomings. It is easy for us to agree with Luther that we are sinful, but difficult to remember that, because of Jesus, we are righteous in God’s sight. Maybe we would be a whole lot more humble, kind and Christ-like if we reminded ourselves daily of our great need for him. We need to relate to other broken people as broken people ourselves. We need Jesus just as much today as the day we first believed. We must hate our own sin, live in gratitude to Jesus that he died to cover it, and pour out the same grace and love he gave us to every sinner we meet. Perhaps then we will find that what Jesus said in John 7:38 is true of us too – “…rivers of living water will flow from his heart.”

Justin is a staff writer for the Good News. Email him at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter at @thejustinyoung.

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