The Problem with "Hate the Sin, Love the Sinner"
- Phylicia Masonheimer phyliciamasonheimer.com
- 2017 18 May
Social media has brought out a dark side of Christianity. Torrents of hate spill into Facebook comments. Names are called. Insults are hurled. And somehow, we’re expected to win people to Christ through all of this. It’s this dark side of faith that the world reacts against so violently; their scapegoat for subjective morality. If Christian love looks like this – who would want it?
Hate the sin but love the sinner.
We use the phrase liberally, but are we liberal with the love?
There are plenty of Christian leaders who see this hatred and say, “No more!” But with the same breath that claims the love of Christ they write off the law that made Him necessary. Blurring the created lines of right and wrong, they “love the sinner” – and lie about the sin. Thus we end up right where we began: Striving for the ever-evasive balance of love and truth.
Our faith is like walking a tightrope. With each step, we are in danger of a wild swing into legalism or compromise. We walk the thin line – this narrow path – only by keeping our eyes fixed on the perfect balance of love and justice: God Himself. For if God did not define these things for us, we would have no measure of right versus wrong. We would be unable to give grace because there would be no reason to give it – without sin, there is no cause for mercy.
I’m the first person to call us to a higher standard of holiness. But as we navigate this sharply divided world, both online and in real life, we need to ask ourselves the following questions:
DO WE ACTUALLY HATE SIN, OR DO WE SIMPLY LOVE JUDGMENT?
Using “hate the sin” as a license for cruelty defeats the purpose of proclaiming truth. The gospel needs no help causing division; it is foolishness to those who reject it (1 Cor. 1:22-24). Because the gospel will divide based on its exclusive nature, our job is not to further that division but to simply love the Lord our God with all our hearts (emotions), souls (being), minds (thoughts), and strength (effort). Our second directive is to love our neighbor as much as we love ourselves. (Matt. 22:37-40)
God hates sin because He is holy. Sin is contrary to His nature and prevents humanity from approaching Him. But because God is also loving, He desires a relationship with humanity. Jesus was the solution to the problem of sin, atoning for our unholiness and making possible what would otherwise be an impossible relationship with God.
Thus, God doesn’t hate sin arbitrarily. He doesn’t take joy in condemnation (2 Pet. 3:9). He judges because He is holy and sin must be judged. Yet it is by God’s mercy that any of us are able to claim the name of Jesus today. We are called to discern right from wrong in the world, but we are not called make judgment our hobby. To hate sin doesn’t mean we point it out at every opportunity, finding satisfaction in the failures of others. Our hatred for sin should be a direct result of our love for gospel hope. We only hate sin because it prevents a relationship with God. God is the judge; we are just the messengers, and we would do well to remember that.
DO WE HATE SIN IN THE LIFE OF OUR NEIGHBOR BUT IGNORE IT IN OUR OWN LIVES?
This question convicts my heart whenever I scroll through social media. Rife with animosity, Christians go to battle against even more malicious commenters in a never-ending debate about homosexuality, abortion, alcohol, and politics.
Yes, we should stand for what is true. But if we really hate sin, we will hate all sin, starting with the sin in our very own lives.
It’s really easy to point fingers at people who live a lifestyle devoid of God. It’s not so easy to see the sin in ourselves. Modern Christians, we are a speck-picking bunch. In the name of “truth” we seek out sin and we point at it like an over-eager hunting dog, waiting for God to pat us on the back. We are not called to seek out sin but to seek out those who need the gospel (Matt. 28:20). In the process of presenting the gospel, sin must be addressed. But hating sin is not our Christian day job.
The best way to understand, recognize, and address sin is to hate it in our own lives first. That means knowing the Word of God – really knowing it. Really studying it, not just proof-texting passages for Facebook debates, yanking phrases out of context to prove a point. We hate sin best when we love God most, because only His hatred for it is a direct result of His love for mankind.
DO WE ARGUE OVER THE DEMISE OF SOCIAL MORALITY WHILE IGNORING OUR OWN LACK OF HOLY LIVING?
Lifestyles of sin are celebrated in cultures worldwide. Here in the U.S., it seems to be all the rage. Morals are relative. Everyone does what is right in his own eyes. Society is indeed descending into moral chaos. But before lamenting the rapid descent, we should check our own moral thermometer. Are we ignoring the same heart attitudes that have been our culture’s demise?
Pride. Selfishness. Anger. Materialism. Envy. Lust: “…after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, gives birth to death.” (James 1:15) Our world is dying because of the idolatry of desire. Where self replaces God, there is no room for abundant life. The eternal is replaced with the material, and separation from God is the inevitable result.
We bewail Congress and feminism and Common Core but the harsh reality is that this society is the way it is because of human hearts just like ours. We cannot expect a transformed culture when we have not transformed our very own minds. We cannot expect society’s sins to be conquered when we refuse to acknowledge our own transgressions.
So before arguing about abortion online, shut off the sexually promiscuous TV show.
Before bewailing the demise of the American family, respect your husband. Love your wife.
And before burning sinners on a verbal stake in the name of “hating sin”, ask yourself: Does this action reflect the holiness of God? Am I really presenting the truth in love, or have I lost my love in zeal for truth?
I’m preaching to myself here. Instead of repeating, “Hate the sin, love the sinner”, I’m telling myself something else:
“Hate my own sin, love the way God does.”
Mercy is what draws us to repentance; it is the hope of our gospel. It’s the most lasting, loving way to truly hate sin.
This article originally appeared on phyliciadelta.com. Used with permission.
Phylicia Masonheimer blogs at Phylicia Delta, where she teaches women how to preach the gospel with their lives: proclaiming Jesus in work, love and home. Her eBook Christian Cosmo launches March 1st, 2017.
Image courtesy: ©Thinksock/AntonioGuillem
Publication date: May 18, 2017