What Does it Really Mean to 'Hate the Sin, Love the Sinner?'
- Heather Riggleman Crosswalk.com Contributing Writer
- 2021 26 Apr
Go and sin no more. So, how’s that working out for you? Because I sin on a daily basis. But we look at each other in the church and let the Christian cliché roll off our tongues, “Hate the sin, love the sinner.” The phrase is touted like a get-out-of-jail-free card when any kind of behavior is questioned. It’s shouted from the pulpit on hot topic button issues like Beth Moore leaving the Baptist Convention, the Derek Chauvin trial, the LGTBQ community, gay marriage, or abortion. Perhaps, we should ask ourselves, ‘How can God love us yet hate our own sin?’
What Does it Mean to Hate the Sin, Love the Sinner?
So how do we hate sin? We take our eyes off the person in front of us and take a good hard look in the mirror. Mark Lowry says it best, “Love the sinner, hate the sin? How about: Love the sinner, hate your own sin! I don’t have time to hate your sin. There are too many of you! Hating my sin is a full-time job. How about you hate your sin, I’ll hate my sin, and let’s just love each other!”
The first step to hating sin is to realize you and I sin. And our sin deserves judgment as much as the next person, we just don’t realize it because it’s easy to justify in our minds. “If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us” (1 John 1:8). Let’s undress our sins and see them for what they really are:
The sin of gluttony is called, “But food is my emotional safety blanket.”
The sin of anger is “standing up for what I believe” while rioting and looting stores.
The sin of pride is called, “self-care” and “healthy self-esteem.”
The sin of drunkenness is called, “It’s beer-thirty somewhere” or “mommy juice.”
We dress up our sins and justify them, and in doing so, we are denying the redeeming work of Christ in ourselves as sin roots itself deeper in our hearts, blinding us to our need for Jesus. The reality is David’s prayer should be our compass on a daily basis: “Search me, O God, and know my heart. . . See if there is any offensive way in me” (Psalm 139:23-24), combined with the reminder we are to love God’s Word:
Oh how I love your law!
It is my meditation all the day.
Your commandment makes me wiser than my enemies,
for it is ever with me.
I have more understanding than all my teachers,
for your testimonies are my meditation.
I understand more than the aged,
for I keep your precepts.
I hold back my feet from every evil way,
in order to keep your word.
I do not turn aside from your rules,
for you have taught me.
How sweet are your words to my taste,
sweeter than honey to my mouth!
Through your precepts I get understanding;
therefore I hate every false way. Psalm 119:97-104.
Is "Hate the Sin, Love the Sinner" Biblical?
When a watching world says Christians are hypocrites full of hate, it’s not really a good approach to say we love them, but we hate what they’re doing. In theory, this Christian cliche sounds good and virtuous but it often ends up being more beneficial to the person saying the words than the person hearing them. It gets us off the hook of having to have hard conversations or put ourselves in the “sinners” shoes.
To the person who is doing the loving, it feels very generous, but to the person hearing the words, it feels like judgment and condemnation. The phrase implies, “I’m a good person because I am showing you love in spite of your sin.” This phrase is conveniently placing ourselves in superiority over the ‘sinner.’ Beth Woolsey says it best, “We will love you BUT we will call you Sinner and watch you carefully to determine which of your actions are Sin so we can call you out and Hate those things.”
Jesus would call this behavior hypocritical, in Matthew 7:3-5: “Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.”
The truth is the Bible never really gave us permission to judge others or their sin. In fact, when we judge others, we are sinning in the eyes of God because when we sit in judgment on the sins of others, we are playing God, and that is idolatry. It’s a dangerous position because we cannot and do not have the ability to judge someone’s sin and do so without malice. No one can do this except God. God didn’t tell us to judge each other, God told us to love our neighbors as ourselves and if we are looking at other people’s sin, we stop seeing them as a neighbor and we see them through the lens of their sin.
As Christians and human beings, we are incapable of loving perfectly, nor can we hate perfectly. Only God is capable of loving and hating without sinful intent. 2 Peter 3:9 says, “The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance.”
In other words, “Hating the sin and loving the sinner” isn’t Biblical. The closest reference to this is Jude 1:22-23, “Be merciful to those who doubt; save others by snatching them from the fire; to others show mercy, mixed with fear—hating even the clothing stained by corrupted flesh.” According to this passage, our job is to show mercy while having a healthy respect for God.
How Do We 'Hate the Sin, Love the Sinner' Without Condoning Their Sin?
One of my favorite stories in the Bible is about the woman who was caught in adultery. It’s interesting that they only brought the woman to Jesus. And it’s interesting the crowd was filled with religious people—the church—kind of like you and me today. As the crowd was basically saying, “Love the sinner but hate the sin,” Jesus told them to look in the mirror in one swift statement, “Let him who is without sin among you be the first to throw a stone at her.”
One by one, each person left until it was only Jesus and the woman standing there. And then He said something so profound: Jesus straightened up and asked her, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?”
“No one, sir,” she said.
“Then neither do I condemn you,” Jesus declared. “Go now and leave your life of sin.”
Jesus didn’t instruct the crowd to hate her sin. Nor did Jesus instruct the crowd to tell her not to sin. Nor did Jesus say to the crowd, “I told her to go and sin no more.” The only instruction we received from Jesus is to examine the sin in our own lives. Jesus waited until the crowd left so He could have a word with her. It was His job to transform her heart, not ours.
So how do we love others without condoning their sin? We recognize sin for what it is. We refuse to take part in sin, refuse to accept it, and we pray for others because we know sin leads to death. We love others by showing them respect and dignity as human beings that God loves so deeply. And we witness to them through our actions. We love them, we pray for them, and we witness to them through our words and actions. We build relationships while keeping two passages in mind:
“There are six things that the Lord hates, seven that are an abomination to him: haughty eyes, a lying tongue, and hands that shed innocent blood, a heart that devises wicked plans, feet that make haste to run to evil, a false witness who breathes out lies, and one who sows discord among brothers.” Proverbs 6:6-19
In other words, we give grace and love this person exactly where they are at; but we love them enough not to leave them there. We extend grace to them because of the grace God extended to us because grace lets the Holy Spirit work through us to show the person in front of us understanding and love, instead of judgment.
Photo Credit: ©GettyImages/fizkes
Heather Riggleman is an award-winning journalist and a regular contributor for Crosswalk. She calls Nebraska home with her three kids and a husband of 22 years. She believes Jazzercise, Jesus, and tacos can fix anything and not necessarily in that order! She is author of I Call Him By Name Bible Study, the Bold Truths Prayer Journal, Mama Needs a Time Out, and a contributor to several books. You can find her at www.heatherriggleman.com or on Facebook.