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Love The Sinner, That Is All

April 5, 2012

Love the sinner, hate the sin. We’ve all heard this expression before – many of us have probably even used it. Well where did it come from? Go ahead, take a trip over to BibleGateway.com and type it into the search field. Check every version of the bible you can find, and when you’re done you might be surprised to find that this is not a Bible verse. In fact, the quote is from Ghandi, it is from his autobiography. And the funny thing is, it’s an incomplete quote at that – this is the full quote.

Hate the sin and not the sinner is a precept which, though easy enough to understand, is rarely practiced, and that is why the poison of hatred spreads in the world.

This is my first problem with the idea. It sounds so good and harmless – but far too often I’ve seen it where people say they love the sinner – but their actions speak and show that even if somewhere deep down they do, their hatred of the sin is what comes across. It’s often used as a cop-out for judgmental statements and nasty rhetoric – and this is something I have a problem with. As Christians, are we supposed to be known for our judgement of others and our harsh treatment of sinners? Is that what Jesus was known for? No – of course not, Jesus was known for his compassion and mercy, and it seems the worse the sin the greater his love. This is why the Apostle Paul could write:

“Yet where sin was powerful, God’s kindness was even more powerful.” Romans 5:20

My other problem with the expression is this – only half of it is biblical, now to be fair I don’t expect it to be since Ghandi wasn’t a Christian – but it seems to have worked its way into our faith. The part about loving the sinner; that’s perfectly biblical:

“Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners.” This saying is true, and it can be trusted. I was the worst sinner of all! But since I was worse than anyone else, God had mercy on me and let me be an example of the endless patience of Christ Jesus. He did this so that others would put their faith in Christ and have eternal life.” 1 Timothy 1:15-16

“But God showed how much he loved us by having Christ die for us, even though we were sinful.” Romans 5:8

“Love others as much as you love yourself.” Matthew 22:39

But then we reach the pesky half about hating sin. Now this can be a touchy subject. I know a lot of people who are convinced that part of the Christian’s duty is to witness to the devastation of sin, to be bold in “calling sin by it’s right name” and to defend the church and the world from the perils of sin. And they have their share of Bible verses too:

“Love the LORD and hate evil!” Psalm 97:10

“If you respect the LORD, you will hate evil.” Proverbs 8:13

“Hate everything that is evil” Romans 12:9

So yes it is biblical to hate evil (sin). By no means am I suggesting we ignore it and hope it just goes away. Sin is real, and it does destroy, so much so that the Bible tells us it leads to death. But I put it to you that in the context of the following two verses, that we have no authority to hate the sin of another, that is unless we are already perfect.

“First, take the log out of your own eye. Then you can see how to take the speck out of your friend’s eye.” Matthew 7:5

“If any of you have never sinned, then go ahead and throw the first stone at her!” John 8:7

You see, if there was one sin Jesus did call out – it was hypocrisy. With the prostitutes, tax collectors and thieves Jesus was nothing but patient and kind; but with the religious leaders of the day who preached that they were better than the people around them – Jesus let them have it with both barrels. I can say with as much conviction as I’ve ever had that if Jesus were walking this earth today, he would have the same to say for The Church now as he did then. It’s not our place to make ourselves morally superior, it’s not our place to pass judgement, it’s not even our place to be calling out and naming sin, the Bible says that is the work of the Holy Spirit – and I for one have enough faith in him to do it without my help.

“The Spirit will come and show the people of this world the truth about sin and God’s justice and the judgment.” John 16:8

No my Christian brothers and sisters – It’s not our job to go around hating the sins of others. It’s not our place to tell people that they are living sinful lives. It’s not our place to hate the sin. The commandment Jesus gave us was to love others.

That command is in no way excused, qualified nor abridged by the words, actions or nature of those others.

We are compelled to be a shining example of Jesus love, and that’s all. We have no biblical right to hate sin anywhere but in our own lives. That is the job of the Holy Spirit, and I am convicted to remind you brothers and sisters that there is only one sin which is unforgivable and that is to speak against the Holy Spirit – which is exactly what our actions do when we take it upon ourselves to do his work for him.

“I tell you that any sinful thing you do or say can be forgiven. Even if you speak against the Son of Man, you can be forgiven. But if you speak against the Holy Spirit, you can never be forgiven, either in this life or in the life to come.” Matthew 12:31-32

Brothers, Sisters – we have an obligation as Christians to love as Jesus loved. There is no exemption from that whether the people we meet are of another faith or no faith at all, whether they are gay, whether they use drugs, whether they steal from us, or even kill us; after all wasn’t Jesus already hanging on the cross when he said “Forgive Them”? That’s the job he gave us, convicting people of sin – that’s the Holy Spirit’s job, not ours.

We are to be just, even to the unjust; we are to be kind, even to the unkind; we are to be merciful, even to the merciless; We are to love, even the most hateful.

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From → Religion, Society

6 Comments
  1. For those of you who followed me at the beginning of the year, sorry for disappearing. I needed to evaluate whether or not this was an effective use of my time. I have decided to return to blogging – but it will likely be once or twice a week as opposed to daily, as that was taking up too much of the time I need to spend with the flesh and bones people I minister to.

  2. Phat Granny permalink

    How about taking it one step further and not judge and label the other person as a sinner but instead respect their personal choices and make an effort understand the GLTB culture. If Jesus told you to divorce your wife and marry a man because that’s what pleases him, would you? If the status quo was marrying the same sex and you were interested in the opposite, would you appreciate being shunned by society, possibly disowned by your parents, dealing with 2nd class citizen treatment, and being sent to camps to straighten you out, or told to seek psychiatric help because your not right? Probably not so the fact that ignorant elitist Christians (50% of whom constantly break vows they made on the alter before God) expect me to break up with the person I made a commitment to and live a lie by sharing myself with someone I’m not attracted to so that THEY can feel comfortable, and say that its the plan that God wants for My life. If people think a loving God really require that of me in this day & age then it’s the grace of god that carries them through life safely.

    Paul was a closet case and Israel was a budding nation. Commands by a homophobe or to a ancient nation do not apply or resonate for me. Process that.

    • I should point out that when I say love the sinner, I’m not putting labels on anyone. The Bible says all have sinned. I am trying to echo what Jesus said – which was to love everyone. This isn’t a question of gay or straight or anything else, except that Jesus told us to love everyone and as a Christian that should be our concern with others.

  3. Sarah permalink

    Hey David, loved your article. I am 100% behind the point you are making. I would say though that Gandhi also had a point in the sense of when people are abusing you etc. In my case for example I could love my Dad who was abusing me but hate what he was doing. Because of God I can even say that I don’t judge my Dad for what he did because, though I was completely innocent on that account yet I too am a sinner but I manifest differently and am also capable of heinous things.

    • You’ve got a good point Sarah. I suppose the context I am referring to is when people talk about hating the sin of another when that sin is not against them. The bible does address how to deal with people when they sin against you, so it’s another category. Thanks for bringing up this good point.

  4. Sin is “alienation from God.”

    Paul said that a number of other bad things followed from this condition. He may well have been wrong about some of them; he was after all a 1st Century Jew rather than a 1st Century Greek.

    But if you aren’t alienated from God, you’ve got someone you can dependably ask, whether anything you want to do is wrong or mistaken. You don’t need to search your Bible to find out what someone else thought about it.

    Maybe you should seriously consider a Bible passage, or listen to what someone else is telling you– but then there’s that silent witness you can always ask, “What about this? Do I need to change my mind about this?– or is what they’re telling me just a crock?”

    —–

    But if another person’s ways are doing them harm… and they can’t/won’t do anything but what they (so-far) need to keep doing… I can see where “hate the sin” makes a lot of sense. It just doesn’t, in my experience, help a person I love do anything else.

    Whereas continuing to love them… as myself, because they are “as myself” and, at root, truly are the same self… might help, might not– doesn’t hurt us!

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