Member Mailbag – I hear this term a lot: “hate the sin, but love the sinner” or “hate the crime, but not the criminal.” It sounds like an excuse to hang out with people, while ignoring their sin.
I find it hard to separate the sin from the sinner. I’m not saying I hate people. The analogy I’ve come up with is if someone broke into a home and killed a wife or child. Or maybe a drunk driver slammed into a family and killed a spouse.
I would blame the person and hold him responsible. I would not blame the sin for what happened. Surely the people who say, “Hate the sin, but love the sinner” would want the person in prison.
While I don’t want to ignore my duty to love the sinner and hang out with them like Jesus did, I’m confused. Something does not sound right.
You raise a good and thoughtful question about a phrase that has been tossed around Christianity for a long time. It is one of those bumper sticker statements or fiery pulpit lines that sounds good in the moment, but lacks depth and needs more explanation–hence your question.
Frankly I don’t use the term or give much thought to it. I certainly don’t upload it the way it’s typically played in our culture. It reminds me of the caricatured conservative Christian who is lambasting the gay community. I can hear the Christian yelling, “I hate the sin, but love the sinner,” but never practicalizes God’s love to the sinner, while maintaining a line of separation between him and the sinner.
While I think the intent may be good, it is sloppy theology that can lead a Christian into the pluralistic relativism we so despise in our culture today. This quote–hate the sin, but love the sinner–is a forced juxtaposition of Bible thought that abuses the word love, while obscuring God’s plenary character.
Whenever we take two thoughts like this (hate sin/love sinner) and put them together and try to create a “doctrine” (teaching) out of it, we’re going to create an additional teaching or unnecessary teaching that will mess with our heads, perpetuate Biblical ignorance, and unnecessarily confuse the unregenerate world.
While the goal may be noble–Christians love everybody, the result can be bad–God’s justice, holiness, and wrath will be siphoned from His character. What you will end up with is a god that is amenable to our culture, but unable to save the ones you want to reach.
Hate is the easy part
My sister-in-law shot my brother five times with a gun. He died. She murdered him. She got off with community service. (It’s a long story and I’ll not go into all the detail here. It would digress from the point.)
His death is an actual illustration of your point, rather than the two theoretical ones you used. I’m using mine because it is real and I have had to wrestle with the “sin/sinner” juxtaposition you are asking about. This situation affected me to the depths of my soul.
Rather than getting caught up in the cutesy platitudes of “hate the sin, but love the sinner,” I had to think deeply about how to wrestle through what God was writing into my life.
I’ll not even deal with the “hate the sin” part because I think we all can agree how I am to think about her sin. I hate it. You hate it. God hates it. The hatred of sin is clear for any Christian to understand. One look at the cross and we all can say in unison, “We hate sin. We hate what it caused–the death of God’s dear Son.”
The world may love their sin, but we do not. We hate our sin with a passion. We hate their sin too. It does not take much time in God’s Word to figure out why we are to hate sin.
Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. – 1 John 2:15 (ESV)
Whoever makes a practice of sinning is of the devil, for the devil has been sinning from the beginning. The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the works of the devil. – 1 John 3:8 (ESV)
The issue is not our hatred of sin, but more about what does it mean to love a sinner. In an effort to communicate that Christians are loving people, some have twisted the Word of God into something that looks more like our culture than the LORD God Omnipotent.
What is love?
Here’s the tension: typically people have a weak understanding of what “love” is. While they see hate as “black” and clear and easy to understand, they have a wrong view of love.
If hate is not accepting something–I reject your sin, then they see love as accepting something–but I accept you. That is the message the Christian wants to communicate when they use the term wrongly or without deeper biblical explanation. It’s like saying, “The sin is not about you. You I love, it just your sin I hate.”
You already see how awkward that is because you raise this point in your question. This kind of isolated, poor exegesis, and forced juxtaposition of love and hate is not something we want to hang our Christian presentation on. God certainly does not.
If hate is defined as I have defined it, then people just assume love is the direct opposite: I reject (hate) your sin, but I accept (love) you. This is too black and white. There is no nuance or deep reflection about what love should be, can be, and how we are to live it out in light of the real threat of personal sin.
Love is much deeper and broader than I accept you. There are other aspects of love that must be part of our definition. And when they are, we will be able to represent God more impressively and affectively, whether it’s in the evangelism of our friends or the sanctification of them.
God is love
God is love and God will allow a person to go to hell because of their choice to live in sin–the sin of unbelief. How does that grab you? God is love and God’s wrath is on a person who chooses to live in sin. This is not just for the final judgment, but His wrath is on all willful sinners today.
Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life; whoever does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God remains on him. – John 3:36 (ESV)
For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth. – Romans 1:18 (ESV)
Our God, who is love, is also the God of wrath. For God so loved the world, true, but God’s wrath is currently on any person who chooses to live in sin. The fact He allows a person to choose hell does not diminish His love at all. In fact it further affirms His love.
As an aside – I would recommend you do some reading regarding all of God’s attributes–especially His holiness, love, justice, righteousness, and wrath–from a solid, but easy to read Systematic Theology textbook.
If you interpret love without understanding God’s wrath or His justice, you will have a gushy, post modern, to-each-his-own, culture’s view of love.
I love my sister-in-law (now my former sister-in-law), but I demand her sin be punished. If her sin is not punished, then I’m making light of my brother’s death and I’m placing little significance on his life or how he died. And her sin cannot be punished unless she is punished. She will not experience the depth of God’s love until she realizes the depth of her sin.
Therefore I tell you, her sins, which are many, are forgiven—for she loved much. But he who is forgiven little, loves little.” – Luke 7:47 (ESV)
God loved me affectively by showing me the depth of my sin. It was this kind of love that drove me to Him. If He ignored my sin, then His love would have been incomplete. And I would have never understood the love of God or experienced His love to the depth I have since He first confronted me about my sin.