Love the sinner, hate the sin. I believe these six words cause unquantifiable pain and erode the public perception of followers of Jesus. “Love the sinner, hate the sin” seems innocent and even spiritual, but I believe can be a dangerous Christian cliche. Here are at least several reasons why it is and why we should stop using it.
Augustine of Hippo coined this phrase. He attempted to explain how leaders should carry out church discipline. Moreover, he wanted to reconcile the tension that exists between God’s love and God’s wrath. Over the centuries, however, this phrase has become a bad Christian cliche for several reasons.
- Jesus never commanded us to love the sinner, hate the sin.
First, Jesus never commanded us to love the sinner, hate the sin. Many Christians believe Jesus would agree with “love the sinner, hate the sin,” But would he? I am not sure he would. In fact, Jesus called us to love – to love people without qualifiers:
The second (commandment) is equally important: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ No other commandment is greater than these.” Mark 12:31
Notice the word Jesus did use when talking about people. He used the word “neighbor.” This attitude of love and grace toward people is a game-changer. When Jesus dealt with people, he dealt with them as friends, who needed love, protection, and salvation. He dealt with people personally. If they needed to repent, he didn’t command us to say: “Love the sinner, hate the sin.” Any behavior that needed to change, Jesus didn’t condemn, but he loved people toward personal transformation. In fact, this is the reason Jesus came into the world.
For this is how God loved the world: He gave his one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life. God sent his Son into the world not to judge the world, but to save the world through him. John 3:16-17
Let me tell you what I am not saying. I am not saying sin doesn’t matter to God; it does. God is a holy God and sin grieves and offends him:
So the Lord was sorry he had ever made them and put them on the earth. It broke his heart. Genesis 6:6
Nor, am I saying that people aren’t sinners. The Bible is pretty clear on this. We are not good people who occasionally do bad things. We are fundamentally bad people, who occasionally do good things. God knew we could not save ourselves. Thus, he sent Jesus to die to forgive our sins.
Nor am I saying that we should be so loving that it is devoid of a high challenge to holiness. Part of loving people is helping them to see how their sin does break the heart of God.
All I’m saying is, God will deal with sin in a person’s life. He didn’t call us to be sacred intermediaries or the crime police on behalf of others. As we are faithful to live transformed lives and preach a gospel that changes lives, the Holy Spirit will convict and transform. Jesus never told us to “love the sinner, hate the sin.” He only told us to love our neighbor. Period. When we replace Jesus’ words with familiar Christian phrases, we run the risk of hurting people and being unlike Christ.
- Love the sinner, hate the sin is hypocritically inconsistent.
Secondly, “love the sinner, hate the sin” is hypocritically inconsistent. Christians seem to direct toward one particular group – the LGBT community. I have hardly ever heard Christians use “love the sinner, hate the sin” in the context of any other sin gluttony (overeating), pride, materialism, jealousy, anger, racism, and sexism. In my humble opinion, we use this phrase selectively. If we use this phrase, let’s make sure we include all our secret sins and call for holiness in every area of our lives.
But now you must be holy in everything you do, just as God who chose you is holy. For the Scriptures say, “You must be holy because I am holy.” 1 Peter 1:15-16
Notice what Peter said? We must be holy in everything we do. The Greek word for everything is everything. This holiness includes being set apart in our finances, our marriages, our singleness, our speech, our motives, and yes, our sexuality. It seems we pick and choose what areas in which we will be holy. We passionately call down God’s judgment on OTHERS while asking for mercy for OURSELVES. Luke illustrates this in his gospel:
“Two men went to the Temple to pray. One was a Pharisee, and the other was a despised tax collector. The Pharisee stood by himself and prayed this prayer: ‘I thank you, God, that I am not like other people—cheaters, sinners, adulterers. I’m certainly not like that tax collector! I fast twice a week, and I give you a tenth of my income.’ “But the tax collector stood at a distance and dared not even lift his eyes to heaven as he prayed. Instead, he beat his chest in sorrow, saying, ‘O God, be merciful to me, for I am a sinner.’ I tell you, this sinner, not the Pharisee, returned home justified before God. For those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.” Luke 18:9-14
So, before we remove the splinter from someone else’s eye, let’s remove the two-by-four from our eye. Before we call out sin in anyone’s life, let’s be sure to be as passionate and thorough in calling out sin in our lives. So, this phrase is dangerous because it is hypocritically inconsistent.
- Love the sinner, hate the sin is a cover to continue hateful condemnation.
Third, “love the sinner, hate the sin” seems to be a cover for some Christians to keep their hateful condemnation intact. This phrase allows some Christians to use God as a cover for their hatred toward another person or group, especially the LGBT community. When people use these words, it appears the emphasis is always on HATE the sin and not on LOVE the sinner. HATE the sin seems to manifest itself in various forms – raining down hateful and homophobic speech, sickening violence, terrorist-like threats, and conditional disassociation. I have hardly ever heard anyone put emphasis on LOVING the sinner.
Shirley Phelps-Roper, daughter of the founding pastor of the homophobic and hate-filled Westboro Baptist Church, proves this point. She says:
You think our job is to win souls to Christ. All we do, by getting in their face and putting these signs in front of them and these plain words, is make what’s already in their heart come out of their mouth. She admitted that the money they spend flying to funerals is spent “to spread God’s hate.”
Phelps-Roper and Westboro are good examples of how hating the sin is much easier than loving the sinner. Hating the sin doesn’t require us to do anything. It only obliges us to open our mouths and use words of hatred and judgment. It doesn’t compel us to build a relationship with anybody.
On the other hand, loving the sinner” compels us to genuine, compassionate action. As my good friend, Kizombo Kalumbula said in a recent article, compassion “requires us to immerse oneself in the condition of the other.” This work of love is consistent with the gospel. Whatever your theological persuasion on the gay issue or any other moral issue, “loving the sinner” has to include having meaningful dialogue and building genuine relationships.
We must not let our fears perpetuate hatred and condemnation. Loving the sinner doesn’t allow us to remain distant, aloof, cold, apathetic, and inaccessible. As long as we are distant, we can continue to hide our hatred in these six words. The most devastating part is, we use God’s name to cover our hatred. So, no matter how much we say God is love, people will hear God is hate. Why? I think this is true because his people behave in hateful ways.
Let’s change this narrative. The new story deemphasizes cliches. The new story renders hatred as a weak and impotent foil and love as the lead actor. This new story compels us to go beyond hatred and condemnation. It moves us to live lives that are consistent with the good news.
How have you seen these six words disguise condemnation?
Also, check out: