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Hate the Sin and Love the Sinner?

Is this concept even possible?

Glen A Weber, Central Regional Support Team

Over recent decades there has been a great deal of discussion by Christians about the “major sins” of our society – abortion, LGBTQ+, questions of gender and so many more activities of which many Christians disapprove. As a community, the Christian church has wrestled – and often disagreed – with how to address these issues.

Many have accepted the common statement, “hate the sin and love the sinner.” As I have considered this topic, I have found it quite difficult to make the two thoughts work together. Can I truly love the “sinner” with agape love, while also hating their actions?

  • When that friend comes home completely inebriated, can I really love him and still hate something about him?
  • When a family member shares they are in a relationship with someone of the same sex, do I love her and hate the relationship (or the other person)?
  • When a friend is transitioning from one gender to another, can I fully love her and hate who she feels she is in her human body?
  • When millions of babies are aborted each year, can I hate the actions of the doctors and nurses while still loving them?

I don’t know about you, but I find it quite difficult to separate the actions from the person. My experience finds that many who claim they only hate the sin, also have a very negative feeling toward the sinner.

Love the sinner

The majority of Christians would agree that we are to love the sinner.

We know that Jesus reached out to those who were considered outcasts by the culture of his day. He reached out to the woman caught in adultery, to the tax collectors who were taking advantage of (“cheating”) their Jewish neighbors and even forgave humanity while we had him hanging on the cross.

Jesus told us to love our enemies and to pray for those who persecute us. (Matt. 5:43-45)

Hate the sin

Throughout the Old Testament, God is referred to as hating sin. He had established a law for Israel, and they were expected to live in agreement with that law. They seldom did. God is referred to as hating their idols, the way they observed their sabbaths, the rapidity with which they divorced their wives, their adultery within their marriages, but also their national adultery with other foreign powers. It’s clear God was quite distressed with the consequences the people suffered as a result of turning away from him and living in sinful ways. And that’s what he hated – the hurt they caused themselves, the consequences they faced as the result of their sin. God hates sin because it hurts those he loves, and it tells us lies about who we are in him.

Two thousand years ago, God revealed that the time had fully come for him to deal with the sin issue. He could have snapped his fingers and forced everyone into obedience – but that would have taken away human freedom. Instead, he became one of us through the womb of Mary. He entered our fallenness by becoming human. Even though born into our fallenness, Jesus walked perfectly with the Father and lived a godly life to overcome that fallenness.

Jesus took the punishment and the curse of the law for us.

Now it is evident that no one is reckoned as righteous before God by the law, for “the one who is righteous will live by faith.” But the law does not rest on faith; on the contrary, “Whoever does the works of the law will live by them.” Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us—for it is written, “Cursed is everyone who hangs on a tree”— in order that in Christ Jesus the blessing of Abraham might come to the gentiles, so that we might receive the promise of the Spirit through faith. (Galatians 3:11-14 NRSV)

The apostle Paul often wrote to the believers that Jesus Christ gave himself for our sins that we might be set free from the present evil age. (Galatians 1:3-5)

Through Jesus Christ’s Incarnation and sacrifice, he has changed the way we see the people around us. God has now reconciled all to himself. He loved all of humanity all along, but now opened the way for our hearts to love him.

For the love of Christ urges us on, because we are convinced that one has died for all; therefore all have died. 1And he died for all, so that those who live might live no longer for themselves but for the one who for their sake died and was raised.  From now on, therefore, we regard no one from a human point of view (emphasis mine); even though we once knew Christ from a human point of view, we no longer know him in that way. (2 Corinthians 5:14-16 NRSV)

Later in this passage, Paul tells us to invite those around us to be reconciled to the Father, who has already reconciled them to himself. Paul doesn’t tell the believers anything about hating their sins and or correcting them or judging them for their actions.

That is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting the message of reconciliation to us. (2 Corinthians 5:19 NRSV)

If God – through the life of Jesus Christ – doesn’t look at people around us – even unbelievers – through a human point of view, and no longer counts their sins against them, how can we?

Does God’s heart break for the consequences of people’s actions? Yes! Should our heart lament when we see people suffering because of their/our actions? Definitely!

It does not seem that God is wringing his hands over the sins of humanity; he has already forgiven us and redeemed us. Does that mean he no longer hates sin? Absolutely not. Sin causes us pain, it breaks relationships, it tells us lies about who we are. God’s wrath is toward the things that hurt us and lie to us. Only God can truly hate sin and unconditionally love his creation. He chooses to look at humanity through the life of Jesus Christ and rejoices that so many more of his children are now populating his kingdom – even when they don’t know it!

It doesn’t seem that God is calling us to “love the sinner and hate the sin.” It seems he is calling us to love the sinner – period (full stop for those using Commonwealth English). We can pray for them to come to know Jesus Christ and if the opportunity presents itself, invite them to step into the reconciliation that is already theirs because of the vicarious sin-forgiving work of Jesus. Remind them, “You are reconciled, so be reconciled!”

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