The phrase, “Hate the sin, but love the sinner”, sounds biblical. The phrase, itself, isn’t found anywhere in Scripture, but it sounds kind of right, right?
God certainly does hate sin. No punches are pulled on the subject. For instance, we read the following in Proverbs 6:16-19:
There are six things the Lord hates,
seven that are detestable to him:
a lying tongue,
hands that shed innocent blood,
a heart that devises wicked schemes,
feet that are quick to rush into evil,
a false witness who pours out lies
and a person who stirs up conflict in the community.
And there is no doubt that God loves sinners. Paul made that perfectly clear when he said:
“But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” (Rom. 5:8)
To that extent, we can say that God hates sin, but He loves sinners. The phrase, however, is usually stated as a way that we should orient ourselves toward other people. More specifically, the phrase is usually suggested as a way of orienting ourselves (Christians) toward “certain” people. We say it because we hate the sin, especially their sin, and we are reminding ourselves to love the sinner.
It’s a phase that Christians generally seem to like, but non-Christians don’t seem to like it nearly as much as do. We could chalk it up to them not understanding, not believing in the Bible and not appreciating what Jesus did on the cross for us. But is it really biblical?
While it’s biblical to say that God hates sin, but loves sinners, is it biblical instruction for us to say, “Hate sin but love sinners? Jeff Frazier at the Chaplestreet Church in Batavia, IL (who preached on this subject August 2, 2020, and who’s sermon inspires this post) suggests that it isn’t biblical, at least not in the way it is usually applied.
Again, I note that we seem to apply it most often to “certain” people who commit “certain” kinds of sin. That, in itself, seems should be a res flag.
God hates all sin, not just certain sins. I note the sins listed in Proverbs 6 hit a bit closer to home for most of us who might be tempted to use this phrase, because we tend to use in reference to certain kinds of people (who are not like us).
Frankly, what the use of that phrase often seems to suggest is that we find these people and the sin they commit to be particularly objectionable – more objectionable than the run-of-mill sins that we all commit (like some of the ones in Proverbs 6).
The phrase is “not a term of endearment”, says Jeff Frazier. He is exactly right. We don’t us that phrase for people we like, people like us – people who’s sins are more like our sins. We use it of people we tend to find difficult to like and difficult to love.
We use the phrase most often for categories of sin that we find more difficult for most Christians to palate. In that sense, we use it for a category of sins we feel are worse, or maybe less seemly, perhaps, than others.
If we consider Proverbs 6 again, we have to conclude that God seems to hate all sin equally. All sin is bad. Categorizing certain sins as worse (or maybe more ugly) than others is actually a way of whitewashing or glossing over our own sins, perhaps.
The truth is that our own pet sins don’t seem as ugly to us as other peoples’ sins.
God hates all sin, and He hates sin because of what it does to us!
It destroys us. It ruins our lives, drives us away from each other, hurts us and ultimately, if it runs its course, kills us. It’s not a matter of some sins being more ugly than others: all sin is ugly, and all sin destroys us.
God loves sinners, while hating sin, because of what sin does to us. Sin destroys the people He created, the people God loves!
As I consider whether this instruction to love the sinner while hating the sin is biblical, it occurs to me that we don’t find that kind of instruction to us in Scripture. What we find in Scripture is a much different orientation toward people – simply to love our neighbors (regardless of what category of sins we might see in them).
When we say that people should love sinners but hate their sin, we are focusing on their sin. When we say that, we are, more or less, admitting our focus is on their sin. We say that, likely, because we are having a hard time with their sin and, therefore, having a hard time loving them.
We are also suggesting in making that statement that our sin isn’t as important and not as bad. We are essentially suggesting that our own sin is not as ugly, and we are not as unlovable as those of whom we need to say, “hate the sin, but love the sinner”.
Jeff Frazier ended his sermon with the story of the woman caught in adultery. The “moral” of the story of the woman caught in adultery is that we who are sinful should not condemn others (cast the first stone). Jesus didn’t come to condemn people, but to save them (including us). (John 3:17)
Jesus didn’t dismiss the sin. He told her to “go and sin no more”, but now she was free to go without condemnation. Jesus lifts the condemnation even as He instructs us to walk away from sin. This is a message for all of us.
When Jesus said, “He who is without sin may cast the first stone”, he wasn’t excusing the sin; he was taking the focus off of the woman caught in adultery and shifting the focus to the sins of those who condemned her.
We actually make the same error as those religious leaders when we tell each other to hate the sin, but love the sinner. Our focus is wrong. The focus of that phrase is on the sin of others.
Too often we don’t actually get past the sin of others to really love them. We get fixated and stuck on the sin. In fact, I suggest that, if we have to say that about someone, the sin is actually a stumbling block for us, and we are falling of loving them as we should.
David said, “Against you, Lord, and you alone have I sinned.” He said this even though he had committed adultery with Bathsheba and had her husband killed. When we sin, we sin ultimately against God.
God says He loves us, though He hates the sin (that destroys us). Who are we to say that we hate the sin in others?! They haven’t sinned against us! It’s actually a self-righteous statement.
It sounds like a nice platitude, but the focus is wrong. The focus is on the sins of others. Just as Jesus focused the religious leaders on their own sins, we would do better to d hate the sin in ourselves and focus on loving others.
The sin in us gets in the way of our relationship with God and with others. It distorts our view. Jesus said, “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?” (Matt. 7:3)
The sin in me is a plank in my eye. I have become accustomed to it, and it blocks and distorts my view. I don’t see clearly because of it, yet I dare to call out the speck in your eye!
Of course, that speck in my neighbors eye is a plank to my neighbor. And so it goes.
Only Jesus was without sin. He alone is able to say with integrity and truth that he hates sin, but he loves us, the sinners. He demonstrated that love by laying his own life down for us.
As Jeff Frazier said in his sermon today, it really isn’t helpful or useful for us to perpetuate the sentiment of hating the sin of others – even with the added exhortation to love the sinner, and Jesus didn’t instruct us to do that.
Jesus instructed us to adopt a different orientation. He instructed us to be more mindful of our own sin and less mindful of the sins of others. Our focus should be on loving others, while hating the sin in ourselves.
The statement is not unbiblical when it comes from the perspective of God. When we say it, though, our focus is bit off. It’s not a big adjustment, but it can make all the difference in the world in how we see and relate to our neighbors who Jesus instructed us to love as freely as we love ourselves.
(For some additional perspective on judging see 8 Important Points about Judging and Judgment).