Is the old saying, “love the sinner but hate the sin,” unbiblical? Is it just an excuse for right-wing Evangelicals to hide behind while self-righteously judging the activity of others- be they believer or unbeliever? I have read several articles recently that argue this very thing, saying that, “love the sinner but hate the sin,” is at best unfeasible and at worst unchristian. However, is this truly the case? I would contend that it is not, and that we best not rush to throw this saying out the window.
In fact, I would argue that this pithy little saying- if handled rightly- is both eminently Christian and Biblical. It is not only a decent- albeit truncated- summation of how Christians are called to walk and be lights in the midst of a fallen world, but it is actually a pretty strong paraphrase of Jude 1:20-23. In this passage the half-brother of Jesus wrote:
“But you, beloved, building yourselves up in your most holy faith and praying in the Holy Spirit, keep yourselves in the love of God, waiting for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ that leads to eternal life. And have mercy on those who doubt; save others by snatching them out of the fire; to others show mercy with fear, hating even the garment stained by the flesh.”
The last sentence, “Have mercy on those… show mercy… hating even the garment stained by the flesh,” could be roughly translated, “love the sinner but hate the sin.” Jude is calling believers to love and mercy, both for fellow brothers and sisters who are struggling with sin and doubting, as well as for the lost. But, he calls them to love and mercy, not at the expense of coddling or excusing sin, but warning them that they should love those struggling or lost in sin, all the while, “hating the garment stained by the flesh,” which means they are to hate sin and anything to do with sin.
Christians are called to love sinners, to love the lost, but not the sin. Has this teaching been misused over the years? Sadly, yes. Many in the church have used this saying merely as a cliché covering, which has served as means to fight the culture war and rail against the lifestyles and morality of unbelievers, all the while maintaining that we love the sinner- just not their sin. However, we have not been called to fight a war against culture, we have been called to proclaim the good news of Jesus Christ, the Kingdom of God, and to make disciples. So, if we are to reclaim this teaching of Jude, to snatch it out of the flames of the culture wars and apply it Biblically, we have address the question; what does it mean to love the sinner but hate the sin?
To love the sinner, means we are willing to pour our lives out so that they may see and know Christ, we are willing to go on seeking to love them even if they mean us harm. A good question to ask here is; are we…? Are we willing to pour our lives out for the sake of the gospel of Jesus Christ, or would we just prefer to fight? Are we willing to love those who disregard us, hate us, perhaps even want to harm us? If we realize that our answer here is no, then we need to repent and ask the Lord to empower us to lovingly bear witness to Him by loving those who do not love Him and, often, do not loves us.
When we say hate the sin, it means we will not approve of that which God disapproves, we will not call good what God has called evil- whether in our own lives or in the lives others. A good question to ask here is; do we…? In our efforts to be seen as “loving” or “understanding” do we approve of what God disapproves? In our desire to be comfortable do we call good what God has called evil? If we do, then we need to repent of standing in opposition to the Word of God and ask that the Holy Spirit convict us of what it means to walk worthy of the gospel of Jesus Christ.
The good news in all of this is that we serve a God Who is love. We serve a God Who, “so loved the world, that He gave His only Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16). In light of this glorious truth, how can we not love sinners for Whom Christ died and how can we not hate the sin from which Christ died to save us? In other words, to love the sinner but hate the sin, is to imitate Christ and walk in accordance with the gospel. “Have mercy on those who doubt; save others by snatching them out of the fire; to others show mercy with fear, hating even the garment stained by the flesh” (Jude 1:23).