The popular phrase "hate the the sin, love the sinner" is often attributed to the Bible. While filled with Biblical truths, the origin of "hate teh sin, love the sinner" is often attributed to Mahatma Ghandi's autobiography or within the Christian Church, pastor and author Adam Hamilton.
We can see how this statement has been through to be a Biblical truth when we look at specific Bible verses such as: “Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light for fear that their deeds will be exposed.” Someone who loves the Lord and “lives by the truth comes into the light, so that it may be seen plainly that what they have done has been done in the sight of God” (John 3:20).
Christ corrected his disciples. His apostles were compelled to speak truth in order to encourage and correct fellow believers. Christians today are called to do the same, yet so often refrain from doing so. Let's take a look at what it means to love the sinner and hate the sin.
What it Means to Love the Sinner and Hate the Sin
“Hate” is a strong word; “everyone who hates his brother is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life abiding in him” (1 John 3:15). To hate sin is to kill sin, not the person.
A genuinely repentant heart finds sin repugnant and grieves the cost of transgression, although grief should give way to joy (repentance and salvation without regret, what Paul talks about in 2 Corinthians 7:10). One might truly wrestle with a sin for his or her entire life, but it was ultimately defeated by Christ at the resurrection for those who believe in Christ for salvation.
Willfully sinning against God separates him from his people. This is the eternal cost for those who refuse to repent or who only offer disingenuous, earthly repentance (the flip side of Paul’s statement in the verse above). Hating sin, then, is natural for those who love Christ and wish to be with him eternally.
Repentance looks like this. “First, there is conviction. You must know what is right before you can know what is wrong.” One discovers right from wrong by studying Scripture. Second is “sincere regret,” as described in 2 Corinthians 7:10. The final step is “changing your mind, changing your attitude, changing your ways.”
Hating sin does not amount to empty promises. It is not an expectation that one should pull up his socks and tough out temptation in his own strength. Hating sin is not an excuse to be angry with someone. Hating sin has a purpose: To bring a Christian back into communion with the Lord and help him to find freedom from slavery to a destructive behavior or pattern of thinking.
The abiding emotion behind this hatred is actually love. By addressing their own sin and pervasive sins in fellow believers’ lives, Christians demonstrate faith in and obedience to God. Consider how difficult it is to confront someone who is rebelling against God: This is sacrificial submission and a love, which is often misunderstood.
Love the Sinner Meaning
The second greatest commandment, according to Jesus, is to “love your neighbor as yourself” (Matthew 22:39). Real love is patient, kind, humble, polite, and gentle. It “does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth” (1 Corinthians 13:4-5). Guilt and condemnation do not achieve what love can and they do not lead to joy. They might uncover hidden wrongdoing, but without patience; without humility.
A loving rebuke promotes dignity, offers respect, and rejects shame. Christ did not die so that believers would hate themselves or hate anyone else; he died so they could be reunited with God and find peace. Peace, love, and truth crowd out chaos, hatred, and lies. Calling out sin in other people is an act of love when done lovingly.
A Christian cannot repent for another person, yet a fellow believer can expose sin by shining a light on it. “We hate our own sin, first and foremost, and we take others’ sin seriously because we take their eternal good seriously.” One must first acknowledge personal sin and be open to correction by Christian brothers and sisters who care deeply.
Why Don’t People Do This?
“Exhort one another every day, as long as it is called ‘today,’ that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin” (Hebrews 3:13). Western Christians are afraid to follow this command. Steven J. Cole explains why: “The dominant mood in the American church today [is] that we should show love and tolerance to those who fall into sin.”
Many people take “do not judge lest you also be judged” (Matthew 7:1) out of context and use it to mean that calling out sin is judgmental and intolerant. Some pastors fear that congregations will thin out because people feel they are being “judged” when sisters or brothers in Christ shed light on their sins. But the danger is that fear of man will usurp fear of God. “Humility does not shrink back from calling sin, sin; pride does,” writes Greg Morse.
Moreover, believers often justify sin and avoid change by evoking sympathetic silence based on illness. While there are legitimate conditions, which manifest in rage or poor focus, and one must not oversimplify or make assumptions, losing one’s temper cannot always be explained away or drugged into submission. “Self-control” or “self-discipline” is a fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 6). Anger and laziness were problems among first-century Christians; that’s why the Bible addresses them.
Paul commanded the Thessalonian church to “keep away from any brother who is walking in idleness and not in accord with the tradition that you received from us” (2 Thessalonians 3:6). But the Christian who dares to question someone suffering from a psychological disorder is often severely criticized, even by fellow Christians, even if his aim is to promote life-giving change.
Furthermore, Scripture is frequently challenged. Even many pastors promote “progressive” or “liberal” beliefs, which reject God’s teaching on marriage for example. God spoke about this, declaring “the shepherds have fed themselves” (Ezekiel 34:9), responding “I myself will be shepherd of my sheep” (Ezekiel 34:15). The situation worsens when Christians who want to challenge sin do not study and discuss God’s Word. We must read our Bibles.
Freedom from Self
We are to love others as we love ourselves. What does the self-hater do? In an interview for DesiringGod.org, David Powlinson said that self-haters “live before the wrong eyes,” “listen to the wrong voice,” “stand next to the wrong standard,” and “look to the wrong savior.”
They are unable to surmount shame. To permit correction by others is to court soul-crushing disaster; to point out sin in others is hypocrisy and makes one vulnerable to hearing as much. How can a self-hater correct someone else? Why would they cause pain when they avoid it at all costs?
“Speaking the truth in love, we will grow to become in every respect the mature body of him who is the head, that is, Christ” (Ephesians 4:15). We must return to the second commandment: Love others as we love ourselves by focusing on Christ.
God’s Word does not encourage Christians to embarrass one another or hurt them; Christ did not humiliate the vulnerable, he loved them. The purpose of Scripture is to glorify Christ. A Christian who tells a friend that his addiction to pornography is sinful is restoring that friends’ focus onto eternity with Christ; freedom from slavery to sin. “Save others by snatching them out of the fire” (Jude 1:23). This is sacrificial love.
Leading another person to repentance requires the bravery to say that status among friends or family matters less than that person’s relationship with Christ and Christ’s glory. The self-hating person takes “self” out of the equation and redirects hatred towards sin. Christ met a woman at a well and called out her sin. She ran back to her village exclaiming excitedly that she had met the Savior; she did not find a quiet, dark place to hide.
Such service, carried out correctly, replaces self-worth, self-hatred, self-effacement, self-esteem with Jesus. Paul encouraged believers to set their minds on everything holy, pure, and excellent; everything represented by our Savior (Philippians 4). He never exhorted Christians to believe in themselves.
The fear of rejection is rooted in self-concern. A friend might not take the truth well, but his acceptance is not as important as his soul and God’s holiness. God desires a relationship with his children. Teaching and rebuking hurt a person’s pride, but pride is a wall between God and his people.
How to Hate Sin and Love Sinners
Christians must silence the voice of society and hear God’s voice above all others. Here is a reasoned approach to speaking truth in love:
1. Repent of sin in your own life first. Ask God for forgiveness and ask him for strength in Christ to overcome that sin. Be open to admonition or guidance from a godly brother or sister.
2. Pray for direction, courage, and a humble heart of love for the other person. Pray to be motivated by concern and love, not anger or competition. Pray before talking; pray during the discussion; and pray afterwards. Pray for the individual whose sin has been exposed: he might be hurt for a while. Pray until it’s clear he or she has managed to overcome the sin issue in a healthy, God-honoring way. Pray lovingly even if you were rejected.
3. Be clear. What is the sin specifically? Locate biblical references and reliable sources of exposition in order to establish a position rooted in God’s Word, not personal opinion. Stick with one issue, get the facts straight, even write them down if necessary. Ask questions; don’t make assumptions.
4. Put on the Full Armor of God. Defensiveness and anger are common when someone feels attacked. This can lead to a counterattack. Prepare for spiritual warfare. Remember what’s at stake. Use the shield of faith to cover a friend weakened by sin.
5. Plan for joy. The world says “protect self-interest. Do what feels good. Define and protect your own truth.” When two Christians agree on a bigger truth, they are willing to fight for at great risk to personal comfort, God is glorified. Jesus said to his followers “there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents” (Luke 15:10).
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Candice Lucey is a freelance writer from British Columbia, Canada, where she lives with her family. Find out more about her here.