“Hate the sin, love the sinner”

How often have you heard that?  It’s supposed to be an encouragement, of course, to be more like Jesus, who unflinchingly called people out for their wickedness and yet died on the cross for their salvation.

Six simple and reasonable words.  But I think we’d be better served to reduce it to five.  Take a look: there’s only one word that can go, and I believe it should.

We usually invoke the phrase when we’re feeling victimized.  Our natural reaction is, “I hate you,” and to want revenge.  So we’re asked to make a pious transformation: “Well, I don’t hate you, exactly, I just hate what you did.”  And then we’re supposed to take it yet one step further: “I still hate what you did, but I love you.”

Really?

By God’s grace, sometimes we’re able to do it.  But most of the time, I suspect, “I love you” really means “I won’t hate you openly.”  Or maybe even, “I’ll just try to avoid you instead.”

Why is it so difficult?  Because our usual tendency is to equate what someone else did with who they are.

So, does that mean we should throw the phrase out?  Not at all.  Just one-sixth of it.  My proposed alternative is this: “Hate sin, love the sinner.”

“Hate the sin,” in practice, means I hate your sin.  That’s nice for me, because I get to occupy the high ground morally and spiritually.  I get to play the heroic role of Jesus, while you remain the villain.

But “hate sin” says something else; I am to hate all sin, because it offends God, not just your sin because it offends me.  I can’t take the judgmental high ground anymore, for I too am a sinner.

Yes, there are real victims in the world.  And real victimizers.  We should hate all such injuries to the dignity of those created in God’s image, lament all travesties of justice.

But then what?  Love the sinner?  It won’t happen apart from grace.  And to get there, we must first number ourselves among the sinful.

2 thoughts on ““Hate the sin, love the sinner”

  1. Excellent point. Individually, we have a difficult time not taking disagreements or dislikes personally.

  2. As I was reading, my first thought (at the half way point) was “wait! Doesn’t the sin point directly to the [character] of the offender?” “That gives me the [right] to hold it against them doesn’t it?” Then of course as you rightly point out, I too am a sinner. I too am [on] the hook. Thank God for His grace and mercy to me a sinner! From now on, I will be careful to say (and live) “hate sin, love the sinner”

    Thanks Dr. Lee

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