When “Hate the Sin, Love the Sinner” Doesn’t Work

Christians have long voiced the opinion to, “Hate the sin. Love the sinner.” But is this realistic? In case you are wondering, “Hate the sin but Love the sinner” is not Biblical. In fact, you would probably have an easier time finding Old Testament support for the saying “hate the sin and hate the sinner even more.” (See any number of psalms of David when he was running for his life and asking God to strike down his pursuers). “Love the sinner, hate the sin” is an attempt to keep our judgment from getting too personal. But is it possible? Can Christians separate sin from sinner?

Here’s the problem: 

If the “sinner” doesn’t: 
a) believe what he/she is doing is “sin”, and
b) don’t feel loved in what he/she is doing; 
won’t even the use of the terminology of “sinner” and “sin” lead non-believers to conclude that the “Hate the sin, love the sinner” mantra-following-Christians are hateful? If the “sinner” doesn’t believe he/she is a “sinner” and doesn’t “feel loved” or “accepted” because of their behavior– are they truly loved? 

It has been often said that Jesus was a “friend to sinners.” Apparently, he figured this dilemma out. The Apostle Paul might suggest putting all interactions between the followers of Jesus and “sinners” through a “fruit test.” Are our posts, speech and thoughts full of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control (the fruit of the spirit)?  Wouldn’t we say exhibiting the Fruit of the Spirit is having the mind of Christ? So do our words, actions, posting on social media reflect those characteristics? I’m convinced as we live into the Fruit of the Spirit and in so doing have the mind of Jesus, those who are far from God will still know they are loved (and in turn give God Almighty the opportunity to work on their hearts) even as we disapprove their behavior.

Notice what’s not on the Fruit of the Spirit list. The characteristic may be important (some are, some aren’t), but it’s not on the list.

  • Truth-telling? Important, but not a Fruit of the Spirit. 
  • Criticizing? Not important and not one of the fruits (although I’ve had church members who were convinced criticizing was their spiritual gift).
  • Being right? Not on the list.
  • Holier-than-thou attitudes? Are you kidding me? Not on the list.
  • Corrector-of-all-things-on-social-media? Not on the list. 
  • Defending the Almighty? Not on the list. 
  • Being popular? Not on the list. 
  • Passive aggressive? Really, really not on the list. 

Listen, don’t buy into the extremes in this debate. It’s not:
1) To Love me, you must affirm my behaviors; or 
2) If we love them, then we affirm behaviors that we don’t want to affirm.

Here comes the deep theological rebuttal to both extremes: Baloney.

It’s complicated. It’s messy. I still can’t get away from Jesus call to “Love our enemies,” which, in effect, means love everybody. Since we are already loving our friends and family. Hence our job is to love; run our actions through the Fruit of the Spirit; and God’s job (as I understand it) is to convict wrong behavior. Let’s do our job and let the Almighty do his job. It’s hate the “sin” (even if we have a different definition of “sin”), but love the “sinner” (even if the one in question doesn’t believe they are a “sinner.”). Or to make even simpler: Just love people and let God take care of the rest.