You have heard the phrase, “Hate the sin, love the sinner.” The Bible never said that. Sorry.
This saying is actually derived from a quote by Gandhi.
Well, you might say, even though these precise words aren’t in the Bible, the principle of the saying is there, right? Yes, the concepts are there, but not in exactly that language.
Romans 12:9 says, Don’t just pretend to love others. Really love them. Hate what is wrong. Hold tightly to what is good.
That is about the clearest verse that speaks of hating sin and loving people, but note that it doesn’t say sinners. It says others. I do believe we can say, it’s Biblical, to hate sin.
It is right, moral, appropriate to hate wrongs like rape, murder, incest, child abuse, torture and sex slavery. We hate the harm they do to precious people.We grieve over such sin. Allepo and Mosul, I grieve the harm to women, children, old.
But one of the dangers in “hate the sin,” mentality is that we have a tendency to hate other people’s sin — sin we don’t have — while tolerating, excusing, overlooking or even loving our own sin.
The other evening, my wife and I were coming home from concert, she was driving, and she took a longer route than I would have to avoid some traffic.
The backstory is that she has been hating her commute from Chula Vista to Point Loma, all the traffic, and has been telling me that a lot.
So, when she took a route that I wouldn’t have taken, on the way home from the concert, I said, with all the sensitivity and wisdom of a good husband, “If you choose routes like this, no wonder it takes you so long to get home from work.”
As soon as I said it, I knew I was a sinner.
And she being a saint, she didn’t explain that to me, except to say I had hurt her feelings.
My name is Randy Hasper, and I am a sinner. And I think the church would function better if it functioned like an AA group. Mostly, I need to not get ramped up about other people’s sin; I need to take care of my side of the street, my sin, and seek to make amends to the people I have wronged.
Ashamed of my own words, I apologized to my wife. Repent quickly.
I think of Ann Lamott: , “God put us together with other people on the planet to make us crazy enough that we give up on our own bad ways and surrender to his love and forgiveness.” The point? Be more concerned about your own sin than others.
But there is something else to say about our own sin. Be careful not to hate your own sin so much, that you end up hating yourself and shaming yourself and thinking that you can get holy by beating up on yourself.
The other day, one of my daughters dropped and broke my favorite espresso cup.
She knows how much my espresso means to me. Every morning, espresso brings me back from the dead.
She felt badly, felt some shame, some guilt.
But we have a thing in our house where if someone breaks something — because we are all a bit brain damaged in my house — nobody says anything except stuff like, “Oh, it’s just a cup, no big deal, here let me help you clean it up.”
Shame won’t bring the cup back. Beating up on ourselves or others for sin just weighs us down. Hate won’t make sin go away. After we fail, after we drop the moral cup, it is a looking to God that helps, not focusing on the sin, for then we hear him say, “Here, let me help you clean that up.
Putting our eyes back on God, forgives us, heals us, and helps us get back to doing the right thing.
So hate the sin … well … that’s right, but keep you eyes on God not on your sin.
The other problem with the “hate the sin, love the sinner,” thing is that the NT doesn’t encourage us to judge or condemn ourselves — or even other people — as sinners.
Matthew 7:1. Do not judge, or you too will be judged.
It’s true that we do all sin, and say they don’t, but to label someone a “sinner” puts us in an judging, “us versus them” position, where we become the “righteous” person looking down our nose at those poor, wretched, ignorant “sinners” who just cannot get their act together.
Forget that. We need to worry about our side of the street. We are only responsible for our side of things, not theirs.
Last night I took responsibility for my side of the street with my wife. She has been complaining that I don’t always hear her when she speaks.
I told her, “I know, babe, so for you I went to the doctor about this last week. He told me I now have a 95% to 100% hearing loss.
I told him about our problem, and he is recommending that from now on you just stop speaking to me. It’s not my fault. I will just have to suffer, in silence, in blissful silence, the rest of our married life.”
Finally, the last and biggest problem with the “sinner” label, in the “love the sinner” thing is that there is much more to us than sinner. We were all created in the image of God, and while sin has twisted and smudged that image, it hasn’t erased it.
There is gold in you. “There is gold in them thar hills.”
Think of how Jesus viewed us. Jesus hung out with unrighteousness people like us, but that isn’t how he labeled us. Jesus’s own billing, his marquee, it wasn’t “Jesus the Messiah: eating and drinking with prostitutes and sinners.”
That was the labeling used by the religiously judgmental. When he hung out with sinners, he didn’t act like they were sinners.
His sinner were his friends, not his projects. They were people with faces and names. They were his sheep in need of his care. They were beloved children. Jesus wasn’t their accuser. He left that to the devil — or the religious right.
Romans 5:8 But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.
Take the woman caught in a sexual sin. Sinner is not how Jesus saw her. When he told her to go and sin no more he was revealing that he saw that she was person who was capable of righteousness.
She sinned, I sin, and you sin, we all sin, but that is not our primary identity. Our primary identity, our root identity, is as the children of God. Getting back to that is what helps us stop sinning.
1 John 3:1 See what great love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are!
I remember once when life really beat me down, and I kind of lost myself, I called by friend Rob Mahan, and went to lunch with him.
I told him what had happened that made me lost my confidence, and he asked me, “So, then, who are you?”
I said, “Well, I am a pastor, a writer, a teacher,” and he was like, “Well, that’s what you do, but who are you?”
I was a bit confused. He was looking for a deeper answer. I’m dense sometimes. It took me some time to sort that out. I am — no matter what anyone thinks or says about me — a child of God. I am valuable, special, unique, useful, loved child of God. I am a person of value, not for what I do, but for who I am. Nobody can take that away from me.
This is true of you too. Never let anybody take that away from you. Nobody has that power over you, to proclaim you worthless, a failure, a mistake.
Sin is terrible, and the things we do to each other that take away worth are terrible, in fact they are so terrible they lead to the death of Jesus, but sin didn’t define him, and it doesn’t define you.
Jesus was the son of God, who triumphed over sin, and in him, you are a new creation, not a sinner.
Romans 8:1 There is no condemnation for those who belong to Christ Jesus.
I am done with being critical, with putting myself down or others down for imperfection, for weaknesses. And I am done speaking of others as if they are sinners.
It’s not Christian to be full of judgment. “Hate the sin, love the sinner.” I don’t actually recommend calling anyone a “sinner.”
They, and you, and we are much, much more than sinners. You and everyone else on our planet are beautiful, and we were made for a redeeming, righteous, intimate relationship with God.
And close to God we are gold, we are forgiven, we become powerful, we are free, we are good and we are whole.