The Misguided Concept of ‘Loving the Sinner and Hating the Sin’

Legalistic believers often feel it is their duty to confront sinners with their ‘sins’. This sometimes includes telling sinners how bad they are and urging them to accept Jesus. And they don’t stop there; they also confront fellow believers with their ‘sins’ and heap guilt, judgment, and rejection on them.

But we must hear what Jesus says about judging others.

Jesus Speaks to Us on Judging Others

Perhaps Jesus’ most significant and powerful words are found in the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 5-7. This is his most detailed teaching, and it give us strong guidance in how we should live as followers of Jesus.

It is mostly about how we should treat people, and chapter 7 states:

Do not judge, or you too will be judged. For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.

This is not just an offhand statement; it is a key element in how we should treat others. In this sermon we have responsibilities toward people but they don’t include judging them. Judging people is not our job despite what many believers think.

Jesus also suggests the consequence of judging: if we judge others they are going to judge us back! This happens today. One of the most consistent complaints against the church, from inside and outside, is the constant condescending judgmentalism. People resist it, and they respond by judging the church. Why are people leaving our churches? This is a major reason.

Jesus continues his instruction against judging by using imagery:

Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.

In speaking to his listeners, I imagine Jesus was also thinking of the Pharisees who were experts in judging others while considering themselves faultless; Jesus confronted them repeatedly on this issue. So you might think of Jesus’ message as ‘Don’t be like the Pharisees.’ Yet many believers today are just like the Pharisees—judging others while considering their own faults to be minor at most.

plank-eye

Love Yourself and Hate Your Own Sin

Many think they have a mandate from God to call out other people’s shortcomings, but they claim to do it in ‘love’. They know Jesus tells us to love others, so they say they ‘love the sinner but hate the sin’. However, this love often seems shallow and impersonal. These believers confront people in ‘love’ in order to save them from ‘hell’, but the way to bring people to Jesus is not with condemnation but by sharing the GOOD news of Jesus.

When a believer ‘loves a person but hates their sin’ it feels to the judged that it is they the believer hates—that they are being condemned. So this way of loving people usually either alienates the person or frightens and intimidates them into embracing legalism so that they too begin to judge and condemn.

What is needed instead is the good news. The good news of Jesus tells us that God loves us unconditionally. In light of his love, we should love ourselves properly and then love others as we love ourselves. Embracing the immense love of God is what causes us to change—to abandon self-destructive behavior and to begin to love others—not judge them.

Instead of ‘love the sinner and hate the sin’ how about we ‘love ourselves and attend to our own sin’ by recognizing our deficiencies of self-destructive behavior and of our treating people inappropriately?

Don’t be a Fruit Inspector

Some believers say they are not judging—they are only fruit inspectors, referring to what Jesus says in this same chapter of Matthew:

Watch out for false prophets. They come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ferocious wolves. By their fruit you will recognize them…every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit. A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, and a bad tree cannot bear good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. Thus, by their fruit you will recognize them.

Jesus is not talking about identifying sin in people’s lives but avoiding false teachers. Bad teachers produce bad fruit. Observe the results of their teaching; it often includes a lot of harmful baggage. And one fruit of many teachers today is judging people and teaching their followers to do the same—this is not good fruit.

Other believers say their judgment of others arises from justifiable righteous indignation. Some even abandon the claim of ‘loving the sinner’ by declaring them to be enemies and attacking them as such. But we are not called to view people with indignation and contempt; our calling is to share the good news of Jesus about the Father’s love, peace, and reconciliation.

Paul Weighs In on Judging Others

Judgmental believers try to find support in the words of Jesus, but they go wild with the words of Paul. They interpret Paul as a strict advocate against sinners and quick to judge and reject those who sin, but I think they completely miss Paul’s heart. They badly misunderstand Paul, which is not really surprising because he was misunderstood in his own day.

They think Paul is harsh and judgmental on sin in others, but actually he reflects Jesus’ message very well. Paul’s statement in Romans 14 illustrates his agreement with Jesus.

One person’s faith allows them to eat anything, but another, whose faith is weak, eats only vegetables. The one who eats everything must not treat with contempt the one who does not, and the one who does not eat everything must not judge the one who does, for God has accepted them.

Who are you to judge someone else’s servant? To their own master, servants stand or fall. And they will stand, for the Lord is able to make them stand.

In 1 Corinthians 4, Paul writes:

I care very little if I am judged by you or by any human court; indeed I do not even judge myself. My conscience is clear, but that does not make me innocent. It is the Lord who judges me.

Would that those who pick at specks in the eyes of others or who feel they have been called to be God’s fruit inspectors would listen to their hero Paul. Paul agrees with Jesus: it is not our job to judge others. Let us abandon this hurtful practice and embrace people with love.

Articles in this series: Sin and Forgiveness

The Story of Sin and Salvation—Common Baggage Version (CBV)
What is Sin but Pain and Alienation?
Addressing Sin in the Old Testament
The Prophets Begin to Talk about Sin in a New Way
What Does Jesus Say about Sin? Not Much!
The Misguided Concept of ‘Loving the Sinner and Hating the Sin’
What Does Jesus’ Death on the Cross Do for Us?
How Substitutionary Atonement Fails
Why Did Jesus Die on the Cross?
Does Jesus Tell Us to Judge People in Matthew 18?
Are Sins Primarily Sins against God?
“If There’s No Hell then I Will Sin All I Want!”
Problems with the Sinner’s Prayer
What does the Story of Eden Tell Us? Is it about Sin?
We Do Not Inherit Original Sin from Adam
Original Sin or Original Self-Centeredness?
Who Does God Refuse to Forgive?

See also:

What Does Jesus Think of Sinners Today?

*****

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This entry was posted in Jesus, judgment, legalism, love, Paul, sin, sinners, the Good News and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

51 Responses to The Misguided Concept of ‘Loving the Sinner and Hating the Sin’

  1. David says:

    Good to hear you nail this epidemic in the church. I have been guilty of this and have seen it particularly prevalent in gatherings of leaders as they ‘assess’ members of the church. This, of course amounts to gossip alongside the tendency to Judge with the inevitable superiority.

    Liked by 1 person

    • jesuswithoutbaggage says:

      Thanks David. I was guilty of this as well in my younger years; it was all I knew because it was all I was taught. And I agree with you that it is terrible that some churches constantly judge member. And it does include and produce a lot of gossip.

      Like

  2. sheila0405 says:

    This msg is so timely. It seems that we all need to do better when it comes to acceptance & reconciliation.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Ken Hogan says:

    I am enjoying your writings. Thank you for them.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. tonycutty says:

    Reblogging this one for sure. Thanks Tim 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Hi Tim, I completely agree that our focus should always be on noticing and dealing with our own sin/issues, not trying to spot other people’s.

    I suppose what I’d say on the other side is that if we truly love someone, I think we will ‘hate’ their sin, simply because of its destructive effects on them and others. And we may occasionally feel we need to quietly and respectfully draw their attention to it before it causes real and lasting damage.

    That doesn’t mean we can blithely go around pointing out everyone else’s minor faults and congratulating ourselves. I’d say we can generally only speak into someone else’s life if they’ve given us that right (say if we’re a close friend, adviser or parent). And we should only ever do so privately and humbly, as one fellow-struggler to another, not setting ourselves up in judgement over anyone.

    My other big caveat is that of course we’re often mistaken in what we think of as sin, so we do always need to tread really carefully. If a friend is committing fraud or having an extra-marital affair, those are things we can probably feel fairly confident aren’t good (though there may be other factors we don’t know about). But if they’re just drinking slightly more than we’d like, or have come out as gay and we don’t feel comfortable with that, then the problem may be ours not theirs.

    Liked by 2 people

    • jesuswithoutbaggage says:

      I agree with everything you said, Harvey; and let me say you expressed it well. What I have difficulty with is the way judgmental believers use the slogan, ‘Love the sinner; hate the sin’ as a cover for intense judgmentalism. It does not feel like love to me or to the person they are judging.

      However, your approach is very appropriate. It is based on relationship along with concern and humility rather than arrogance and condescension. Would that everyone would use that approach.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Chas says:

        Tim, two things come to mind here. The first is from Proverbs: ‘Wounds from a friend can be trusted, but an enemy multiplies kisses.’ The second is that if we draw their sin to the attention of someone, we would run the risk of causing them to suffer, through a feeling of guilt, so our own action could itself be a sin. This conflict might be resolved by a quiet warning to a friend to point out how what they were doing might lead to suffering. This is the concept of minimizing the overall suffering and takes in the ‘tough love’ idea.

        Liked by 2 people

        • jesuswithoutbaggage says:

          I like this thinking. We should be able to guide people with whom we have a relationship, which, of course, is a far cry from bombarding everyone with aggressive, condemning judgmentalism. This doesn’t really help anybody except to justify the judge’s feelings of superiority and condescension.

          Liked by 1 person

  6. Mark says:

    If as we lay upon our beds at night , search out and judge OUR actions from the day, Little time will be afforded us to mind the affairs of others.
    Many times after giving a teaching Sermon on love and forgiveness I would witness sanctuary members actually become more judgmental.
    I do believe when we go out of our way to bring into the light the sins of others and lay forth condemnation….we are desperately trying to make the public appearance of our piety and hide more skeletons in the hall closet….praying none will see US as we are..

    Very timely post !

    Liked by 1 person

    • jesuswithoutbaggage says:

      Mark, thanks for sharing such great insight with us. It seems apparent that you arrived at this through personal experience, and I suspect it is an outgrowth of accepting and internalizing God’s love for all of us as Jesus taught and demonstrated.

      I really identify with your description of some people’s response to the Sermon on the Mount’s teaching on forgiveness; judgmental believers often dislike the idea of forgiveness, and I am not sure they even understand it.

      Like

  7. Pingback: The Misguided Concept of ‘Loving the Sinner and Hating the Sin’ - Jesus is Lord

  8. https://juicyecumenism.com/2014/05/23/stop-confusing-non-judgmental-with-justification-of-sin/
    http://marc5solas.com/2012/05/10/stuff-the-bible-doesnt-say-part-3-dont-judge/
    We cannot be held responsible for the way that people choose to interpret us. If we believe that Christ saves us from sin and death (biblical language) and that there is no salvation outside of him (biblical language), then the only loving thing to do is help people to understand what it is that Christ saves them from. If I am going to save a person from getting hit by a train, it is important that they know about the train. Do people do this imperfectly? Of course. But people also do works of mercy imperfectly. That doesn’t mean we just stop doing works of mercy. Read 1 Corinthians 6 and tell me seriously you think Paul didn’t think we should exercise justice in our communal life together.

    Liked by 2 people

    • jesuswithoutbaggage says:

      Hi Jeffrey, it is good to see you here; I have enjoyed our interaction elsewhere. I read both the links you recommended, and they both have some good points, but I must say that I disagree with their direction.

      I am not wishy-washy on sin. Following Jesus involves significant commitment to live above a life of sinfulness. However, I don’t think this is accomplished by focusing on sin per se. We are taught by Jesus (and his example) to love God, and we do this by embracing his unconditional love for us. This experience allows us to love ourselves more appropriately and then to love others as we love ourselves.

      This involves avoiding behaviors that hurt ourselves or other people. But it doesn’t happen by focusing on sins or religious rules. It is something that arises from our hearts as we are transformed and grow as followers of Jesus. While we examine ourselves in light of God’s love, we find better ways to love ourselves and others; we no longer want to be hurtful. But it is a process.

      Within a relationship, it is appropriate to sometimes counsel a believer if they are not growing in love as they should and are hurting themselves and others. But it is not appropriate to generally go about ‘calling out people’s sins’. Why would we do that? We are not appointed to be traveling judges.

      There are many (very many) who feel it is their calling, or responsibility, to constantly call out people’s ‘sins’. The people I have in mind don’t just ‘judge’, they are aggressively judgmental. They come across as superior, arrogant, condescending, and condemning. This doesn’t help anyone, but it does alienate people from the judges and the Jesus they claim to represent.

      We share Jesus by telling the good news he brought to us–not by jumping on sin. Living a more positive life is part of that, but it is not the initial focus. We grow in proper love of ourselves and others as our hearts are transformed–not by following legalistic rules.

      We can discuss these things more fully here than in our limited discussion format elsewhere. What would you like to contribute and discuss?

      Like

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  11. fanboysteve says:

    Having been an actual produce inspector, Incan say for certain that the ‘fruit inspector’ analogy is badly flawed. All I could do was record my observations and send them to a higher authority. It was not my place to condemn the goods on my own. Not unlike how God wants us to deal with the sins of others…

    Liked by 1 person

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  15. jesuswithoutbaggage says:

    Hey guys, someone responded to my post by sending me another post. The content is different but remarkably similar. I was really excited to read it.
    http://www.clergyspirit.org/2014/10/hate-sin-love-sinner-not-in-jesus.html

    Like

  16. michaeleeast says:

    Excellent article Tim.
    I might disagree with the tit for tat approach.
    But it is not our place to judge.
    Many religious people seem to think that they should take the law into their own hands
    and judge and punish others.
    This is not our job.
    And I don’t believe that God judges us either.

    Liked by 1 person

  17. James says:

    I’ve just started reading your blog, I like it. How does Matthew 18 fit in with not judging others? Also, wouldn’t it be best to confront someone who is obviously sinning like someone cheating on or beating their wife, drug abuse, etc.?

    Like

    • jesuswithoutbaggage says:

      Hi James. I’m glad you like the blog, and I hope you find it helpful. You raise a very good question, and your reference to Matthew 18 is quite pertinent.

      The point of this post is that we are not called upon to badger people about their behavior with critical, condemning attitudes. Even as believers we are not perfect in our behavior and improving over our self-destructive behavior or our hurting other people is part of our growth as followers of Jesus–it is a process. And it is up to Jesus to determine (judge) our progress.

      However, at the same time it is good for a believer to have trusted mentors and guides to help us and support us along the way. Judging and criticizing people for their ‘sins’ is not the same as being in a relationship of helping people grow as believers–this requires a mutual, trusting, supportive relationship.

      Now to Matthew 18. This passage is a peculiar one. It is almost impossible that Jesus said these things during his lifetime. There was no ‘church’ at that time in the sense that it is used here; that developed after Jesus was raised and departed from his followers and the gospel spread and communities (churches) were established. The likelihood is that this passage was inserted from the practice of the Matthean community, perhaps because it was built on a saying of Jesus, which is now obscured, handed down in the oral tradition. This saying probably had to do with reconciliation.

      It is also interesting that this passage says that in the case of failure the person is to be treated as a pagan or tax collector; Jesus actually embraces tax collectors and other people looked down on by the self-righteous religious leaders of his day.

      As far as the content of this passage is concerned, I think it is a valuable model for bringing about reconciliation with a believer who is purposefully pursuing seriously destructive behavior–your example of cheating on or beating their wife is an excellent one. You are correct; we cannot ignore a situation such as this so we must try to do all we can to persuade the person to see the impropriety of their behavior, stop it, and be reconciled to the community of believers. Otherwise, if this cannot be done, the person cannot be recognized as a equal member of the community.

      Does this address your question? Do you have additional thoughts?

      Like

  18. omisarah says:

    In my freshman year at Lee I recognized that we churchy types were encouraged to love sinners but only so long as we believed they might be converts. If they chose to reject our beliefs we felt justified in writing them off. We were relieved of the guilt of having their blood on our hands when we arrived at the gate of heaven. How unloving is that?!!

    Liked by 1 person

    • jesuswithoutbaggage says:

      Hi Sarah, did you attend Lee University in Cleveland? If so, what years? That’s where I received my B.A. degree in 1976.

      From my own experience, I am certainly familiar with the attitude of loving people in order to win them; but if they do not convert just go on to the next person instead of having a relationship. You are right, the idea was, ‘I warned them and now their going to hell is on them. I did my job.’

      I am glad you brought this up because it is a very good illustration of the shallowness of ‘loving the sinner’ in the approach of some people; this is not love at all.

      Like

  19. Mark says:

    In the very early days I fell in with a group of militant “fundies”., and It was our (self-appointed) job to bring to light and expose the “rampant” sin in the Church…forget the world…we had to cleanse the Bride. We went far beyond fruit inspection.

    We had little groups that would actively pray against the Pastor or SS teachers if even (1) flaw was found amongst their doctrine or theology or their daily actions.
    If a member even missed a service he or she was deemed to be compromised in the word, or worse, a plant by satan to corrupt the true believers.. We openly called out and accused people of such…. How Arrogant we were.

    New Christians were singled out for recruitment to our ranks..and we played them off against the more moderate and MATURE believers, to show them how compromised and luke warm the elders had become, or worse…who they ACTUALLY were! ARROGANT.
    And when it became too much for the young recruit and they fell away ,it was because he/she wasn’t a “real” christian to start with and we simply exposed and weeded out the evil..
    We had an excuse or justification for everything . Every where we looked Demons could be seen and it was our duty to oust and slay them. We even held exorcisms on accused and convinced brethren..yet nobody was ever “delivered” …. What a SICK group we were.
    Everywhere we looked we saw satan and evil ….I was convinced that my eyes were seeing black shadows about me… They were demons of course and were scurrying about,..circling me to find a chink in the armor to make an attack and to cause my fall from the position I knew I was in. What conceit!!

    It all changed the day I “actually saw” the evil that I was supposed to be fighting.
    You see,…..I LOOKED IN THE MIRROR.
    And in it I saw the Accuser of CHRIST…..that pompous Pharisee that toiled for the praises of men (me)…..the same one who was driving the spikes of crucifixion(again me). That accuser of the brethren,..the back-bitter..the hypocrite….the speaker of proud and boastful things. ME! I was against CHRIST..I was anti-Christ….think about that.
    As samuel said to david………YOU ARE THAT MAN!! (me)

    I had let man-made religion and private interpretation transform me into that “ravenous wolf”
    The FATHER did not accuse me ….HE allowed my own spirit to show and convince me.
    It is very painful when I look back…..and I know I’m not a saint even now…but may I ever remain humble in HIS LIGHT.

    I thank you for this blog….may it help us all

    Like

  20. jesuswithoutbaggage says:

    Wow Mark! You got a clear view of the evil when you looked in a mirror and saw a Pharisee. That was a great day for you. Your story was powerful and you told it very well.

    This is a very extreme example of legalism and its accompanying judgmentalism–to the point of being cultic. Fortunately for me I never had such extreme behavior in my personal circles of friends, but I was aware of it elsewhere. I wish people like this would read Jesus and Paul closely–they would be shocked in the light of their words and actions. This is division at a high level.

    Like

    • Chas says:

      Tim, I found Mark’s account painful, as the cruelty from which he suffered came through it. It reminds me of something I was told about the behavior of the leadership of my first church. It seems that they were zealous for revival in the church and believed that it was important for the leadership to be without sin, so once a week they met and interrogated each other to find out what sins they had committed since they last met. Certain of them, particularly one who had once been Roman Catholic, found this a harrowing experience. This poor guy eventually left the church.

      Liked by 1 person

      • jesuswithoutbaggage says:

        Chas, this is a terrible story. When people get off-track, sometimes they get WAY off track. Imagine how much more peace and happiness they would have had if they had not gone down the path to such extreme legalism and judgmentalism. Legalism is the only way you can ‘count sins’ or make a list of sins you have committed.

        Like

        • Chas says:

          Tim, it also illustrates how important it is that church leaders do not ignore the messages that God is sending them. After I was told about their behavior, these leaders received at least five prophetic words warning them that their leadership was not to God’s standards. They ignored these warnings on the grounds that genuine prophetic words ought always to be ‘edifying’.

          Liked by 1 person

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  24. eugenecronje says:

    Thank you for this very inspiring article. Do you have any articles about what the topic of the Bible and it’s inerrancy is?

    Liked by 1 person

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