Have you heard believers say they ‘Love the sinner but hate the sin’? At least you likely have heard of them. In fact, they don’t love the ‘sinner’ at all—at least not the way Jesus loves people. As we read Jesus’ teachings and interactions with people, it becomes clear that Jesus’ focus is on Love. As we listen to haters of sin and watch them interact with others, it becomes clear that their focus is on Sin.
These are opposite approaches and do not represent the same love.
How Jesus Loves People
When we read about Jesus we see that he is tender and accepting of people; he accepts them as they are—broken, hurting, and alienated. He accepts them and heals them; he accepts them and speaks to their pain and restores them; he accepts them and replaces their feelings of alienation with peace and reconciliation.
Jesus doesn’t say much about sin, but his most characteristic reference to sin is, ‘Your sins are forgiven.’ Jesus’ focus is on people—not their sins. Jesus’ love is a broad love—a deep love—a personal love, and people feel that. When people met Jesus they felt the love.
Someone will certainly ask, ‘Yeah? Did Jesus love the Pharisees?’ Well Yes! Of course he did! Certain self-righteous Pharisees disdained Jesus’ message to the common people whom they looked down upon, condescended to, and disparaged. These Pharisees rejected Jesus’ acceptance of all people and accused him of consorting with sinners himself. And Jesus called them on it.
But Jesus loved the Pharisees just as he loved everyone else. Witness his touching discussion with Nicodemus in John 3; how can you demonstrate more empathy, compassion, and concern that this? Witness the Pharisees in Luke 13 who warned Jesus to escape the area because of Herod’s plan to kill him; Jesus must have won their respect.
So Jesus loved everyone; and he did not focus on their ‘sin’. In fact, among his last words he demonstrated love toward his killers: ‘Father forgive them for they know not what they do.’
Recently, we talked about Jesus’ statement that we should love others as we love ourselves, and we suggested 48 short, simple suggestions on how we can go about doing that. But those who love the sinner and hate the sin don’t show love that way.
How Haters of Sin Show Love
Those who love the sinner and hate the sin do not love as Jesus loves. Jesus openly accepts people, but haters of sin typically reject people unless they ‘get saved’ and stop ‘sinning’. Jesus speaks to people’s pain and heals them; haters of sin accuse them and badger them. The love of those who hate sin is terribly distorted. They claim to love the sinner; but it is a restricted, shallow kind of love much different from Jesus’ love. There are three primary applications of their love.
‘Love the sinner’ means ‘I don’t want to see you burn in hell forever’. This is laudable but misguided; the loving God does not punish people in hell. For haters of sin, it is far more important to ‘save’ people from ‘hell’ than to love people personally and with empathy as Jesus did.
‘Love the sinner’ means exposing and judging their ‘sins’. Jesus didn’t do this. He reached out to people in love and with good news to make them whole; and when people are whole they are better able to avoid destructive behavior, live better lives, and love others appropriately. Healing and reconciliation change behavior from the inside—not from the outside as legalism does.
‘Love the sinner’ means calling them to embrace certain ‘right beliefs’ and to observe God’s many rules. But Jesus never asked people to follow religious rules; religious rules were a major area the Pharisees got wrong. Jesus shared the good news and taught a few principles instead, and Jesus never required people to subscribe to any detailed doctrinal creed.
In my opinion, the perspective of ‘Love the sinner; hate the sin’ is terribly inadequate and does not reflect the teaching, attitude, or practice of Jesus. It falls far short of the love Jesus teaches and, in fact, runs counter to it. It also alienates people from Christians and the church—and sometimes even from Jesus.
What is ‘Sin’ Anyway?
One of the biggest problem with ‘love the sinner; hate the sin’ is that you cannot separate the ‘sinner’ from the ‘sin’. Attacking ‘sin’ is attacking the person. Hating the ‘sin’ feels just like hating the ‘sinner’. Jesus never approached people as ‘sinners’ but as people. The answer to ‘sin’ is healing, reconciliation, and genuine love; hating ‘sin’ leads to further alienation.
With all this emphasis on sin, we must ask: What is sin anyway? Haters of sin understand sin in two ways. First of all, it is something we are born with because of what Adam did in the Garden. To haters of sin, we are all born sinful and depraved. Jesus never taught this.
Secondly, haters of sin understand sin as transgression of God’s commandments—and those commandments are endless. ‘Don’t do this; don’t do that; and if you do then you are a sinner. Sinner! Sinner! Sinner! Listen to me. I am trying to help you here because I love you; but I hate your sin.’
Jesus never suggests that our problem is not following religious rules, nor that we were born sinful and depraved. Jesus saw people in pain, unloved, and alienated. So Jesus healed them, loved them, and brought reconciliation.
Jesus focuses on love, while haters of sin focus on sin. Let us be like Jesus. Let us love as Jesus loves.
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