What is the true meaning of: “Hate the sin, and love the sinner?”

C.S. Lewis once said, in his book Mere Christianity:

“(The Devil) always sends errors into the world in pairs-pairs of opposites.  And he always encourages us to spend a lot of time thinking which is the worse.  You see why, of course?  He relies on your extra dislike of the one error to draw you gradually into the opposite one.  But do not let us be fooled.  We have to keep our eyes on the goal and go straight through between both errors.  We have no other concern than that with either of them.”

I believe that this is the way most Christians live their lives, including myself at times.  We focus so much on why we hate one type of error, that we fail to see that we are living in or believing just as much of an error, only it’s the one we think is less wrong.  It’s so easy to do because in our human pride, we don’t stop to think about the implications of our own actions or convictions when we feel that others’ actions and convictions are worse than ours.  What makes it even worse is that we fail to view these issues in light of Scripture.

For instance:  In the war on terror, how many of us who call ourselves Christians rejoiced when we heard that Osama Bin Laden had been killed?  I’ll be the first to admit that I felt a sense of “take that terrorists!” within me, but I later read in Proverbs 24:17 not to rejoice when your enemy falls.  Ouch.  I had to quickly repent and come to the realization that in spite of the hate that drives terrorists to do what they do, they are no less deserving of God’s grace and mercy than anyone else, and that I, in rejoicing over someone’s death was not showing the love of God that He had for those terrorists.

I would also challenge us to take a look at the way that the homosexual community is treated in America.  There are generally three types of responses among Christians:  1) People picket with terrible signs and hurl insults along with Bible verses.  (From the same mouth come blessing and cursing.  My brothers, these things ought not to be so!  [James 3:10])  2) People will condone and even applaud the lifestyle, not realizing that to do so is just as bad as picketing, because it is not telling them the truth that this can and will destroy their lives.  (I am tempted to insert:  But at least they are showing them love!  But remember Lewis’ analogy of the two errors).  3) Well-meaning Christians will use the oft-heard phrase that many on the outside of Christianity view as a cop-out:  “You just have to hate the sin, and love the sinner.”

We’ve all heard this phrase.  Whether you’ve heard it in church, in jest, or from a well meaning Christian, it has been repeated, ridiculed or spoken out of spite.  But just what does it mean?  Why do we, as Christians, use it, and, more importantly, do we really mean it?

First of all, we need to understand what it does not and should not mean.  It does not mean to hate the sin and barely tolerate the sinner.  We must be willing to love them in spite of their sin because that is how Jesus loved the “sinners” of His day, and how He loved us (Romans 5:8).  But neither does it mean that we are to condone or applaud sin.  Some people tend to enable or be passive about sin claiming “all things are permissible,” but this is not true.  So what does it look like to “hate the sin, but love the sinner?”

The most important thing we need to understand is why we need to hate sin.  Sin, defined, is: “An immoral act considered to be a transgression against divine law.” And that’s just the online dictionary definition.  Sin is anything and everything that goes against God and His perfect standards.  Therefore, if we love God, we should hate sin, because it offends Him.

We should also hate sin because it destroys people’s lives, including our own.  It distorts our relationship with God, pushing us further and further from Him.  It leads us to commit heinous acts of violence and injustice.  Worst of all, it separates people from Him for eternity.  Sin, not God, sends people to Hell.  This is the biggest reason why we need to hate sin.  While He may have a special love for believers who are His adopted children, God loves all people; therefore He hates sin because it enslaves the people He loves and separates them from Him for eternity.  It blinds them to His glory and deafens them to His voice and His truth.  It weighs us down and causes us to believe lies that prevent us from becoming all that God created us to be.

Jesus told us to love our neighbor as ourselves.  Who is our neighbor?  EVERYONE!  Everyone means our friends, family, strangers, terrorists, homosexuals, rapists, murderers, kidnappers and, yes, even our “enemies.” I have put “enemies” in quotation marks because, unfortunately, I believe that we have mistakenly made people our enemies.  Jesus did warn us that the world would hate us because we love Him and because the world is at enmity with God.  But although the people of the world may make us their enemies, we are not to be the ones to view those people as our enemies, but to try to live at peace with them (Romans 12:18, Hebrews 12:14).

People are our neighbors, therefore we are to love them and see them as our mission field.  The true enemy is Satan, who is the father of sin, and his demons, who lie to us, tempt us and tell us that we aren’t worthy of the Gospel which God has entrusted to those who love Him and have humbled themselves before Him.  Those that we consider enemies are actually people who are created in God’s image, which need to receive His love and His grace. We are not helping in the redemptive process if we are keeping ourselves from having anything to do with “sinners.” Therefore, if we love God, and our neighbor, we should hate sin, which separates our neighbors from God, whom we love and from His grace, which alone can save them from destruction.

Jesus gave us a good example of this when He spoke with the woman at the well.  She was a Samaritan, and the Jews hated the Samaritans because they worshiped in the wrong place (back then, the Temple in Jerusalem was still the only place where worship was accepted), and because they were considered to be “unclean.”  This was not God’s heart at all.  The Jews had begun to make up their own rules in addition to God’s laws thinking that they could gain more favor with God.  Jesus knew better than this, and He showed that by offering her the “living water” which was He Himself.  She accepted and went and told her entire village, and many of them accepted Him.

As Christians, we must be willing to develop true relationships with every kind of person, even those we consider to be unlovable because that is what Jesus did, and that is what He commanded us to do.

We must also be willing to realize that some people may never change, but we do not know who will change and who will not.  We also need to realize that in the end, only God can truly change them, we can’t.

Neither can any of us change ourselves.  We can’t hate the sin and love the sinner on our own.  We must get past our pride, humble ourselves, and let God use us and change us into who He has created us to be.

Only then can we truly have abundant life here on earth.  Only then can we help to bring God’s Kingdom to earth, and gain eternal life in God’s Kingdom to come.

I want to challenge us all, the next time we want to use the phrase, “hate the sin, and love the sinner,” to really stop and do just that.  Think of each person as one who needs to hear the gospel of Jesus Christ because they are dead in their trespasses and sins.  (Ephesians 2:1).  I would say that we should especially begin applying this challenge to those whom we consider to be the unlovable, or our enemies.  We need to apply the principles of 2 Timothy 2:23-26.  If we do, I believe that we will be bringing God’s Kingdom to places and people, including ourselves, where we never thought we would see His Kingdom come.

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