Updated: Oct 31, 2021
A follow up word...
In a recent sermon from Psalm 5, I cited the cultural statement, “Love the sinner, but hate the sin,” and noted that we ought not use the statement. It is not God’s view of sin and sinners, and it is not a biblical position.
I want to follow up and explain my thoughts in further detail, in hopes of helping others work through why I suggest that we ought not use the statement, “Love the sinner, hate the sin.”
1 - God does not view sinners this way.
“[God] hates all evildoers.” - Psalm 5:5
“The Lord tests the righteous, but His soul hates the wicked and the one who loves violence.” - Psalm 11:5
It may be hard for us to think about God “hating” someone because we consider hate to be wrong. Biblically, to hate means “to be set against.” Human hatred often arises from sinfulness and leads us into sinfulness. But God is holy. He is entirely without sin. In fact, in Psalm 5, David writes, “For You are not a God Who delights in wickedness; evil may not dwell with You.”
Sin is entirely opposed to God’s very essence and nature; it is an assault on His character. One pastor wrote, “All sin is proud and boastful. All sin makes us forget God. All sin swells up and struts. All sin exalts itself against God. All sin is fond of high looks and proud imaginations. All sin is utterly opposed to God.” - W. Plumer.
The Bible says very clearly that this—sinfulness—is the natural state of mankind after the fall (Gen. 3). We are all sinners; we all oppose God. Paul makes this abundantly clear in Romans 3, even quoting from Psalm 5, saying…
“None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God. All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one.” “Their throat is an open grave; they use their tongues to deceive.” “The venom of snakes is under their lips.” “Their mouths are full of curses and bitterness.” “Their feet are swift to shed blood; in their paths are ruin and misery, and the way of peace they have not known.” “There is no fear of God before their eyes.”
Having a proper understanding of God includes having a proper understanding of God’s view of sin. He hates it. He’s opposed to it. And in choosing sin over God, as we all do naturally because of the fall, mankind has set itself against God.
And God does not make a distinction between the act of sin and the one committing the act. Consider John’s words from 1 John 3:15, “Everyone who hates his brother is a murderer…”
John does not say “Everyone who hates his brother has committed murder.” He equates the sin with the sinner; they are one and the same. “Everyone who hates his brother IS a murderer.”
2 - The statement is not from the Bible.
Second, the saying, “Love the sinner, hate the sin” is not in the Bible. Some might be tempted to say, “But the word Trinity is not in the Bible either, but we still use it.” Fair enough. But, the meaning and teaching of our word “Trinity” is well supported in Scripture (ex. Mk. 1:9-11), and has a long history of use and explanation in the Christian church.
The same cannot be said of the phrase, “Love the sinner, hate the sin.” It’s teaching is not supported in Scripture, and it is a modern evolution from culture. In fact, it seems most likely that the statement originally came from Hindu leader, Mahatma Gandhi’s autobiography. Gandhi was a famous Hindu pacifist in the early 20th century.
3 - The Statement Creates an Unbiblical Separation between the Sin and the Sinner.
The statement is meant to separate the sinner from his/her sin. This goes back to the point made earlier. The Bible never says that we exist apart from our sin. This is why John calls haters murderers, and not simply “people guilty of murder.”
To say, “You are guilty of murder” has a different weight that “You are a murderer.” They both ultimately mean the same thing, but the second statement speaks to the identity of the person.
The Bible does not separate a sinner from their sin. Our sin is part of who we are.
4 - The Statement is Often Used to Ignore Hypocrisy and Cover Sin.
It seems the statement has been adopted, for the most part, to make “carnal Christians” feel better about themselves and about one another. The phrase “carnal Christian” is an oxymoron meaning “worldly Christian.” There really is no such thing. The Bible doesn’t allow for it.
But, when we make a distinction between the sin and the sinner, we allow ourselves the room to recognize the blatant sin in someone’s life while treating them as if it’s not there or as if it’s not a big deal. The statement lets us turn a blind eye. In fact, the statement ultimately grants permission to disobey the Scriptures.
Essentially, the statement means, “I can love you and accept you even if I don’t approve of what you do and if you don't change your ways.” And this is not what the Bible teaches. The Bible says we should hate sin like God does. The Bible says we should confront sin and call it out (Mt. 18; 1 Cor. 5). The Bible says we should put sin to death (Eph. 5; Col. 3). The Bible says we should guard one another against sin (Heb. 3:12). The Bible says Christians ought to judge one another (1 Cor. 5:12).
But, when we say “love the sinner, hate the sin,” we are giving ourselves a pass to accept a person is sin without dealing with the sin. It provides a way around clear biblical teaching on sin. And this is wrong.
5 - The Statement Ignores the Gospel.
A big issue is that the statement ignores the gospel. Jesus did not die on the cross so that we could be good people, polished people, or people who smile at church and ignore our sin. Jesus died on the cross because of our sin, and He died to make us into new people. A new kind of people.
On the cross, Paul says that Jesus, quite literally, puts our sin to death (2 Cor. 5:21) in His Own body. So, to believe something that says I can not like the sinful things you do while also accepting you is a denial of the work of Jesus Christ.
6 - Christians Ought to Call Themselves Saints, not Sinners.
Finally, the Bible puts people into two categories.
1 - The Christian: Those who have recognized their own sinfulness, turned to Jesus in repentance and faith, and have received salvation.
2 - The Lost: Those who do not know Jesus either through ignorance and willful rejection.
While all people are sinners by nature, and while Christians still struggle with sin, we ought to refer to Christians the way the Bible does
Saints (Acts 9:13)
The people of God (1 Peter 2:10)
The family of God (Eph. 2)
Those who have been transferred from the domain of darkness into the Kingdom of Christ. (Col. 1:13)
The Redeemed (Eph. 1:7)
Holy people. (1 Pt. 2:9)
A holy Priesthood. (1 Pt. 2:9)
A people for God’s Own possession. (1 Pt. 2:10)
That means the phrase “the sinner” most appropriately belongs to the lost. Christians sin and struggle with sin; there is no doubt about this. But that is not our identity. We have a new identity, a new name, a new family.
In Jesus, we are new creations! (2 Cor. 5:17).
Christians don’t “love the sinner and hate the sin.” Christians hate sin, confront sin, and lead each other to redemption in Jesus!
So, we ought to leave the phrase, “Love the sinner, hate the sin” with Ghandi while we hold high the redeeming power of Jesus Christ.
Additional Resource: Here is a helpful blog on the subject.