“Love the sinner. Hate the sin.” I didn’t grow up in church but can still say I’ve heard that plenty of times in life. The saying is popular and widespread amongst Christians. When people use it, typically they want to emphasize disapproval of someone’s behavior, and less disapproval of them as a person. The phrase serves as a great reminder to be less judgmental in the biblical sense (Matthew 7:2), and helps us recall the importance of forgiveness.
Many of us use the phrase because we have a tendency of forgetting. When someone offends us, we can easily come to certain conclusions about their character, paying no attention to why they behaved as they did. Either we don’t care or we don’t think to ask.
There is no single verse in Scripture that gives believers this phrase. Not verbatim. Instead, we attribute the idea to various passages. On the topic of sin, which is plentiful in the world, the Bible offers a righteous response. “Love the sinner. Hate the sin.”
The origin of “Love the sinner. Hate the sin”
The phrase, “Love the sinner. Hate the sin,” takes formation across a number of different verses. Ask believers which verses they refer to and the answer may differ. Still, the idea is the same. Here’s one example – Jesus encountered an adulteress in John 8.
“Then the scribes and the Pharisees brought a woman caught in adultery, making her stand in the center. ‘Teacher,’ they said to him, ‘this woman was caught in the act of committing adultery.’” (John 8:3-4)
Further into the passage, we gather details about how Jesus treated this woman and how her neighbors treated her. What’s also significant is that the woman was caught in the act. This was not a private confession she made, but rather an accidental public reveal. Her sin was on full display for all.
The people represent one perspective. Their goal – to punish the woman for her sins, stoning her, which could in turn possibly kill her. By today’s standards, this consequence appears harsh and incongruent. However, the consequence was acceptable back then.
“In the law Moses commanded us to stone such women. So what do you say?” (John 8:5)
Their perspective did not separate the sin from the person. They treated the sin as the person. Considering their law, treating a heinous offense with such a punishment only made sense. Adultery was a heinous crime and thus they wanted to treat her heinously. Not to Jesus.
He represents another perspective. Similar to them, He shared in the disapproval of her sin. The difference was in His response. The sin and the sinner were not the same.
Jesus admonished her by calling her out for adultery. However, His response did not include stoning. He opted for forgiveness. From His perspective, her identity as a person was also not identical to her offense. In fact, He saw her as capable of being more and told her to go and stop sinning. He loved the sinner, and hated the sin. Modern theology follows this same teaching. However flawed our personal modeling of Jesus’ lesson may be, we should still strive to love the sinner and hate the sin.
Why Should We Hate the Sin?
“Then after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin, and when sin is fully grown, it gives birth to death.” (James 1:15)
Answering the question of why we hate sin is fairly easy. Sin has consequences for everyone involved. Not many people will say they enjoy being lied to, cheated on, abused, or abandoned. Those who commit these offenses hurt their relationships, reputation, employability, etc. The extent of the consequences we face depends on the sin. Nonetheless, there are consequences. In fact, sin can even lead to death.
When we sin, we have an impact on the people around us, ourselves, but moreover, we affect our relationship with God. Sin leads us to live in direct contrast to what God desires. Sin is knowing the right thing and not doing it.
Undoubtedly, there are more consequences to sin than benefits (if there are truly any), but still every person is a sinner (Romans 3:23). Nonetheless, the results of sin are why we know how to treat sin.
Why Should We Love the Sinner?
Why should we not be like the people in the story of Jesus and the adulteress? After all, they were acting according to their law. The answer – Jesus taught us how to treat one another which involves plenty of grace, forgiveness, and love. How we treat others should match how we want to be treated.
“The second is like it: Love your neighbor as yourself.” (Matthew 22:39)
When we consider our modern-day legal system, the takeaway should not be to abolish all consequences of sin. Sin has an impact on the offender and the offended. Dealing out justice is godly and something that God Himself does. However, there is a limit to what we should do as people. One way to measure the limit is to put ourselves in that person’s shoes. If we committed the same sin, what is a fair way people should respond to us?
By keeping the Golden Commandment in mind, we ensure that we love the sinner.
3 Ways to Practice Loving the Sinner, and Hating the Sin
Here are three practical ways to practice loving the sinner and hating the sin:
Children enter the world largely as a blank slate. They rely on parents for important lessons – like knowing right from wrong. There will be plenty of wrongs committed by children, but there is plenty of opportunity to love them nonetheless. We admonish their behavior, but love on the person.
Admonishing a Friend
Those closest to us don’t always make the right decisions. They may enter into a bad relationship, succumb to an addiction, or commit a crime. Just as we sometimes require correction, we need to be willing to admonish our friends too.
Practicing Honesty with Acquaintances
Being with a group of peers at work or in the privacy of someone’s home can put us into situations where our faith is revealed. Not because we were asked but because someone put us in an awkward position where we have to make our values clear. Explaining to someone why you avoid a particular sin is a great opportunity to potentially admonish them and share your faith.
Loving the sinner and hating the sin sounds easy in theory. When we are the recipients of sinful behavior, this phrase becomes all the more difficult to honor. There is hope though because we have such a great example in Jesus. Just as He modeled forgiveness for the people wanting to stone the woman, He models gracious behavior for us too. How we choose to respond is up to us, but thankfully, Scripture is clear.
Photo Credit: ©GettyImages/Joaquin Corbalan
Aaron Brown is a freelance writer, hip-hop dance teacher, and visual artist, living in Virginia. He currently contributes work to iBelieve, Crosswalk, and supports various clients through the platform Upwork. He’s an outside-the-box thinker with a penchant for challenging the status quo.