1 John 4:8 (NKJV) – “He who does not love does not know God, for God is love.”
John 3:16 (NKJV) – “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.”
Written by Pamela K. Orgeron, M.A., Ed.S., BCCC, ACLC, Author
“Love the sinner, hate the sin” … a common cliché that I have heard over the years in many Christian circles. Where did this statement originate? Is there Scripture to support this statement? The first report of anyone using such a phrase is attributed to St. Augustine, a philosopher and theologian instrumental in the growth of Western Christianity. “In Augustine’s letter 211, written around 424, is the phrase, Cum dilectione hominum et odio vitiorum, which roughly translates as “With love for mankind and hatred of sins.” (Thomas, 2012, ¶8)
Prior to his Christian conversion, Augustine had lived a pretty sensuous life – lots of women, lots of drinking and partying and all sorts of self-indulgent behavior. During that phase of his life, he didn’t hate his sins at all – he was actually enjoying them! And so, when Augustine writes, “with love for mankind and hatred of sins,” he calls to rid ourselves of anything that separates us from God and neighbor. He is actually reframing Jesus’ command to “love God and love neighbor.” And here’s the really fascinating thing: he is referring here to hating our own sin, yet when the phrase is used today, most commonly it is used to refer to the sin of others. (Thomas, ¶ 10)
“There’s a difference between loving a person and not liking a person’s behavior,” Psychologist Kathryn Sherrod, Ph.D. said to me years ago. “You can love a person without liking a person’s behavior, and that’s okay.”
Prior to hearing and making sense of Dr. Sherrod’s comment above, I struggled with a lot of false guilt for not liking unbiblical attitudes and/or behavior patterns of others whom I also loved.
No doubt parents also should be able to identify with the concept of loving the sinner and hating the sin. When a child disobeys, I believe that the child him or herself should not be criticized but the emphasis needs to be put on the behavior that is bad. Statements such as, “You’re being bad,” “Shame on you,” and “You’re mean” are detrimental to a child’s self-esteem and heard often enough can result in what psychologists call self-fulfilled prophecy. With a self-fulfilled prophecy, when a person hears a statement enough times, he or she begins to believe the statement and the false statement becomes a part of the person’s identity. Rather than attacking the person of a misbehaving child, the specific offense should be emphasized as being wrong and what the parent does not like.
Love the Sinner
Matthew 5:43-44 (NKJV) – “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ 44 But I say to you, love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you.”
Mark 12:30-31 (NKJV) – “And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength.’ This is the first commandment. 31 And the second, like it, is this: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ [emphasis added] There is no other commandment greater than these.”
What does it mean to love the sinner? According to Got Questions Ministries (2018),
We love sinners by showing them respect (1 Peter 2:17), praying for them (1 Timothy 2:1), and witnessing to them of Christ. It is a true act of love to treat someone with respect and kindness even though you do not approve of his or her lifestyle or sinful choices. It is not loving to allow a person to remain stuck in sin. It is not hateful to tell a person he or she is in sin. In fact, the exact opposites are true. Sin leads to death (James 1:15), and we love the sinner by speaking the truth in love (Ephesians 4:15). (Answers section, ¶s 4-5).
Many individuals and organizations (e.g.: Liberty Counsel) in the mainstream media who support traditional biblical marriage are often criticized and referred to as “homophobic” or something worse. This breaks my heart for these individuals and organizations, as they stand for God’s Word and speak the truth in love of how living the LGBT lifestyle is sinful and leads to death and hell (Genesis 19:1-13; Leviticus 18:22; 20:13; Romans 1:26-27; 1 Corinthians 6:9-10). Though some people may hate lesbians, gays, bisexuals, and transgenders, most Christians I know do distinguish between the sin and the sinner. I recall years ago someone who had a friend who came out as being gay. Just because the friend identified with sinful behavior did not change the love felt for the long time friend.
Hate the Sin
Psalm 97:10 (NKJV) – “You who love the Lord, hate evil!…”
Proverbs 8:13 (NKJV) – “The fear of the Lord is to hate evil;…”
Amos 5:15 (NKJV) – “Hate evil, love good…”
What does it mean to hate sin? How should Christians hate sin? “We hate sin by recognizing it for what it is, refusing to take part in it, and condemning it as contrary to God’s nature. Sin is to be hated, not excused or taken lightly.” (Got Questions Ministries, 2018, Answers section, ¶4) Hating sin also does not mean condoning, ignoring, making excuses for, or enabling the sinner. Christians enable sin by encouraging, empowering, or making it easier for one to participate in sin. This contradicts the Christian’s call to righteousness and holiness (2 Timothy 2:22; 1 Peter 1:16).
To exemplify the concept of “love the sinner, hate the sin” I want to share my perspective on homeless individuals and how I relate to them. This is not intended as a put down to those who are homeless or meant to imply that the homeless are not as good as those blessed to have homes and other luxuries. There is no sin in being homeless. I have been in the position of being homeless more than once. Jesus Christ Himself also was homeless.
I remember a former Sunday school teacher sharing in one of his classes, “Never give money to a homeless person. In doing so, you may be putting yourself in a position where you are condoning sinful behaviors.” He also shared how a homeless person had approached him asking for money. What he did rather than giving the person money, he asked the person what he wanted the money for. When the gentlemen told my Sunday school teacher that he was hungry and had not eaten for days, my Sunday school teacher took the homeless man in a nearby restaurant, bought him a meal, and more than likely shared the Gospel with him. What a mature attitude and example of being Christlike in living.
Often I see homeless individuals out smoking and carrying a bottle of alcohol while asking for money. Since hearing the advice of my Sunday school teacher, I quit giving money to such individuals. In an effort to show the love of Christ to the homeless, what I have done is give them food and/or pray for them. Many years ago as a single woman, I opened my home for two homeless women at different times who were referred to me by a church to try to help. More recently, my husband and I have let a homeless man sleep on our couch and given him the opportunity to take a shower and wash his clothes. Of course, I did not allow the individuals staying in my home to smoke or have alcohol in my home. Nor did I allow profanity. To do so, I would have been going against deep-seated religious convictions and disobeying God’s Word (Ephesians 5:1-7).
Though the statement “Love the sinner, hate the sin” can not be found specifically in the Scriptures, there are biblical principles that support both elements of the statement. Thus, it is my belief that the statement should be a reminder to all Christians to love others with the love of the Lord while simultaneously hating the sin of others, even their own sin.
Though “Love the sinner, hate the sin” represents biblical concepts communicating an accurate view of God’s perspective of sin, I offer a word of caution to Christians who frequently quote the statement. If a Christian is witnessing to a person whose identity is established in sin, the statement should be avoided. For examples, “Some alcoholics say, ‘I was born an alcoholic and will always be one.’ Some thieves say, ‘Theft is how I express who I really am.’ Some homosexuals say, ‘I was born this way. My attraction feels so natural.’” (Giselbach, 2013, ¶ 11) To such persons, using the statement implies to them that you hate them. Thus, it would be best to approach them with the Gospel through another angle. Otherwise, I believe the statement to be most appropriate to use.
Giselbach, B. (2013, June 19). “The Bible doesn’t say, ‘Love the sinner, hate the sin’” (The defense series). Retrieved January 28, 2018 from http://www.plainsimplefaith.com/2013/06/the-bible-doesnt-say-love-the-sinner-hate-the-sin-the-defense-series/
Got Questions Ministries (2018). Are we to love the sinner but hate the sin? Retrieved January 28, 2018 from https://www.gotquestions.org/love-sinner-hate-sin.html
Thomas, A. J. (2012, February 12). That’s NOT in the Bible! “Hate the sin; love the sinner” (Romans 5:6-8). Retrieved January 28, 2018 from http://theproclaimedword.blogspot.com/2012/02/thats-not-in-bible-hate-sinner-love-sin_12.html