Can You Really Hate the Sin & Love the Sinner? (Part #5)

16 Oct

I didn’t mean for this series to stretch to 5 parts, but it is such an important discussion and such an oft-used phrase, that I think it is worth it to really dig in.  Before I offer some final thoughts, I would encourage you to take the time to read Parts #1-4.  I know this has been a bit on the theological and philosophical side, but I promise I will be getting back to some more personal stuff next week.  This blog will always be a mix of the theological and the personal — because that is what life, and faith autopsy, is all about.

In one comment made on Part #2, the commenter wrote:

“No one can love like Jesus or hate like Jesus. Does you mean that we shouldn’t try to emulate God who hates sin and loves sinners?

I am not sure, but this struck me as a bit of a “duck-and-hide” in terms of the challenge to focus more on loving well as the primary charge from Jesus.  I argued that when we love well, only then will we be able to appropriately really hate sin.  A very common response, though, to any call to “be like Jesus” is that “we are not like Jesus and never will be.”

Some thoughts:


On this point, I wrote this in answer to a previous comment:

“The goal of Christian discipleship is to be become more and more like Jesus (1 John 3:1-3, Rom 8:29, Eph 4:24, etc). Obviously, this is a journey that we will never complete. But that is the goal of the Christian life… to have our character — as well as our hearts, hands, heads — become more and more like Jesus. The fact that we won’t full attain this is no reason to not seek it. Jesus is not just our Lord, but our model — that is why we follow Him, not just worship Him. I think if we are serious about wanting to “hate the sin and love the sinner” in away that edifies and builds up an honors God (as opposed to our own Pharisaic tendencies) we need to take Jesus’ model of love very seriously… I also think we need to recognize the limitations of our ability to love like Jesus, which also should limit our compulsion to hate so quickly. The truth is most people use that idea as a convenient way of explaining their judgement against others without taking equally seriously what it means to really love — including our enemies.”


While there are many words and concepts used in the Bible to describe sin, one of the most powerful and common is an image from archery: literally, sin is missing the mark.  We are given a target, and we miss it.  According to the Scriptures, Jesus is our “target” in that He is our model of what it means to live fully human.  We are to be like Jesus.  Even more, we are called to “be perfect as our Heavenly Father is perfect” (Matthew 5:48), more righteous than the Pharisees (Matthew 5:17-20), imitators of God (Ephesians 5:1).  Paul goes even further here and says that in view of our “new Creation” (2 Cor 5:17), we are now “created to be like God” (Ephesians 5:24).  (An important note here: these don’t mean that we are going to be “gods”, but rather godly mean and women — people with godly character.  God is in the character transformation business!) 

The Bible makes clear that we all miss this this mark.  “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” (Romans 3:23).  And there is serious consequence for this reality: “For the wages of sin is death.” (Romans 6:23a).  So all of us are in the same boat, condemned by our sins (which, are really the result of Sin in the world).

This is why we cannot simply be “good enough” nor is there any way to earn our salvation or earn our way into Heaven.  We are not righteous.  We are not holy.  We are broken and sinful. Each and every one of us.  

But this is actually Good News.  For “it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast.” (Ephesians 2:8-9).  And Paul again reminds us that we are “justified (lit. declared not guilty) freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus. God presented him as a sacrifice of atonement, through faith in his blood. He did this to demonstrate his justice, because in his forbearance he had left the sins committed beforehand unpunished.” (Rom 3:24-25)  And also: while “the wages of sin is death, the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus.” (Romans 6:23).  


Given (1) that we are “to be like Jesus” and follow both his model and his teachings, what is foundational?  What is core?  What is most important?  Well Jesus was asked this very question:

“Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?” Jesus replied: ” ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.” (Matthew 22:36-40)

The most foundational command is to LOVE GOD AND LOVE OTHERS.  Therefore, the most foundational way to “miss the mark” and sin is to fail to LOVE GOD AND LOVE OTHERS.  What does loving God and loving others look like? Well, we follow the model of Jesus and we look to how the scriptures define love (1 Cor 13, for example).

In fact, when Jesus says “all the law and the prophets hang on these two commands”, he is not saying that these commands supersede the others.  Rather, he is making the deeply profound point that fulfillment of all the other commands is found through love.  And equally, the failure to keep all the other commands starts with a failure to love.

All sin is a failure to love God and love people — a failure to love like Jesus.

For example, greed is really about misplaced love.  The sin of pornography really stems from a failure to love (we fail to understand sexual love as designed by our Father is not entertainment but relationship, we fail to love those who are in the pictures/video we’re watching by supporting the industry, we fail to love our own bodies and selves…)  I believe you trace every sin back to a failure to love.

And if this is the foundational sin, SHOULD THIS NOT BE THE SIN WE SHOULD HATE THE MOST? The sin of not loving like Jesus?  We should not dismiss it as some pie-in-the-sky unrealistic dream… but must take seriously what our Lord has commanded and modeled for us.

All of which makes HATING THE SIN and LOVING THE SINNER a bit of a puzzle, does it not? If the sin we should most hate is our very inability to love, we certainly find ourselves in a difficult situation.  This all leads me to three fundamental conclusions for our 5-part discussion: 

1. We all need to enroll in the “School of Love”, studying and modeling what Jesus said and did in terms of love.  We should be less concerned about other people’s sins, and focus more on our sin when it comes to FTL (“failure to love”).

2. Live in grace.  This conversation should be a bit daunting.  We can’t do it.  In some ways we have failed before we try.  Perfection is both our calling and yet unachievable.  Live in grace.  Live in the tension. And know this: to live in the tension is to live in the shadow of the cross, knowing that what we cannot do, Jesus has already accomplished in and for us!

3. Remember Romans 8:1 and believe it!  “Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus!”

Finally… “Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen.” (Ephesians 3:20-21)



1 Comment

Posted by on October 16, 2009 in Uncategorized


One response to “Can You Really Hate the Sin & Love the Sinner? (Part #5)

  1. John Umland

    October 16, 2009 at 4:13 pm

    <p>I think Romans 12 is very good as well.<br>9 Love must be sincere. Hate what is evil; cling to what is good…. 21 Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good. <br>Everything in the middle is important as well. But let’s talk about some who claim to believe in Jesus but are very offensive, the crew from Westboro Baptist.<br>Can’t we be vigorously opposed to the evil they are doing, in fact, hate it? Can we also try to love them? Can we overcome their evil with good?<br>God is good<br>jpu</p>



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