Hating The Sin Whilst Loving The Sinner, And Other Incredible Christian Feats

Love the sinner – hate the sin. All Christians I’ve ever met have said this, and some of us have even believed it, as if it were even possible. I think I probably once did, but I don’t think it any more. Oh, you can think you’re loving people whilst hating the things you think they’ve done wrong, but what you’re doing isn’t what you think you’re doing. Here’s why.

Christians are not the boss of deciding what’s sin and what isn’t. Even if the thing we’re calling sin is in the Bible as we claim, we are not the police of sin. As if we all weren’t sinners in the first place anyway. I think most Christians struggle with knowing what sin even is – our thinking we get to label people as sinners, well that’s just arrogant. You think you can tell me categorically what counts as sin? Tell me  - is cigarette smoking a sin? When you’ve worked that one out, come see me and I’ll give you a harder one.

Jesus didn’t emotionally blackmail people with his affections. One of the things I love most about Jesus was that he came across sinners all the time, (funnily enough) but never said anything that might lead them to think he was doing them a huge favour by being with them. I can’t imagine Jesus chatting to people with that wan, barely-tolerant expression on his face that we Christians sometimes have, especially when someone who we don’t usually hang out with mentions something that confuses and confronts us, like their being gay. In fact, Jesus often let people know straight up that he understood exactly what they were all about but never made out like he was just dying to get home to clean their atmosphere off his body. In fact, he talked about people, and to people, as if all the aspects of their being and existence were not going to be a problem for him, even if they had been a problem for them. Now wouldn’t that be refreshing? No wonder those who knew they really needed help, salvation and forgiveness just loved Jesus, and those other people who stood to lose something should the kingdom of God turn out to be an equal playing ground just couldn’t wait to get rid of him.

We belong to God – He doesn’t belong to us. I’m curious…just who exactly made us Christians the gatekeepers to God? It must be very painful and frustrating for people who are trying to reach out to God with their whole being to be blocked by smarmy, self-important Christians who feel they get to decide who may get close and who may not. How very capricious of us. On the one hand we preach a God of acceptance and love, and yet on the other we continue to patronise and marginalise the very ones who probably need Him the most. Maybe even more than we do, but perhaps not for the reasons we think.

The reason they need Him more than we do may not be because they need to be “cured” of some depravity we’ve judged they have, but perhaps more likely because they have been subjected to horrible and abject prejudices all their lives, and perhaps even traumatised by those. They appreciate that only God can heal this kind of hurt, because they know He made them, and He loves them. The people I know who have been marginalised by Christians really do get that Christians cannot bring themselves to love them properly, or just do not want to. But for His sake I think we ought to get out of the damn way and just let God do what God does best, which incidentally, may not actually turn out to be burn up all the people we don’t like or are afraid of in a big bonfire we get to dance around.

Real friendship transcends differences – not barely tolerates them. Having someone reserve the right to think you’re disgusting while they carry on like your friend doesn’t feel very good. It doesn’t feel like friendship, and it certainly doesn’t feel like love. It feels at best like pity. At worst, actually also like pity.  If you had been on the receiving end of this kind of “love”, you would never, ever dish it out to someone else. Knowing that the person you are with has performed enormous gyrations of their personal morality and sense of propriety to be in your presence, for which they expect to be rewarded by God at some later stage, diminishes your dignity, and fractures all real hope of true fellowship. Finding out you are someones special Christian “love” project is far from humbling or pleasurable – its deeply mortifying. Take it from me.

All that really separates you and the person who makes you feel disgusted is in reality not their sin which you’ve decided you simply can’t ignore, but is in fact your own inflated sense of self-righteousness, and probably a deep suspicion that despite everything you’ve done, God is still somehow mad at you for something. If you truly knew His love for you, and understood the depth and breadth of His love for others, you wouldn’t find it as hard to be sweet to unChristians as you do. Laying down your personal sense of superiority is not a favour you are doing others – it’s actually a huge favour you are doing yourself.

God forgives and forgets sin – so why do you get to record and remember them? Someone important in a church I belonged to once called me a “trophy of grace”. I sort of knew she meant it as a compliment, but it always had the effect of letting me know that while I was included in church life, it would always be despite both me and my past. My presence served to remind people just how incredibly powerful grace truly was, because everyone knew the level of depravity I’d proven myself capable of. Lucky me. I always wondered when people were going to let me leave behind my “before” picture forever, but it never happened. Wondering why people leave your church? Maybe it’s because they’re sick up to here of being reminded what a huge leap it is for you to forget where they came from and what they did before you knew them in church.

In the end, it’s got to be about economy as well. Who’s got time for all this crap? I actually have enough trouble working out what qualifies as sin just for me, I have neither the time or the energy to be working it out for others. In fact, I haven’t got so many friends that I think I can pick and choose the less sinful ones out from the rest. I am friendly back to anyone nice enough to be friendly to me. Funnily enough, this seems to work great.

Every time I hear the expression “hate the sin, love the sinner”, I think of Jesus at the well talking to the Samaritan woman. “Give me a drink.” He says, breaking with all social convention and religious tradition (she was a woman, and a Samaritan – two reasons he had no business to be dealing with her). “Why are you talking to me?” she says, realising fully that he extends that which she has no right to demand or expect. Jesus goes on to explain not what a great favour he is doing her, but what he has to offer her, without judgement, without expectation. He knows full well she is a woman who has broken laws and transgressed her religion, but her life neither surprises nor elicits any judgement from him. In His eyes, she is not what she has done. “I know who you are – and I also know that you need what I have to give you.” he says. Beguiling, this Jesus. He is right, of course, and in the end, it’s his willingness to let go of his right to judge her in order that he may genuinely commune with her that wins her. Wins her so convincingly, that many come to follow Jesus because of her, and the things she says about Him. (John 4:3-42)

Jesus reveals what he knows about the woman at the well not so he can impress, frighten or coerce her, but in order to earn her trust. When He says “I know all about you.” it isn’t to elevate Himself with moral or religious connotations of superiority – it’s to show her that who and what she is is secondary to who and what He is. He is the Christ, and with that comes the mercy, the love and the purpose she has been looking for her whole life.

*****

I think it’s impossible to hate what you see as the sin of someone and also claim to love them. Any relationship between you will always be on your terms, because you will always hold them apart, deeming them morally and spiritually defective. There is an alternative, and it’s actually much simpler than you think. Like Jesus did, don’t see people as if they were what you think they’ve done wrong. It could turn out that what you think they’ve done wrong isn’t actually wrong after all, or isn’t as wrong as what you’ve been doing to all the people you think you’re better than.

We see things – and people – as we are, not as they are. If you are a person who sees all people as being the things they have done, just remember that one of the things you have done is to judge all other people as sinners unworthy of your authentic love. Stop it, now, or, in the words of Jesus, something worse may happen to you. As if there were something worse than only having the friends you think are good enough for you. I’m sure you and your cat will be very happy.

(I know I promised in the title some other incredible Christian feats, but this one is actually pretty big. If you get this one sorted out, and want to get back to me about it, maybe do so on the smoking thing at the same time. Cheers.)

 

 

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17 Responses to Hating The Sin Whilst Loving The Sinner, And Other Incredible Christian Feats

  1. James Williams August 23, 2011 at 12:50 am #

    Jo, I do not see how two people can agree that the bible is true, read the same bible, and come away with such different perspectives. I offer the following not to be argumentative, but to share mine, and why I don’t agree with a lot of what you say here today.

    “God forgives and forgets sin”
    Yes, He does. But every passage which says He forgives and forgets sin (1 John 1:9) is accompanied by a command to repent, or turn away. In other words, go and sin no more. This is why I hate the sin: because He obviously does. It’s apparently serious to Him.

    “Christians are not the boss of deciding what’s sin and what isn’t.”
    No we do not decide. But we do read what He says is sin, and are told not to keep quiet about it when we see it int he lives of other believers. This is not a comfortable thought, but it’s very very clear in Scripture:

    Colossians 3:16 NIV
    “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom and as you sing psalms, hymns and spiritual songs with gratitude in your hearts to God.”

    –most of that verse is positive, but notice the word “admonish”.

    2 Timothy 4:2
    “Preach the word; be instant in season, out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort with all longsuffering and doctrine. For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but after their own lusts shall they heap to themselves teachers, having itching ears; And they shall turn away their ears from the truth, and shall be turned unto fables.”

    Paul is telling Timothy to tell the believers what they NEED to hear, rather than what they WANT to hear.

    If you are a true friend, you will allow the Lord to speak some tough things when necessary, and you will not hold back for fear of losing that person’s friendship.

    Proverbs 24:24-25
    “Whoever says to the guilty, ‘you are innocent’—peoples will curse him and nations denounce him. But it will go well with those who convict the guilty, and rich blessing will come upon them.”

    Ezekiel 3:18-19
    “When I [God} say to a wicked man, ‘You will surely die,’ and you do not warn him or speak out to dissuade him from his evil ways in order to save his life, that wicked man will die for his sin, and I will hold you accountable for his blood. But if you do warn the wicked man and he does not turn from his wickedness or from his evil ways, he will die for his sin; but you will have saved yourself.

    Jo, when I read these verses, I see God telling me that if I have a friend who’s in sin, and he’s a believer, then I must say something. Of course, that doesn’t give me license to yell, be rude, or, to your original point, pretend that I am any better. Because I’m not. But the fact that I have sin in my own life does not exempt me from following through on the commands in these verses. I don’t like to, but that phrase “his blood is on your hands” is kind of scary. It certainly gets my attention.

    • Jo Hilder August 23, 2011 at 7:50 am #

      Hi James, I cannot and won’t refute that Christians have some onus Biblically to point out the sin of others. But I’ve been a Christian for 30 years, and in all that time I don’t recall meeting a Christian who was able to point out the sin of another human being without using it as an opportunity to also point out that person was not going to be included, accepted, listened to, counted or liked. And I think a lot of Christians also commit greater sins with the bullying tactics they use to inform people of their sin than the person with the sin they thought needed correcting in the first place. The fact is, the ones applying correction with the appropriate proportion of grace rarely attract the kind of attention most Christians like to draw to themselves when they make up their minds to collectively apply their special brand of Biblical correction.
      Jesus showed us that when true Godly correction is applied, the person having it applied to them doesn’t even notice (samaritan woman, rich young ruler, woman in adultery) yet that person comes away without any doubt Jesus regards them. I think Christians must give up their agenda of correction until we have refined our methods to match those of our Master.

      • Anita August 23, 2011 at 2:40 pm #

        Sorry Jo, but I couldn’t resist – you have met me in your 30yrs of being a Christian. And I find it hard to believe that I’m the only one.
        Who will stand with my friend, a man who’s raped a child, and fight for his children to be able to have contact with him because they miss daddy so much and welcome his friends from prison (who committed similar crimes), while honestly confronting the horror of what he has done and all that needs to be worked through and put in place to prevent further offending.
        Who weeps with my dear friend whose children have been removed from her by “the department”, standing on common ground as mothers who know the overwhelming pain of having our children cut off, encourages her in all the wonderful ways she is a good mum and beautiful woman, does whatever it takes to enable her to see her children and have them returned, while dealing in depth with the abuse and causes there of that had them removed.
        These, and others, are dear friends, whom I value greatly, can learn much from and would do anything for. I am not so foolish to think that I am in any way better or more upright than the man who rapes children, or the woman whose drug use almost killed hers, or the man who repeatedly beats up his wife leaving her black and blue or the one who, in a drug-crazed rage, sort to kill his wife and daughter or…. …. ….
        “Unprofessional” they call it, “over-involved”, to see my friends as wonderful human beings who have so much to offer, while still holding them accountable for the things that wound others and themselves. It’s not just in the church – in the world they decree that “such people” should be considered as needy clients at best (and ‘professional boundries’ must be maintaned to keep one from being dragged down by such because surely these people could only possibly drag one down and be a burden), an evil scurge on society needing to be ‘run out of town’ at worst.
        I think we need always remember that it’s not OUR agenda of correction – but our Master’s agenda of transformation that He is working in us all, and occasionally we have the privilage of playing a tiny bit-part in His transfromation of another – just as they play their part in our transformation.

        P.S. I mention the “sins” of my friends, not because I think of them in those terms, but because I could not think of any other way to try to express the reality that truely loving and valuing someone can also include hating their sin (I want to see acts of domestic violence and child abuse and neglect and paedophilia eliminated from our society but I love and value my beautiful friends who have committed such acts).

  2. Paul DeBaufer August 23, 2011 at 1:40 am #

    Excellent post!

    I know that it is not easy to live out. Our natural tendencies are toward judging the other, toward setting ourselves above those we deem less-than. All people do this, those deemed on the top of the pile as well as those who are under the pile. We are tribal and cliquish by nature, likewise we are egocentric too. Yet, we are quite fragile, suffer esteem issues, lack confidence, etc. We make-up for our deficiencies by arrogance, feigned confidence, hubris, and demonizing the other so we can look big in our own eyes. We try to make ourselves feel special and twist the instructions of Scripture to do so. We have all kinds of ways to rationalize our unChristian behaviors like proof texting, eisegesis, etc.Rationalization it is, too. Because we are given the model, as you say, in Jesus. To say that something Paul or the OT might have said contradicts Jesus teaching through His words and actions is to misinterpret Paul and fail to realize that Jesus IS the embodiment of the OT Law. We err when we use Paul and the OT to view Jesus (person, teaching, words and actions).

    I think that you deal with a difficult issue with care and love. Too often we get into the same trap as those who we try to correct, we judge and condemn those who judge and condemn us. I know that for me, personally, this is my initial reaction to those you describe. When I do this I err and sin against them and God, they same as they have done to me. All too often those who have been judged and condemned by Christians are inclined to throw out Matthew 6:15, “if you do not forgive men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.” But I do not think that Jesus meant this to be used as a club with which to beat people into forgiving. I do think that those who do not forgive, who judge and condemn create their own Hell, whether it is staying stuck in the pains and traumas of the past or a new place of suffering in loneliness and anger.

    I just pray that I can live out what you are calling us, along with Jesus to do. Love people, see people and not the sin.

  3. Maery Rose August 23, 2011 at 3:44 am #

    Thank you for writing this post. You don’t know how much it means to someone like me to have someone stand up and speak on this topic. I apologize for the length of my reply.

    My son is gay. I have had reactions of sympathy, embarrassment, and advice on how to fix my son and myself. Many people are praying for his salvation. But as you said, no one wants to be pitied or treated like a bigger sinner than everyone else.

    I’m tired of politics, politicians, and church people deciding they have the key to heaven. Please stop it. You have no idea how much damage you are causing. How many people you drive from the church because “some sins” appear to be so much greater and require so much more public policing than any others. A person is not supposed to feel singled out? Come on!

    I am the mother who had to protect my son from other children. The taunts, the shoving against the walls, the threats. I’m the one who worried everyday that someone would kill him or that he would kill himself.

    Please stop it! The politics and self-righteousness are self serving. From my view, it appears people are trying to preserve their way of life. Not their Christian way of life. But simply their way of life. And the politicians, they are using religion and praying on fear to get re-elected.

    I wish churches and elected officials would focus on immediate, life endangering problems and pain. Balance the budget. Feed the hungry. Heal the sick. Visit the lonely. I truly believe that doing what you can to help alleviate suffering is what overcomes whatever evil is in the world. Jesus’s example of noticing people and their needs and offering a helping hand and kind words is what changed people. He more often admonished those who were were putting themselves at the head of the table and who were seeing themselves as smarter or “holier” than others than he ever came down on the lowly sinner.

    I don’t expect to change any one’s beliefs. But I do hope people will rethink how they express those beliefs. And I’ll keep praying for civil discussions, wisdom, and peace for those who are being deeply hurt by this controversy.

  4. Michelle Falzon August 23, 2011 at 8:34 am #

    Jo, you are a very wonderful human being. Keep writing. Keep stirring the pot. Keep questioning and exploring.What you’re saying is really important… not because you’re saying it but because it needs to be said… and heard… and lived. Some profound stuff in here for everyone (even those of us who don’t call themselves Christians!).

  5. Carolyn August 23, 2011 at 9:06 am #

    I think about this issue all the time. I don’t personally feel I am in a position to judge or admonish. Maery Rose I do apologise for the crap you have had to put up with. When we see the disdain that some people hold for Christians I guess we have ourselves to blame

  6. Janet August 23, 2011 at 1:49 pm #

    Sorry Jo, have to disagree with you on this one!

    I never really understood the whole “love the sinner, hate the sin” UNTIL I had to put it into practice. Actually, that sounds wrong. The whole point is, I *didn’t* have to put it into practise. It came naturally!!!!

    Someone very dear to me had a pregnancy terminated for reasons of convenience. Did it mean I loved this person any less? No! I still love and care for them and have a close relationship with them today, many years later. They confided in me when trying to decide which option to take, and they knew that I had reservations about the wisdom of having a termination. But they also knew that I would love and support them NO MATTER WHAT they decided.

    A couple of years ago I asked this woman how she felt about the experience. She got tears in her eyes before asking if we could change the subject, so obviously it is a tender subject. She will always live with that decision for the rest of her life. She doesn’t need me or anyone else to sit in judgement on her.

    If she comes to the Lord, that would be great, and I certainly pray for her. But that’s not what I am close to her and involved in her life. It’s because I love her.

    • Jo Hilder August 23, 2011 at 2:37 pm #

      Janet, thanks for your input, you know I value your part in these discussions.
      I want to point out that I am not inferring Christians must do ideological backflips and condone all kinds of behaviours. I am saying that the action we ought to take against others sin is to ask ourselves “why do I equate this person with those actions”? And “what will it cost me to love this person unconditionally, without the need to define them by what I consider to be their sin?”
      Can I ask Janet, what form did your “hate” for her sin take? Did you feel you needed to confront or speak to her about how sinful she had been? Your message does not say you did, so I can only deduce that you practiced love and kindness for her despite how you felt about what she did. The point is, our feelings about what people have done are exactly that – our feelings about what they have done. We need to own and examine those feelings. In the end, it isn’t difficult to find someone who will be cruel, capricous, bullying, judgemental and indifferent toward us – but it is difficult to find someone who will love us completely no matter who or what we are. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if the people who bear Christ’s name were those people?

      • Janet August 23, 2011 at 5:26 pm #

        It broke my heart :-( for the unborn baby, and for my friend in the difficult position. No, I didn’t need to tell her it was wrong. When she asked my opinion beforehand I told her honestly it was my least preferred option. But after that – it was HER decision, and my role to love her regardless.

  7. Janet August 23, 2011 at 1:51 pm #

    PS what about the Scripture we should be careful of the log in our own eye, before criticising the speck in another’s?!

  8. Kelly August 25, 2011 at 6:49 am #

    I can just imagine me saying to someone, “I know who you are and what you need” and them being thrilled, feeling loved, and accepted. I think you have good points, but I also think you are misguided in lots of areas too. And by the way, I am a Christian and I have never and will never say “Love the sinner and hate the sin.” It simply is not Biblical.

    • Jo Hilder August 25, 2011 at 7:32 am #

      Thanks Kelly for your comment…however, to be misguided, I’d have to have been guided by someone to these conclusions, however, I have not been. They are my conclusions based on my own readings of the gospels, and my experiences. I’m not really concerned with being right, so it doesn’t bother me when someone says they think that I am wrong. In my opinion, unless the general consensus of what the Bible says (and what most people consider to be truth is really the general consensus an not much more) has a practical application, it’s probably time it was challenged. I am challenging it, and I welcome you address of what you consider I am misguided about.
      Again thanks for your comment.
      JO :)

  9. Susan (HomeGrownKids) August 25, 2011 at 2:58 pm #

    I have always hated the term, ‘hate the sin, love the sinner’ and it does have some yucky implications in the way it has been promoted. But if you might indulge me a little as I reminisce…

    I have a beautiful daughter. She was raised by us, to the best of our ability in the ways of the Lord. She has, however, chosen to walk the path of drugs and a life without God in every way.

    We (My DH and I) struggled with this for a long time, exacerbated by the fact that she was not only homeschooled but also so young.

    BUT, over the years we are learning to love her – despite the sin. We sin. She sins. The Cross of Christ dealt with it all. The difference? She doesn’t yet know it. SHe hasn’t had that revelation from God yet, which is in His time. Not my time. My job is to love her and be as Jesus to her.

    Having a child like this has really taught me how to love the person yet not condone their sin, just as I can’t or don’t condone my own sin. I was once dead… in my sin. No amount of trying could open my eyes. God had to reveal Himself to me…which He did. I had nowhere else to turn but to Him. I eagerly pray for that revelation for my child, but I can’t hurry it along or make it happen. She knows I am a believer. She knows OF the truth but doesn’t yet know Him who IS Truth. But it is His job to convict her of that. Not mine. But by continuing to have a relationship with her, I might get to witness her conversion (Yay, I can only hope and pray) yet I might not. I don’t actually doubt her eternal salvation, but the damage she can do in the meantime. Yet even that it within His control.

    I used to think this whole parenting gig for was ‘the children’. Ha! Nope, it’s actually the only time is all about me – God wants me to get to that place where I have no choice but to yield to Him. And He has used parenting (in my case) as His tool to do that. :)

    Control. Control. Control. We all want it. None of us need it.

    • Jo Hilder August 25, 2011 at 3:09 pm #

      Thanks Susan, always appreciate your comments. BTW, would you like me to make a link to your blog in my new bloggers list?

  10. Susan (HomeGrownKids) August 26, 2011 at 9:31 am #

    If you’d like to Jo, that would be cool. Thanks! My site is in need of yet another overhaul as I am trying to reinvent it and slightly change its focus. I used to blog primarily about homeschooling but meh! Just not in that place anymore ;) Two of my children are off now- livng their adult lives- so I’ll probablky become one of those boring homey blogs, lol.

    I will link to you too, once I get my site patched up. :)

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  1. Jo Hilder's Blog » Hating The Sin While Loving The Sinner, Part 2 – Mercy, Mercy, Mercy - August 27, 2011

    [...] button',unescape(String(response).replace(/+/g, " "))]); }); I wrote a post the other day entitled Hating The Sin Whilst Loving The Sinner, and as I had hoped, it opened up some really interesting discussions. Predictably, many readers [...]

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