‘Love the sinner, hate the sin.’
Be merciful to those who doubt; snatch others from the fire and save them; to others show mercy, mixed with fear – hating even the clothing stained by corrupted flesh. (Jude 1:22-23)
The world doesn’t think ‘love the sinner, hate the sin’ is meaningful at all. The world thinks it is basically lip service – disingenuous, a clever deception, a way to cloak your animus.
In the world’s eyes, you are what you do or what you think. Your deepest identity is found and fashioned in how you perform, how successful you are, what you dress like, the choices you make, where you live, your sexual orientation, who you vote for, what your worldviews are, who you’re married to, what your politics are, etc. So when the world hears ‘love the sinner, hate the sin,’ it responds, ‘If you think what I do is a sin, then you think I myself am a sin – ugly, evil, bad, disgusting, condemnable.’
And no doubt some people (Christians) wrongly treat the situation that way – that ought to be stated up front.
But as Christians we are followers of Jesus. How did he address this issue? Here’s a peek:
And as they continued to ask him, he stood up and said to them, “Let him who is without sin among you be the first to throw a stone at her…” Jesus looked up and said to her, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?” She said, “No one, Lord.” And Jesus said, “Neither do I condemn you; go, and do not sin again.” (John 8:7-11)
We glimpse the heart of God here: compassionate love for the sinner, together with no tolerance for sin. When He looks at the sinner (i.e. everybody), He smiles and heals; when He looks at sin, He gets His game-face on and prepares to crush. We see this even more evidently in this:
What’s He doing there? Loving us, freeing His people, making all things new! But He is also conquering sin – slaying, destroying, banishing, annihilating and reducing it to nothing. In fact, that is how He is loving us – by the annihilation of sin. The two go hand-in-hand; they are inseparable. Jesus seems to set the standard for us: if you love someone, then you will hate the sin that pollutes them. You lack love for others if you are indifferent to the sin in their lives!
Now, granted, this can get tricky – the devil loves to confuse us. Sin is not a physically tangible thing that you can yell and take a few swings at. But, people are. So as weak human beings we can be confused into conflating the two and taking out our hatred of sin on the sinner. Oh God – purify and heal us so that this never happens! Aiming to heal, we wound; seeking to fight against sin, we end up sinning ourselves. In this, as in all things, we need transformation.
But, the truth remains! No one loves people more than Jesus, and no one hates sin more than He does. As His disciples, we are to become like Him in all things.
So, it’s on us. We have to prove to our neighbors that believing someone’s behavior is wrong (and lovingly talking to them about it) does not mean, “I hate you, I think you are ugly and no good.” We have to prove to them that they are not what they do and think. In doing this, we will witness to their deepest identity – sons and daughters of God.
The world doesn’t understand unconditional love. It doesn’t know if it is possible. To be loved for who you are no matter what, to be good just by virtue of existence – that is a pipedream for many people. Let’s show them otherwise! Let’s witness to the Love that doesn’t count the cost. Let’s prove them wrong!
Alas, still, the vast majority of people will not believe us. Fear not. Á la Mother Teresa – do it anyway.