Why “Love the Sinner, Hate the Sin” Isn’t Working

The past few days have made me sad. Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, comment threads on news articles, conversations outside Starbucks…everywhere I look, everywhere I am, I hear anger. Hatred. Even rage.

At the same time, I hear hurt. Pain. Sadness.

In the wake of the recent Supreme Court decision regarding homosexual marriage, it’s all over the place. I know you’ve seen it too.

I’m not assigning a certain behavior, action, attitude or feeling to one “side” or another. I see it all on both “sides” of the issue.

This past week, I’ve heard one phrase more than almost any other. I’ve seen Christians, even well-intentioned, compassionate, grace-giving Christ-followers, use this phrase:

“Love the sinner, hate the sin.”

But is it working? I don’t think so. I think if we’ve learned one thing in the past week, it’s that this isn’t realistic. It’s not healthy. And it’s not pointing anyone to Jesus.

Why? Because we aren’t strong enough to do that. We aren’t strong enough to truly love the sinner but hate the sin. I know I’m not. See, there’s nothing inherently wrong at all with hating an objective sin, but when it’s tied to a person, we don’t have understanding enough to truly separate the two. We don’t have enough compassion to truly separate the two. So whether we mean to or not, we wind up hating the sinner because of their sin. It’s too easy to blur the lines between the two.

I’m not pardoning sin and I’m not condemning sinners. I’m not making excuses or looking the other way. I’m not suggesting in any way that we, Christians, should support sin, or smile and give a reluctant thumbs up.

I’m just saying, Church, it’s time for us to get this right.

God’s Word makes it clear that we are to love everyone. We are to love and give grace to all sinners because we are all sinners in need of love and grace (Romans 3:23). 

And we are called to be like Christ, who is love (1 John 4:8; 4:16). We must remember that our duty as Christ-followers is to point people to Jesus.

I have a good friend who is gay. He loves Jesus.

I also have good friends who gossip. Some of them love Jesus too. I have friends who lie, cheat, and steal. I have friends who are gluttons. I have friends who are lazy. Selfish. Jealous. I’ve got friends who are prideful. I see or have seen some of these patterns in my life as well, more often than I’d like to admit.

The thing is, the more I get to know Jesus, and the more I learn how much He loves me enough to die in my place to make forgiveness available to me, the more I hate the sin in my own life. I don’t need anyone else to hate it for me. I’m guessing you don’t either, really. It’s hard to know much about Jesus and not start to hate the sin in your life (Romans 7:15).

I tell that friend of mine who is gay that I love him. He knows how I feel about homosexuality. We’ve talked about it. I believe the Bible makes it clear that it is sin to live an active homosexual lifestyle (1 Corinthians 6:9–10). We’ve talked about it many times, but we still love and respect each other because we speak with kindness and respect.

The other day, he texted me. He thanked me for not turning my back on him. He thanked me for treating him with kindness. He said, “I appreciate the fact you’ve never tried to preach at me like it hasn’t been something I’ve wrestled with my whole life.” Then he called me his brother.

I fought back tears.

Partly because it means a lot that this friend of mine trusts me. Partly because what his words reveal is that so many have treated him just the opposite…

See, I’ve wrestled with this too. If I’m honest, I still wrestle with this. I wrestle with grace and truth because I love to hand out truth when it’s someone else’s sin, but I love to receive grace when I’m the one who’s sin or error is exposed. So it’s hard for me to reconcile in my own human understanding how grace and truth really work together, and how Jesus can be 100% of one and 100% of the other at the same time.

But this isn’t a post about sin, really. Enough people are writing about that. I hope you understand what I’m trying to say.

What if, instead of “love the sinner, hate the sin,” we just love the sinner? Show them Jesus. Point them to Him and let Him work on them. Please know, I’m not suggesting we preach a weak or watered-down gospel. If we don’t give truth with grace, we are failing people who desperately need both. Speak truth, absolutely…live truth, even better. Do it all with grace and love.

It’s time to stop standing on a platform tirelessly arguing politics and start falling on our faces before God in prayer for His Spirit to work in and through us to be a source of hope, healing and light in a desperate, hurting, dark world. That’s how we’ll really make a difference in the world. Not by posting an angry message on social media, or by alienating people with hateful words. Not by making it darker.

By choosing to love instead of fight or argue or hate, we are not surrendering. In fact, we are doing the opposite. We are advancing the cause of Christ because in that moment we choose to pursue Christlike love for others.

There’s a picture I love. It’s the woman who was caught in adultery, lying in the dirt, waiting for her accusers to begin throwing stones. And in the background, Jesus is not standing, not walking…he’s running to her rescue.

Let’s not be people who throw stones. Let’s be people who run to those who are far from God, who pick them up out of the dirt, and who show them what true, Christlike love and grace look like. If the families of nine people, who in an act of nothing less than pure evil were murdered for no reason other than the color of their skin, can stand before the killer of their loved ones days later and give grace, how can we not? How can we give anything else or anything less?

This isn’t a pro-gay blog post. It’s not an anti-gay blog post either. That’s not the point. This is a pro-grace blog post. This is a pro-love blog post. Just a reminder, a plea maybe: let’s please, please point people, gay, straight, or whatever, to Jesus.

24 Comments

  1. Chris Brandow June 30, 2015 at 8:56 am

    Well said man. I think you just shared what was in a lot of people’s hearts.

  2. Melissa June 30, 2015 at 11:17 am

    This is really great, thanks for writing – the perspective I needed to hear.

  3. Jane Altomare Johnson June 30, 2015 at 5:34 pm

    Thank you Jimmy, excellent Biblical perspective. Now may God grant all of us the grace to live like Jesus more each day.

  4. Benjamin D June 30, 2015 at 6:35 pm

    truth sounds like hate to those who hate truth, even when it’s spoken gently.

  5. Jim Ramsay June 30, 2015 at 9:08 pm

    I appreciate your heart, but honestly, I have not seen many of the sorts of posts you identify. On the contrary, most posts by reputable evangelical leaders and others seem to express some disappointment in the ruling, but are more reflective and restrained rather than voicing the hate that is being ascribed to them. I’ve not yet seen “hate the sin” expressed, and I’ve read a bunch of posts. I just want Christians especially not to fan inaccurate stereotypes of Christians! Yes, you can find them out there, but they are not the mainstream so I hate to see them characterized that way.

    • Jimmy June 30, 2015 at 11:25 pm

      Thanks for sharing your thoughts, Jim. I totally agree with you that I have also read many posts that are, as you said, disappointed but restrained or even gracious. In my post, I’m writing more about the comment threads that I’ve read where people are attacking each other. It would definitely not serve anyone for me to promote an inaccurate stereotype, but I think most of us would agree, we Christians (as a whole, which I realize is a broad generalization) have a long way to go to be in a place where we are viewed as handling these issues with grace. I appreciate your comment.

  6. Nathan June 30, 2015 at 10:53 pm

    Remember. Let’s not only tell part of the story. Jesus also told her to go and sin no more.

    • Jimmy June 30, 2015 at 11:29 pm

      I agree completely, Nathan. Again, I hope I communicated clearly enough that I’m not suggesting a weak or watered-down gospel. But we also must remember that our job is not to convict sin. That right and responsibility belongs to the Holy Spirit. Our job is to love people and through that we point them to truth. Jesus takes it from there. Thanks for commenting!

  7. Nonya Business June 30, 2015 at 11:19 pm

    The problem is that “love” is defined differently by each side. Most Christians would welcome a gay person or couple into their fold. They’d get them coffee, show them a seat, and treat them no different than any visitor. But it will mostly end there. In a traditional church, a gay couple can move no further than just attending. They will never reach leadership, teach classes, and probably can’t even serve as a greeter. Their sin is visible and ongoing, and thus prevents them from serving. Thus, they will not feel “loved” so long as their relationship is seen as sinful. We can tell them and show them love (as we define it), but they want approval, and will not feel loved if they don’t get it.

    You are a blessing, no doubt, to your friend mentioned in the article. Will he attend your church? Will he go to a place that tells him he’s loved, but won’t let him participate? If we tell a family member we love them, but don’t invite them into our inner circle, will they feel loved?

    If I as a woman, walked into an Amish church, I would be welcomed to sit in service. But, I would be viewed as a sinner who cannot overcome my sin unless I follow a set of rules. I’d have to change my clothes, quit my job, give up my comforts. I would not feel very loved, despite their efforts of telling me that they are requiring these things for my own benefit and spiritual well-being.

    This is the conundrum I struggle with. If gay people are not welcomed into our churches and allowed to fully participate, then they will go somewhere else where they can. This will be somewhere most likely where the gay lifestyle is fully embraced and not identified as “sin” (and likely somewhere that is outside the typical beliefs of Christian churches). Therefore, what have we gained by excluding them? We’ve sent them off somewhere where they are likely not receiving the true message of the gospel. But, if we do welcome them, how can we invite those that we believe are living in sin into positions of leadership? I realize we are all sinners, and every single church leader has sin in his/her life. But there are some sins that are just more visible than others, and this is clearly a sin that is. We expect church leaders to be repentant of their sin, and a gay person does not see their behavior as sinful.

    I’m just getting a little worn out on the “love wins” philosophy. Love is great and all, but when you get down to the more practical matters, its far more complicated than a catch phrase. It’s kind of like love languages. If you are giving love in a way that the person who is receiving it does not view it as love, then your actions are nearly pointless. Christians who view homosexuality as sin will never meet the love language of the GLBT community.

    • Jimmy June 30, 2015 at 11:31 pm

      Thank you for sharing these insightful comments. I agree with a lot of what you said. As I mentioned in the post, this is something I wrestle with as well. It’s a tough, messy process to try to find the balance in all of that. I appreciate your honesty.

    • Heather Fizer July 8, 2015 at 9:36 pm

      It’s like you spoke my thoughts on this! I run a girls college age small group. This age group has so many different views on this, not to mention new Christians and some that have grown up in the church. I agree this “love wins” view is not working. Repentance is key in our lives where sin is a daily struggle, but the issue lays in what do we define as sin. A gay lifestyle is a sin, but not agreeing on that is where the issues arise.
      I went through a messy divorce, I handled it badly. I was also committed to working in ministry, and wanted to continue. I was told step down, and I agreed. I was currently living with my boyfriend and that visible choice to sin created a wedge between myself and ministry but mostly between God and I. I felt loved by my church body, but I knew I’d never be able to move forward in my Faith with my blatant disregard for my sin. It was rough, but in time things worked out I married and my church slowly helped me heal and brought me back into ministry. I learned a lot of lessons on sin in that 4 years. Mostly I learned that in my sin it put up a huge wall between God and I. That connection I once knew so deeply so passionately between him and I became so lack luster and paled in comparison to the time in my life I sought out my sin and repented. This is my reason for wanting my gay friends to turn from this life of sin, you loose that deepness of relationship with God or you never truly find it. Sin and God do not mix. This aspect of loosing a deeper communion with God I don’t find many talking about. That’s the point isn’t it? That Christ died to bridge that gap, to bring us closer to him. I think of Moses and God when he placed him in a cleft in the rocks covered his eyes due to seeing Gods face with sin would kill us. BUT God and Moses still wanted that moment together and as God passed by just at the right moment God moved his hand so Moses saw his back. How precious that communion with God must have been! If sin keeps us from that….then I want my sin out of the way! Not just from me but all of us, it’s to glorious to not have! A moment with God is not not worth our temptations, seen or unseen ones!
      Thanks for sharing Nunya !

  8. Ryan July 1, 2015 at 1:21 pm

    I completely agree with the author but would add to the final example of the woman about to be stoned for adultery. We mustn’t forget that after calling people to “throw the first stone” and diffusing the situation Jesus turned and had words for the adulterer. “And Jesus said, ‘… Go and sin no more.'” John 8:11

    As Christians it is necessary for us to encourage repentance, it is not enough to simply not throw the stone.

    • Jimmy July 1, 2015 at 1:43 pm

      Thanks for your thoughts Ryan! I appreciate you taking the time to comment. I agree with you! I think what we must be careful of is to remember who we are in that story. There are three categories: the woman, the accusers, and Jesus. We all fall into the category of being the woman or the accusers at times, but I will never assume the role of Jesus. It’s not my right or responsibility to tell someone to “sin no more.” The Holy Spirit does that, and if I ever feel that I have to take that on, I don’t trust His power enough. We must speak bold truth, always with love and grace, and let Jesus be the ones to call others out of sin. Thanks again for your insight!

  9. Rose Ndegwa July 1, 2015 at 5:31 pm

    I agree with this post – 100%. While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. He did not wait for us to be ‘better’ before demonstrating his love. May our attitude be the same as Christ’s. But Oh, how I fall short!

  10. Chuck July 2, 2015 at 11:28 am

    The expression “Love the sinner, hate the sin” (properly understood) is exactly what God has asked us to do. Whether it works or not is really not our concern, only God’s. I find CS Lewis’ explication (from Mere Christianity”) of what appears to be an impossible duty helpful:

    “For a long time I used to think this a silly, straw-splitting distinction: how could you hate what a man did and not hate the man? But years later it occurred to me that there was one man to whom I had been doing this all my life-namely myself. However much I might dislike my own cowardice or conceit or greed, I went on loving myself. There had never been the slightest difficulty about it. In fact the very reason why I hated the things was that I loved the man. Just because I loved myself, I was sorry to find that I was the sort of man who did those things. Consequently, Christianity does not want us to reduce by one atom the hatred we feel for cruelty and treachery. We ought to hate them. Not one word of what we have said about them needs to be unsaid. But it does want us to hate them in the same way in which we hate things in ourselves: being sorry that the man should have done such things, and hoping, if it is anyway possible, that somehow, sometime, somewhere, he can be cured and made human again.”

    It seems that your post decries, at least in part, the anger and hate Christians feel about the sin. The Episcopal Church of America voted last night to allow same sex marriages in their churches. Should we respond to this less vigorously than Jesus responded to the money changers in the temple? Or is Lewis right that we need not “reduce by one atom the hatred we feel” for that sin.

    Finally, note that the sin of homosexual conduct is, at this time and place and from a social perspective, different from virtually all other sins. Adultery, greed, arrogance and pride, are all sins we ought hate with equal vigor to homosexual conduct. But none of those are celebrated and encouraged by our society with the same vigor as homosexuality. My non-Christian neighbor will condemn with me those who cheat on their spouses. But he will not do that for homosexual relations.

    I am not, in the least, discounting our responsibility as Christians to love all sinners. But to the extent that your post is intended to argue that we ought be less strident about our hate for any sin – including homosexual conduct – it’s off base.

    • Jimmy July 3, 2015 at 12:06 am

      Chuck, thanks for taking the time to write out your response. It’s insightful and I appreciate your perspective. I just wanted to share a couple of things that came to mind as I was thinking about your comment.

      What caused Jesus to go off on the money changers in the temple wasn’t sin. Sure, what they were doing was wrong. But we never – NEVER – see Jesus respond to any other sin/sinner that way. What drove him to that point was the fact that men were exploiting people’s desire to worship God for personal gain. I don’t think that analogy applies in this context. Although I do want you to know, I agree with the overall meaning behind that part of your reply…it makes me sad that a church has taken that step of allowing same-sex marriage. My desire is not at all to see the church endorse or enable sin; I hope that was clear in my writing.

      One other thought: I’m not sure I agree that homosexuality is different than some of those other sins you mentioned in terms of how society celebrates them. I’d say it’s definitely true that society celebrates and encourages greed, arrogance, and pride. And to some degree, even adultery…remember Desperate Housewives? Ratings were through the roof. That’s just one example.

      You’re correct, we should hate sin. But we should hate sin because it distances us from God. I’m only offering the idea that it’s hard to objectify sin and then to allow ourselves to hate it when we see it in others. We’ve got to get better at the grace end of the deal.

      Thanks again for your thoughts.

  11. Andy Wertz July 2, 2015 at 8:28 pm

    Jimmy,
    He has my argument too. But your right we shouldn’t play the role of Jesus either. But what did we do as a nation by solidifying something made up like gay marriage? It’s as if we all dropped our stones when Jesus ran over and were like “No no, Jesus, she’s not a sinner because what she did wasn’t wrong, we’re good here.” How can we as Christians accept or recognize something like gay marriage? Does that make us accepting of sin? Very good article by the way.

    Andy

  12. BOB July 2, 2015 at 11:01 pm

    Very well said, Jimmy. One question: Does your Christian friend call what he does a sin?

  13. Jeremy Keith Gann July 3, 2015 at 11:54 am

    You, sir, are amazing. The most perfect words I have ever read in such a long, long time. Thank you. I do not believe in organized religion, but I would attend every service of your church, if I knew where you were, were close, etc. Please keep up the good (awesome, incredible) work. The world despetately needs you right now. And I KNOW God is smiling when you speak.

  14. Jimmy July 4, 2015 at 8:22 am

    A thought provoking post in which I believe you mean well. But I believe you are slightly off. There is an attitude adjustment we as Christians need to address when it comes to love sinners. We could definitely do a better job at it in the first place. To often we treat people as lepers, and we act as if we are afraid we are going to catch whatever sin it is they are in. We get all uppity, acting holier than thou, and look at people with jaw-dropping expressions of shock and horror when we see sinners commit sin. If we haven’t realized it by now, sinners sin exceptionally well, because that’s what sinners do.

    But the idea that we hate their sin while loving them is entirely Biblical. Jesus frequently held the apostles in contempt for their unbelief. Jesus chided the Pharisees for their hypocrisy, their lack of mercy (especially on the Sabbath), and their general wickedness. At times, Jesus was very confrontational with people over their sins, and often in very public ways. And in the end, those who disagreed with Jesus didn’t feel so loved. In fact, once they tried to throw him off the edge of a cliff. Several times they tried to stone Him. And then there was that entire scene in the Bible where they crucified Him. And why did they do this? Well, while clearly loving them, there are times Jesus pressed buttons that simply made people angry enough to kill Him.

    One of my closest friends in life was not always such. I helped win one of my friends, a former coworker of mine, to The Lord through my regular witness about The Lord. While before their conversion we got along well as coworkers, there were times I deeply angered them. They would rattle on and on about their drunken sexual encounters every weekend at work. Every now and then I would tell her about the love of Christ, and how He was inviting her to a better way of life, and that what she was doing was sin.

    Sometimes she would get highly angry at me. But as she would later tell me, she would only get angry at me because she knew I was right in what I was saying, and felt so much guilt over her sin. And if you interact with enough sinners outside a pulpit, you know one thing: angry sinners are often sinners experiencing conviction. They are going through the process of the Holy Spirit drawing them. And sometimes this results in them becoming angry at you.

    Loving people in the way of Jesus does not always result in a mutual showing of respect. Because of the feelings that Jesus has over sin, feelings that we must also embrace as Christians, not only for our sins, but the sins of others, will sometimes result in deeply angered people who think we are hateful and intolerant bigots. Where we need to grow in this arena, is not in learning to not hate others sins, but we need to grow in being patient, kind, and continuing to speak grcae-filled words in reply to the inevitable angry outbursts of people who don’t always like hearing what we have to say.

  15. John July 4, 2015 at 3:51 pm

    I think I understand what you are trying to say but I don’t see the problem being loving the person. The problem is in the homosexuals and our government requiring us to accept their unnatural behavior as natural and teaching our kids that it’s a normal lifestyle. I can , (and do), try not to treat ‘gays’ any differently until I am ask to condone their lifestyle and/or participate in proliferating or normalizing it.

  16. Michael July 4, 2015 at 4:19 pm

    I’ve read, contemplated, and sought God and His word on this matter. I hear and see a lot of hurting people who are caught up in viewing issues and challenges from their personal perspectives. Many have confused love with acceptance and tolerance. Christians who have gay friends really battle because of their friendship. Well, the standard is, has, and always will be the word of God despite how we personally feel. The heart of the matter is, are we willing to abide in His word, for His word, by His word?

    The word of God says “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?” (Jeremiah 17:9 ESV) God searches our hearts and knows all things.

    I emplore Christians to not just look at the trees of the forest. This entire issue is one piece of the puzzle that has to deal with the end times. This is one phase towards the persecution of believers. Yes, we are called to love, but at what cost? We are to love what God loves and hate what God hates. We spend a lifetime experiencing Gods love in many different forms. One is that of correction. He tells us we are wrong and that we need to change and that He still loves us. Correction isn’t a bad thing? He does it to cover and protect us.

    He died on the cross because the entire world needed saving, not just a select few. “God so loved the world that He gave…” What are you willing to give? Are you willing to compromise because your heart FEELS something? Well, the measuring stick isn’t humanity, our feelings, and earthly relationships. It’s God and His love for us defined by Him for us to use without compromise.

    I call all Christians to study your word. It says that in the end times the very elect will be fooled. World system and ideals vs. Gods Kingdom. We must know the difference. It’s heart check time; not gays vs. straights.

    Michael Williams

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