Stop Saying “Love the Sinner, Hate the Sin.”

“Love the sinner, hate the sin.”

As a Christian, I know what you mean. But I’m telling you – no non-Christian believes you. Their experience has taught them well.

Christians have spent so many years rallying against “sin” that most people who have been told they are “sinners” cannot fathom finding love or acceptance from the Christian community today. Who can blame them? It seems everywhere we turn Christian are fighting against this and complaining about that. Even though “those fanatical Christians” may only represent a small portion of Christendom, they’re voices are loud and the media eats it up. Unfortunately, they represent more than just themselves.

But while we cannot make EVERY Christian behave, you and I should stop using terms and phrases that accidentally communicate something we never intend.

Here are five reasons I wish we could just abolish “Love the sinner, hate the sin:”

1. People struggle to separate who they are from what they do.

People by default struggle to separate their actions from their person. When we say, “Love the sinner, hate the sin,” it causes people to wonder if they fall on the side of “love” or “hate.” Christian or not, this is a real struggle that we must recognize.

We are not what we do, but it is only through spiritual maturity that we can recognize this truth. Unfortunately, statements like this typically do not lead people closer to spiritual maturity, and therefore create more confusion and frustration than clarity.

2. It makes you appear to be without sin.

It doesn’t matter how much you say, “We are all sinners,” when you say “love the sinner, hate the sin,” all people hear is an arrogant statement separating two sides – you and them. It’s nearly impossible to draw people to yourself when you begin with a wall of separation.

3. Most people do not consider themselves “sinners.”

I know – we are all sinners. But non-believers do not walk around with a conscious understanding of their sin and sinfulness. They’ve done wrong. They’ve hurt others. They’ve hurt themselves. But sin has a weight and connotation that most non-believers resist.

What they do understand is falling short of a standard – even if it’s their own standard. So “love the sinner, hate the sin,” becomes a statement built on an incorrect assumption that we all acknowledge to be sinners.

4. We should hate what sin does to people more than the act of sin itself.

We really don’t hate “sin” as much as we hate the ramification of sin. Sin takes us away from God’s ideal, and God’s ideal is… well, ideal. God’s precepts and guidelines provide for the best life possible. Sin takes us further and further away from God’s ideal, and that is something worth hating. But “love the sinner, hate the sin” really doesn’t communicate this truth. Rather, it says, “I hate your behavior, but I’m trying to still like you.”

5. If you insist on saying this phrase, start saying it to everyone.

If you are going to continue with this type of rhetoric, then I suggest you become an equal opportunity offender. Follow me to lunch and rail against my gluttony – “Love the fat guy, hate the chicken fingers.” Better yet, just make the statement into a bumper sticker so people can be reminded to love you when you speed, cut them off, or refuse to use your blinker (to me, that’s an unforgivable sin!).

With a little less sarcasm: We are tempted to use this phrase with people struggling in an area with which we are not. It’s condescending. Worse, I don’t believe it helps people grow closer to their Heavenly Father. To me, that’s reason enough to stop saying it.

So should we just banish the statement? Or maybe just replace it with an alternative:

“I’m FOR you and I LOVE you.”

Let’s stop addressing their actions. They are not what they do. Just be FOR them, and let the Holy Spirit deal with the sin while we all deal with love and acceptance. My guess is the “sinners” will hear message loud and clear.

  11 Comments

  1. Jonathan S. Jenkins   •  

    On the whole I like the article. I do have a question though. At what point does the Christian engage the one in blatant unrepentant sin as a vessel through which the Holy Spirit flows to bring conviction? There does not seem to be a provision for that in your last paragraph. Does that come later when one has built up credibility in the relationship, or does it just come through a supernatural work of the Holy Spirit, not carried forth by man?

    • Gavin Adams   •     Author

      Jonathan. Great question. Here’s my question in response. If we are talking about a person outside of Christianity, then we should not expect anyone who is unrepentant to repent. As a Christian, I cannot expect non-Christians to behave like Christians, nor can I hold them to the same rules or expectations.

      That said, for the insider, I believe we are NOT the Holy Spirit. The Spirit seems to do an amazing job providing conviction on his own. I don’t believe that is my job. Coming along side is my job. Of course, within the context of a relationship, there may be opportunities for conversations. But only conversations where we are truly FOR another person proves ultimately helpful.

      • Jonathan S. Jenkins   •  

        Gavin, Thanks for the prompt response. I would say that I was thinking of people of outside the church, yet I did not make that clear. I completely agree that we cannot expect those who are not Christians to act as Christians. I wonder though, how does one lead someone to become a Christian without eventually addressing repentance of sin?

        I do not believe that we are the Holy Spirit either but are we not supposed to be vessels through which He moves? I wonder how the Spirit would bring conviction if not through intentional, loving, interaction with those who are not Christians, by those who are Christians?

        I ask because I am trying to work to become more evangelistic in my relationships with people outside of the church I am a part of.

        Thanks for your thoughts.

        • Gavin Adams   •     Author

          Got is. The fact you are considering the best way to do this means you are on the right track. I love what Paul said in Colossians 4:5-6; 5 Be wise in the way you act toward outsiders; make the most of every opportunity. 6 Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone.

          I believe the answer lies in the word “conversations.” Conversations are drastically different than conversion attempts or confrontations. Conversations are built on relationships, and it is through these relationships where God opens the doors for words that are full of grace, and seasoned with truth.

          So keep deepening your relationships. Continue leading with grace, but instead of looking for ways to confront other’s sin, consider sharing how God has forgiven and released you from sin. Repentance will be necessary at some point, but I believe we as Christians have too often pushed that point to far forward.

          • taratatedarnell   •  

            I guess no one seems to be able to answer my question, what about those who claim they are Christians, and do not act like Christians at all. My husband recently passed away very expectantly. My neighbors, who we were in a land dispute with, but I thought we could resolve with a land survey, have taunted and teased me about my husband’s passing. The land survey proved to be in our favor, but my neighbors have been very bitter. So much so that they have accused me of killing my husband or even saying “I deserved for him to die because the survey wasn’t to their favor.” These types of comments have sickened me and saddened me. They have made me question whether my husband’s passing was some type of punishment, by their God, the God I thought we both prayed to, but who seems to favor their, my neighbors brand of Christianity and meanness.

            So how do I not question, what is Christianity? Those who say they are the loudest appear to be the ones who can cherry pick which commandments they wish to follow and those commandments they wish everyone else will follow.

            Sometimes I wish I could give them the land back, legally of course and hope in my dreams of dreams it would bring my husband back. If they are truly Christians and this was some type of punishment, then I am confused as to who do I call God, who died on the cross for all of our sins, and are we both worshiping and praying to the same God.

          • Gavin Adams   •     Author

            First, let me say I’m so sorry that your husband passed away. That is always very difficult, and when it’s unexpected, all the more. I’m sorry.

            Unfortunately, there are large numbers of Christians (or at least people who claim Christianity) who are terrible representations of Jesus. Of course, no Christian will ever by able to completely represent Jesus perfectly, as we are all imperfect. As I say all the time, it’s Jesus’ followers who give him a bad name, not him. I believe if you were to meet Jesus, you would LOVE him, because he is already so in love with you.

            Your neighbors are way off base. As Christians, we are called to give away what is ours and do whatever it takes to live in harmony with others. I’m sorry your experience with them has been so poor. I hope you realize their behavior speaks volumes about them, not you.

            If it makes you feel better, Jesus himself was treated the most terribly by the religious types of his day.

          • taratatedarnell   •  

            Gavin
            Thank you. During my mourning, I am asking so many questions of God and Jesus. But I know, that there really is a time and a season for everything according to God’s plan and that the time had ended for my husband. The pain in knowing that and most importantly trying to understand is great, but I know God loves not only me, but he loved my husband and yes, even my neighbors.

            I am relying on God’s love, prayer and my faith in him to heal one day. I’m relying on my faith, to not turn bitter and cold towards anyone. I am not a Christian, I believe there was only one true Christian and that is Jesus. But I practice Christianity as often as I can. Without doing so, I would surely crumble to hurt, sins and hate.

            God bless you Gavin,

  2. taratatedarnell   •  

    This is a great and well written post. My only comment Gavin is I meet a lot of people who say they are Christians, attend Church every Sunday and yet they are some of the biggest sinners. It saddens me sometimes and I question is it even worth saying you’re a Christian, or believing in Christianinty is sinning is forgivable if you were the badge of being a Christian.

    • Gavin Adams   •     Author

      I like how you’re thinking. And I agree. The only difference between a Christian and a non-Christian is forgiveness, not the presence of sin! Hopefully as a believer, I am becoming more like Christ each day, and therefore finding more control over my sin nature in the process, but I’ll never be completely without sin. But I’m forgiven, and that’s the difference.
      I wish Christians would see that, as well.

  3. Jonathan   •  

    Great post, Gavin! Been thinking a lot about this lately!

    • Gavin Adams   •     Author

      Thanks, Jonathan. I have to believe we all could do a lot more good in the world if we approached the world from a position of conversation, not condemnation.

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