Love the sinner; hate the sin. God can do this, but can we? It seems that if I actively hate the sinful behavior of individuals, I can’t simultaneously show love to the people engaging in that behavior.
Some sins are socially unacceptable. Murder and theft, for instance, are not okay to anyone, whether saved or not. Other things which the Bible condemns as sin are, at least in our current society, considered acceptable. Adultery? Sleeping around is a behavior flaunted in almost every modern TV show I’ve seen. And then we have drunkenness, which is so common no one really thinks anything of it unless someone gets hurt or killed. And homosexuality, which has come to such a place of acceptance that people are being told they CANNOT speak out against it.
More and more, as sin becomes socially acceptable and things like drunkenness, adultery, homosexuality, gluttony, and lying become matters of course, we (Christians) have to decide how to react. The more acceptable these things are, the more prevalent they will be. What do we do when we see people engaging in these behaviors?
Too Much Love
On one side of the spectrum, we have a reaction to sin that involves too much love and a strange idea that tolerance equals love. We react this way because we want people to know that it’s for God to judge, not for us, and we want people to feel loved. We’ve been led to believe that real love means not telling someone they’re wrong. Postmodernism is all about shades of grey and says that truth is relative.
As Christians, when we get sucked into this thinking, we start to shy away from calling anything sin for fear that we will hurt others or drive them away from Christ or, worse, that we might get a reputation of being intolerant. Some Christians believe that the way to deal with sin in society is to completely ignore it and focus only on the “love the sinner” part of the message.
I get the idea of tolerance. I get why Christians are scared to take a stand on anything or say anything politically incorrect. After all, if we speak out against a socially acceptable sin, won’t we be pushing people away from the gospel?
And that’s the problem.
We try to win people over to Christ by being almost like them. Almost just like them. Not quite the same, but the closer we are, the better our chances, right?
But it’s all wrong.
Be ye holy because I am holy, says the Lord! (see 1 Pet. 1) Come out from among them and be ye separate! (see 2 Cor. 6) Be ye not unequally yoked together with unbelievers! (see 2 Cor. 6) Let your light so shine before men that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven! (see Matt. 5) Be not conformed to this world! (see Rom. 12) You must be born again! (see John 3) If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new! (see 2 Cor. 5)
Something inside me just wants to scream that we STOP IT! Stop trying to be as close to the world as possible! Stop accepting sin! Stop averting your eyes and buttoning your lips!
Too Much Hate
On the other end of the spectrum is, of course, a reaction that involves too much hate. Too much judgment. Christians might react this way because they see things in black and white and believe that sin is sin, it’s always wrong, and it should not be tolerated. While there is some truth to that thinking, the reaction is wrong when it leads to shaming people or treating them as less-than-human because of their behavior.
Some Christians take homophobia to a whole new level. It’s like the newest form of racism. People who practice homosexuality can be looked down on so much that they feel like total outsiders. They might even be kicked out of church if they admit to that behavior.
As Christians, when we’re tempted to react this way, we should remind ourselves that we ALL have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. (see Rom. 3) Sin entered the world through one man’s choice of [anything other than God] over God. God said, and Adam questioned whether God really knew best, and in the end he chose something other than God. Call it pride or call it disobedience, but it all boils town to, first, a lack of faith or a wrong attitude about God, followed by a choice of something else other than God. Self rather than God. Love rather than God. Pleasure rather than God.
No matter the sin, it all comes back to the same thing, and no matter whether we consider the sin large or small, it’s enough to separate you from God. (see Is. 59) A lie will separate you from God no more or less than murder and no more or less than a sexual sin. Sin is sin. Christians forget that. Christians tend to turn a blind eye to their own faults, then when someone comes around with an obvious sin, they think that associating with that person would be encouraging the sin or showing too much tolerance. Jesus was known for associating with the sinners, but we shun them and kick them while they’re down because their big, obvious sin seems worse to us than our little bad habits.
Sin is sin. We are all sinners. God does not cast away the imperfect. He uses the weak and the foolish things in this world to confound and shame the wise and the strong. (See 1 Cor. 1)
A Happy Medium
The hateful reaction holds some truth: Sin is wrong, period. It’s not ever okay.
The loving reaction holds some truth, too: Everyone deserves love (because they are God’s creation and God loves them). We aren’t called to disassociate ourselves from sinners.
So how do we love the sinner and hate the sin?
Here are some things I think we should all keep in mind, and hopefully they will help us accomplish this seemingly impossible goal.
- God created perfection, but we are all sinners living in a fallen world.
When sin entered the world through Adam, everything got corrupted. Everything is affected, even you and me. We all have an inclination for sin, and we have all sinned. None of us deserves God’s forgiveness, and if we have it it’s only by His grace. If we do good, it’s only by His grace. If we beat temptation, it’s only by His grace. We need to be in constant humble awareness of this.
- We need to deal with ourselves first.
Christianity is about relationship. Most importantly, my Christian walk is about my relationship with God. That means that the sin I most need to worry about is my own sin, because my sin separates me from God. (see Is. 59) I need to remove the plank from my eye before I can see to remove the speck from someone else’s. (see Matt. 7) I need to confess my sins, repent from them, and consistently walk with God, forgiven and empowered by His grace.
- Love is not synonymous with tolerance.
We should stand for what we believe in. A mother who loves her child deeply will not tolerate disobedience from her child (just as God does not tolerate disobedience from us). A sister who loves her brother will not tolerate him making bad, harmful decisions (because she doesn’t want to see him get hurt)! Christians do not need to tolerate sin in society if it means we are turning a blind eye and trying to continue as if it’s not happening.
I believe Christians need to do a better job of calling sin what it is. Don’t be afraid to call it like you see it. When asked to join in on an activity, it’s okay to say, “No, I do not do that. God says that’s not okay.” And it’s also alright to say, “God says sex is good but is intended only for for within the marriage of one man and one woman.” I believe God. I believe His truth is universal. Truth is black and white, not relative. Sin is sin. Truth is truth. Stand up for what you believe, but do so without attacking the people who don’t share the same belief. Like it or not, it is our very same God who gives them the right to choose something other than Him.
- Overcome evil with good. (see Rom. 12)
We need to be light in a dark world. (see Matt. 5) and show Christ to the world by how we live, act, and speak. Our joy, our peace, our love, and our attempts to be better should be our witness and our legacy. We want others to come to Christ and receive forgiveness as we have, and we know that everyone who calls upon the name of the Lord will be saved. But how are people to call upon Him Whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in Him of Whom they have never heard? (see Rom. 10 ) And how are they to hear unless we tell them and show them?
"Perfection is not attainable, but if we chase perfection we can catch excellence.”