There has been a lot of talk recently about the Christian doctrines of love and sin, mostly in the shape of, “I no longer can keep up the unbiblical façade of loving the sinner and hating the sin. The Bible calls me to love, and that is what I am going to do.”
While I believe deeply that we are called to love in extravagant and radical ways – ways shown to us by God in Christ – I believe the recent talk about refusing to see people as sinners actually strips the Christian of the ability to love in this deep and transformative way. Contrary to the assertion that “love the sinner and hate the sin” is not in the Bible, it is necessary to the character and nature of God, and is, ironically, all over Scripture. It turns out that you are unable to love the sinner without hating the sin.
The first and most readily available analogy is the way a good parent loves their child. Any parent will tell you that they often live in the tension of loving their child while hating the things they do or the character traits within them that cause them harm. Have you ever known a parent in the middle of struggling over a rebellious teenager? In theological language, that is nothing more than loving the person prone to sin while hating the things in them that cause them harm. In fact, you might say the two sides of that parental disposition IS love. If you disagree, then you will need to convince most of the humans you know that a parent who allows their child to do each and every thing that will cause them short-term and long-term harm is a good parent. Obviously they are not.
And so it is with God. It is common for Scripture to speak of what God hates and why he hates it. Modern evangelicals don’t often think or speak in these terms, but maybe that is because many of us have been trained by our churches to conform the Bible to our current proclivities instead of the other way around. A small sampling of the Bible talking about God hating sin:
Isaiah 61:8 For I the Lord love justice; I hate robbery and wrong; I will faithfully give them their recompense, and I will make an everlasting covenant with them.
Jeremiah 44:4 Yet I persistently sent to you all my servants the prophets, saying, ‘Oh, do not do this abomination that I hate!’
Zechariah 8:17 do not devise evil in your hearts against one another, and love no false oath, for all these things I hate, declares the Lord.
Christ-followers are people who belong to this kind of God and are thus expected to learn to interact with the world the way God does. As a consequence, we are expected to have the same kinds of loves and hates that God has. For example:
Micah 3:1-2 And I said: Hear, you heads of Jacob and rulers of the house of Israel!
Is it not for you to know justice?— you who hate the good and love the evil,
who tear the skin from off my people and their flesh from off their bones,…
Ezekiel 35:6 therefore, as I live, declares the Lord God, I will prepare you for blood, and blood shall pursue you; because you did not hate bloodshed, therefore blood shall pursue you.
Amos 5:15 Hate evil, and love good, and establish justice in the gate…
And then there is the passage in the New Testament which is cited most often to promote the idea of loving the sinner and hating the sin:
Jude 21-23 keep yourselves in the love of God, waiting for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ that leads to eternal life. And have mercy on those who doubt; save others by snatching them out of the fire; to others show mercy with fear, hating even the garment stained by the flesh.
Here Jude makes a direct link between the love of God, our acts of love and mercy, and snatching people away from the sin that so easily destroys us.
All in all, the evidence is pretty overwhelming – the best way to love people who sin is to hate the things in their life that cause destruction – sin.
This is radical love. To refuse to acknowledge or talk about sin is a weak and easy way to like people, but it is not biblical love. God’s love is often very hard to live out. If you have ever loved someone who is not exactly like Christ, you have loved someone who needs the kind of Christ-like love that makes sacrifices for sin and remains loving through all kinds of trials and rejections. Jesus loved Judas. Not in a way that refused to hate the sin, but in spite of the sin. Jesus loved the woman caught in adultery when he simultaneously saved her life and told her to go and sin no more. Jesus loved disciples who often misunderstood him. God showed steadfast love to a nation of people who were persistent in their rebellion against him.
God’s kind of love recognizes sin and rebellion in the human heart and shows unconditional love anyway. This is the kind of love the world needs to see in the church. This is the kind of love I am required by my God to show. This is the kind of love I need – the love that sees my sin and saves me anyway.