Love the Sin; Hate the Sinner

by Davin Dahlgren, March 2000




Did I get that right? I believe I did. Countless are the times that I have heard various Christians hide behind the phrase “We hate the sin, but we love the sinner” as a justification for attitudes and actions which show no love whatsoever. But Iíd like to probe even deeper and discuss how that phrase is often flipped around in practice.

We often apply “hate the sin; love the sinner” to non-believers. “Love the sin; hate the sinner” is most frequently practiced with regard toward our fellow believers. I can remember an incident that illustrates this perfectly. Two friends of mine were having a conversation and one of them mentioned his sister. Wanting to join in and be a part of that conversation, I immediately piped up with, “Your sister is such a gossip!” Without missing a beat, the other fellow shot back, “So are you!”

Of course he was right, and I was duly chastised for my inappropriate contribution. I wonder how often we could site times in our lives when we all have been guilty of this kind of hypocrisy? It may not always be as blatant as that, but canít we all think of some example of this kind of failure? But the point is not to rehash old sins that have been forgiven in Christ Jesus. No, it is our present attitudes and actions on which I would like to focus.

Love the sin. I wouldnít have admitted to anyone (myself included) that I loved to gossip. It wasnít something I really thought about much. I didnít have to make excuses for it. I didnít have to hide it. It was just something that flowed out of me as naturally as breathing. That is what I mean by loving the sin. There are sins we recognize in our lives. We may condemn ourselves, we may try to punish ourselves, we may “set our faces like flint” and determine to conquer that sin by sheer willpower—we might even try the Biblical solution of repenting, receiving forgiveness, and burying the sin once and for all. But there are also sins that sneak in under the radar—undetected sins. Sins we donít know about, sins weíd rather not know about, and sins that we insist arenít really sins at all. We really are very good at hiding these sins from ourselves. And we do it by pointing out the sins of others.

Hate the sinner. I didnít see my own gossip, but I was very much aware of how much everyone else was gossiping. I was delighted by the opportunity to share it, too. It was a chance to tear someone else down, while at the same time lifting myself up. There wasnít any love in my accusation of gossip. In fact, I felt a certain perverse joy at being able to make the accusation. I wanted her to be despised by others for her fault, just as I despised her. Fortunately, in that case it backfired. I regret to say that we have ample evidence of more successful incidents in the crumbling churches and hurting lives around us.

It need not go on this way. But we each have to be willing to face the fact that the fault may lie with us. Are you willing to come face to face with your own hypocrisy? Keep an eye on the things that most irritate you about someone else. Does someone else talk too much? Maybe theyíre just not letting you monopolize the conversation. Is that person too self-involved? Maybe they just canít take the time to pay you the homage you think youíre due. That person is always late, showing disrespect for your busy schedule? Maybe you place a higher priority on your daily planner than you do on that image of God for whom Christ died. I could probably go on all night, but I think you get the point.

Each one of us can be free of hypocrisy in our lives. Take some time to pray about it, and ask God to show you some of this hypocrisy in your own life. It may be a little painful—it may be a lot painful—but get it out in the open. Nail it to the cross and be done with it. Let a little bit more of your flesh die and let a little bit more of Christ shine through.