God and You - Articles to uplift and encourage

by Daniel Baker

Love the sinner - Hate the sin -- Vaccinating people against Jesus - 2

Daniel Baker 23 Jul 2014

“Love the sinner – Hate the sin” is a common phrase in many Christian circles. I have come across many passionate arguments on whether or not it is Biblical. However, that is not my concern in this post. I want you to think with me about the effect it has on the people who hear it, typically people we would like to become followers of Christ.

To do this we have to hear the phrase like they do. That means instead of hearing in the light of all our theological knowledge and familiarity with church teaching, hearing it with none of that. We are saying it to someone who does not know our in-group jargon and who is taking it in a very different way than we might. My experience is that this phrase often does an incredible job of “vaccinating them against Jesus” For more about this concept read the post Vaccinating people against Jesus – 1

Let’s start with the “Love the sinner” part. Technically it is accurate, but is it wise to say that, especially to someone you are trying to influence in a positive way? When we use this in a discussion, we usually come across as judgmental and pretentious at best. People do not hear the part that we are all sinners and fall short [Romans 3:23]. What they hear is you playing the judge and that does not come across as loving.

Then there is the “hate the sin” part. In our culture we often define people by what they do. We say things like “She is a teacher, He drives a truck, etc.” We say those about ourselves, “I am a farmer, I am a manager, etc.” Those are statements of identity. This is one reason why when we say “hate the sin” people take it personally. What is heard is that a characteristic or behavior that is an important part of the person is hated. Therefore, the speaker hates the person being addressed.

Hate is a very strong word and in that phrase, it is often the word that stands out. Whether it is meant or not, the message that lingers is “They hate me.” Since people see us as representing God and the church, our position in that phrase often communicates “God hates me.” I could fill pages with the comments I have read and listened to of people saying that is exactly what they heard. Many of these folks were thoroughly vaccinated against ever becoming a Christian.

However, this phrase can have some benefit to it. That benefit comes about if we use it to remind ourselves to actively show everyone Christ’s love. This phrase says “Love the sinner” and everyone is a sinner, so we should start by actively loving them. When you look at Jesus’ interactions with people, with the exception of some of the religious elite (Sadducees) and some of the religious conservatives (Pharisees), those interactions are characterized by active compassion, kindness, and a genuine care for their situation. Treating people that way drew them to him and earned him a hearing. It also often resulted in real growth / change in their lives. Think for a moment on the Samaritan woman at the well {John 4:7-42}, Zaccheus {Luke 19:1-10}, the “sinful” woman at Simon the Pharisee’s house {Luke 7:36-50}, and the woman caught in adultery {John 8:3-11} for just a few examples.

The “Hate the sin” part has a positive aspect to it as well. Let it remind you to recognize the sin in your own life and the harm you are doing. Then repent of it and get your own life in order. Reflect on Jesus teaching,

Why do you look at the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ and behold, the log is in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye. {Matthew 7:3-5} <

Doing this will benefit each of us in our own spiritual life. It will also bring in some needed credibility in interacting with others.

So please stop using this phrase in your conversations and stop vaccinating people against Christ. Instead use it as internal reminder to live correctly yourself and to actively love others.

All Bible quotes are from the NASB 1995 edition

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