If you’re like me, you cringe when you hear the trite phrase, “love the sinner, hate the sin.” Depending on who who says and hears this, this can be interpreted a multitude of ways. A liberal leaning might mean it as, “love the sinner, accept the sin.” Another way that someone might take this is “love the sinner, accommodate/tolerate the sin.” Of course, whenever this subject comes up with professing Christians, it tends to lean more toward, “love the sinner, don’t talk about the sin.” In other words, love them as they are, and simply share the love of Christ (whatever that looks like these days). But then you have the more dreaded extreme by which certain people love the sinner, by showing the maximum amount of hatred toward the sin. That is, they show that they “love” the sinner through harshly expressing their extreme hatred for the sin.
Other than this phrase becoming a mantra for pragmatic church goers who don’t really understand the gospel, and the relationship between God’s wrath and His grace, one of the greatest reasons why this phrase should be offensive to any Christian is that it is attributed to God. Before this idiom was clipped into a nifty little catch phrase for practical application in talking to homosexuals, prostitutes, drug addicts, etc., it was originally stated that “God loves the sinner, but hates the sin.” Meaning that when God looks at a person, His love for them seems to be disconnected from their crime. In essence, God loves the criminal, but only hates the crime.
I would love to go into why the Bible doesn’t truly say this about God. But this subject has been greatly dealt with by mainstream writers. My intent here is to ask another question. “Can this phrase be redeemed?” Regardless of how people may feel about this phrase (myself included), is there a way in which we can twist this quaint phraseology to our advantage to start a biblical conversation and get down to the nuts and bolts of what the gospel is really about? I think we can.
I attended a men’s Bible study about two weeks ago with my church. We were discussing a chapter in Jerry Bridges’ book, The Joy of Fearing God, and this subject of love the sinner hate the sin was brought up. I thought this would go in the direction it usually goes. People getting offended and drawing strong pragmatic lines, and eventually parting ways. However, that was not the case. Every man at that table delivered some pretty informative concepts concerning the kind of theology this tiny phrase insinuates, and the cautious approach we need to have in accepting/stating this phrase. The most interesting part was how we were able to dissect the phrase in our favor to discuss the biblical model of how God, and how we, should deal with sin. Although this was not their intention in the discussion, it opened up my eyes to the possibility that I can now use this phrase in my favor to preach the gospel.
As I mentioned above, when people use “love the sinner, hate the sin” it can mean several things to different people in various contexts. But from this point on, if someone tells me “love the sinner, hate the sin” I will respond in one of three ways:
1. Yes but, do you really love the sinner? If you do, then why won’t you talk to them about their sin so that they might know about salvation. Jesus, Peter, Paul, James, and all Christians in church history mentioned, exposed, and unashamedly condemned sin when they preached the love, mercy, and grace of Jesus Christ and His redemptive work on the cross. And they didn’t just lightly gloss over it. So if you really love the sinner, but hate the sin, then you should at least talk about their sin(s) so that they might come to know Jesus, and why they must be born again!
2. But do you really hate the sin? Think about this, if you really hated the sin, you would talk about it. People are prone to talk about what they are emotionally pleased and disgusted with. This doesn’t mean we turn Westboro Baptist on someone when we preach the gospel, but it is a valid question to ask someone if they lob this phrase at you. If you truly hate the sin, and know that sin is the reason for which Christ died, don’t you think God hated it too? So much so that Christ endured the wrath of God so that guilty sinners can be set free?
3. Love the sinner, hate the sin? Only if it’s biblical. This was one of my favorite points in our men’s meeting (my most favorite is below). If a professing Christian tries to persuade me that I should be more loving toward the sinner, and simply express hatred toward the sin, I would then simply respond, “only if it’s biblical.” This will hopefully spark a conversation about how God both loves and hates the sinner, and that He expresses both anger/wrath just as much as He does mercy/grace. Only God is able to love and hate sin and sinners, and do so equitably, with balance, and without contradiction. I would love to show how the work of election is a crucial puzzle piece that helps us to understand this concept of God’s love/hatred better, but that is beyond the scope of this article. For now, “only if it’s biblical” is a great way to retort in order to get a discussion going.
I might not have been able to “redeem” this phrase, but responding in one of these three ways is best when someone decides to press this practical dogma against you. Regardless of how we respond, the idea that we must grasp is that asking the right question(s) about what someone means when they say “love the sinner, hate the sin” will hopefully lead to a conversation about the gospel and God’s greatness to redeem criminals to Himself. God’s hatred and love were both fully expressed on the cross when Christ was being punished on our behalf for sin. God unleashed His holy fury on Christ, who became sin for us. His love was equally poured out by demonstrating in that while we were still sinning, Christ died for us. If we trust in that sacrifice, and repent of our sin, God’s holy hatred and wrath that abides upon us, is propitiated. And although God loves us in the general sense that we are His creation, only His beloved, those that are born again, experience the fullness of His grace, love, and mercy.
As I hinted at above, there is a statement that better expresses what should be our reaction toward the lost, and has become my new, favorite rebuttal. If you are a Christian, and you know the true, unadulterated gospel, let this be your mantra: Love the sinner, preach the gospel. (Thank you Sam Young for this quote).
– Until we go home
Good word, George! The bottom line, for me, is that we must be thoughtful in our words and approach to life! Getting caught up in mindless sentimentalism is contrary to our calling to be transformed by the renewing of our minds!
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The unsaved will be damned not their sins. There is a great gulf fixed for the unrepentant sinner not just for their sins. In the flood God imposed the death penalty upon all mankind, save the 8. He did not merely drown their wicked deeds. God introduced the death penalty in Gen. 9 for the crime of murdering the image of Himself. The Law has long list of sins that earned the sinner the death penalty. God smote Aarons 2 sons for changing the incense formula. For doing what was right in their own eyes. Jesus and John the Baptist called the Pharisees a brood of vipers not just their sins.
If we are not preaching the gospel to the lost how can we be loving the sinner.
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One thing stuck in my craw when I read it a second time: “If we trust in that sacrifice, and repent of our sin, God’s holy hatred and wrath that abides upon us, is propitiated.” I trust this is merely a poorly worded sentence, not a theological statement. As stated, it puts our eternal destiny on our heads, IF we trust … We who have been chosen WILL trust in that sacrifice because God HAS poured out His love on the elect.
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Reblogged this on The Gospel Video blog and commented:
Great message. Well worth the read.
It was purposefully worded that way. Propitiation is a satisfaction of God’s justice and wrath that was upon those that do not believe, but is expiated by the blood of Christ. I think we agree with one another for the most part.
Christ did not shed His blood nor suffer the Father’s wrath for those in hell. If He had done so, none would be punished, as His death is, as you said, propitiating. No man chooses to get saved, he is saved and responds in faith.
Manfred, I agree. I’m failing to see the disconnect? I went back and edited the previous comment for clarification if that helps you.
George, your statement comes across that a man will be saved IF he trusts in the sacrifice …
If you agree with me, we both know that a man who has been saved WILL trust in the sacrifice. The first is regeneration by man’s will, which the Scripture flat out denies. The second is monergistic regeneration with a sure response from a new creature.
You are touching on ordo solutis (order of salvation), which I do not split hairs over. Although I believe a man is regenerated by the Spirit in order to trust in Christ, answering whether trusting in the sacrifice prior, during, or after regeneration is unhelpful seeing it is all work of the Spirit regardless. To any end, lexically speaking, to say “if a man trusts” does not negate any biblical construct. Calvanistic or Arminian. I fully agree that a man will trust if he is elect, but I will not argue over the word “if” seeing that the truth of the statement remains regardless of which theological sway you ascribe to. In any case, I am not offended that you brought it up. Thank you for helping me be more aware of my readers. I will not discuss ordo solutis here though.
Dear brother, who I appreciate in the Lord in so many ways. On this one you are at odds with scripture and seem to be drifting into an unbiblical hyper-calvinism lately. Spurgeon, Edwards, Whitfield, etc had no problem with the fact that the SCRIPTURES instruct lost people to believe / trust in Christ and describe saints as having done so.
Ephesians 1:13 In Him you also trusted, after you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation; in whom also, having believed, you were sealed with the Holy Spirit of promise, who[b] is the guarantee of our inheritance until the redemption of the purchased possession, to the praise of His glory.
BUT PAUL – Manfred says it is bad to suggest to the saints that THEY trusted and believed.
In Christ -Jim
PS – I have a comment sitting in spam in the What God has started thread.
Mark 16:15 And He said to them, “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature. 16 He who believes and is baptized will be saved; but he who does not believe will be condemned. -NKJV
Let’s never put a stumbling block to others in the matter of God’s sovereign grace by thinking ourselves wiser than Jesus and the apostles. Notice Jesus didn’t say “He whom God makes to believe will be saved; but he whom God makes to not believe will not be saved”. When our systematic theology can no longer align with plain portions of scripture and goes far beyond what is written there is something wrong with it. It usually results in high minded, puffed up, worthless doctrine regardless of how sovereign we feel we are making God appear by it.
In Christ -Jim
Jim – I am NOT drifting into hyper-Calvinism. I believe we are to proclaim the gospel to ALL people, not knowing whom God has chosen; knowing He will save ALL that He has predestined to eternal life, using the gospel as His appointed means to bring His sheep into the fold.
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OK brother, I guess I have just been sensitive to what I see as a puffed up and high minded modern Calvinism that goes on a witch hunt even when unnecessary. Not saying YOU are doing this, but something to beware of anyway.
Amen on God using means to an end as well (even then He is still the first cause). I would just add that it’s (partially) true if someone says they are saved because they trusted in Christ. As long as they are not saying that at the expense of God’s sovereignty I don’t see the problem with it as scripture uses such language too.
God bless -Jim
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the cliche’ LTSHTS is a disjunctive syllogism i.e they are not mutually exclusive. It’s just not biblical. We are sinners and that’s our nature. Good article