I often hear this phrase when Christians attempt to explain what it means for us to love our enemies yet hate sin and walk in the light.
I think there is a shade of truth in it, but I’ve heard it used in a more ominous way. Let me explain with an example.
Suppose we’re talking about homosexuality, and its practice. I choose this issue because I think it is one in which Christians are increasingly conforming to the world’s standards, rather than the biblical standard, unaware of what it means for the rest of their theology.
The question that often rears its head is: How do we love a gay person?
I believe love must eventually involve rebuke. This might not be wise at the start of a friendship, but it would be unloving to allow him to continue in his sinful lifestyle, because we know that the wages of sin is death. However, the manner in which we rebuke requires some contemplation.
This is where the phrase seems to come in. We say we love the sinner, but hate the sin. In my mind, I understand what people are trying to get at, but in practice I think it makes absolutely no sense. Can we really separate the sinner from his sin? Take the example above. Is homosexuality and the homosexual really two separate entities? If you choose to hate the sin, you’re going to have to hate the sinner, becaues the sin is very much part of the identity of the sinner.
In separating them in to two entities, I think this can mask the truth that the sinner is morally responsible for his sin. This sort of mindset seems to lead to the trivialising of sin. It’s not my fault. It’s the sin. Until we recognise our moral responsibility for sin, we will not recognise that it is a symptom of the greater disease of the human heart. And we will not turn to the remedy, Jesus.
It might even deceive the sinner into a lulled state of religiosity, whereby he believes he is involved in the church, and is part of the redeemed body of saints, while he continues to live in sin. This is ominous, because it denies the sinner the very truth he needs to hear.
How then do we love a gay person, or any other sinner for that matter?
I have a couple of suggestions:
1. Recognise that vengeance belongs to the Lord (Rom 12:9). It is not our place to judge the sin.
2. We are not instruments of God’s wrath. We are instruments of His grace and mercy. I think this is the point in 2 Corinthians 5:18-21. Paul is imploring on Christ’s behalf: Be reconciled to God. God made him who knew no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God. Note the word imploring. It’s akin to begging. It’s the heart wrenching cry, “Repent before it’s too late!”
This sort of heart wrenching cry only comes when our own hearts have drunk deep in the fountains of God’s mercy, and exult in His gracious redemption from the misery of our sin. If we do not recognise the seriousness of sin, we will never come to rejoice in the mercies of God. God’s grace is not trivial. It is the very foundation of our new lives. And it is our duty to proclaim this gospel of hope: that God made Jesus who knew no sin to be sin for us, so that in Christ we might become the righteouesness of God. It is a burden. We proclaim it with hearts burdened with the eternal destiny of every individual around us. As C.S. Lewis so eloquently said,
There are no ordinary people. You have never talked to a mere mortal. Nations, cultures, arts, civilizations–these are mortal, and their life is to ours as the life of a gnat. But it is immortals whom we joke with, work with, marry, snub, and exploit–immortal horrors or everlasting splendours. This does not mean that we are to be perpetually solemn. We must play. But our merriment must be of the kind (and it is, in fact, the merriest kind) which exists between people who have, from the outset, taken each other seriously–no flippancy, no superiority, no presumption. And our charity must be real and costly love, with deep feeling for the sins in spite of which we love the sinners–no mere tolerance, or indulgence which parodies love as flippancy parodies merriment.
You have never talked to a mere mortal. It is immortals who we deal with every day. Immortal horrors or everlasting splendours.
3. That said, rest in the sovereignty of God in evangelism. It is not our duty to bring the whole world to Christ. There is no power in us to effect that. Only God can bring about a change of heart.
4. Finally, there is a way in which we hate sin but love the sinner, or as Lewis phrased it, “our charity must be real and costly love, with deep feeling for the sins in spite of which we love the sinners – no mere tolerance, or indulgence which parodies love as flippancy parodies merriment.”
We hate the sin in two ways. We hate the sin because it has deceived the sinner, and they are headed for eternal destruction. We hate the miseries of sin. We hate the deception of the devil. We hate the corruption of the flesh. We hate passionately, so that we will not be seduced ourselves by sinful desires, so much so that if an eye causes us to sin, we should gouge it, for it is better to enter heaven with one eye than to enter hell.
We also hate sin because it is an affront to the glory of God. It diminishes the beauty of Christ. It mocks the honour of God. This is why we pray, let your kingdom come, for we should long for the day where Christ will return and put an end to sin once and for all.
But this judgment belongs to Christ. Hate does not imply judgment. Only Christ is righteous enough to judge. This is the crucial difference. We often associate hate with judgment and love with reward. But Christians are to act out hate with mercy. Sounds counter-intuitive. But when we recognise the redeeming power of the cross of Christ, we realise that there is not a sin that can be covered by the blood of Christ. In a sense we hate to hate, and so seize every opportunity to share the path of redemption with the sinner.
So implore like Paul: Be reconciled to God! It is possible! Don’t live in the misery and deception of your sin. Don’t exchange the glory of God for created things any longer. Christ became sin for us, so that in Him we might be the righteousness of God. Repent, and believe. Believe that your righteousness is in heaven. Your life is now hidden in Christ. The kingdom of God is near. And one day, He will return, and we shall be like Him in His resplendent glory.