Church and Culture – Hate the Sin, Love the Sinner?

I know you’ve heard the phrase before.  You’ve probably even said it someone.  I used to say it all the time.

“Hate the sin.  Love the sinner.” 

Ewww…I shutter a little just typing it. 

Brace yourself. 

Here it comes again.

“Hate the sin and love the sinner.”

Here is the problem.  Earlier we accepted Niebhur’s definition of culture:  “…the artificial, secondary environment which man superimposes on the natural.  It comprises language, habits, ideas, beliefs, customs, social organization, inherited artifacts, technical processes, and values.”

And then we looked at how the key to sharing Jesus’ love with people is to fall so deeply in love with them that it is joy to join them in their culture.  We also looked at how Paul described doing this in 1st Corinthians 13.

Next we talked about how our love for people and how our ability to enter different cultures is made possible by our non-judgemental acceptance and love of others.

If we accept all that as true then the phrase, “Love the sinner, hate the sin” has no place in our vocabulary.

The problem with the phrase is that it puts us in the judge’s seat.  It demands that we look at the cultures we are a part of and we decide what about them are good and bad for others. 

Is that habit sinful?  Is that language?  Is that attitude?  Is it a sin to drink that, eat that, live that way?  What about _______ idea?  Or what about _______ idea? 

Suddenly, instead of embracing others we find ourselves wagging our fingers.  No longer are we defined by love.  Instead we are defined by what about the culture we live in we don’t like…and suddenly we are no longer a member of the culture and have disconnected ourselves from the people we are trying to embrace. 

In seminary I had an amazing professor named Jimmy Dorrell.  In addition to teaching at Truett, Jimmy also led “the Church Under the Bridge.”  It was a church primarily made up of homeless people who met under a highway over pass.   Once Jimmy told us a story about an intern he had who complained about the congregation smoking.  The intern came to Jimmy and asked him why he didn’t try to put a stop to it from the stage.  Jimmy’s reply to the intern has stuck with and shaped my ministry.

Jimmy said, “It is not my job to convict of sin.  That’s the Holy Spirit’s job.  My job is to love.”

I would like to replace, “Hate the sin and love the sinner” with “Don’t try to do the Holy Spirit’s job.”

If that is too complicated we could simply use Jesus’ phrase, “Don’t judge.”

If our salvation is a gift of grace, not based on our works; and if we do not near to fear being infected by the sin of others but can embrace them fully as Jesus did (see the previous post in this series) then let’s avoid the judge’s seat at all costs.

What we need to do is what Paul did and flip the conversation.  Instead of talking about what is “right” and what is “sinful,” let’s instead embrace 1st Corinthians.

“All things are lawful for me, but not all things are profitable.  All things are lawful for me, but I will not be mastered by anything.”  1st Cor. 6:12.

“Therefore, if food causes my brother to stumble I will never eat meat again, so that I will not cause my brother to stumble.”  1st Cor. 8:13

“All things are lawful, but now all things are profitable.  All things are lawful, but not all things edify.  Let no one seek his own good, but that of his neighbor.”  1st Cor. 10:23-24

Do you see the difference there? 

“Love the sinner and hate the sin” is all about us, and our stance on things, and what we approve of and what we don’t, and what we condone and what we don’t.

Paul is all about the people he is loving.  Does it lead them closer to Christ?   Will this action or that behavior encourage them toward Christ?  This should be our stance on things. 

Does this mean we should have a “what ever you do man is cool with me” approach?


Jesus did battle things in culture.  He did take a stand.  There were two thing He consistently, openly fought against.

1) People who claimed to be followers of God that pushed people away from God with their legalistic, judgemental, “I hate your sin” attitudes.  We won’t jump back into that again right now.

2) Demons (or as Paul called them – the spirits of the age).  Yet even then, Jesus wasn’t a Sam and Dean Super-Natural-esk demon hunter.  When there was a spirit hindering people from coming to Him he did not shy away from taking it on.  Neither should we. 

For example, if we have a friend trapped by the spirit of addiction as an act of love we should not be afraid to say, “Bro, you need to stop.”  If we have a friend worshiping at the altar of materialism, we should not shy away from saying, “There is someone else you can love that will not leave you empty and sad.” 

Recently a young girl came to a friend of mine seeking advice on whether or not she should get an abortion.  My friend’s response was a beautiful example of this non-judgemental approach.  He said, “I’ll take the baby.”  What a beautiful way to confront a darkness in our world with a non-judgemental statement of love.

Jesus’ combating the spirits of the age is a radically different approach than “hate the sinner and love the sin.”  If was are to imitate Him we should not judge other’s for their behavior.  We are instead to lovingly embracing them and seek to bring them healing.  Like Paul’s stance, it is about them.  Not us.

So no more “hate the sin and love the sinner.” 

Be gone wicked phrase.

From now on, “Don’t judge.  Follow the Spirit.  Love wildly.”

Coming next – “What happens when we embrace people in their cultures?” and “Do our current systems of church help or hurt our embracing culture?”

Church and Culture – Hate the Sin, Love the Sinner?

5 thoughts on “Church and Culture – Hate the Sin, Love the Sinner?

  1. I agree…kind of 🙂 I agree that we take a much more prominent role than we should in declaring things sinful, and as a result we declare things to be sin that may or may not be for that person. I think the things that Paul labeled “disputable matters” are a good example.

    However, there definitely seem to be some things that not only should we take a stand on, but that Jesus commands us to take a stand on:

    If your brother sins against you, go and show him his fault, just between the two of you. If he listens to you, you have won your brother over. But if he will not listen, take one or two others along, so that ‘every matter may be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses.’ If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if he refuses to listen even to the church, treat him as you would a pagan or a tax collector.

    At least for me fairly recently, the key in the phrase “judge not” has been the word “judge.” Apparently (from Jesus’ words) there are some things that are clearly sinful and don’t require judgment on our part in order to determine if they’re sinful or not. If someone steals my life savings from me, sleeps with my wife, or molests my child, those are things that I feel confident will always be a sin. That doesn’t take any judgment on my part.

    I would argue that those things are dwarfed by the number of things that do require judgment, though, and that we’re quite likely to get wrong if we even try.

    1. jeffandwendy says:

      Shane – Good point. There are definately some things we should label as “bad” without question. I didn’t account in the post for “insider” interactions (between believers who are on mission together) and for down right evil behavior.

  2. I like that reply, I was going to say something similar. We are called to uphold the word of God and use it to guide us into all truth concerning our lives and the lives of others. We are to hold each other accountable. We are also to lead others into the things of God; sharing His wisdom and love.

    We are also called to hate what is evil. My soul/spirit aches at the things in this world that cause pain and separation from God, and broken relationships. Yet, you are right, I can not convict of sin; that is the Spirit’s job. However, we can point to truth and the wisdom behind it, but then let the Spirit do His job; trusting God’s will is going to be done.

    But you are right, it should not be in a judgmental way. We should approach people with love and sincere brokenness for them. They should be able to tell that we are trying to bring them life and not tear them apart or look down on them. Before Christ, everyone comes from the same place; hurt, brokenness, despair, desperation, loneliness, sorrow, etc and we all deal with things differently and end up following sinful paths. We all need Jesus just the same. We have all been there. We should try to understand their world view and perspective; get to know their heart. And we definitely should build some sort of relationship first.

    If we truly have been saved and are filled with His Spirit, we can’t help but have a heart for His people. When you feel the love of God, you want to give it out. When you feel life, you want to share it. When you experience mercy and grace, you want to others to feel it too. There is no haughtiness towards sinners, there is a brokenness for them. You know the hope that rings true in your life and you want to bring that hope to them. But you love them enough to speak the truth.

    Part of loving someone is telling them the truth. We lead them to Jesus and part of coming to Jesus is repenting of sins. They must know what sin is in order to repent of it. Yet I agree that we can express truth and teach truth without pointing the finger. We share what God says (we uphold only God’s truth, not man’s. The added rules of religion have no place in real ministry) and then they can choose what they want to do with that. They accept it or deny it, agree with it or dispute it. We keep loving them. The Spirit will move that truth through them and lead them to conviction and repentance if and when the Lord wills. We may be used for that and we may not be.

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