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Why “hate the sin, love the sinner” can be dangerous theology

Posted on September 17, 2012 in Articles under by

Member MailbagI hear this term a lot: “hate the sin, but love the sinner” or “hate the crime, but not the criminal.” It sounds like an excuse to hang out with people, while ignoring their sin.

I find it hard to separate the sin from the sinner. I’m not saying I hate people. The analogy I’ve come up with is if someone broke into a home and killed a wife or child. Or maybe a drunk driver slammed into a family and killed a spouse.

I would blame the person and hold him responsible. I would not blame the sin for what happened. Surely the people who say, “Hate the sin, but love the sinner” would want the person in prison.

While I don’t want to ignore my duty to love the sinner and hang out with them like Jesus did, I’m confused. Something does not sound right.

You raise a good and thoughtful question about a phrase that has been tossed around Christianity for a long time. It is one of those bumper sticker statements or fiery pulpit lines that sounds good in the moment, but lacks depth and needs more explanation–hence your question.

Frankly I don’t use the term or give much thought to it. I certainly don’t upload it the way it’s typically played in our culture. It reminds me of the caricatured conservative Christian who is lambasting the gay community. I can hear the Christian yelling, “I hate the sin, but love the sinner,” but never practicalizes God’s love to the sinner, while maintaining a line of separation between him and the sinner.

While I think the intent may be good, it is sloppy theology that can lead a Christian into the pluralistic relativism we so despise in our culture today. This quote–hate the sin, but love the sinner–is a forced juxtaposition of Bible thought that abuses the word love, while obscuring God’s plenary character.

Whenever we take two thoughts like this (hate sin/love sinner) and put them together and try to create a “doctrine” (teaching) out of it, we’re going to create an additional teaching or unnecessary teaching that will mess with our heads, perpetuate Biblical ignorance, and unnecessarily confuse the unregenerate world.

While the goal may be noble–Christians love everybody, the result can be bad–God’s justice, holiness, and wrath will be siphoned from His character. What you will end up with is a god that is amenable to our culture, but unable

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