Love must be sincere. Hate what is evil; cling to what is good.Romans 12:9
The other day I saw a meme that had the phrase, “Love the sinner; hate the sin.” But it had a line through the all the words except the first one – love. So it looked like this: “Love
the sinner; hate the sin.” At first I liked the intention behind the meme. The idea here is not to judge others for their sin and simply love them as God loves them. And I really like that.
But the more I looked at it the more I could see that, though this meme was well intentioned, it was missing an important truth from scripture. The Bible teaches us that in order to love people well, in order for love to be sincere, in order for us to love what God loves and the way God loves, we must also hate what He hates.
Some people think God doesn’t hate anything, but they probably haven’t read much of the Bible. God hates evil. And sin is a form of evil enacted by people. The reason God hates evil and sin is because sin dehumanizes the person sinning and the person being sinned against. Sin reduces the beauty and purpose of God’s good creation and it separates us from intimacy with God. Sin gives the enemy permission and access to wreak havoc in our lives and in the lives of others.
There is a reason the apostle Paul wrote Romans 12:9 to the early Christians in Rome. He knew loving well–in other words loving people the way God loved people–was connected to hating what God hates. God loves people perfectly and, because of that love, He hates the sin that damages their lives. He hates evil in all its forms.
In order to love the human trafficker well, I must hate human trafficking. Otherwise, I simply enable evil in the world. In order to love the drug addict well, I must hate addiction. With people promoting racism, in order to love them well, I must hate racism. With people promoting various perversions of human sexuality, in order to love them well, I must hate sexual perversion. With people promoting the killing of the unborn, in order to love them well, I must hate murder in all its forms.
In Romans 12:9 I believe Paul was expanding on a passage from the prophet Amos:
Seek good, not evil,Amos 5:14-15
that you may live.
Then the Lord God Almighty will be with you,
just as you say he is.
Hate evil, love good;
maintain justice in the courts.
The problem that most of us have with trying to live out the phrase “Love the sinner; hate the sin” is that we struggle to hold the tension of the dichotomy. If we don’t mind a person’s sin that much, we have an easier time loving them. Or, if we hate the sin someone is participating in, we struggle to see the person as more than their sin and then struggle to love them completely. We struggle to separate the identity of a person from their sin long enough to love them and hate the evil they participate in. We so often lump a person in with their sin as if they are the same thing. They’re not.
Loving the sinner while hating the sin is so difficult that it is impossible to do unless we are supernaturally empowered by the love of God. Human love is not strong enough to hold this tension. Human love will make excuses for the sin or enable the sin as an attempt to love the person. Or, human love will hate was is evil and condemn the person sinning. Human love, thinking it is advocating against injustice, will simply heap guilt and shame on the sinner. Only the love of God can rightly love the sinner and hate the sin. And we cannot even attempt to love what is good and hate was is evil without the love of God flowing through us.
Jesus is our perfect example. He said to the woman caught in adultery, “Then neither do I condemn you,” Jesus declared. “Go now and leave your life of sin“(John 8:11). No condemnation combined with the call to leave a life of sin. Perfect love and acceptance combined with a challenge to holiness. Love for the sinner while hating the sin that was destroying her life.
“Love the sinner; hate the sin.” If you cross out any words you unintentionally cross them all out.