Our modern cliche holds that Christians should “love the sinner, but hate the sin”. A homosexual columnist for SMU’s student newspaper once referred to that as “the most condescending phrase in the English language” and I think he’s right. It’s condescending and conjures up images of parents explaining to their wayward children “I’m not ashamed of _you_, but of what you did.”
It’s also unbiblical, at least in the way it’s usually used. There is a sense in which we love the sinner and hate the sin. But there is _also_ a sense in which we are to _hate_ the sinner _because of_ his sins. Just like God does.
The modern notions of how we evangelize the world goes something like this: Be really super nice to them. Have a bubbly personality. And when you pray or sing, look like you really mean it. But above all, be nice.
There is no room in today’s Christianity for using the language of us vs. them, or of warfare. Those things are so terribly confrontational and divisive. I mean, we’re _salt_ which means (even though Jesus didn’t say it, we just _know_ that’s what He meant) that we’re supposed to get all mixed in, down and dirty, and be really nice and bubbly. Forget that idea of light and darkness not coexisting. That’s so last century. If you treat people as children of Satan, how could you ever hope to earn the right to tell them your story? If you cook enough brownies for the neighbors, and are just nice enough to homosexual drug addicts, or pass out enough hot chocolate to prostitutes, well, you’ll be sure to win _somebody_ to Christ.
But what does the Bible say? Are we supposed to love sinners or hate them? And how have godly men of years gone by understood it?
Psalm 139:21-22 Do I not hate those who hate You, O LORD? And do I not loathe those who rise up against You? I hate them with the utmost hatred; They have become my enemies.
Matthew Henry: Sin is hated, and sinners lamented, by all who fear the Lord. Yet while we shun them we should pray for them; with God their conversion and salvation are possible.
John Gill: Wicked men are haters of God; of his word, both law and Gospel; of his ordinances, ways, and worship; of his people, cause, and interest; and therefore good men hate them: not as men, as the creatures of God, and as their fellow creatures, whom they are taught by the Gospel to love, to do good unto, and pray for; but as haters of God, and because they are so; not their persons, but their works
Charles Spurgeon: As we delight to have the holy God always near us, so would we eagerly desire to have wicked men removed as far as possible from us. We tremble in the society of the ungodly lest their doom should fall upon them suddenly, and we should see them lie dead at our feet. We do not wish to have our place of intercourse turned into gallows of execution, therefore let the condemned be removed out of our company. … To love all men with benevolence is our duty; but to love any wicked man with complacency would be a crime. To hate a man for his own sake, or for any evil done to us, would be wrong; but to hate a man because he is the foe of all goodness and the enemy of all righteousness, is nothing more nor less than an obligation. The more we love God the more indignant shall we grow with those who refuse him their affection. … We pull up the drawbridge and man the walls when a man of Belial goes by our castle. His character is a casus belli; we cannot do otherwise than contend with those who contend with God.
Psalm 15:1, 4 [W]ho shall abide in thy tabernacle? who shall dwell in thy holy hill? … [He] in whose eyes a vile person is contemned
John Gill: as they are an abomination to God, they should be despised by his people
Matthew Henry: Wicked people are vile people, worthless and good for nothing (so the word signifies), as dross, as chaff, and as salt that has lost its savour. … For this wise and good men contemn them … in their judgment of them, agreeing with the word of God. … God despises them, and they are of his mind.
Should we love sinners? Absolutely. We should love them as creatures made in the image of God. We should treat them benevolently, and “while we have opportunity, let us do good to all people” (Galatians 6:10). If a person is in need, and I can help him, I should do so without any regard for his spiritual condition. I should care for a wanton homosexual pedophile dying of AIDS, as one made in the image of God. If my neighbors are in need, it hardly matters whether they are married.
And I should also pray and work for their conversion. This is our duty as Christians, to spread the gospel according to however God has gifted me. We are not all called to be evangelists in the formal sense, but we are all called to at least live our lives in such a way that people will see our good works and glorify God. We have a duty to God and a duty to men to spread the gospel. We cannot be said to love our neighbor as ourself if we do not preach the gospel to them.
Should we hate sinners? Yes. We should hate them as sinners. We should not feel malice towards them, as in wanting bad things to happen to them. But we should agree with _God’s_ judgment of them, and despise them. We should shun them, and avoid all unnecessary involvement with them. We should oppose them because they serve Satan. We should work against them as they work to advance Satan’s evil plans and his kingdom.
There was a post on worldmagblog a while back regarding the “Rally for Marriage” or whatever it was. The gist of the post was that instead of rallying, we should be out hugging homosexuals and being really nice, just like Jesus was so nice to prostitutes. We should show them how much we love them, instead of how much we oppose them.
But this approach is not consistent with Christ’s ministry. He was not hateful to anyone, but He was not about the business of just being really nice. Yes, He dined with tax collectors, prostitutes, and sinners. But He always approached them with the message of repentance and reconciliation. To my knowledge, Jesus never “accepted” anyone who did not accept Him. He drove them away through hard teaching and cryptic parables. He was all about separating wheat from chaff, not being nice to chaff in the hopes that it would see how much better it would be to turn into wheat. (Judas is an exception since Jesus kept him around, but I think he is a special case.)
Christ even gave explicit directions to His disciples when He sent them as missionaries in Israel. If they were not accepted in a town, they were to shake the dust from their feet _as a judgment against the town_, and move on. This was not a matter of the best use of resources; shaking the dust from their feet was a testimony against the town. It would result in judgment. They weren’t called to stay and build bridges and engage cultures or be really nice. Preach the gospel, and respond based on how the people responded.
And “love the sinner, hate the sin” is not how God does or will deal with people. John 3:36 says “he that believeth not the Son shall not see life; but the wrath of God abideth on him.” (emphasis added). God’s wrath abides on the _sinner_, because of his sins. God hates the sinner because of his sinfulness. He does not merely hate the sins. He hates the sinner’s sinfulness. There is nothing loving about wrath abiding on someone.
And you know, Christians instinctively do this. We have no desire to be around malicious, evil people. None of us would be friends with rapists or robbers. We instinctively know there is something more vile about homosexuality than about fornication, and we react differently to those sins. But what happens is that we sometimes lose our perspective of how awful various sins are. We treat them as less vile than they are. We don’t think homosexuality, greed, adultery, etc., are nearly as sinful as theft or even drug abuse. We would not befriend a serial shoplifter. But a Sodomite, now that’s a different story. An unfaithful spouse is not, in our mind, nearly as bad as someone who sells cocaine. I mean, a sin is a sin is a sin – as long as we’re talking about certain sins. Robbery, though, is just a really bad sin. Much worse than sexual perversion. Or at least, that’s what you’d think based on how Christians treat it.
This unbiblical perspective on the awfulness of sin (and probably a corresponding unbiblical perspective on the holiness of God) also explains the church’s schizophrenic and hypocritical reaction to various sins. It is why we think it is good to befriend a homosexual, but rally against gay marriage. It’s why we would welcome a homosexual into our homes, but not an unrepentant embezzler. It’s why we’ll watch some movies and TV shows and read some books that depict certain sins, but not others. It’s why we think Will and Grace is somehow much worse than Friends. And why we’ll be friends with Will, but not watch a TV show about him.
If we had a consistent, Biblical, clear view of sin – if we treated sins as the affronts to God that they are – then I think we would naturally react consistently and approriately to sinners. We would hate them _as sinners_ with a perfect hatred, and be consistent. And we would love them with a perfect love, _as people_.
This is not about holy huddles, although our huddles should be holy. It’s not about monasticism or trying to escape the world. That is impractical and undesirable. It’s about _separation_, not _withdrawal_. It’s a Biblical mandate to a holy hatred of sinners as sinners, not a malicious and self righteous denigration of sinners as people. Holiness, not self righteousness. Agreeing with God’s judgment of them, not making our own judgments.
Now whatever you might think of me, you still have to deal with the scriptures I quoted and alluded to. And you also have to deal with the men I quoted. You can’t just de-link and ignore Matthew Henry, John Gill, or Charles Spurgeon. I might be an unspiritual backslidden Pharisaical hypocrite, but I doubt those men are. Your theology must make room for some type of hating and despising the unregenerate. And it must take into account the historical Christian understanding of the relationship between the children of God and the children of Satan. Saints and sinners are _enemies_ in many important senses, and it is no less than treason to treat the enemy as a friend.
Update: Perhaps it would be better to say we should hate the _character_ or _sinfulness_ of sinners. This is far more than merely “what they do”, but is very different than hating them as persons.
An analogy might be helpful. In a war, it would be evil to hate the enemy as individuals, somehow taking perverse pleasure in killing the enemy. But surely dropping bombs and shooting must be understood as some variation of hatred. You’re not blinking back tears with each trigger pull and weeping over every bad guy you kill. You hate and kill them _because they are evil_ and are fighting for an evil cause.