One of the latest trendy religious thoughts popping up in places like this, is that we should ditch the phrase “love the sinner, hate the sin” from our vocabulary as Christians. Nothing terrible there – it’s a popular Gandhi quote, not a Jesus quote, so we can ditch it if we like…
The idea of ditching it seems to be based on people’s experiences of obnoxious/judgemental/ostracising/unwelcoming/homophobic people who don’t quite seem to know what to do with people who think/act/believe differently from them, except to make sure to be standing in a different part of the room. I have known people like that…I have been like that myself; it’s not very winsome, and not like Jesus at all.
The article rightly points to the problem of Christians obsessing about one particular sin (whatever it is) and jumping up and down about it. But in its reaction against bad experiences of Christians, or the his own struggles with how to think of sinfulness, he seems to be confused about how Jesus talks about sin.
For example, near the top of the piece Micah Murray says that,
“I thought I just needed to try harder. Maybe I needed to focus more on loving the sinner, and less on protesting the sin. Even if I was able to fully live up to that “ideal,” I’d still be wrong. I’d still be viewing him as something other, something different”.
The theory is that to hate a person’s sin is to treat them as an “other” in the way that Jesus never did. The writer makes the bold claim that Jesus “didn’t act like they were sinners. They weren’t a “project,” a “mission field.” They were his friends”…which is to drive a tragic wedge between two interconnected parts of (Jesus) life: having genuine friends and telling them about Jesus (including the bits they might not like the sound of).
Jesus did in fact talk about a group of people as being “other”, and was completely unabashed about the “us and them” of salvation. His mission involved bringing people into the “us” that is his family, and out of the “them” of lostness due to sin. When Jesus said, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near” (Matthew 4:17) it was because people needed to repent.
When he talked about God saying “I never knew you” to people who claimed to know him, Jesus was being VERY ‘us and them’ (Matthew 25). When he told a prostitute to “go and sin no more”, he did not as the author claims “affirm[ed] that sin is not her deepest identity”, but told her to…well…sin no more, while showing people clearly that people lost in their sin are to be lovingly confronted, not judgementally avoided or persecuted.
The author seems so afraid of characterising people as something that might upset them, or being judgemental himself, that his column loses the central part of Jesus’ mission, which was not to make people feel better or avoid upsetting them, but to save them from death and rescue them from the consequences of their own sinfulness.
Murray also appears to make no real distinction between sins that people who have never repented continue to refuse to repent of, and sins that we as Christians still struggle with. He quotes Romans 8:1, where Paul the Apostle says that, “there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” [italics mine], whilst skipping the importance of being in Christ Jesus, i.e. a new creation and not just a creation.
Go ahead, ditch Gandhi’s quote, but when we’re thinking about sin, the best thing we can do for people is to be like Jesus and lovingly hate their sin, not pretend it doesn’t exist.
I HATE other people’s sin. Although not, I hope, as much as I hate my own.
I HATE sin because it comes between people and God.
I HATE sin because it’s ruined the world.
I HATE sin because it means eternal death.
I HATE sin because Jesus does.
I LOVE sinners because God made them – i.e. everyone – in his own image.
I LOVE sinners because Christ died to reconcile them – including me – to God.
I LOVE sinners because Jesus does.