Is it really possible to “love the sinner but hate the sin?” It was probably St Augustin who first coined this phrase when writing, in parenthesis, to a few nuns: “Cum dilectione hominum et odio vitiorum,” which translates roughly to, “With love for mankind and hatred of sins.”
Is it possible to separate the actual person from their sin? In our righteous anger at sin, are we not in danger of becoming people haters as well? D.H Lawrence in his short story, Daughters of the Vicar, gives a vivid description of a minister’s decline into such hatred.
“At last, passing from indignation to silent resentment, even, if he dared have acknowledged it, to conscious hatred of the majority of his flock, and unconscious hatred of himself, he confined his activities to a narrow round of cottages, and he had to submit. He had no particular character, having always depended on his position in society to give him position among men. Now he was so poor, he had no social standing even among the common vulgar tradespeople of the district, and he had not the nature nor the wish to make his society agreeable to them, nor the strength to impose himself where he would have liked to be recognised. He dragged on, pale and miserable and neutral.”
Perhaps one of the keys here lies in the “unconscious” self-hatred. The apostle Paul, writing in Romans 7, didn’t seem to see “sin” as a separate entity out there somewhere, but as an intimate indwelling part of his very make up.
“Now if I do what I do not want to do, it is no longer I who do it, but it is sin living in me that does it.”
He hated himself for it!
“For what I want to do, I do not do, but what I hate I do…What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death?”
You don’t throw a stone at a person who wants to be rescued. You throw a life line!
There are only two types of people in the world – man and woman, gay and straight, black and white, rich and poor, good and bad? No…the answer is found in 2 Corinthians 2:15:
“For we are to God the aroma of Christ among those who are being saved and those who are perishing.”
Those who are “being saved” from the sin and hate, and those who “are perishing.”
We desperately need a Saviour – and like St Paul we can cry, “Thanks be to God – through Jesus Christ our Lord!”
The ultimate fragrance of salvation and forgiveness of sins was released from the crucified body of Christ as His blood paid the full price for all of mankind’s sin. God’s absolute hatred for sin fell on the sinless innocence of Christ.
We can be rescued by faith in Jesus!
“This is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance(and for this we labour and strive), that we have put our hope in the living God, who is the Saviour of all men, and especially of those who believe.” 1Timothy 4:9-10
“But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” Romans 5:8
The lifeline of Jesus is available to a perishing world.
There is a beautiful story of Jesus’ encounter in the gospel of John 8:1-11 with a woman caught in adultery.
The religious establishment is poised to stone the sin – and no doubt the woman along with it! Jesus exposes their own need to be free from sin, “If any one of you is without sin, let him be the first to throw a stone at her,” and the stones are quietly dropped.
He alone has the right to throw, but he extends stone less hands of embrace to the broken lady. She looks up with a brow used to habitual beatings from men and is astonished to meet the forgiving gaze of Christ’s love. “Neither do I condemn you.”
She feels his strong supporting hand pull her gently to her feet, a pure masculine touch that is all give and no take. For once in her life she finds acceptance and grace. She can learn to live again.
Having manifested the surpassing power of his love, He speaks the word of truth over her negative lifestyle.
“Go now and leave your life of sin.”
Having encountered Jesus, that must have been the one piece of advice she really wanted to take!
This is the position the church, the Body of Christ, must take up to reach out to the perishing and broken. Put your stones and hate on the back burner and liberate the perfume of Christ’s grace and forgiveness through the Gospel message.
And with all the love shed abroad, don’t forget the essential advice to turn away from sin and live close to Christ.
So, immensely love the sinner, and create a discipling context for the turning away from sin.
I’ve added a video to finish which is a bit of a mixture of many Biblical passages but which sums up the essence of Christ’s forgiveness.