Could you please explain the phrase, “Love the sinner, hate the sin”?

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Where did this phrase come from as it cannot be found in the Bible in those words? The catholic.com website gives this answer: “It’s from St. Augustine. His Letter 211 (c. 424) contains the phrase Cum dilectione hominum et odio vitiorum, which translates roughly to ‘With love for mankind and hatred of sins.’ The phrase has become more famous as ‘love the sinner but hate the sin’ or ‘hate the sin and not the sinner’ (the latter form appearing in Mohandas Gandhi’s 1929 autobiography).”

There are those who see themselves as Christians but can’t accept the phrase, “Love the sinner but hate the sin.”   One such newspaper writer wrote: “There is no condemnation for those who are in Jesus.  To look at my gay Christian brother and say ‘God loves the sinner’ is to set myself against Jesus and bring condemnation again to those he’s already redeemed.  So I’m done.  I’m done with ‘Love the sinner but hate the sin.’ I’m done with speaking as if I’m different, better than you.  We are children of the Creator, redeemed by Jesus.  We are brothers and sisters.   And today, that’s enough.”

This is a complete misunderstanding of the phrase.   True Christians are not to take a superior attitude to anyone else but they do have to accept that sin is that which we must avoid and overcome.   After all, in Matthew 6:12 which is part of the model prayer, we read that we are to pray to “forgive us our debts (sins) as we forgive our debtors (sins).”  The antipathy displayed in the previous paragraph may be because it is erroneously believed that all you have to do is give your heart to the Lord and that you can still live and practice that which you did previously without having to change anything.

It seems that acceptance of any lifestyle is a must in today’s perverse and perverted society and it appears that many of those who espouse Christianity can fall into that trap.   We can’t say anything about how wrong many sexual sins are because, in so many minds, any lifestyle is acceptable and all you have to do is “believe in the Lord,” but the Bible makes it very plain that that is simply just not so!

One minister, a homosexual, wrote the following:

“As an openly-gay Christian theologian and minister, I believe that the slogan of ‘Love the sinner, hate the sin,’ no matter how well-intentioned, is theologically unsound. Not only is this an unbiblical concept, but it is also not workable in practice. In fact, when it comes to LGBT sexualities and gender identities, I contend that this slogan is actually a modern-day version of gnosticism, which was condemned as heretical by early Church theologians such as Irenaeus in the second century.”   It would seem that we are becoming more and more interested in the idea of acceptance of any lifestyles, and without any boundaries.

We address these gender designations referred to in the paragraph above, in our booklet God’s Teachings on Sexual Relationships,” showing how ungodly they are. The Bible is very clear on these matters and the true Church of God today is not afraid to relate the full Truth from Scripture.   It appears that many today are becoming more and more interested in the idea of acceptance by others irrespective of their lifestyle and different sexual proclivities.   Nevertheless, Christians are to still love the person (we were all sinners before we became converted, and even now, we still sin from time to time), but they must hate the sin as God hates sin which separates us from God (compare Isaiah 59:2).

We can see from what has already been quoted above that on the one hand, there are those who feel that such a phrase deflects the individual’s responsibility and accountability for their sins, and on the other hand, there are those who accept the individual irrespective of their sins complete with wrong lifestyles if that should be necessary.

This phrase is also used when explaining that a person’s lifestyle is not compatible with the standards that God sets out in His Word.   For example, in society today, the word “homophobic” is used for anyone who doesn’t agree with such behaviour.  The Bible confirms that such behaviour is not in accordance with God’s required standard for people.  In our booklet God’s Teachings on Sexual Relationships,  we state the following on page 95:

“Before covering the controversial issue of homosexuality, we feel it is necessary to state our position, as anyone who opposes this behavior is commonly thought to be a homophobe or homophobic. This term is casually used against anyone who has the audacity to question the morality of such behavior, especially when asserting it to be sin, which homosexual lobbyists often refer to as hate speech.

“This argument is invalid, as people on both sides of the argument must be allowed to agree or disagree about homosexuality in a free and fair society. To assert that homosexual behavior is a sin is simply stating a biblical fact, and Christians who live by the Word of God are simply stating what God’s Word clearly reveals. There should be no hate for the individual concerned, just sadness at their way of life.”

One of the problems associated with the phrase “love the sinner, hate the sin” is that it may be felt that hating the sin can spill over into also meaning hate towards the individual.   In some cases that may be true but it must not reflect the behaviour of a true Christian.   We see, in the UK, that saying that homosexuality is wrong can be taken as a hate crime which it is not, but a fact taken from the Word of God.   God’s teaching on the matter is subordinated to UK law which means that God’s Word must take second place.   That is a very dangerous approach that society takes and does so at its own very great risk.  We should love the sinner because we all sin, but hate the sin(s), and God’s Way must be paramount in a Christian’s life irrespective of any human-made laws which may conflict with God’s Word.

If we don’t hate the sin (whatever it is) and we take a more “accepting” attitude towards it, such as “live and let live,” then we are in grave danger of becoming indifferent to that which could well keep us out of the Kingdom of God.   God hates sin and we must also do likewise.

The Bible can so often be misrepresented so as to reflect what someone would like it to say, rather than what it actually says.

So, what is the biblical truth of the matter?   It is, quite simply, to look at how sin and love are defined in the pages of the Bible.

1 John 3:4 states about sin in the Authorized Version: “Whosoever committeth sin transgresseth also the law: for sin is the transgression of the law.” The New King James Bible says: “Whoever commits sin also commits lawlessness, and sin is lawlessness.”

In Scripture, we read about how sin separates us from God (please see our new free booklet, God the Father Is the Highest), and here are just a few of those many verses:

In Isaiah 59:2, we read: “But your iniquities have separated you from your God; And your sins have hidden His face from you, So that He will not hear.”

Romans 6:16 states: “Do you not know that to whom you present yourselves slaves to obey, you are that one’s slaves whom you obey, whether of sin leading to death, or of obedience leading to righteousness?”

Romans 6:23 reads:  “For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

As one writer observed: “God is the source of all life, and He will extend that life eternally to all who believe.  Sin is a barrier to our reception of life, and that is one reason why God hates it.” Of course, we hasten to add that the concept of “believe” or “faith” must be understood correctly. The Bible requires “obedient” faith—faith which is obedient to God and His Law (see Romans 1:5; 16:26).

In Matthew 5:43-48, the sub-heading in the New King James Bible is “Love Your Enemies.” We read:

“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven; for He makes His sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust.  For if you love those who love you, what reward have you? Do not even the tax collectors do the same?   And if you greet your brethren only, what do you do more than others? Do not even the tax collectors do so?  Therefore you shall be perfect, just as your Father in heaven is perfect.”

We should realise that we, too, were sinners before our conversion, and we still sin from time to time, but we have been called out of this world by God and are, therefore, set apart by our calling.   We must hate it when we ourselves sin, and we must ask God for forgiveness.   Those who sin willfully—knowing better but refusing to repent and change—do so to their own hurt by not making it into the Kingdom of God.

There are so many verses about love that could be quoted, but the following gives a flavour of what love is.

Leviticus 19:18 says: “You shall not take vengeance, nor bear any grudge against the children of your people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself: I am the Lord.”

Leviticus 19:33-34 reads: “And if a stranger dwells with you in your land, you shall not mistreat him.  The stranger who dwells among you shall be to you as one born among you, and you shall love him as yourself; for you were strangers in the land of Egypt: I am the Lord your God.”

Matthew 19:19 says this in respect of commandments to keep: “‘Honor your father and your mother,’ and, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’”

Matthew 22:36-40 relates the conversation between a Pharisee and Jesus, when the Pharisee came to ask Jesus the following: “‘Teacher, which is the great commandment in the law?’ Jesus said to him, ‘“You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.”  This is the first and great commandment.  And the second is like it: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”  On these two commandments hang all the Law and the Prophets.’”

John 13:34-35 states: “ A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another; as I have loved you, that you also love one another. By this all will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.” Please note in this context that the semicolon added in the first part of the above-quoted phrase is terribly wrong. Instead, the phrase should read: “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another as I have loved you, that you also love one another.”

While the above is about, primarily, love for brethren in the Church, we should certainly have love for those outside the Church.   Mr. Herbert W Armstrong, the late Pastor-General of the now defunct Worldwide Church of God, used to define love as “an outgoing concern for the good and welfare of others.”   That love does not end if the other person has a lifestyle and way of life that is incompatible with the true Christian Way of Life.   We should want the very best for them and hope and pray that they will turn, one day, from their chosen lifestyle to God’s Way of Life.

James 2:8 says: “If you really fulfill the royal law according to the Scripture, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself,’ you do well…”

Also, the “love chapter” of 1 Corinthians 13 is one that makes great reading.

In God’s second appearance to Solomon, He said: “…if My people who are called by My name will humble themselves, and pray and seek My face, and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin and heal their land” (2 Chronicles 7:14). While that applied to ancient Israel thousands of years ago, the same principle holds good today.

At the same time, note that God requires repentance. He does not forgive a sinner if he or she refuses to repent. But this does not negate His love for him or her, as we will continue to explain below.

Two references in the book of Romans show that loving the sinner and hating the sin is what we are to do, naysayers notwithstanding.   Regarding naysayers, one writer put it this way: “The counter-narrative that they come up with – in the face of the best air-tight case – can boggle the brightest of minds!”  These two references from the Word of God are an air-tight case, and are as follows:

Romans 13:9 says: “For the commandments, ‘You shall not commit adultery,’ ‘You shall not murder,’ ‘You shall not steal,’ ‘You shall not bear false witness,’ ‘You shall not covet,’ and if there is any other commandment, are all summed up in this saying, namely, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’”

Romans 12:9, with a sub-heading in the New King James Bible, “Behave Like a Christian,” reads as follows: “Let love be without hypocrisy. Abhor what is evil. Cling to what is good.”  The problem in society today is that evil has, in many cases, become normal.

Loving the sinner does not mean, however, that we love or approve of his lifestyle. This includes, not even giving the appearance of accepting or not rejecting his lifestyle. It also does not mean that we “forgive” an unrepentant sinner for his sinful conduct towards us. For a detailed explanation, please see our Q&A, titled, “You teach that God does not forgive us our sins if we refuse to repent. Does this mean that God does not require us to forgive those that sin against us if they refuse to repent?” https://www.eternalgod.org/question-and-answer-221/

In that Q&A, we stated:

“We should always have a forgiving attitude and a willingness to immediately forgive upon repentance, as this can be the start of any reconciliation process. We must never develop and harbor grudges against another person (Leviticus 19:18). We must hate the sin, but we must never hate the sinner. If we begin to hate the sinner, and develop resentment against the sinner, then we may find ourselves in a position where we might not be able to forgive the sinner, when he or she does repent and/or when his or her repentance comes to our attention.

“Further, harboring grudges against someone is not spiritually or physically healthy for ourselves. It can deprive us of the inner peace and joy of God which we are supposed to have (compare John 14:27; 15:11; 16:24; Colossians 3:15). God is always willing and ready to forgive, and so must we. It has been correctly said that we must do everything we can to establish peace (Matthew 5:9; Romans 12:18; 14:19; Hebrews 12:14; 1 Peter 3:11); and to help a person to repent, realizing at the same time that repentance is a gift from God (Romans 2:4).”

Later in the Q&A, we wrote:

“Although God does not forgive a sinner without his repentance, He still loves him. In fact, we read that God loved the WORLD (when they were all unrepentant sinners) so much that He gave His only-begotten Son so that everyone who BELIEVES in Him (having come to repentance and having accepted the Sacrifice of Christ for payment of his or her sins) does not have to perish, but can have everlasting life (John 3:16). Although God does not forgive SIN without repentance, He still LOVES the sinner.”

We strongly recommend that you read that Q&A in its entirety, as it discusses many more aspects regarding love, repentance and forgiveness.

In conclusion, the answer to our question in this Q&A is simple.   We are to love our fellow man as the second great commandment is to love our neighbour as ourselves (compare Matthew 22:39), but we are to hate sin committed by others (and ourselves).   God hates sin, as we read in Psalm 5:4: “For You are not a God who takes pleasure in wickedness, Nor shall evil dwell with You,” and we are to become perfect as our Father in heaven is perfect.

It may not be easy at times but it is something that we must do – that is to love the sinner but hate the sin!

Lead Writers: Brian Gale (United Kingdom) and Norbert Link

©2023 Church of the Eternal God