Categories: Christian Living

Is ‘hate the sin, but not the sinner’ actually biblical?

A principle of Christian living that has really stuck with me goes like this: one of our biggest fears should be to hear a message from God’s word and not figure out what he wants each of us to personally do with it.  The idea is that the Bible provides us with beliefs that we need to actually apply to our lives in order to show that we actually believe them.  The idea is also that if we hear a message from God’s word and simply take it as something that was nice to hear, then we will be more apt to do the same exact thing the next time we hear one, and before long we are sitting in a pew every Sunday as a consumer instead of a follower.

Ask yourself right now, do I listen to sermons and study God’s word in order to actually do what it says?  When is the last time you did that?  If it’s been a while then break out of the spiritual fog and start fresh.  God is waiting.

I think it’s very easy for us to read something, or hear something, and think it sounds nice, but we don’t even really take the time to stop and consider what it is actually asking of us.  I’m currently reading a book that I literally can’t recommend enough, Mere Christianity, by C.S. Lewis.  The entire mission of the book is to plainly explain what the Bible practically means and is asking us to do.  Page after page I find myself running out of highlighter ink, and hearing messages from God’s word that I’ve never thought about as in depth as Mr. Staples is breaking it down for me.  I’m only halfway through and it’s already in my top 5 books ever read.

He covers a ton of topics, but the ‘Forgiveness’ chapter has particularly gotten my attention by simply providing an analysis of what it means to love thy neighbor as thyself.  I hope you find this excerpt as refreshing as I have:

“…we might try to understand exactly what loving your neighbour as yourself means.  I have to love him as I love myself.  Well, how exactly do I love myself?

Now that I come to think of it, I have not exactly got a feeling of fondness or affection for myself, and I do not even always enjoy my own society.  So apparently ‘Love your neighbour’ does not mean ‘feel fond of him’ or ‘find him attractive’.  I ought to have seen that before, because, of course, you cannot feel fond of a person by trying.  Do I think well of myself, think myself a nice chap?  Well, I am afraid I sometimes do (and those are , no doubt, my worst moments) but that is not why I love myself.  In fact it is the other way round: my self-love makes me think myself nice, but thinking myself nice is not why I love myself.  So loving my enemies does not apparently mean thinking them nice either.  That is an enormous relief.  For a good many people imagine that forgiving you enemies means making out that they are really not bad fellows after all, when it is quite plain that they are.  Go a step further.  In my most clear-sighted moments not only do I not think myself a nice man, but I know that I am a very nasty one.  I can look at some of the things I have done with horror and loathing.  So apparently I am allowed to loathe and hate some of the things my enemies do.  Now that I come to think of it, I remember Christian teachers telling me long ago that I must hate a bad man’s actions, but not hate the bad man: or, as they would say, hate the sin but not the sinner.

For a long time I used to think this a silly, straw-splitting distinction: how could you hate what a man did and not hate the man?  But years later it occurred to me that there was one man to whom I had been doing this all my life–namely myself.  However much I might dislike my own cowardice or conceit or greed, I went on loving myself.  There had never been the slightest difficulty about it.  In fact the very reason why I hated the things was that I loved the man.  Just because I loved myself, I was sorry to find that I was the sort of man who did those things.  Consequently, Christianity does not want us to reduce by one atom the hatred we feel for cruelty and treachery.  We ought to hate them.  Not one word of what we have said about them needs to be unsaid.  But it does want us to hate them in the same way in which we hate things in ourselves: being sorry that the man should have done such things, and hoping, if it is anyway possible, that somehow, sometime, somewhere he can be cured and made human again.”

So there you have it.  In your worst moment think of how you were able to forgive yourself, and understand everyone around you deserves the same.  By doing so is perhaps the most powerful witness of our God’s grace.

Be blessed,

Nathan