Things The Church Should Stop Saying

There’s this Christian cliche that has been around for far too long: “Hate the sin, love the sinner.” We use it most often in association with people who do things that we consider to be the most heinous of sins (no, not gluttony or pride – those are far too common). We usually toss it out there when talking about the particular brand of “missing the mark” that offends us the most.

“Oh well, hate the sin, love the sinner,” we say, shrugging our shoulders..

Can we all agree to stop saying that?

Is it even possible to hate a behavior without hating the person attached to it? I get extremely annoyed at the behavior of cutting  in front of me in traffic, and you know what? I end up getting an elevated blood pressure, not at the act, but at the people who do it. I despise the behavior of leaving rude or insensitive or just plain ignorant comments on blogs. But it’s not the act of writing the comment that I end up being angry with. I can’t get ticked at the comment itself – it’s the people who do it that anger me.

Do we hate cheating or adultery or lying in court? I guess. I don’t know. How do you hate a behavior? Do we hate people who cheat others out of their life savings or sleep with our best friend’s spouse or lie in court and get away with it?

That seems much more probable.

I have come to the conclusion that we as humans are not very good at separating what we each consider to be the most polarizing behaviors, from the people who live them out.

* * * * *

People say “hate the sin, love the sinner” as if it’s in the Bible somewhere. Maybe in the Gospels, or one of Paul’s letters? Wasn’t it one of Jesus’ parables?

I think the only variation of this saying that might have come out of Jesus’ mouth was:

“Love the sinner.”

* * * * *

But God hates sin, right? Shouldn’t we hate sin? And love the sinner? It’s kind of the whole God/Jesus paradox that we can’t quite come to terms with: God hates sin; Jesus loves sinners. So shouldn’t we try to do both?

You know how I said earlier that it’s impossible to hate a behavior without also hating the person who is behaving that way? Well, there’s one instance where that’s not entirely true.

With my own children.

They can do stuff that I hate. And yet I never hate them. My kids could do pretty much anything in the entire world and I don’t think I would ever stop loving them.

This is why God can hate sin – because it’s possible for him to do that and still love us, his children.

* * * * *

The church has spent a long time reciting this little ditty about hating sin and loving the sinner, but I’m afraid that many of us have never gotten past the first half of the saying. I think we’ve gotten so good at hating sin, that we decided to just stop there.

Hating sin.

Maybe, just maybe, some of us should start focusing on the second part. Maybe some of us should focus more on just loving.

Loving everyone.

What do you think?

I know that by writing this post I am violating my own request from last year in a post entitled, “Words the Church Should Stop Using: Sin.” But I couldn’t figure out a way around it.

40 Replies to “Things The Church Should Stop Saying”

  1. spot on.

    i do believe we ought to hate sin. and, frankly, that’s why many of our problems exist. we don’t truly hate pornography. we don’t truly despise greed. and so we flirt with evil; we entertain sin.

    i’d suggest — when dealing with others — we begin with shawn’s idea: let’s love the sinner. period.

    and because we do need to learn to abhor sin… let’s practice this when it comes to our own lives. i ought to hate the sin i see in my life. and i can’t really love others like Jesus’ wants until i do.

    [that sounds an awful lot like the splinter in the eye text.]

    1. Good thoughts Brett. Could it be that if we put all of our efforts into truly loving people the way Jesus described, our loathing of sin would be more along the lines of what it should be?

    2. As someone who is constantly living under their own self made guilt system I would vote for learning to love and understand yourself should come first. If we understand why we sin, then maybe we can work towards removing that trigger which makes us sin.

      I just can’t see myself truly loving others until I’ve learned to understand and forgive myself.

      ~just a thought and not a complete one at that.

  2. The other problem with this rhetoric is not the “hate” part but, paradoxically, the “love” part. People do some pretty horrible things to each other and call it “love” (and then this behavior is even romanticized into musical theater — dear Sir Andrew Lloyd Webber: you can take your “music of the night” and, you know).

    1. Good point Gwyn. Our understanding, and ability to practice, perfect love and appropriate hate (once again I call to question our ability as humans to do either one perfectly) is so skewed.

  3. Great post, Shawn! I totally agree. It really is just the Christian way of excusing our hate for the person… “Hate the Sin. Love the sinner. But secretly hate the sinner too.”

  4. Hey Shawn,

    Thanks for such a thought inspiring post. Really awesome.

    I cant help but feel you are totally correct, take the focus away from the sin and focus on the love.
    Doesn’t focusing on sin just lead to judgement and more negativity. If everyone asked the question why is the sin there in the first place then maybe society would function in a far more empathic way?
    People make mistakes, do bad things and generally sin. Isn’t it better to understand why, rather than caring what that actual sin is and judging the person accordingly?


  5. I think what is important is that we develop a relationship with people based out of love before we start to tell them how they are messing up their lives. I don’t think we can ever start to hate sin less or minimize sin, but we have no right to point out sin in others lives if we have no relationship with them. Otherwise it just comes off as judgmental. Once we have a relationship with them, we can lovingly work through our sins together.

  6. I like your sentiment. But maybe it has nothing to do with the words we use (like your post on doing away with the word “sin”). Like, if starbucks taught us anything, it’s that you can use really weird words to describe all sorts of things. The key is: you need to do a great job in defining them and backing them up with your ethos. That’s where the church needs to focus. Switching the words around will do squat.

    1. A good job in defining the words and backing them up – now that sounds like a solid foundation, a good place to start.

      Thanks also for the last two posts you wrote on your blog. The April 1 one was beautiful. The one before that was challenging.

  7. Problems arise when we presume to judge others and feel “led” or “burdened” or “charged” to discern others’ shortcomings and to set others straight. It’s a covering for doing what’s easy (condemning others strange to us) rather than what’s hard (acting upon our shared inheritance). Sure, Evangelical Christianists have created an edifice of Christian Law, which they demand we should all abide by, but their Biblically reticulate legalisms advance righteousness only so far. There’s a point where the peace that passeth understanding needs to guide us.

  8. I’ve been thinking about this topic quite a bit a lately. We say this all the time but when we finally come face to face with it when we watch someone we love “fall”…do we really live it out. It seems easier to “love the sinner”when we see them repentant…when they aren’t we often have a hard time loving them anyway. I’ve been learning that I need to constantly remind myself that we all fall short (my area of struggle is just different) no matter how much we try to justify our actions or point the finger at others. I need God’s grace and I need to extend that grace to others. Easier said than done sometimes. Nice post.

  9. Great Post Shawn. As Christians we need to love others first and then expose the darkness with the light. Isn’t this what Jesus did? The problem is many times we try to expose the darkness of sin with the light of Christ before we love the person. We get the cart before the horse too many times.

  10. It took a little courage to include my name, for fear of being hated for disagreeing! :)

    (Please hate the post, but love the post-er!)

    I love what you said about just loving the person. That is very, very good. The rest “hate the sin” does not need to be said, and can indeed be an excuse for kidding ourselves about not loving someone. You might hate the extremities of the concept, and how wrong some people get it (mostly me in my stupider moments) Yeah I wrote stupider, and I’m here to represent it.

    But while I was reading your post, I was remembering my really close friend Rick Jones, who died of aids. “Pneumonia”, the death certificate said.

    Bullshit. He and I often discussed the real issue. He got aids, he said, by homosexual behavior before someone told him that he could be set free in Christ.

    I held his hand while he breathed his last. I preache dhis funeral through my tears. And my hatred. We looked through his photo albums of him lounging around with Michael Jackson and other Hollywood celebs during his ‘sin’ days, and during the time he got aids. I loved that man and still do. I can’t wait to see him again and dance on the streets of Heaven with him.

    But I hate his sin. With everything within me, I hate it, hate it, hate it. It stole his life from him before he knew how to live it. I want to punch it in the head, then hit it with a baseball bat, cut it in little pieces and spit on every piece.

    Don’t tell me I don’t love him because I hate what killed him. He was my friend and I didn’t see you or any other love-niks there while his 6.5 frame shrunk to 110 pounds of sallow and scary skin, and he begged me to just hold his hands and pray for him while he struggled so hard to breathe.

    And while I am spewing hate, I hate the drug addiction that separated Mike from his boys and made him an abusive, hurtful Dad. I hate it! Or the Ocy addiction that caused Rita to give blow jobs for another stupid pill. I hate it! Freedom House for Men and Freedom House for Women are both full-to-overflowing of people I dearly live and hug daily. I pay their bills, teach them to over come, and encourage them to try again- all acts of intense love. But I hate their sin with a vengeance.

    Worst of all, I hate the stupid, illogical lustful thoughts that sneak up out on the insides of me. If I give into them for 5 minutes, I feel gross and queasy for hours after. I hate them. Worse than that, I hate envy in me, and jealousy.

    So don’t even get me started. If you are not skilled and good at loving the sinner while hating the sin, I doubt if you get out much, around sinners that is.

    I feel some kinda way about all that.

    1. As always Gerry, I appreciate your perspective. I would love to talk with you about this the next time I see you. In the mean time, though, I’m most impacted by what you said toward the end:

      “If you are not skilled and good at loving the sinner while hating the sin, I doubt if you get out much, around sinners that is.”

      That, I think, is the heart of the problem (with me, and with too many people in the church).

      Thanks again for taking the time to comment. You’ve given me much to think about.

      1. Gerry…LOVE LOVE LOVE your post!! I, too, work with former drug addicts whose sin has DESTROYED their lives and them…not to mention the sin of their parents that I hate for robbing my clients of their innocence. LOVE my clients..HATE the sin that has bound them.
        Thanks for sharing! You are a refreshing perspective.

        1. Thanks for chiming in, Jen. I’m sure your daily experience provides you (and now us) with a valuable perspective on this topic.

  11. I think the bit we REALLY have a problem with is Love ‘the sinner’ whether they come ’round to our way of thinking or not. Too often I see extended a conditional love, sort of a hazmat suit-type love, one that says, I’ll clothe myself in this so we can move safely among the dirty-doers until we can pull them out of their terrible errors and make “them” like “us”. Much trickier is a love that says, I love you as a brother no matter what right now, and no matter what happens. Or doesn’t happen.

  12. @Jerry Stoltzfus

    May I play devil’s advocate?

    In all fairness, would your love for your friend have been different had he never been “freed” from acting in his gay attractions? You and your friend could both hate that part of his past because you had come to the same conclusion. What if he would have not agreed with you and believed it was ok to comtinue his gay relations, would he believe u if u told him that you loved him but hated his orientation?

    1. I was thinking this same thing, Ryan.

      I hope that Jerry would have shared the same friendship and support to the end, whether his friend had left his gay life or remained in it. My guess is that he would have.

      That being said, I know my brother does not feel loved, known or supported by people that “love him” but hate the gay part of him.

  13. Interesting post Shawn. :)

    I think the hardest part for people to hear & accept is that loving everyone comes with some acceptance within ourselves that we will disagree with, & even hate, our fellow man, but that does not give us the right to excuse adverse behavior on our part. We say by instinct alone we treat family separately than anyone else, we never question our love nor doubt it even when those family members hurt us because we believe that unwavering loving instinct is automatically born in us. That’s not hard to accept. That’s perfectly easy to understand, after all it is family.

    But outside of those bloodlines? Well, only Christ knows how hard it is for us to walk with an open heart, right? God has the easy part. He has the power of creation & so like any parent, he cares unquestionably for his children. Or does he?

    Does he burden himself with worry & concerns when he sees his people bickering because of our misguided definition of family? Of right & wrong? Of living as a christian or living as a child of a God by another name? Or no God at all?

    I hear people clamoring for equality but they want the equality that suites them the best, that fits their needs. They hardly say I want equality for all, even if that means giving up the little things I don’t agree with so everyone can be treated freely, lovingly, openly.

    “Hate the sin but not the sinner.” Sounds like the perfect excuse someone uses to allow for their own poor behavior.

    You are right. Christ would have said at most “Love the sinner” knowing the enormous challenge that is, knowing the heartache & tears & suffering. Neither him nor God are ignorant of that, but they ask for an open heart, for unending forgiveness & acceptance because it is the springs of love that never stop flowing, that never stop washing our eyes clean so we can see each new person, each new encounter, clearer than the previous.

    A wonderful post my friend :). Thank you so much for sharing in your continued growth.


  14. Wow! Lots of thought-provoking and heart-tugging comments.

    But I think the hardest thing for me has been when the “sinner” committed sins that hurt me. What a huge challenge to walk in forgiveness, free of bitterness, and love the sinner, knowing their actions have caused me great pain.

    After that happened to me, numerous other people came into my life that I never would have wanted to be seen with before because of their chosen lifestyle. But now they are my friends.

    Shawn, your post and ensuing comments have opened my eyes to see how far I’ve come in the last 10 years and how much wider my eyes and heart need to be opened. Thank you.


    1. I can’t imagine what the details of your story are, yet I sense that you’ve presented them “as they are”. I’ll look forward to your other comments.

    2. I have been with someone in the end with AIDS, too, and that is difficult, for sure. Hats off to anyone who can support and love someone through something so difficult.

      In my current work I see the impact of abuse, neglect, rape and substance abuse on a very regular basis. It is not hard to hate the sin when the chain of destruction is so evident, so palpable and in your face every day. So let me just say that I am not one who is opposed to hating the sin. It is a pretty awful, destructive force. In my own life, I still fall constantly into consumerism, pride and selfishness of every variety. It is disgusting to have to look at the way I consistently put my needs above others, my financial desires above giving more, my momentary whims above long term investments in people and how I run from addressing these failings. Thank goodness for Grace. I am a work in progress. We all are.

      Most of the time, we can love the sinner if we know the sinner and we know ourselves. If we are willing to be known, faults and all, by others it is a little easier to love. If we are willing to accept the nonsensical love that God offers, it is easier to love. Let’s be real. We are all a complete mess, entirely hopeless. Then God intervenes and we have all of this acceptance, forgiveness, redemption, possibility. It is amazing. It is truly beyond comprehension and surely beyond words. From this place of acknowledging mercy, we can begin. I feel called to come alongside, as that is what has ministered the most to me in my dark times. If we are willing to come alongside and be with people, in a real and sincere way, we might just have something there.

      Now, as far as sexual orientation-that is, in my mind a separate topic and a complicated one at that. We could delve into that, but maybe I’ll wait for another special SS blog, as this post is already far too long.

  15. I think the reason I hate that phrase is because which sin are we supposed to hate?

    I read Gerry’s post and I think about his friend who died from AIDS. Should we hate his homosexuality? Or should we hate promiscuity? Or should we hate that people lied about the disease when it was young? Or hate a self-righteous attitude that blocked study about it? Which sin should get the laser focus of our hatred?

    Sorting all of that out is hard – much harder than we might want to admit.

    Loving, on the other hand, is pretty simple. We know what love is and we know what love isn’t. While the Scripture is full of examples of hatred, why not follow the example of Jesus and follow love?

  16. Do you think Jesus hated sin less than we want to? Or do you think Jesus hated sin more than we want to? God hates sin. All of them. None of them get a pass. And if God hates sin, and God is Holy, and we are commanded to be Holy as God is Holy, then we should hate sin as well. Sin destroys marriages, families, friendships, everything! Sin should be hated. I don’t see any way around that. We can try to hate sin less by saying that we only want to love, but if we diminish the negative and powerful effects of sin, we are not doing as we are commanded.

    1. I think that when we exhibit love, that covers the hatred of sin. It’s not “someone else hates your sin and makes sure you know it that leads to repentance.” It’s kindness.

      When Jesus encountered the woman at the well, he didn’t tell her that she was sinning. He just mentioned what was going on with her. And was kind to her. Most people don’t need a reminder of what they’re doing wrong. They already know and they already know what we think about it. What they probably don’t know is if we’ll love them anyway.

    2. Finally a comment that takes sin seriousily. Sin is anything outside of the Perfect Will of God. We are in a state of sin, it is our DNA. It is only by the Grace of God we can be forgiven of our own sin. We can not excuse sin in some kind of PC Universe, but must look at our own sin. We must live the Grace was given to us. Nothing is more cruel than to not love someone enough to warn them of the consequence of sin, which is eternal death.

  17. It is interesting, this discussion on sin, especially when one is born into sin, and we are inherently bound to it in this life, here on this earth. Jonathan, I agree with you… It is only by God’s Grace, which is the death and resurrection of Jesus, that we are freed from sin. All sin. However, here on this earth, because Satan prowls around all the time, there will always be temptation, and falling into sin. God knows this, which is why He chose to save us from it.

    One comment my husband reminds me of often is that we should never be surprised when we once again realize that the church is full of sinners, of who I am the worst. (paraphrased from Martin Luther)

    So, hate sin, yes, of course – we should never love sin, nor should we love that fact that we all fall into it. Love the sinner, yes of course – how can you say you love people, but not love the sinners? Aren’t we one in the same??

    When we fall into sin, there are consequences… doesn’t mean God loves us less because we suffer consequences, just means we sinned and are suffering because of that sin. Does it suck? Yes, of course it does. But, does God work all things for His Good, and to His Glory? Yes, of course He does for those who believe.

    Life is painful on this earth… from the common cold to accidents to addictions to death. Painful because of sin. That is why we hurt and suffer, because of sin. It will not be until we reach paradise with Jesus that this hurt will not exist. Until then, yes, I will hate sin… all sin… including my sins. I will love sinners, because I am called to do so… because the blood shed for me on the cross has forgiven me and set me free from the sin that so easily entangles. I have good news to share with the sinners God has called me to love and care for.

  18. I think you’re right – we don’t get to the part about the loving, and that’s the part that matters. I’m with you on dropping this one.

  19. Do you think that maybe we could hate this ‘sin’ in ourselves the most and the hardest as the ‘chief of all sinners?’

    Maybe Shawn is frustrated that the phrase has been so tailored to excuse our hatred of the person committing their ‘sin of choice’ that it’s become pathetic. It’s always aimed at someone else and always exludes the ‘sinner’ when it’s used. There is no sense of a prerequisite that states I’m screwed up too, so it becomes a nice throw-away that keeps us ‘perfectly self righteous, thank you’.

    A thought: Does anyone have a better phrase we could replace it with? Like: “Now we know we’re both screw ups can we get on with loving each other?”

    By the way, knowing Jerry, there would be no ‘salvation’ requirement for him to love his friends who are deep in the consequences of their sin. He couldn’t care less – that’s not how love works (unconditional).

  20. Thanks for this, Shawn. I think a lot about this phrase and what it implies (even wrote about it here:… but your post and the comments made me realize something new:

    Maybe the sin we’re supposed to hate is our own. That seems consistent with God’s hatred of sin, as well as Jesus’ love for the sinner — brought together in Jesus’ words in Matthew 7 about the speck in your brother’s eye and the plank in your own.

    But to turn hate of any sort toward other people — even in the guise of “hate the sin” — risks twisting the gospel’s message violently to suit our own prejudices.

  21. I think we can have an appropriate hatred for sin without shouting it from the roof tops because we all sin. Jesus came to expressed His love to the world not His hatred for sin. He didn’t overcome sin by expressing hatred towards it. He understood people get their indentity from their sinfulness and by verbalizing His hatred for sin He would have been perceived as some one who hates sinners. Love covers a multitude of sins. I think we would be better off directing our energy, actions, resources, thoughts and prayers toward loving others radically and hating self more.

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