Friday, August 16, 2002
Hate the Sin but Love the Sinner
Much has been said over the years of “loving the sinner but hating the sin.” While this sentimental cliché may have some popular appeal, we need to recognize that this phrase is based on some awfully poor theology. I agree that we should love sinners but I only agree to the point that we only have to love the same sinners that God loves.
It is a mistake of modern softheaded and softhearted thinking to believe that God loves everybody. There are some clear cases of people God hates and it is clear that God would never fault us for hating the same vile, ungodly sinners that He hates. To be perfectly honest, it is our responsibility to hate homosexuals, dope addicts, drunks, smokers, the Hollywood crowd and anybody that refuses to boycott Disney.
So whom should we love? Why the sheep of His pasture of course! Jesus knows whom His sheep are. Those sheep are the ones that the Father has committed into His hand and they are easily identified by the fact that they behave like sheep. Our job is to make sure we distinguish the sheep from the goats that would attempt to run with God’s flock. It is our God-given responsibility as undershepherds to cull them out. Just because they attend church doesn’t make them a sheep any more than my going to McDonald’s makes me a hamburger.
No, we are called to separate the wheat from the tares, the sheep from the goats, the leaven from the lump. If anything, the best way for us to love the sheep of God’s pasture is for us to hate the goats and keep them out of the field. Protecting and providing for the sheep is the proper job of the pastor and hating sinners both in and out of the fold is part of that protective posture.
Our Lord tells us that he will leave the 99 in the wilderness to find the lost sheep. But we never see him wasting one second of His precious time on the goats. Nor should we. The parable also makes very clear that the 99 were left in the wilderness and not in the fold. If we recall the Shepherd’s Psalm correctly, it is not only the staff but also the rod that comforts. One of our jobs as Pharisees is to use that rod to drive the sheep back into the fold while our Savior tenderly searches for the lost one. It is not until that lost sheep is found (by the Lord, I might add and not us) that we can tend to him. This means that loving the sheep is conditional on their being well behaved and willing to remain with the flock. So where can we possibly find time to love goats when there is so much work involved in loving the sheep?
We know that no chastening is pleasant while it is happening but it is also a sign of love. And we can take no more loving action than helping sheep to know when they have left the Path of Righteousness and bring them back into the way. They may not enjoy our chastening hand, but they will thank us in the end. True love takes courage and fortitude. Some get discouraged when they see those whom they thought were sheep leave the fold under the rod of rebuke but we should console ourselves that “if they had been of us, they would have continued with us.” If they can’t take the chastisement, then they likely weren’t true sheep in the first place, only goats wearing a wool coat.
To return to our subject, it is not only important that we let the sinner know that we love him but also make it powerfully evident that we hate his sin. After all, our goal is to get them to hate their sin just as much as we (and God) hate it. Otherwise, they will come to believe that we tolerate sin in the name of loving the sinner. Our enthusiasm at condemning personal sin should go a long way to disabusing them of this notion.
“As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”
John 13:34b-35 (NIV)
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