…But Love the Sinner
There is a popular statement among Christians, “Hate the sin but love the sinner.” A cliché that rolls easily off the tongue, too often this can become a banner that we wish to fly whenever we encounter people who are involved in life choices and behaviors that are sinful, helping us soften our own responsibility to call people to Christ. We live in a culture and a society that thrives on separating the actions of a person from the being of a person, setting us up to fear calling people to repentance because it could be construed as unloving.
Admittedly, there is a balance to be reached between hating the sin and loving the sinner. To call people to God’s holiness apart from love makes me the proverbial “sounding brass and clanging cymbal” causing people to recoil and cover their ears (1 Cor 13:1). Likewise, if I declare my love for you as I stand at a distance, watching you blindly walk into the fire, I have no love at all.
With the continuing growth of social media, instant news, and the use of the Internet to disseminate opinions, we have become adept at pointing fingers and hating sin. It has become easy to group people in the moment. For example, when the shooting occurred at the gay bar in Orlando, did you mourn the loss of souls who needed to know Jesus loved them or was your first reaction to group them and label them according to sin? When the devout Hindu family moves in next-door, our first tendency may be to label them as such, rather than to see the wife who needs a friend and also needs Jesus. Yes, we must call people to holiness, but it starts first with doing so from a heart and attitude of love. Not a clichéd love of pithy statements, but a love that sees every person as an individual who needs to know Christ. Developing an authentic love starts with living a life of intentionality.
- Intentionally grasping the understanding that I, too, am a sinner who needs daily cleansing and a renewed commitment to live a life that reflects Christ. We must be careful not to become pharisaical where we thank God that at least we are not as bad as “they” are (Lk 18:9-18). If not but the grace of God, we too, would have no hope. Rather, celebrate daily that because God first loved us, then we have the capability and the command to love others. Daily pray that we are like the Good Samaritan who was willing to stop and touch the one in his path who was dirty, beaten, and dying, rather than those who crossed to the other side (Lk 10:25-37).
- Intentionally building relationships with those around me for the purpose of sharing the love of Christ. Our neighbors may be the single mother and her live-in boyfriend, the Muslim family who is respected in the community, or the gay couple who has just adopted a child. We may say that we love the sinner, but do we love them enough to get to know them? Do we love them enough to understand their hurts, their needs, and their dreams? Do we love them enough even to walk next door, ring the doorbell and introduce ourselves? Sometimes the first step to loving the sinner is simply to start by saying, “Hello”…. literally. Because once we first love them, then we can tell them about a God who loves them even more than we.
- Intentionally interceding for those I may never personally meet. Today, we receive news at a lightning pace and it is easy to view these events in a way that we miss the individuals involved. We categorize and group people we do not know and cannot touch. However, knowing that when others suffer, evil rears its head, or that simply living in a fallen world brings heartache, we have an opportunity to see those involved and affected as the individual souls that they are … people who need a Savior. Do we love them enough to intercede for them at the throne of God specifically asking that at least one will find Christ?
- A bomb explodes in Bangladesh, intentionally pray for the victims and pray for the attackers that at least one will find Christ in the midst.
- A shooting occurs in Dallas, intentionally pray for those injured, pray for the victims’ families, pray for the first responders, and pray for the shooter’s family that at least one will find Christ in the midst.
- A presidential election looms on the horizon and many are concerned for the future leadership of our country. See the candidates as men and women, created in the image of God and who need a Savior. Pray that at least one will find Christ in the midst.
We are to hate sin AND we are to love sinners. The two go hand in hand and one cannot be separated from the other. As the pendulum seems to swing between the two, I pray that as I open Facebook, Twitter, RSS feeds, and Internet newsfeeds, I will find opportunities to intentionally intercede for the individual souls of others. That as I walk out of my home today and cross the paths of others, I will move with intention to clearly show love for the purpose of sharing Christ. And, I pray that I live every minute of my life in the knowledge and understanding that I love because He first loved [me] (1 Jn 4:19).