Dear brothers & sisters in Christ,
Last month we started a series of little sayings that are common in the Christian world. This month we turn the phrase, “Love the sinner, hate the sin.” This is a difficult phrase to parse out, and I confess, I have spoken too strongly against it in the past. The problem is that good theology rarely works in soundbites. Our faith is so rich and so deep that it rarely fits within one short phrase that could be printed on a bumper sticker.
The first question to ask is this: is this how God works? Does He love the sinner and hate the sin? Well, He certainly does hate sin. Sin can have no presence before Him. His holiness and justice mean that sin is undone, obliterated, destroyed when it enters into His presence. He punishes sin with His everlasting wrath. He hates what sin has done to the world, and us, His creations. He hates the death that sin has wrought upon us, and the condemnation that sin earns for us. He hates the corruption that sin brings upon us and now He actively works to undo the damage of sin through His Word & sacraments that bring to us the restoration that comes through the death and resurrection of Jesus. In this respect, the statement is true.
God hates sin, but does this mean that God then hates sinners? No, certainly not. He justifies sinners, declaring us righteous in Christ. Apart from Christ, the sinner is subject to God’s wrath & justice, but in Christ, the sinner is justified, forgiven, set free from death and the corruption of sin. He hates sin, yet in His mercy, grace, and love He sends His Son to take a stand against sin and put a stop to its corruption. He does this by taking the corruption into Himself, by becoming sin Himself in our place and then offering His flesh & blood as payment for the sin we had committed. We had done the evil, we had earned His wrath, in our sin, we corrupted God’s perfect creation and made ourselves completely unloveable, ungodly. Yet God showed His love to us in this – that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us (Romans 5). He takes God’s wrath, God’s judgment, even God’s forsaking of sin in our place, as our substitute. In its place, we receive Jesus’ blessedness, Jesus’ righteousness, and Jesus’ acceptance into the presence of God, even into the Holy of Holies in heaven (Hebrews 10). In a word, we are justified, declared righteous, declared not guilty of all wrongdoing. Counted as being as righteous as Jesus, as if we had lived the life that Jesus had lived on earth, free from any blemish or spot. God hates sin but justifies the sinner. Being just He condemns all sin in Jesus in His love & mercy for you. In Jesus sin dies. In Jesus God kills the sinner. Now God joins us to the death of Jesus in our Baptism to kill the sinner in us. Sin is now declared dead in us, God wrath & judgment is carried out, not on us, but Christ in our place. Now God joins us to the resurrection of Jesus in Baptism so that we rise from the waters a brand new creature, regenerated and renewed by the Holy Spirit in the image of Jesus. Being also be the justifier God declares us righteous and free from all sin and its corruption.
Now, this phrase could certainly be about us as we deal with one another. We are called to love one another, to love just as Jesus has loved us. And He certainly never excused sin, nor did He tolerate the corruption that is brought into the world. He called it out, shone the light upon it, calling and guiding those who see their sin in love & gentleness, patiently working with men like His disciples to guide them as the children of God He’s called them to be. Whenever Jesus encounters death, He reverses it and brings life. In the same way, we are called to love and serve one another, shining the light on sin in love & gentleness, patiently working with our brothers & sisters in Christ. Paul calls us in His epistles not to regard anyone according to the flesh, but to look with the eyes of Christ upon our brothers & sisters in Christ, and our unbelieving neighbours. How can we ever separate a person from what he does so that we love the person but hate their sin? Good question, and the answer, in some cases, is only with great difficulty. Just look at how much it took for God to justify the sinner, it cost Jesus His life. It calls for the same in us as well. It calls for a death, a death to our pride, to our fear, to our judgmentalism to close the eyes of wrath and open the eyes of faith to see another person that Christ has died in order to save from sin. Just as Christ died for the ungodly, so we bend low to serve the ungodly, the undesirable, forgiving those who make us suffer, serving those who hurt us and make us angry, doing good, and not evil. Because when we deserved evil from God, God did good and sent His Son, to justify us and save us from sin and our sinful nature. Now we too do good, even when we receive evil. We love because He first loved us.
Your servant in Christ,
Pastor Tim Schneider