On the obnoxiousness of the phrase “love the sinner, hate the sin”

So I’ve been thinking a lot recently about the frequently used Christianese phrase “Love the Sinner, hate the sin.” (LTS HTS)  Is it just me or is that a really obnoxious thing to say?  I figure that there are only really two types of people in relation to some ‘sin’ – those who ‘know’ it to be sin and those who don’t.  Say for example, if I were, in a moment of weakness to walk out of Guitar Center with a Les Paul Custom.  I know that is stealing and it’s wrong so if you were to say LTS HTS about me I’d say, yeah, i know I was wrong apologize and move on.

However, if I came from a society or a belief system that didn’t believe in personal property and I didn’t know that stealing was wrong I might be offended if you said LTS HTS about me.  And I might be even more sensitive if there were lots of people constantly telling me I needed to repent of this supposed sin or I would go to hell; or perhaps treating me like I was less than fully human just because I steal stuff.

Now imagine for a moment that something that is at the core of your self-identity is the ‘theft’ in my analogy.  How pissed off, offended and not inclined to reasonable discussion would you be if people kept telling you that you’re a sinner but we love you anyway.  You’d be be inclined to tell them to take their ‘love’ and shove it back up from whence it came.

So the next time you feel like interjecting ‘love the sinner, hate the sin’ into a conversation (particularly a public one) – consider for a moment how that ‘sinner’ is going to take your label and perhaps focus on just loving people where they are and trusting in God to convict their hearts.

*note* I am not advocating for moral relativism.  My interest is pastoral and evangelical.  No one was ever convicted of their own sinfulness (myself included) by being told that they were a sinner.  Everyone was convicted first by meeting the risen Christ and letting His light shine into their lives and second by becoming open to the consistent teaching of the Church.  Lord knows (and I mean that literally – I am continually amazed at His grace and patience with me) that things I thought to be licit even five or six years ago I have since been convicted through my open-hearted (and minded but it’s the heart that matters I think) study of the teachings of the Church.

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7 Responses to On the obnoxiousness of the phrase “love the sinner, hate the sin”

  1. Linda Demick says:

    Not sure if I know anyone who isn’t a sinner to some extent – and that includes me. Unless there’s some perfect person out there I’ve yet to meet! So ya, love me, hate my sin. It’s what we all need to do.

  2. Eileen Finn says:

    I agree with Linda and Dan. I think that this phrase (LTS, HTS) rightly belongs to God alone. And perhaps someone somewhere coined this phrase as a catchy sound-bite to describe some part of God’s extension of grace and forgiveness to us.

    For believers in Christ to use this phrase with non-believers is unwise and off-putting as you say, Dan. It definitely puts a crimp in relationships at the very least. I was actually thinking about this issue (not the phrase, though) last week when thinking of problem behavior in people who are non-believers in God. As I see it, the first and biggest problem these folks have (and really, all of us have) is non-belief. And therefore, the real gist of reaching out to such people is to love them as Christ loves us. And how does Christ love us? He draws us to Himself via the Spirit by various means, in a winsome manner, through His creation, a spoken word, friendly but gently challenging conversation, friendship and caring actions, etc. I myself have a long way to go to let Christ work through me in this way, but hopefully I can stay open to His grace enough to let it spill out to others.

  3. Steve Martin says:

    Yep. God loves the sinner…and hates the sin. We tend to love the sin and hate the sinner. 😀


  4. This saying always makes my skin crawl. It’s glib and thoughtless. Nice post.

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