Out of Context | Love the Sinner, Hate the Sin

posted by Emma Baldwin | Feb 28, 2022

Many have heard “love the sinner, hate the sin,” but it may surprise you that it’s not in the Bible. I definitely believed it was somewhere in the Bible: a) Maybe it’s in the hidden parts of the Gospel I just haven’t discovered or memorized. b) Jesus probably said it. c) Seems like a proverb because there are hundreds of those. These are all things I'd tell myself whenever I hear it being said. Growing up in a small town, this saying was misused a lot. I will be the first to admit being one of the people that said it.

I can see where people are coming from because it’s an attempt to see past the sin(s) that a person has committed. But do we actually do this? To effectively live out this misused phrase, you have to look at someone and say/think, “You’re a sinner.” You’ve already failed. You haven’t seen past their sins. You have already labeled them as a sinner. Jesus never says to love the sinners, instead he says to “love your neighbor as yourself.” (NLT Mark 12.31) He is an intentional man. By saying and following this, we are able to see past our neighbor’s or our friend's brokenness.

Last year I came across a quote from an unknown author that says, “A friend is one who overlooks your broken fence and admires the flowers in your garden.” This is such a wild concept! We are a culture where we take what we see as fact and truth. We don’t allow ourselves to know the person, to see past their sins or to see past their broken fence. We see the broken fence, their sins and assume they are broken and sinful. But Jesus doesn’t call us to do that. 

Yes, Jesus ate with sinners and the tax collectors; we see that in Matthew, Mark, and Luke. Yes, Jesus has seen and talked to people and said, “Go and sin no more.” Yes, he saved the woman who was caught in adultery and about to be stoned and said, “All right, but let the one who has never sinned cast the first stone.” (John 8.7)

When looking at John 8 a bit closer, you have 3 groups of people in the story:

  1. The woman caught in adultery

  2. the teachers of the law and the Pharisees

  3. Jesus

The teachers and Pharisees were more than ready to condemn the woman and stone her. Let’s pause here. This was a problem thousands of years ago. This is also a problem today. Our culture is quick to bash people for their known sins. We are not stoning people, however we do the equivalent with our words and actions towards people. We are the teachers and the Pharisees. Jesus was not going to allow them to stone and condemn her when they are just as sinful as her. 

After everyone left and Jesus and the woman remained, he asked her, “Has no one condemned you?” She said, “No one sir.”  (NIV John 8.10-11) This leads to Jesus saying, “Then neither do I condemn you…Go now and leave your life of sin.” (John 8.11) This is how we love our neighbors. Jesus does not bash and hate the woman for sinning; He is more upset with her accusers who are wanting to harm her because of her sin. But, Jesus doesn’t let her off the hook either. He does not condone her to continue her path, thus hating the sin. He knows who she can become if she stops her life of sin.

All these examples show Jesus loving his neighbor, but He is also encouraging them to become their potential who God has called them to be.

In Luke chapter 5 when Jesus is questioned why he was eating with the tax collectors and the sinners, he told the Pharisees “I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.” (Emphasis my own, NIV verse 32) This is a place where we can see Jesus being full of grace and truth. It is much easier to sit with those like us and in our friend groups. However, that is not what the Kingdom of God asks of us. We are asked to reach those who no one is reaching. We are asked to strive to become full of grace and truth. If that means telling someone of their sins while extending them grace, then we should do that. Jesus never bashed those he healed or were caught sinning. 

Jesus is the type of person that can see past the broken fence and the potential that lies within one’s garden. That is what He desires. But. he’s also the type that is willing to help the person fix the broken fence or even tear down that barrier. Even a well-put-together fence is put up to hide the mess that we’ve allowed to build up over the years. What would it look like if we helped those with a broken fence or mess behind the fence?

So. How do we act more like Jesus and fix the broken fence or clean up the mess behind the fence?

To be able to look past the broken fence and see the garden, we must address our own brokenness. Most of us wouldn’t even approach the broken fence anyway. We have to see our own need for grace. Matthew 7:3 says, “Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye?” Jesus makes the same point that he makes with the teachers of the law and the Pharisees. When we are self-righteous, we lose sight and memory of how we have been extended grace and mercy from God and those around us. The plank in our eye is a great metaphorical image for this. Once we address our own self-righteousness, then we can begin to approach others.