Words are powerful. Words can build a person up or tear a person apart. Proverbs 18:21 tell us, “Words kill, words give life; they’re either poison or fruit—you choose.” Words can be a weapon of grace and mercy – breathing life into weary souls. And then there are those words spun from malicious tongues that can strip the oxygen from our lungs.
Inspiring words can change circumstances for the better – legendary speech transcends time. There are sentences begging to be highlighted in our favorite books and pages to dog-ear and reread a thousand times. Healthy aspirations and stirring quotes get penned on sticky notes. And then lies a sacred space for the words committed to memory. They meld together like they were always meant to be. These words play a lyrical prose of soothing notes or dramatic keys stored tightly in your temporal lobe. Yes, these words are often attached to a moment when they had set sail to your soul, mended your heart, or ripped it apart.
The Origin of “Love the Sinner, Hate the Sin”
I have heard these exact words several times in my life. Some call it a cliché or quote. I call it legendary because “Love the Sinner, Hate the Sin” has stood the test of time. According to an article on Catholic Answers, these words are first attributed to St. Augustine. “His Letter 211 (c. 424) contains the phrase Cum dilectione hominum et odio vitiorum, which translates roughly to ‘With love for mankind and hatred of sins.'” Then the article says, “The phrase has become more famous as ‘love the sinner but hate the sin’ or ‘hate the sin and not the sinner’ (the latter form appearing in Mohandas Gandhi’s 1929 autobiography).”
Although “love the sinner, hate the sin” does not appear word for word in the Bible, the concept and command to love the sinner but despise the sin certainly appears throughout the New Testament. Jude 1:22-23 says, “Be merciful to those who doubt; save others by snatching them from the fire; to others show mercy, mixed with fear—hating even the clothing stained by corrupted flesh.” Our job is to love the human who is perfectly human but hate the tainted flesh that desires the very actions and things that seek to destroy the person’s relationship with God. And this is a tough job to succeed at.
Throughout the living pages of the Bible, Jesus shows us how this is done. He shows us how to dine with the sinner, exude kindness to the ostracized and outcast, and forgive the unforgivable – right up to His very last breath on this fallen earth. “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing” (Luke 23:34). Jesus’s ultimate sacrifice on that tree demonstrated that flawed sinners are worthy of His compassion and love. He perfectly separated the human from his flaws. He gave His life so that we would have eternal life with Him, free from the stain of our fleshly desires.
The Testing of Faith
“He is a very flawed man, but he is still worthy of your compassion.” I have repeated these words over and over again lately. The past several months have been trying, and my faith has been put to the test repeatedly. And I have been hanging on to every last letter of that wisdom as I come to terms with a new revelation in the life of someone I love. Someone who needs me to love them despite their flaws.
Certain sins can change everything you know and think about a person. I recently heard, “Love the sinner, hate the sin.” As I said, I had listened to this statement before. However, this time, the words were used in context as I braced myself while learning of the sinful acts of someone close to me. My breath escaped me, with clouded vision and ringing ears. And yet I heard every syllable annunciated loud and clear as if it was commanded through a bullhorn. My heart and mind beckoned to the will of time to rewind a few minutes and let me go on in my blissful, naive state. It would be better that way. But instead, I would have to learn to separate sin from the soul – to love and hate simultaneously.
I want to report that I am handling this situation and challenge like a champ, but I regress that it has been hard to walk this line of love and hate. A line has been drawn in the sand, and I’ve battled with the ship-wrecking wind breaking my heart into millions of grain-sized pieces. Every time I draw the words “I love you” in the coarse yet soft combination of minerals and rocks, a wave erases that emotion. Again, I stare at the blank canvas before me while my fragile heart sways to the rhythm of the sea. How easy is it to bestow compassion on the victim? To the oppressed? But the challenge lies in extending this empathy to the oppressor.
For years, I’ve been faithfully and consistently writing in my prayer journal for God to teach me to love unconditionally or “love them anyways,” as I like to put it sometimes. I always thought I was good at loving. It’s easy to love, I decided. And I’ve been praying for this moment to love without conditions. To throw all reasoning and caution to the wind, channel my inner “Mother Teresa” and rise to the occasion. But I thought my test would be to love an unfriendly neighbor, an unruly child, or an old classmate who gossiped about me.
But that is not how God usually works. And I know from experience that if I write or will for God to teach me something, I must be willing to roll up my sleeves and dig deep. God often seems to lead me experientially with hands-on training, or hearts-on training in this case. I’ve been tasked with writing the second of The Greatest Commandment on double-lined paper, much like a child writes his spelling words. Committed to memory, etched in my heart, and lived out by my actions – I will learn to “Love my neighbor as myself” (Mark 12:31). And I’m adding the word ‘regardless’ here – to love without conditions means to love regardless of someone’s sins.
What Does “Love the Sinner, Hate the Sin” Truly Mean?
It doesn’t mean to condone the sin or turn a blind eye to it. It means to go against the grain and every natural impulse to associate the person with sin. After all, sin without repentance and salvation leads to death, and if we love someone, even our enemies, we want everlasting life for them. “Then, after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, gives birth to death” (James 1:15). It certainly doesn’t mean to drop your boundaries or allow the sinner in your life when that person is your oppressor. However, there is a place in our hearts for everyone we come across, and our actions of love have the power to heal.
Hating sin also means we must humbly approach the fact that we are all sinners, taking inventory of our fleshly nature. Otherwise, we must bear the label of a hypocrite. “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? How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye” (Matthew 7:3-5).
It means we choose to love or to “love them anyways,” as I like to write it. And how do we do that? It takes prayer, faith, and courage, my friend. It takes small steps to uncast the stone hardening our hearts and fully trusting God with the command He asks of us. We must prepare to be tested and refined to learn how to be Christ-like. We must step uninhibited and fully willing to walk the road He has set for us.
As for me and this path God has me stumbling through, I will choose the actions of love and compassion until my heart and mind have time to catch up. I’m choosing love, even when it hurts. I’m loving the sinner while hating the sin.
Photo Credit: ©GettyImages/ Blasius Erlinger
Darcie Fuqua is a Business Analyst, Auburn Grad (War Eagle!), Christian blogger & podcast host, and mental health advocate. She is from the deep south of Alabama, where she currently resides with her husband, two energetic fun-loving boys, and a dog named Charlie. She loves sinking her toes in the sand, cuddling with her boys, and having great conversations over a table of good food. You can read more of her writing on her website www.leightonlane.com and connect with her on Facebook and Instagram. Check out Darcie’s latest project as cohost of Therapy in 10.