Love the Sinner
Pointing out the sins of others is easy. When you’re tempted to do so, see it as an opportunity to grow in holiness.
Recently, I was reminded of a phrase I heard from church folks as I was growing up: “Love the sinner, hate the sin.”
I don’t know if this phrase is mainly a southern thing, but chances are that you’ve heard it before, regardless of where you hail from. In my experience, this phrase was typically used by fellow Christians who disagreed with someone’s viewpoint or behavior but didn’t want to outright condemn them. In particular, at least in my circles, it was addressed at nonbelievers. I think the heart behind this statement is a good one in that it acknowledges the command Jesus gave us to love other people, Christian or not. However, I have come to find that it is also missing a critical component of thought: humility.
In his collection of essays Letters to Malcolm, C.S. Lewis strikes the core of the issue when he says, “The true Christian’s nostril is to be continually attentive to the inner cesspool.” This means that as Christians, we must constantly be aware of our own sin. The constant stink of our own sin reminds us that we constantly need a Savior, and that kind of reality check produces a humility that makes being judgmental about others’ sin much more difficult.
I had a spiritual mentor once tell me this as I railed in frustration against the sin of a brother in Christ, “Hayden, when you see his sin, take that opportunity to ask God to show you that same sin in your own life, then repent of it.”
The thought stunned me. He was challenging me to look in the mirror instead of looking at others.
If someone is rude to me, am I not also rude at times? Lord, I repent of my rudeness. Help me to be kind like you are.
If someone is impatient with me, do I not also suffer from impatience? Lord, I repent of my impatience. Teach me to wait on Your timing.
If I discover that someone is caught up in an affair or struggles with homosexuality, is my own heart not full of lust? Lord, please help me to be content with what you provide. Help me trust that you alone can satisfy.
If someone is not a believer and does awful things because their heart does not belong to Christ, am I not also, in my flesh, an enemy of God? Lord, may I never forget the freedom you brought me when you saved me by Your grace. May I always remember that You are the only thing that sustains my life.
As I began to apply my friend’s sage spiritual advice to look inward first, I found that almost any sin I was able to point out in the lives of others was somehow traceable to sin in my own life. It was eye-opening, and it began to build an awareness of my own imperfection. And when I have a greater understanding of my own imperfection, it makes my understanding of my need for the Cross bigger too. Now I see others’ sin differently. It gives me an opportunity to repent of my own sin and grow in holiness. So in light of this, here is the updated version of the old phrase:
“Love the sinner. Hate my own sin.”
When it’s worded this way, the emphasis is on loving others, regardless of their sin, and there is an emphasis on the reality that since I have been forgiven, I must also freely forgive.
So the next time someone sins against you, use it as an opportunity to ask God to reveal that same sin in your own life, then repent of it. Realize that you have been forgiven much, and watch how it will change your outlook from frustration to forgiveness.
Lord, help me to see my sin as You see it. Furthermore, help me to hate it like You do. May I not be judgmental toward others whose sin, though it may be different outwardly, has the same roots in their soul as mine does. May I show them much grace and forgiveness as You have shown to me. Through that, may I be more like You and spread Your Light to the lost world. Amen.