I found a terrific article recently on Sojourners.com and wanted to share it here:
As a golf player, and a long time fan of Tiger Woods, I’ve encountered my fair share of Christians who have reprimanded me for continuing to cheer him on. As well as a fair share of opinions in passing or during golf play over why they refuse to cheer for Tiger Woods. From males it’s more often related to his cocky attitude, his frequent spurts of anger driven cussing spells, and the fact that he doesn’t sign autographs as often as one of the good guys like – “Lefty” (Phil Mickelson). For females, the reason is pretty obvious. It’s because he cheated on his wife, multiple times. Fortunately, my skin has grown thick over the years though, due to the fact that prior to Tiger’s fall I took my fair share of Christian and non-Christian beatdowns for being a Kobe Bryant fan as well. Gasp! I just heard someone choke on their “HaterAde” over my admiration for Kobe Bryant.
“Hate the sin, but love the sinner”. That phrase (“Christanese” – LOL) gets thrown around quite frequently in Christians circles. As with any other cliche phrases it’s often been used and abused, stretched and distorted to the point of no longer having any resemblance of what it should mean. So, I just wanted to discuss several scriptures that speak to it in a way that I believe is sound.
Let’s face it, this is a tough topic. How can we embrace people while not standing in support of sin. For human beings the dilemma is no less complex than the issue of forgiveness. For instance, how do we forgive people, while not forgetting what people have done when they’ve wronged us or someone that we love? And more importantly, how can or where do we draw the line in the sand between forgiveness and forgetfulness when the two seem inevitably tied together? Can I forgive someone without forgetting what they did to me? I don’t pretend to have the answer for all of these questions, but I know how real they are because I’ve face them in my own life. However, what I do know is that there is a sound and mature biblical precedent that causes me to want to find the answer.
In that same way, I see many Christians often caught in this same dilemma between hating sin, but loving sinners. Similar questions exist. How can I really hate someone’s sin, yet embrace someone with the love of Christ? As American and Western culture in general have become more and more polarized I’ve witnessed what I perceive to be a growing number of Christians who have resolved to giving up on the separation of the two all together. Instead of taking the more difficult road that Jesus commanded, they’ve decide to simply hate both the sin and the sinner. As a result, they look for clever ways to justify hating both the sin, and the sinner. I believe that Tiger Woods, and others have become innocent victims of this philosophy.
One of my favorite verses that I believe speaks to this conundrum comes out of the book Luke, in chapter 9. The background is that, Jesus, on his way to Jerusalem for the feast of Tabernacles, cut through a Samaritan village. Although the term Samaritans amongst Christians has a positive connotation, it was not always the case. As a matter of fact, in Christ’s day, Samaritans, were known as non-religious heathens not friendly with Jews. In other words, both parties mutually disliked one another. As Jesus passed through their region they refused to offer him hospitality, which signified a rejection of his claims and teachings. When Jesus disciples caught wind of it the following exchange took place:
Luke 9:54 “Lord, do you want us to call fire down from heaven to destroy them[b]?” 55 But Jesus turned and rebuked them. 56 Then he and his disciples went to another village.”
Notice that although Jesus was passing through a region in which people were openly sinful and rejected his teachings he did not reprimand them, speak of his hatred of them or otherwise. Even when he was confronted by the disciples who were looking to exact revenge against the sinful behavior of the Samaritans Jesus rebuked them!
Here’s another example from Jesus’ encounter with the woman at the well from John 4. It’s a clip from the movie the Gospel of John:
Jesus knows her personal history, but uses it to minister to her in love rather than to condemn. Note that her reaction to him sharing the truth in love results in the following:
John 4: “39 Many of the Samaritans from that town believed in him because of the woman’s testimony, “He told me everything I ever did.” 40 So when the Samaritans came to him, they urged him to stay with them, and he stayed two days. 41 And because of his words many more became believers.
42 They said to the woman, “We no longer believe just because of what you said; now we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this man really is the Savior of the world.”
In John 8 we again find Jesus coming to the defense of a woman caught in adultery and brought before him by the Pharisees who demand that she be stoned for her sins (according to the Law). Here is another clip from the movie the Gospel of John:
10 Jesus straightened up and asked her, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?”
11 “No one, sir,” she said. “Then neither do I condemn you,” Jesus declared. “Go now and leave your life of sin.”
Verses 10 -11 are again consistent with the story of the women at the well. Instead of condemning someone caught in their sin, Jesus simply acknowledges their sin in hopes that they will repent.
We find this same message all throughout the scriptures consistently (Matthew/Levi the tax collector, Zaccheus, Saul, etc.). Jesus loves sinners, but hates their sin.
In the same way we are always called to embrace sinners in hopes that they will turn from sin and accept Christ.
One interesting text from 1 Corinthians 5 that Paul speaks of in his epistle to the church in Corinth gives us further insight into how the church should handle sin inside and outside of the church. In this part of his letter he’s speaking to a case of incest that supposedly took place in the church:
9 I wrote to you in my letter not to associate with sexually immoral people— 10 not at all meaning the people of this world who are immoral, or the greedy and swindlers, or idolaters. In that case you would have to leave this world. 11 But now I am writing to you that you must not associate with anyone who claims to be a brother or sister[c] but is sexually immoral or greedy, an idolater or slanderer, a drunkard or swindler. Do not even eat with such people.
12 What business is it of mine to judge those outside the church? Are you not to judge those inside? 13 God will judge those outside. “Expel the wicked person from among you.”[d]
Church discipline serves an obvious purpose and is necessary. However, this begs the question what real edifying value does judging those outside of the church serve? Paul insinuates in the above scripture that he expects immoral behavior by people in the world. Why then do we act surprised so often at their immorality. If anything, we’ve flipped the correct biblical position on it’s head. We tend to judge more harshly those outside of the church, but are incredibly forgiving and place very little accountability on those within.
We should be clear that God does hate sin:
16 There are six things the Lord hates,
seven that are detestable to him:
17 haughty eyes,
a lying tongue,
hands that shed innocent blood,
18 a heart that devises wicked schemes,
feet that are quick to rush into evil,
19 a false witness who pours out lies
and a person who stirs up conflict in the community.
Psalm 97:10 “Let those who love the LORD hate evil, for he guards the lives of his faithful ones and delivers them from the hand of the wicked.”
There are countless other verses that make it clear that God hates sin. In addition, there are several other verses that appear at first glance to even state that God hates sinners. I don’t want to make this blog about that issue, but the overwhelming majority of people who believe that are fundamentalist Calvinists. Their favorite proof texts for their belief come from verse in Hosea, Malachi, and their favorite – Romans 9:13.
Just as it is written: “Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated (miseo).”
However, Romans 9:13 is metaphorically referring to the nation of Israel through it’s use of the word Jacod and to the nation of Edom in it’s use of the word Essau. So, we can’t at all equate metaphors for nations with individuals. Furthermore, according to many commentaries it was quite common in Hebrew culture to use the terms “love and hate” in a comparative way. Therefore, the word hate (Greek word “miseo”) is not a positive hatred, but meant in comparison to love, or “less loved”. When we understand this it clears up any confusion that could be found in the following verses as well:
Proverbs 13:24, “He that spareth his rod hateth his son; but he that loveth him chasteneth him betimes;” Matthew 6:24, “No man can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other,” etc.; Luke 14:26, “if any man come to me, and hate (miseo) not his father and mother, etc.”
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying that we should be best friends with immoral people, but judging them in the same way that the world judges does no favors to the name of Christ or the church. Imagine if we took the opposite role of the world and actually befriend those who fall (again, not to become best buddies), so that they could see the love of Christ at their lowest point. Would we be able to possibly win over a Tiger Woods, a Ben Rothsliberger, a Casey Anthony, or a Michael Vick? Tony Dungy, a Christian, and previous coach of the SuperBowl champion Indianapolis Colts may have done just that with Michael Vick. When the world was screaming at him for having killed innocent dogs to fuel his dog fighting ring, or when the church was pointing the finger at his sinful behavior and condemning his actions, Dungy, quietly stepped in as a mentor. Michael Vick appears to have now turned the corner and credits Dungy with being instrumental in his turnaround.
I believe that’s what Jesus would have done. He would have visited Michael Vick in prison and explained to him a verse like Proverbs 12:10. He would have shared the good news with him and became a friend and a mentor. At his lowest point he would have become a friend and not a self-righteous critic.
If for no other reason let us attempt to do the same knowing that we too are fallen sinners eager to accept forgiveness only by the grace of God.