(Blank) the Sinner, (Blank) the Sin
Jesus constantly does upsetting and countercultural things in the gospels. Things you would never expect God to do. Things that, unless they were true, you wouldn’t make up, write down and spread around about the supposed founder of your religion. It would be too embarrassing. Even 2,000 years later and halfway across the globe he remains a polarizing figure. Our world, society, culture and values are constantly changing, yet Jesus remains the same. Therefore we are left with a decision of what we are going to do with this guy; follow him or reject him.Christians, or Christ followers, will often say that we “love the sinner and hate the sin” but do we?Society also attempts a version of loving sinners and hating sin too, but, in my opinion, it’s a bit off in its application.Jesus was really good at loving sinners and hating sin...perfect at it actually...which is part of what made him so polarizing. Let’s take a look at an example from Luke 5:27-32."...He went out and saw a tax collector named Levi, sitting at the tax booth. And he said to him, “Follow me.” And leaving everything, he rose and followed him."And Levi made him a great feast in his house, and there was a large company of tax collectors and others reclining at table with them. And the Pharisees and their scribes grumbled at his disciples, saying,“Why do you eat and drink with tax collectors and sinners?” And Jesus answered them, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. I have not come to call the righteous but sinners to repentance.”You may be asking, “Why are the religious leaders in this story so ticked off at the IRS?!” Let me paint the picture of what’s going on here with a bit of a modern twist to help us understand.Say, for instance, a power hungry terrorist group was ruling the United States. Now imagine that your cousin, either motivated by fear or greed, decides to work for them and starts forcibly collecting taxes from you and your family to fund their ongoing terrorism efforts. To add salt to the wound he even takes more money than he should and pockets the excess. Now picture Jesus meeting your cousin one day and happily going to a huge party held in his honor, replete with alcohol and filthy rich people food, at your cousin’s house. For fun your cousin also invited a bunch of his co-workers (fellow traitors) and probably some prostitutes (often called “sinners”; see Luke 7:36-50) to the party too, while you look on in horror.Your cousin is Levi in this story. He was a Jew who was taking tax money and stealing from his fellow Jews to fund the Roman empire and make himself wealthy. How would we have responded if this situation took place in our society and in our church culture? Here are a few theories I have:
Hate the sinner, hate the sin
Sadly, similar to Jesus’ day, this would be the Church’s natural response. Or, maybe even more sadly, if it wasn’t actually the Church’s response, it would be how our society would expect the church to respond. “How could Jesus, and people who call themselves ‘disciples of Jesus’, associate with evil people like that?!?! To even be seen with them!!! Much less go to one of their parties…Association must equal affirmation!” You get the idea. Too often when we hate sin it becomes all we can see when we look at sinners. We forget that we’re sinners too, or we think we’re a lot better at being like Jesus than those other, more evil sinners! Unlike Jesus we hate sin AND the sinner by association.
Love the sinner, love the sin
This would be our society’s natural response, or how the Church would expect society to respond. “Look! Jesus is partying with sinners! He must be OK with the way they’re living their lives! Maybe they aren’t actually sinners! I must need to re-define my views on what sin actually is. In fact, let’s celebrate this new-found freedom! Association must equal affirmation...” Again, you get the idea. Society thinks loving a sinner means either celebrating their sinful choices or not daring to risk hurting someone by calling their choices sinful! Even some segments of the Church have been influenced by society’s views toward sin. What does true love look like? Our society may tell you that it looks a lot like helping people get all they want out of life, achieve their dreams and believe in themselves. That’s a nice idea, but it isn’t love. The people who love us best are willing to call us out on our crap. Because they love us they can see the destructive decisions we’re making and walk alongside us as we work to weed them out of our lives. For better or worse right? True love wants what’s best for us irrespective of how we feel about it. When we try to love someone by NOT identifying their sin, either because we don’t want to offend them or face the consequences of doing so, we’re not actually loving the sinner...we’re loving ourselves. I’m very guilty of this. Ask my wife.
Hate the sinner, love the sin
This one goes both ways. The Church often hates society for loving sin. The self-righteousness we exhibit is sin, yet we love our self-righteousness. It makes us feel good, or better than society and all it’s sinners. We hate the sinner and love our sin. Society hates the church for calling them sinners. Society is also self-righteous. The mantra is to just try hard to be good people and believe in yourself and not think about all that negative “sin” stuff...only positivity. If you do that well, you’re doing life right, or at least way better than those Bible-thumpers telling us we’re so sinful all the time. The Church and Society are a lot more similar than we’d like to admit as we love our self-righteousness and hatefully look down on each other.
Love the sinner, hate the sin
Where did Jesus start in his interaction with Levi? He told him to follow him. He didn’t start with Levi’s obvious and reprehensible sin. He simply looked at him and said, “Follow me.” He loved him first. He initiated a relationship with a sinner in spite of the sinner’s sin. What was Levi’s response? He left everything, followed him and invited fellow sinners to meet the man who showed him a love like no other. As everyone was feasting Jesus further exemplified true love by calling them all sick sinners right to their faces! “Those who are well have no need of a physician but those who are sick. I have not come to call the righteous but sinners to repentance.” Not only did he call them sinners but he also told them to repent! How in the world can that be loving them?! Because Jesus hates sin. He knows its destructive power. He doesn’t want to see people he loves caught up in it anymore. In fact he hated sin so much and loved these sinners so much that he was willing to sacrifice himself for them by bearing the full brunt of God’s wrath over sin in their place. Oh that we would sacrificially love sinners and hate sin as Jesus did!Jesus is still polarizing. Jesus’ life, death, resurrection and call to follow him stands for us sinners today every bit as much as it did back then. We’re left with a decision. Will we admit we are sinners, accept his free gift of salvation and follow him or will we persist in our self-righteousness...church-goers and members of society alike? What will you do with Jesus today?