Guercino, “The Woman Taken in Adultery,” c. 1621
Jesus loves sinners, but he doesn’t countenance sin. We ought to do the same.
According to a lot of people, it’s not. But we must distinguish between words or phrases appearing in the Bible, and concepts or notions present in Holy Scripture. It’s true that the exact phrase is not in the Bible; I agree (neither is “Trinity” nor “transubstantiation” nor “pope”). But the idea certainly is, as I will shortly demonstrate.
Today, very often, saying this phrase (or similar ideas) is automatically regarded as “hate” because that very distinction has been obliterated, by a generation of postmodern subjective relativism and hostility against the idea of objective, absolute truths (especially moral ones).
To hate a sin today (in the predominant view of our culture) is the same thing as hating the sinner who commits it. To criticize just about anything anymore immediately becomes “hate.” We can’t criticize anyone for anything or point out that they are committing sin because that is regarded as personally “attacking” them. No one can disagree with anyone anymore: is what this mindset amounts to.
Is “hating sin” some unbiblical novelty? Does it mean we also have to hate the sinner who commits the sin? No on both counts (we’d all have to hate ourselves if so, because we’re all sinners). Regardless of whatever is fashionable and chic and the latest fad and fashion in society (what gets us into all the coveted cliques and clubs and companies), the Bible offers this principle, among many others, and it remains true for all time. It expresses the notion, as applied to our behavior:
Psalm 45:7 (RSV, as throughout) you love righteousness and hate wickedness. Therefore God, your God, has anointed you with the oil of gladness above your fellows;
Psalm 97:10 The LORD loves those who hate evil; . . . (cf. 101:3; 119:104, 128; 119:163)
Proverbs 8:13 The fear of the LORD is hatred of evil. Pride and arrogance and the way of evil and perverted speech I hate. (cf. 3:5)
Sirach 17:26 Return to the Most High and turn away from iniquity, and hate abominations intensely. (cf. 19:6)
And it is expressed with regard to God as well:
Isaiah 61:8 For I the LORD love justice, I hate robbery and wrong; . . . (cf. Mal 2:16)
Judith 5:17 . . . the God who hates iniquity is with them.
Sirach 15:13 The Lord hates all abominations, . . . (cf. 10:7)
Revelation 2:6 Yet this you have, you hate the works of the Nicola’itans, which I also hate. (cf. Heb 1:9)
It’s clear that we are called to love all people. I need not cite those verses. And the above passages teach that we are also to hate sin. The two are not incompatible at all, and are both undeniably taught in Holy Scripture. If we want both concepts in one verse, then the following passage fits the bill:
Romans 12:9 Let love be genuine; hate what is evil, hold fast to what is good;
Our Lord Jesus teaches (and lives) the same principle in various ways: just not as succinctly as the above passages (though Rev 2:6 records His words): most of them from the wisdom literature: a biblical genre that specializes in proverbs and practicality. His encounter with the woman caught in adultery (John 8:3-11) is an example of His applying the principle. He exemplifies it in His actions and words together.
Certainly Jesus expressed and felt love for this woman. But He also didn’t countenance her sin for a second. He merely pointed out that everyone who would have stoned her was also a sinner. Then he told her to sin no more. It’s the last part that often causes hatred toward Christians today.
If we dare to say that (especially about the currently most fashionable sins), then we become objects of hate from many who don’t like to be told they are sinning or in bondage to sin. They love the love and compassion and forgiveness aspects of Christianity; not so much her moral teachings (above all, those that restrict sexual activity and define its moral acceptability only within certain parameters and limits: i.e., man-woman marriage).
But there is Jesus saying it, and being perfectly holy and our model. And elsewhere He predicts that we will be hated for His name’s sake. Jesus didn’t tell the woman to go resume her sinful life, because all is forgiven or will be forgiven, or because He will love her in any event (which would be the error that is known as antinomianism).
He tells her to stop, because He hates sin: knowing that it destroys people. There are many other relevant passages concerning Jesus, illustrative of the same principle that I am defending as biblical.
For example: Matthew 9:9-13 describes Jesus calling Matthew to be His disciple. He loved Matthew’s tax-collecting friends and called them sinners at the same time (another naughty no-no today). He obviously didn’t like the sin because He referred to the sinners needing a “physician” who would cure their malady. He uses the metaphor of physical illness to reflect spiritual illness (sin).
Luke 7:34-48 is another similar passage. It describes a Pharisee (well-intentioned but wrong) who hated the sin but didn’t love the sinner. Jesus did both. He never denied that the woman involved was a sinner. He spoke of “her sins, which are many” and implied that the Pharisee was a greater sinner than she was (at least in some respects). Jesus doesn’t make the dichotomies that we habitually make, in order to be popular with people by never telling them, for their own good (lovingly, gently, and hopefully within an existing relationship of trust) that they are doing anything wrong.
We love the accolades and praise of people and to be popular and loved and adored by one and all. Jesus loves to see them stop sinning and healed and saved (even if they shun or even hate [or murder] Him because of it). We ought to be more like He is.