Have you ever heard the phrase, God hates the sin, but He loves the sinner? I have heard it quite a bit over the last several years, usually in connection with points that religious people want to make regarding sexual identity issues. I haven’t been totally comfortable with the phrase, but couldn’t put my finger on what exactly was causing my discomfort. I had forgotten where the phrase comes from, but was recently reminded that it appears in the little book, Steps to Christ, one of my favorites and a choice theory classic.
So how did this phrase, the one about God hating the sin but loving the sinner, get into one of the best choice theory books I have read? Well, that’s the thing. The way it is written in Steps to Christ is different than how people recite it during their sexual identity debates. The Steps to Christ version leaves the first “the” out and to me this is a noteworthy difference. Instead it reads –
He hates sin, but He loves the sinner.
Steps to Christ, p. 54
Without that first “the” I actually like this phrase. Why is the “the” that significant? For me the answer to that goes like this –
When people quote this phrase by saying, God hates THE sin, it sounds like they have sat in judgment, decided which behavior God hates, and are now proclaiming this “truth” to others. It comes across as critical, blaming, and even coercive, in that they portray God as backing them up in their spirit of “I’ll tolerate you, but nothing more than that.”
The truth seems to be that “God hates sin,” all of it, because it separates us from Him and hurts us in every way throughout our daily lives. He hates that we have to deal with fear and insecurity and coveting and lust and power struggles and self-medicating and addiction and vulgarity and dishonesty and . . . you get the picture. He hates anything and everything that screws us up and causes us pain and distress. He hasn’t given us the responsibility of convicting others of their sin (thank you for that, Father). The Holy Spirit takes care of that and He is really, really good at it. (John 16:8) It is amazing how gently and lovingly the Spirit can bring us into an accurate picture of ourselves. The important thing is (since the only person I can control is me) that we each respond to the promptings of the Spirit and, through Him, bring our thinking and our behavior more and more into alignment with His.
This is why I resonate so much with how the Dalai Lama says it –
The purpose of religion is to control yourself, not to criticize others.
There are some important choice theory takeaways from today’s post, including –
The only person I can control is myself. This is a key internal control element of choice theory and it is especially important when it comes to our spiritual journey.
Self-control is a noble goal for everyone, whether they are into religion or not. Since self-control is one of the fruits of the Spirit in Galatians, it is definitely important to a Christian.
Our need for love and belonging is met as we are in good relationships with others. Being judgmental and critical toward others hurts these relationships. As much as anything Jesus emphasized that we love one another.
Our view of reality is based, to a great extent, on the quality world pictures we believe and value. We see the world differently as our values shift. People that travel to poverty-stricken areas of the world are often changed by what they see and hear and smell and touch. They no longer see their own abundance in the same way ever again.