Many Christians use the cliché “Love the sinner; hate the sin.” This saying is not found in the Bible in so many words; however, Jude 1:22–23 contains a similar idea: “Be merciful to those who doubt; save others by snatching them from the fire; to others show mercy, mixed with fear—hating even the clothing stained by corrupted flesh.” According to this, our evangelism should be characterized by mercy for the sinner and a healthy hatred of sin and its effects.
We are to have compassion on sinners for whom Christ died, and we are also to keep ourselves “from being polluted by the world”—part of what constitutes “pure and faultless” religion (James 1:27). But we also realize that we are imperfect human beings and that the difference between us and God in regard to loving and hating is vast. Even as Christians, we cannot love perfectly, nor can we hate perfectly (i.e., without malice). But God can do both of these perfectly, because He is God. God can hate without any sinful intent. Therefore, He can hate the sin and the sinner in a perfectly holy way and still lovingly forgive the sinner at the moment of repentance and faith (Malachi 1:3; Revelation 2:6; 2 Peter 3:9).
The Bible clearly teaches that God is love. First John 4:8–9 says, “Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love. This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him.” Mysterious but true is the fact that God can perfectly love and hate a person at the same time. This means He can love him as someone He created and can redeem, as well as hate him for his unbelief and sinful lifestyle. We, as imperfect human beings, cannot do this; thus, we must remind ourselves to “love the sinner; hate the sin.”
How exactly does that work? We hate sin by recognizing it for what it is, refusing to take part in it, and condemning it as contrary to God’s nature. Sin is to be hated, not excused or taken lightly. We love sinners by showing them respect (1 Peter 2:17), praying for them (1 Timothy 2:1), and witnessing to them of Christ. It is a true act of love to treat someone with respect and kindness even though you do not approve of his or her lifestyle or sinful choices.
It is not loving to allow a person to remain stuck in sin. It is not hateful to tell a person he or she is in sin. In fact, the exact opposites are true. Sin leads to death (James 1:15), and we love the sinner by speaking the truth in love (Ephesians 4:15). We hate the sin by refusing to condone, ignore, or excuse it.