Hate the Sinner, Love the Sin

Hate the Sinner, Love the Sin July 31, 2012

A while ago I came across this video of Tim Keller answering a question about homosexuality to a non-Christian audience. I thought it was disappointingly weak and shallow, and I came up with lots of things to criticize about it. However, there was one thing that stood out to me as particularly bothersome. So I thought that instead of taking the time to polish and publish a full critique of the video, I would just offer a response to this one statement.

It’s the part where Keller is talking about the so-called “golden mean” that Christians should be striving for with regard to how they treat their “gay neighbor.” He says that some churches have taken seriously what the Bible says about homosexuality while failing to love their gay neighbor (whatever that exactly means in Tim Keller’s mind), but other churches have ignored what the Bible says about the sin “in order to love their gay neighbor.”
Immediately, I wanted to say, “Um… no?” Because here’s the thing: If you are ignoring what the Bible says about sin, you are not showing love to the sinner. You are showing love for the sin. But not the sinner. The Jen Hatmakers and Rachel Held Evanses of the world who talk about an “underground” of peace, luv and fluffy bunnies where gay people are “accepted and loved” are simply accepting and loving the sin. And that is death to the sinner, not life.
Every time I read a story about somebody who grew up believing their same-sex attraction was broken and sinful but changed their minds later in life, it reminds me of the power of the flesh. It’s the same story every time: “I used to think the Bible said this and this, but then I started to re-evaluate and re-examine these passages, and I eventually decided my sin was okay.” These people are so desperate to find some excuse for continuing to hold on to their sin that they will jump at the chance to twist Scripture, or accept someone else’s twisting of Scripture. Those who aid and abet them are encouraging them in that act of self-love, that act of holding on to a part of themselves that they are unwilling to crucify and bury. And the Bible tells us that he who saves his own life shall lose it.
So no, Tim Keller, I don’t think you can say with accuracy that the churches who are ignoring the biblical definitions of marriage and sexuality are doing so “in order to love their gay neighbors.” Quite the opposite, in fact.

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  • Hi,
    I Just watched the video, and thought it was really quite balanced. Keller shows two wrong ways that Christians deal with homosexual people. Group one focuses on homosexuality as a sin but doesn’t love their homosexual neighbour. The second group completely ignores what the Bible says about homosexuality but loves their homosexual neighbour, we could call that limp love.
    As I listen to it what Keller is saying, a third group emerges in a subtle way. A gospel group. A group that takes seriously what it means to be a Christian, a group that lives in light of the Gospel. This group lives in the middle, holding what the Bible says, both, about sin and also about loving ones neighbour.
    This group doesn’t take either of the simple options; love the sinner, or hate the sin, but goes for the more difficult road, a road where the spirit needs to be present and active, guiding and convicting. This group doesn’t focus on any single sin as a hobby horse but deals with all sin the same. In that though they are embodying Christ’s self giving love. There is no simple answers to what that practically looks like (though the cross and also the good samaritan, and the rest of the New Testament help).
    Just some thoughts to interact with. But for sure it is a complex topic because it involves people (created in the image of God).

  • “This group doesn’t focus on any single sin as a hobby horse but deals with all sin the same.”
    That’s practically impossible, otherwise our society and our churches would collapse. Homosexuality isn’t a sin that we want to focus on, particularly. But we have to because the rest of the world is forcing us to.

  • Let’s put it this way: If a church took what you just said strictly literally and began treating all sins the same, that would mean exercising church discipline on a 12-year-old for being greedy, or withholding little Joey’s first communion because they found out he had told a white lie. I don’t think people who talk about treating all sins the same REALLY want a church like that, because it would be cooky. Everyone would say it was a cult.

  • All I would say to that is: Where’s the line and who draws it? Do we go through the Bible and the sins mentioned the most are the worst? Or do we use the 10 commandments only? Or maybe as Tim Keller was saying there is another kind of sin all together? I don’t really know, but what I do know is that the Spirit convicts and reveals what needs to be revealed and convicted.
    Just some thoughts. Anyway it is 10pm Here in West Australia so I need to go to my bed. Look forward to your response.

  • As far as church discipline goes, a good starting-point would be sins that are going to have seriously damaging effects on other people in the church community.

  • You can’t have it both ways….either you treat ALL sin the same, or you ignore it altogether. Cooky? Yes. Biblical….you bet! But we are humans, and EVERY church, no matter how devout or liberal, has a human element to it, so some things are allowed to slide, while others are not.
    Ideally, every single church would treat every single sin as equal, whether it be lying or murder. Sin is sin. You can’t pick and choose what is more or less important based on the battles you want (or don’t want) to have. But that is why God gives us the gift of grace. We all screw up, but we all can be forgiven by God’s grace.
    Personally, I think that the reason homosexuality is such a hot topic right now is because non-Christians know it gets Christians riled up. They love to see Christians fighting each other (and making idiots of themselves), so they keep poking in an effort to discredit us.
    If you ask me how I feel about homosexuality, I would say, “I have gay family members and friends. I do not condone their sexuality, but I am not going to turn them away.” It’s no different than the adulterous woman brought before Jesus to be stoned. John 8:1-11.

  • So you’d fire a pastor for kicking his dog? Come on. I think if you really stop to think about it you’d see how silly that approach would be if someone really tried to enforce it literally. The apostle Paul doesn’t recommend expelling church members for telling little white lies. We see him make a big deal about it when the sin is truly grievous. Like it or not, some sins just are more grievous than others. I know that may provoke some disagreements, but it’s the truth. Jesus himself refers to the “greater” sin in his words to Pilate (being acerbic of course as he’s referring to God the Father) [correction: actually I just realized I was misinterpreting that passage, he’s referring to the Jews, not God the Father] and he even makes a distinction between forgivable and unforgivable (the unforgivable being the sin against the Holy Spirit).
    We all screw up, but some people want to pretend that they’re not screwing up. They want us to redefine what it means to screw up. That won’t wash with God or the Bible. I’ve seen gay “Christians” say “Yeah, well some churches will SAY they’re open to gay people, but I’ll only believe it when I see them incorporate ‘comfortably’ homosexual people into their community, give them leadership positions, refuse to judge their lifestyle, etc., etc.” It’s like Israel and the Palestinians. Every time Israel makes a concession, it’s not enough. The enemy will always demand more. They won’t be happy until they have completely taken over, like a virus.
    Sure, I think the media does have fun with the Westboro Baptist types because they want to feed people a certain image of Christianity. But that’s their fault, not ours. If people want to persist in swallowing a stereotype, we can’t stop them. Keep calm and carry on.

  • Lydia

    Actually, in reply to Kyle Boreing, if you have “gay friends,” then presumably we are talking about at least some people who are unrepentant. In which case that is *not*, *not* the same as the woman taken in adultery. Jesus told her to go and sin no more. He didn’t say, “Hey, I accept you just the way you are. I know you love the guy you’re committing adultery with, and I’m not going to turn you away.”
    People really, really need to read I Corinthians 5. It is so timely. One of the things the Apostle Paul says is especially angering to him is that the Corinthians are *proud* of their church with this openly sexually sinful man in the church. Doesn’t that hit home? Think about all our churches that are proud of being “gay-friendly.”

  • darrel

    yankeegospelgirl: Please tell me what a white lie is. I thought a lie was a lie. answer please.

  • A lie is a lie. The phrase is just a colloquialism. I reached for it as a convenient expression.

  • darrel

    Thanks,that makes me feel better,you would be surprised or maybe not how people thinks its alright. T\Its only a little one..

  • All I’m saying is that we shouldn’t treat it exactly the same as something like adultery or homosexuality in the context of church discipline.

  • There are churches out there with music directors who never date, go out of town to ‘see people’ they wont name or discuss and then periodically get up and cry in front of their congregation and talk about how great it is to be forgiven and how wonderful grace is and how they are a sinner. Yeah, we all are sinners: but some churches with gay directors know they are gay. They let it slide, maybe because the directors try to sorta hide what they are and give the impression they are trying to fight it…..I wonder if we will ever have pedi-fenders and pedi-files working as youth directors…you know as long as they are sorry about it and dont admit it; even when its transparent.
    What Im trying to say is maybe we should worry about working on our church leaders first and our friends and non members will follow? I dont know; it is such a touchy area and it really is difficult to try to work past sins without ranking sin..

  • Anyone who knows that a member of the church leadership is living in sin and has the authority to do something about it should be held accountable for letting it slide. That’s certain.

  • quartet-man

    Be careful in assuming because music directors are single, not dating etc. are gay. First of all, I am single and haven’t been on a date for a while. I go out of town with friends or relatives (although I share what I am doing with people I am not obliged to and some are more private than I) and I am not gay. Christ Himself could possibly have met some of your same criteria. David is single and a music director, but I don’t know his dating habits. 😀 Before anyone makes that into something it isn’t, I simply mean I don’t know how many dates he goes on NOT implying anything else.
    I have a single female friend who is NOT a music director, but single, doesn’t date at the very least.
    Now, by the same token there WAS a homosexual music director in a neighboring town (although he died before I even became one and I believe died from Aids). I know he was gay because he and his significant other sang in a local secular group with me for a short while. It is hard to believe his church didn’t know, but I don’t know if they did one way or the other. Nonetheless, if they did and he was unrepentant and determined to continue, then they were wrong.
    Now, I have seen people who I suspected were gay by certain things and at times were dead on. Other times ones were and I missed it. So, although there are certain traits or things people can look at that MIGHT indicate so, it is dangerous to judge or accuse them with just those.

  • joshvanklomp

    “We all screw up, but some people want to pretend that they’re not screwing up. They want us to redefine what it means to screw up.”
    Isn’t that the same thing as saying that not all sins are equal?

  • No. Saying that not all sins are equal is equivalent to saying that all sins involve screwing up to some extent, but some kinds of screw-ups are an especially big deal and have especially damaging effects on the people around you (and hence demand especially stern disciplinary action). Re-defining what it means to screw up, as I’m using the phrase, is like the moral equivalent of saying, “I’m not bull-dozing your house. I’m planting flowers in your garden.”

  • So Mary, since I am a single guy who never dates, I must be gay?! Wow, I’m so glad I don’t have people around me who are as quick to judge as you are. By your account, men should marry for the sake of marrying, or else there’s something wrong with them…
    It’s views like these that keep me away from the extreme right wing conservatists as much as possible.

  • Josh, thats not what I said, at all. Interesting through if thats what you heard. I said that we as church members sometimes close our eyes and allow sin to over take our leaders but we wont allow people into our congregations that battle the same sins. Further, we dont ask our leaders when we see behaviors that might suggest that they are living in sin when we are supposed to help hold them accountable. We turn a blind eye within and we turn a closed mind to the outsiders. The people we are supposed to reach out to – we push away.

  • LOL I know exactly where to find our boy David. If I want to call him out rest assured I will walk right up to him and jerk him up out of his chair. He is loads of fun to play with: but not a gay bone in his body.

  • I personally can’t offer any insights here since my church is so tiny and eccentric that these kinds of issues never even arise. I will say though that I would be very slow to make any kind of implication or accusation without VERY strong evidence.
    Josh, “conservatists”? 😉

  • quartet-man

    Yeah, I knew meant that I even suspected him. I just meant I never knew how often he took ladies out so I couldn’t comment on his lack of dates. 🙂

  • quartet-man

    I “never meant” :p

  • John Situmbeko

    An interesting discussion. Here are my thoughts:
    The wages of sin is death. What a severe punishment for sin, all sin. The lier and the murderer all get the death penalty. That is how God looks at all sin, deserving of death. In fact Jesus died because of sin, including the little white lie. With that in mind, the little white lie ain’t that little, and it ain’t that white after all. So I think all sin, whether it be homosexuality or lying, should receive the same disciplinary action. A lying pastor is no better than a homosexual, I say he ought to be fired, he can’t be trusted. It may seem to be too severe a punishment but a lie is worth death, it cost Jesus’s blood. ” Ye shall not surely die,” said the father of lies disguised as a serpent. But behold, Christ died.
    If your eye causes you to sin, pluck it out. To the homosexual Christ would have said, “if your sexual orientation causes you to sin, cut it out, its better you make it to heaven sexual-orientationless than go to hell with it.” To the lier he would have said,”if your tongue causes you to sin, sew your mouth shut, or better still, cut the slimy thing out.” Today people lie with their tongues and use the same tongue to condemn homosexuality. How sad. And because of the way churches deal with sin, tolerating some sins yet strongly opposing some, many will continue in sin.

  • We weren’t just talking about pastors though. We were talking about things like expelling church members, or not allowing people to join.

  • To put it a different way, we’re not going to give every prospective church member a questionnaire that covers every conceivable sin. We should say “Maybe Mr. Jones secretly harbors envy for his neighbor’s lawn in his heart [for example] and maybe he doesn’t, but we’re going to leave that between him and God.” We shouldn’t take the same approach to Mr. Smith and his same-sex partner.

  • John Situmbeko

    OK. Church members must themselves know the severity of their sin. A church member who secretly harbors envy for his neighbour’s lawn cannot be easily found out for he does so secretly. But if Mr Jones’ sin be found out, how dare he bear the name of Christ and cherish sin? I say he should be cut off, if he chooses to stick to his sin, that is. He and the homosexual who chooses to stick to his mate despite church admonishments and reproof in addition to Biblical reproof, should be dealt with severely.

  • Well of course envying your neighbor’s lawn was just a silly example. I’m trying to think of how it could seriously be manifested. Maybe if you were so obsessively envious of his lawn that you dug it all up when he was on vacation? I suppose that would call for church discipline. But nobody’s that obsessed.

  • Q-man, …lol hes always been a bit of a hobbit…still, hes definately all man, all straight man. I think you only thought of David because he and I are in the same neck of the woods. Besides, some day Im gonna marry him. Just gotta get him good and drunk first! For the weddin’ invitations Im thinking something tasteful on the front, like: ‘when a woman says no she means no and when a man says no he means convince me’.

  • John Situmbeko


  • Well, I arrived late to this party, but I guess I’ll throw my two cents into this conversation. I had a niece who used to be gay. When she was in her same sex relationship and she was confronted with this as sin, her reply was, “All sin is the same. You sin. I sin. God forgives sin. All sin is equal, so it doesn’t matter.” Wow. This got me to rethinking what I had often heard, that all sin is the same.
    The conclusions that I came to after studying the Word and praying is this; All sin is the same in that they all lead to death in one way or another (death of life, relationships, etc.). All sin is the same in that it goes against the standard of God and misses the mark. All sin is the same in guilt, in other words the liar is just as guilty as the murderer is of being guilty of committing a sin. All sin is the same in that they all separate us from God.
    All sin is NOT the same in it’s consequences or in the eyes of God. God gave out different punishments for different sins. Some he called an abomination, others He did not. All sin is different in the consequences both to the one who sins and to those that they influence.
    Most will point to the teaching of Jesus that if you hate your brother you are guilty of murder in your heart. This does not equal hate with murder….if you think it does, let me ask you, would you rather me hate you or put a bullet through your head? What this does is show that those who thought they were self-righteous because they did not commit any of the BIG sins were still guilty of sinning and they still needed a Savior because all sin is equal in that it makes us all sinners.
    As with many things in Scripture, the answer to the question, are all sins the same, is not as cut and dry as it may seem. The answer is “yes” and “no”. When we give a blanket “yes” to the answer, without a balanced “no” as well, we raise the low level of some sins and thereby appease the conscience of the sinner.
    By the way, “hate the sin, but love the sinner” was a phrase actually coined by Ghandi…who was not a Christ follower.
    Still trying to follow Jesus, one step at a time.
    Pastor Dave

  • Thank you for offering your perspective Pastor Dave. It sounds like your niece unintentionally drove you to a deeper understanding of the Word. You say she used to be in a same-sex relationship—did she later come to repent?

  • John Situmbeko

    Pastor Dave, I think someone putting a bullet through my head would just be the icing on the pie. What stops haters from murdering(or putting the icing on the pie) is not because they are lesser sinners than murderers but because they don’t want to spend their lives in prison. That is why Christ equated hate to murder. Lack of opportunity to act out ones evil thoughts doesn’t make his thoughts a lesser evil than the very act. Yes the consequences may be more severe here for a murderer than for a hater who just hates but the consequences in the hereafter will be exactly the same, fire and brimstone. So if God doesn’t look at all sin the same, why does all sin, no matter how small its consequences here, receive the exact same punishment? Out of the abundance of the heart proceedeth all manner of uncleanliness, God looks at the heart. A murderer and a hater both have one thing in common, hate. It is the hate that gives birth to murder but even if it doesn’t give birth, the very pregnancy is in itself a sin equal to murder, just like a foetus in the womb is considered a human with the right to life.

  • John, actually people go to hell because they reject the sacrifice that Christ offered up on their behalf when he died on the cross. As I said, all sin is equal in that it separates from God, but when God gave the law to the Jews in the Old Testament he did not tell them to kill those who hate. They are not punished in hell for their sins, they are getting what they desired, a life without Christ, without God. They rejected salvation. I have sinned since I was saved, but my sin is not recorded as they have all been covered by Jesus. No, my salvation does not give me an “out” to sin, don’t misunderstand me, but the sin that made me bound for hell was the sin of unbelief. Period. If you think that a prison sentence is the only thing that keeps people from killing one another, I feel sorry for you. I can only speak for myself, as I know in the past I have hated people, but have never wanted to kill anyone….and it had nothing to do with the possibility of a prison sentence.

  • This is why I always say that this kind of discussion ultimately boils down to your perspective on salvation.

  • Yes she did…she was also a drug addict and went through a Christian recovery program…and she is now serving the Lord, married, and she just had her second baby last week. God is good!

  • Praise the Lord!

  • John Situmbeko

    YGG is right. Your perspective and mine on salvation are quite different.
    According to the Bible, sin is the transgression of the law, the wages of sin is death, literal death(spiritual death is not the wage, a sinner living in sin is already spiritually dead). However according to you pastor, only unbelief is hell deserving. To say that all your sins are not recorded since you were saved is incorrect. Know ye not that ye will give account for every idle word, every sinful thought? Know ye not that every deed is written down in the books? Your salvation doesn’t mean the recording angel goes on early retirement. On the contrary it is then that sins are even more grievous, considering your salvation. Yes no one is perfect, but your failures(and mine) dear pastor are chronicled in heavenly ink.
    Hatred did not deserve stoning just like it does not deserve jail now. But all the same, to have hatred toward your brother and yet claim to be saved is an offence, one worth landing in heavenly pages. If as you said, your salvation does not give you an “out” to sin, what does it do if you can sin and heaven take no note? To whose account will the sin be credited? Don’t tell me Christ covered it when you got saved. In 1 Corinthians 9:27 Paul says, “But I discipline my body and bring it into submission, lest, when I have preached to others, I myself should become disqualified.” This shows that regardless of ones salvation, one is subject to disqualification in that most important race for the crown of life. Even righteous Paul feared for his eternal life, he dared not say, ” since my salvation, my sins are not recorded.” This is the man who saw Jesus and heard Him. I can boldly say he was not fearing lest he should all of a sudden unbelieve.
    Finally on hatred again, 1 John4:8 says, “He who does not love does not know God, for God is love. Hate is the absence of love, which is the absence of God, says the bible. Who are we to belittle hate? Sinners. And what is the definition of believer(in Christ)? For even demons believe and tremble. Unbeliever is not sufficient enough a word to describe all the hell bound children. Yes whosoever believeth should not perish, but have everlasting life. But note the words there are SHOULD NOT, not shall not.

  • I also want to interject that I think there’s room for believers who hold different viewpoints on this issue… just putting that out there as a calming influence. 🙂

  • I will not debate the issue further John as we have two different theological viewpoints on the issue of forgiveness of sins…in the end, we will find that either one of us is right and one of us is wrong, or we are both a little bit right and both a little bit wrong, but we cannot both be right. Blessings to you.

  • I think the truth is that when we ask “What damns a man, sin or unbelief?” we’re failing to recognize that these are two things that are very closely tied. People reject Christ because they want to continue sinning, and they sin unrepentantly because they have rejected Christ.
    The key word is “unrepentantly.” Now I do happen to believe that it’s possible for a man to legitimately accept Christ, but then proceed to fall away if he sins without repentance. This seems like the view John was advancing. Pastor Dave, you would probably adhere to the common view of eternal security, that if a man sins unrepentantly that’s a sign that he was never truly saved in the first place. This is a HUGE debate, and both sides can point to scripture that would seem to substantiate their views. In the end I don’t think we will be held accountable for how exactly we understood this doctrine. As I said, true believers can agree to disagree on the matter and not be any less true believers than when they started.

  • John Situmbeko

    It is true, we may not all be right. It is best to leave our theological differences aside, or we would ever argue without reaching a common agreement. I sometimes can’t resist the urge to strongly defend what I think to be the truth, but the truth is, not all I believe to be true is actually true. There a lot of theological differences that we can argue upon, each of us carried away in the excitement of debate, each hoping to win the other over. But as YGG has said, we can agree to disagree and still remain the same believers that we were.
    Whether hate and murder are equal or not, we certainly agree that both are unhealthy, spiritually and physically. hate the sin, love the sinner. In such a case, hate is good.

  • Gentlemen, I want to thank you both for exhibiting a gracious spirit in this debate. It makes my job as the admin much easier. 🙂

  • Just thought I would add one more thing that jumped out at me this week. If all sin is the same, how would you explain this verse: John 19:11 “Jesus answered, “You would have no power over me if it were not given to you from above. Therefore the one who handed me over to you is guilty of a GREATER sin.” (emphasis added).

  • Yes, I think I actually referred to that earlier in the thread. That particular passage is interesting because Jesus seems to be saying the Jews are more at fault than Pilate, but we think of what Pilate did as pretty heinous. So that verse is a bit of a head-scratcher, but it’s a good one to bring up in answer to the claim that all sins are the same.

  • John Situmbeko

    What makes a sin great? My analysis is as follows:
    1. The earthly consequences of the sin. E.g a lie vs third degree murder. Both are sins but one is considered greater because of its consequence on both the victim and the perpetrater.
    2. Knowledge of the sin. When you know it is sin and you still do it, you are more guilty than one who knew not that it was sin.
    Among the Jews were those who had read about, heard of and seen God in real person, as reviewed by the Son, yet they raised their voices in satanic protest,”crucify Him!” Yet they pronounced upon themselves the death sentence, “His blood be upon us and upon our children,” fixing their destiny beyond redemption. By worlds unfallen, by the whole heavenly universe, the blasphemous utterance was heard, “We have no king but Caesar.” Their sin was greater than Pilate’s, whom they made to do their bidding. Pilate sinned, but his was lesser than that of the Jews. In the heavenly judicial system, Pilate and the bloody-headed Jews will receive equal punishment. This leads me to think that the righteous Judge does not base His verdict on the greatness of the offence, but on the motive behind the offence. Thus my belief that sin in God’s eyes is equal.
    One may have a single HIV in his blood stream while his neighbour may have 100000 in his blood stream. When tested, both will be found to be HIV positive. No one of them will be positive to the power of 10, or something like that.
    I must say, my opinion may not be correct, therefore let none take offence.

  • Good point about the Jews being familiar with God already (and hence being in a better position to know who Jesus was). And yet Pilate had full knowledge that what he was doing was wrong. He even had the arrogance to do a ceremonial hand-washing, as if that would take care of it! “I wash my hands of the blood of this just man.” Sorry Pilate, it doesn’t work that way. The ironic thing is within the next few years, he fell out of favor and was demoted by Caesar, the very thing that likely would have happened had he resisted the Jews’ demands. So it shows that sin never pays.