Loving Sinners

“Let those who love the Lord hate evil.”
(Psalm 97:10)

True love, this side of heaven, cannot escape the struggle against evil. For Christians, this painful struggle begins inside as repentance begins its work in us. Then it emerges as confrontation with the destructive forces of evil around us.

When evil grows, love shrinks. Jesus warned, “Because of the increase in wickedness, the love of many will grow cold.” (Matthew 24:12). Thus, the good fight against wickedness is precisely the fight FOR love. But it is not a safe struggle. Confronting evil got the prophets persecuted, John the Baptist beheaded, Jesus crucified and nearly all the apostles martyred. One apostle who outlived all the others (according to various traditions) saw this confrontation at the heart of Jesus’ mission on earth. John wrote; “The Son of God appeared for this purpose, to destroy the works of the devil.” (1 John 3:8).

The apostle Paul saw the connection between genuine love and hating evil. He succinctly wrote, “Love must be sincere. Hate what is evil; cling to what is good.” (Romans 12:9).

An 18th century English poet, Alexander Pope, coined a pithy gem of brilliance when he wrote, “Love the offender, yet detest the offense.” Long before Pope, the cross of Christ clearly demonstrated God’s profound hate for sin and love for sinners at the same time. Pope’s maxim, however, is a cop-out whenever one claims both sides of it (hating the offense and loving the offender) but only practices one.

Jesus was questioned by some Scribes and Pharisees for loving sinners. “Why do you eat and drink with the tax collectors and sinners?” they asked. He replied, “It is not those who are well who need a physician, but those who are sick. I have not come to call the righteous but sinners to repentance.” (Luke 5:30-32). To this day, the most loving thing a Christian could possibly do is to seek the best time and place to plea with a committed sinner to repent and be reconciled to God. But this takes courage since many, including professing Christians, will call you a hater for doing this. Do it anyway. There is no better way to destroy the devil’s work than to promote repentance. Besides, love endures all things!

Over 30 years in Christian ministry, I have wept with far too many broken souls whose lives were shattered by sin to ever be seduced into going soft on evil. It’s a killer. The older I get, the more I hate sin and love sinners. I live in a culture, however, that has it the other way around. I see our society loving sin with endless passion and all too often disparaging and scandalizing sinners. Jesus turns that immoral twist on its head.

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