What Does It Really Mean to Love the Sinner, Hate the Sin?

Alicia Searl

Contributing Writer
Updated Jan 19, 2024
What Does It Really Mean to Love the Sinner, Hate the Sin?

Love differs from acceptance because where acceptance is being fully known and loved by God, flaws and all (thanks to Jesus), love covers a multitude of sins and realizes that not all people accept Christ and have the buffer of salvation (1 Peter 4:8).

*Disclaimer: Before I address this somewhat controversial and heated topic and common phrase, please know that I write this in a place of love and a means to share how we can love all people and lead them to Christ.

Acceptance versus Love

Maybe you have taken notice of today's concerning social climate and the mass confusion that is underway. It isn’t hard to see the steady growth of odd and sinful behaviors. From teens throwing on some cat ears and answering in purrs, to men dressing like women stating they understand the monthly trials we have to endure, to other unmentionable claims, it’s honestly all so hard to comprehend. But sadly, it doesn’t stop there. Many are seeking approval and acceptance for these behaviors, even demanding we follow suit.

Let me share why this is a bold move from the enemy and why so many of us have taken the bait. There is no doubt that Satan has always been the mastermind of identity confusion. So, that said, he is pulling many of the strings here, and doing so quite well might I add. But, we mustn’t fall for it! 

"Acceptance" is a word that causes a trigger within us all. That’s because we were all created to be fully known, fully loved, and fully accepted (Psalm 139). However, this word often gets misunderstood. The Bible is very clear, though. We are told that we are fully accepted by God (Ephesians 1:6-7), and furthermore, we are to accept our brothers and sisters (Romans 15:7). 

While we need acceptance, we are often searching for it in the wrong places, or should I say with the wrong people. That is because the real acceptance we truly crave only comes from the Father! So, it brings into question how (or rather, can) we really accept others? Well, the answer is yes, but only when we choose to first accept Jesus!

Jesus allows us to be fully accepted by God. While we cannot measure or even tempt to understand the depths of the Father’s love for us, we can know that His acceptance for us came with a price on the cross (John 3:16), and the only way to Him is through His Son, Jesus. Jesus also allows us to accept our fellow brothers and sisters, as they, too, are in Christ. So, when we talk about acceptance, we must understand that acceptance comes with a price. And the price is knowing Jesus and accepting Him into your heart! 

Love, on the other hand, is different, as we are called to love all people, including our enemies and those who don’t know Jesus (John 15:12). Love differs from acceptance because where acceptance is being fully known and loved by God, flaws and all (thanks to Jesus), love covers a multitude of sins and realizes that not all people accept Christ and have the buffer of salvation (1 Peter 4:8).

So, as believers, we can accept those who know Christ, yet still love all people. As faithful followers, this should grieve our hearts for those who don’t truly know Christ because we cannot “accept” them, and neither will the Father (1 John 2:23). However, in loving them, we can bring them to know Who Jesus is (1 John 1:1-4)!

How We Can Love Like Christ

Now, going back to the phrase that is often used in the Christian circles, how are we to really love a sinner? Well, maybe I should ask: How can we love each other, as we all fall short (Romans 3:23-24)? Well, if we look back on the definition of love according to God, it is laid out for us rather beautifully in 1 Corinthians 13:4-8.

We are to be patient, kind, and gentle in our approach, not boasting or acting arrogantly. We mustn’t dishonor or be selfish but rather gain a sense of understanding and be sincere. If we are to really love as Jesus did, we meet with the afflicted and lost and love them right where they are. We do not justify their behavior or twist the gospel by any means, but we walk in truth and share love with grace.

So just how do we love those who are seeking acceptance with lifestyles that go against God’s Word or do not necessarily make sense to us? First and foremost, we can pray for their heart and salvation. We can also be active listeners and seek to understand their stories. We can serve and extend a helping hand. And we can always speak with kindness. 

We Are Not to Accept Sin—Ever!

While we may be called to love the sinner, we are not in any way shape, or form to accept the sin. In other words, we claim that we may love them because they are truly loved by God, but just as God is continually shaping and molding us to be more like Christ, we do not accept the choices that have led them to sin or a sinful lifestyle.

Things often get muddy here because, in a society that is loud and longing for acceptance, we must tread lightly, remembering that the enemy is whispering lies, especially to us as believers. While acceptance does come with being fully known and loved, we cannot be fully accepted if we are engaging in sin. While Christ is the bridge and covers that sin, we still must seek His grace and forgiveness and strive to live differently. 

I often think about my own children and this issue of love and acceptance. While I know they are accepted by Christ and have welcomed Him in their heart, they are still sinners and make choices that break my momma heart. I always tell them that no matter what they do, I will still love them, but I will under no circumstances accept choices that go against God’s Word. 

Friend, the love that God has for us is immeasurable; it is so deep and wide that we cannot even comprehend it. However, He is a righteous and just God too. He is holy and pure as well. Habakkuk 13:1 indicates that God knows that we will fall into sin and evil surrounds us, yet He does not tolerate it and, therefore, looks down upon it.

We should see sin the same way in our own lives and in that of others. As we live in a society that embraces sin and sinful lifestyles, even celebrating them and seeking acceptance, we must stand firm in our faith and not cave. In fact, those behaviors should make us downright angry because we should hate anything that God detests and blasphemes His holy name.

We are never to accept sin, ever! But, we can always be a light of love and a beacon of hope. As we step out in faith, God can pave the way for us to tell others that we do not accept their sin or lifestyle, but we do choose to love them and respect them as a human being. This also opens up an opportunity to share our own redemption story and testimony of how Christ changed us, gaining full acceptance. 

So, can we really love the sinner and hate the sin? Yes! And as believers, we most certainly should.

Father, we come to You with heavy and burdened hearts, seeking Your mercy, love, and grace. Please show us how to love others well, just as You command us to. Help us be a light and a ray of hope in a seemingly lost, hurting, and broken world filled with confusion and mixed messages. Please have mercy on us where we fail You and fall into sin, maybe even believing the lies the enemy creates around love and acceptance. We want others to know of Your unfailing love and that through Jesus they can be fully known, fully loved, and fully accepted. We love You and are so thankful to be part of Your growing family. Amen. 

Photo Credit: ©GettyImages/fizkes

Alicia SearlAlicia Searl is a devotional author, blogger, and speaker that is passionate about pouring out her heart and pointing ladies of all ages back to Jesus. She has an education background and master’s in literacy.  Her favorite people call her Mom, which is why much of her time is spent cheering them on at a softball game or dance class. She is married to her heartthrob (a tall, spiky-haired blond) who can whip up a mean latte. She sips that goodness while writing her heart on a page while her puppy licks her feet. Visit her website at aliciasearl.com and connect with her on Instagram and Facebook.