"God hates sin but loves the sinner." Is this statement biblical and a good motivator for evangelism? This article argues that though God does not want sinners to perish, God hates sin and God hates the sinner.

Source: Una Sancta, 2015. 3 pages.

Does God Hate the Sin But Love the Sinner?

Does God Hate the Sin but Love the Sinner?

The Present Climate

In Australia these days there's an ongoing discussion about so-called same sex marriage. In this discussion, talk sometimes turns to the question of the Christian church's position on homosexuality. This can give opportunity for some reflection and discussion among us. We can talk about how we ought to help members of our churches who might struggle personally with homosexual desires. Or we can discuss how we ought to present the Scriptural view of the matter to our fellow citizens or to those in government over us.

Unfortunately, the church's stance on homosexuality is often forced to be reactive. Whether we want to or not, we can be drawn into responding defensively to those who accuse the Christian church of being bigoted or homophobic. The charge quickly flies through the air: "I thought Christians were supposed to accept everyone in love, and not judge them. Isn't that what Jesus did?"

When it comes to addressing those angry charges of homophobia, or just trying to articulate a Scriptural stance on homosexuality, I think there is one reply that gets heard regularly from the mouths of Christians: "God hates the sin, but He loves the sinner." Maybe you've said it yourself. Obviously, the thinking is that if this is the principle by which God views homosexuality and homosexuals, then certainly the Christian church should do the same, and take his view of such things.

This conveniently simple and very memorable principle seems at once to have the tone of being correct: "Of course God doesn't hate sinners — that's why He gave his Son to die for them." Some have even wondered if this little saying could be found hidden somewhere in the Scriptures.

There is in fact some truth to this saying. We know from Scripture that God is antithetically opposed to any and every sin. For instance, we hear God saying, "I hate robbery and iniquity" (Isa 61:8); and, "I hate divorce" (Mal 2:16). Proverbs 6:16-19 even lists six things that the LORD hates, seven that are detestable to him: "Haughty eyes, a lying tongue, hands that shed innocent blood," and so on. It's in his very character that God hates sin, for "God is light; in him there is no darkness at all" (1 John 1:5).

And again, who could ever dispute that God loves sinners? The well-known John 3:16 is a shining summary of this Scriptural truth. God so loved the world that He sent his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have everlasting life. We know that our gracious God wants no sinner to die, but that everyone should come to repentance (2 Pet 3:9).

Clarity from Scripture🔗

As we try to evaluate this saying then, Scripture does tell us that God views sin and those who commit sin in a different way. In this sense, the saying has a small element of truth to it. But we must quickly say more. For not only is this saying not found in the Bible, it also suggests something that is contrary to the Bible's teaching. We know from the Bible that God does hate the sinner. His hatred of sin is so perfect that He simply cannot show love to those who insist on rejecting his ways.

Especially the Psalms clearly illustrate that God's wrath rests on the sinner. Setting the tone for the whole Psalter, we read in Psalm 1:5, "The wicked will not stand in the judgment." And this thought is continued in Psalm 5, where it is said of God, "The arrogant cannot stand in your presence; you hate all who do wrong" (v 5). Psalm 11 is more graphic in its depiction of God's hatred, "The LORD examines the righteous, but the wicked and those who love violence his soul hates. On the wicked he will rain fiery coals and burning sulfur; a scorching wind will be their lot" (vv 5-6). Here there can be no airbrushing away of God's fierce hatred for sin and for sinners alike. He hates them!

The New Testament speaks similarly. Out of his hatred for sin, God shows fury against it. As Paul tells us, "The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of men" (Rom 1:18). Moreover, God has righteous anger for the unrepen­tant sinner as well: "Whoever rejects the Son will not see life," Jesus says, "for God's wrath remains on him" (John 3:36).

While we cannot dispute that God has steadfast love for sinners — thanks be to Him! — we also cannot say that God has only love for sinners. The Scriptures are clear that He also has wrath for the wicked, and hatred for those who do not do his will.

A Contradiction to Our Minds🔗

The problem that we have in seeing the error of this cliché is that it's so very hard for us to reconcile God's hatred and God's love. Scripture clearly speaks of God having both, yet in our minds, hatred and love for the same object are mutually exclusive. As a simple example, if I said to you, "I love Weetbix, but I hate eating it," you'd conclude that I was in contradiction with myself, and seriously confused. I can't have it both ways! So the saying "God hates the sin, but loves the sinner" sounds correct because it puts God's love and God's hatred into separate and tidy compartments, without denying either of them.

But because of the greatness of God's perfections, He can express both love and hatred for the same object, and can do so without contradiction. That is, God can be justly wrathful against fallen man. And at the same time, God can be filled with gracious love for fallen man. Love and hatred exist in God, side by side.

We have to acknowledge our human limitations when we search for a solution to this tension in God. As with some other sticky theological "problems," here we can only humbly repeat what Scripture says, as we have done above. And in this case we can look to Golgotha for the marvelous way in which this love and hatred of God are worked out.

For it was at the cross that God showed the great depth of his just hatred for sin. He showed this hatred in cutting off his own Son (Matt 27:46), and in laying on Him the eternal curse that we deserved for our sin (Gal 3:13). But this intense wrath of God against Jesus shows us — at the very same time — the great depths of God's love for sinners. The Father, while He was full of righteous wrath against both sin and sinners, could yet love mankind so much that He chose to reject his Son in our place. Through his wrath against his Son on the cross, the Father accepts back into loving fellowship all those who are united by faith to Him.

Our Response🔗

A tidy cliché quickly uttered won't help the Christian church in dealing with members who might struggle with homosexuality. Nor will it help us in properly responding to those in our culture who attack the church for how we (allegedly) hate and mistreat homo­sexuals. Rather, we need to respond with the clear words that Scripture gives to us.

That is, we must say that if sinners don't repent, God's wrath remains against them. Even we as members of the church are sinners, and therefore by ourselves we all stand as "hated by God." But if we repent from our sins and believe in Christ, God gives us abundant love, and He forgives us completely.

We said earlier that the accusation of being judgmental is often flung at Christians today. And it's true, aren't we being judgmental of those who are homosexual when we call them names, or share crude jokes about them? We might try to excuse our unchristian words by saying that they deserve it because they're such horrible sinners, or because homosexual sin is somehow more disgusting than anything that we do against God's law. But we shouldn't apply a different standard of judgment to others than we apply to ourselves (Matt 7:1-5). Let's humbly remember that we are all contemptible sinners, and that all of us are called to repent every day from our disobedience.

We shouldn't be judgmental of homosexuals or of any other sinners, but we must judge, as Scripture tells us to. In the humility that comes from receiving undeserved mercy ourselves, we're called to point out sin wherever we see it. And as we have opportunity, we must not be shy in calling others to repentance. Pointing out sin, then we can also point out the path of forgiveness which has been opened through the cross.

Let the church never give a false sense of security to those around her by repeating as gospel truth, "God hates your sin, but God loves you." Rather, let's say, "God hates your sin, and He hates it so much that He gave his own Son to die for it. He gave his Son, so that if you repent and put your faith in Him, you'll be saved from everlasting death."

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