One of the catchphrases of modern Christianity is: “God hates sin but loves the sinner,” and at first glance it might seem that there is nothing wrong with this statement but as with a lot of modern Christianity it doesn’t tell the full story. Again, like a lot of ‘modern’ Christianity, by which I mean the Christianity so often taught in churches today, it takes a truth and distorts it through mis-emphases.
The problem with the catchphrase is that it ignores the verses in the Bible which say things like:
“The Lord examines the righteous, but the wicked, those who love violence, he hates with a passion.”
“There are six things the Lord hates, seven that are detestable to him: haughty eyes, a lying tongue, hands that shed innocent blood, a heart that devises wicked schemes, feet that are quick to rush into evil, a false witness who pours out lies and a person who stirs up conflict in the community.”
Proverbs 6 v 16 – 19
The root of the problem is that we like to separate out what we do that is wrong with who we are as a person. That is to say, I want my sin to be separate from who I am, so the idea of God hating my sin is fine as long as he does not hate me. But sin does not work like that. We’re not sinners because we sin; we sin because we are sinners. The distinction is very important and it was what Jesus was saying when he said:
“For out of the heart come evil thoughts—murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false testimony, slander.”
Matthew 15 v 19
In Bible language the heart refer to our core personality, who we are as a human being, and it is from this core that evil thoughts come out of. So for God to hate sin but love the sinner makes no sense in the way it is often meant. For God does not just hate the symptoms of sinfulness (that is, our sinful acts) but also the place from which they came (our hearts).
I’ve been reading through Ezekiel for the last few days and it has struck me just how much God is angry with sin. Ezekiel contains chapter after chapter after chapter of judgement against sinners: judgement against God’s people for their rebellion, judgement against the nations around them, judgement against all wickedness and ungodliness. As I read it then I realized that I was not reading about a God who hated sin but loved sinners I was reading about a holy God who hated sinners for their rebellion against him and his righteousness.
It is also worth noting that this very hatred against sinners is itself an act of love. For as Paul writes about love he says: “Love must be sincere. Hate what is evil; cling to what is good.” (Romans 12v9). Part of being loving is hating what is evil – if I love someone then I hate it when evil is done to them and I hate the evil I see in them. The trouble is that we tend to think of God as being a bit one dimensional and imagine that he can only feel one emotion at a time. This seems silly considering we know from our own experience of life the multitude of emotions we can feel at once.
Imagine that you were sat opposite a paedophile, one who showed no remorse or repentance for his actions but rather rejoiced in them. You could feel hatred not just for his actions but for who he was as a person and yet at the same time (if you were a better man than me!) you could also love the man and do good to him. Before a holy God we are all as vile as that paedophile for we have turned our backs on our Creator and lived in rebellion against him.
But though he hates our sin and hates sinners he also shows us love! We see it in his common grace i.e. the fact that ‘the sun shines on the righteous and unrighteous’ and we see it even more gloriously displayed in the fact that: “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” (John 3v16) and even more plainly: “but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” (Romans 5v8) Let us then marvel at the love God shows sinners whom he hates, he gives the wicked life and happiness for a time, he offers out salvation to all who would believe in Jesus and he saves for himself a people. And he does this to the very sinners who despise and reject him so rightly John writes: “See what great love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God!” (1 John 3 v1)
For a non-Christian God hates the sin and the sinner behind it. But for a Christian things change, for a Christian then it can truly be said that God hates the sin but loves his child who sins. How can such a marvellous thing be? Simply because for a Christian then Christ took all the anger that God had against them, all of his hatred towards the Christian was taken by Christ when he died on the cross. So now the Christian is at peace with God, accepted because of Christ’s work, and is now a child of God, adopted into his family, and so God looks upon all his people with an ever abounding and overflowing love because instead of their rebellion he sees the righteousness of Christ . As a Christian then I can say: God may hate and be grieved by the sin in my life but he loves me unconditionally because of Jesus Christ. And as a Christian I inherit a new set of love's and a new set of hates – the sin used to love I now hate and the holiness I used to despise I now love.
If you are not a Christian then you cannot have such a confidence. There will come a time when everyone will stand before God and be judged, it will be too late to accept the offer of salvation, too late to repent and turn to Christ and you will face God, and he hates you not just your sin but your very self because of your rebellious heart. The question you face is that on judgement day when you stand before God will your soul be secure in the saving work of Christ or will it be lost forever in Hell because of God’s holy hatred against all that is evil?