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Marco from RED-ing, PA writes in to ask: “Pastor John, what do you make of the saying ‘God loves the sinner, but hates the sin?’”

The problem with the statement—“God loves the sinner, but hates the sin”—is that it is misleading. It is not a false statement. And what is misleading about it is the word but, but hates the sin, because but should be and. God loves the sinner and hates the sin. But implies he doesn’t hate the sinner—that is not true. God does hate sinners. Psalm 5:4: “You are not a God who delights in wickedness. Evil may not dwell with you. The boastful shall not stand before your eyes. You hate all evildoers.” Or Psalm 11:5: “The Lord tests the righteous, but his soul hates the wicked and the one who loves violence.” So it is just not true to give the impression that God doesn’t hate sinners by saying he loves the sinner and hates the sin. He does hate sinners. His wrath is real. It is not something he pours out on people he approves of.

This infinite disapproval is what the Bible means when it says God hates sinners. He infinitely disap-proves of them. Sin is not sinful except as committed by sinful hearts. Sin is an expression of anti-God human corruption, human hearts. Sinful volitions are owing to sinful hearts. Sin doesn’t just hang out there with its own existence, it is in hearts or it is nothing. Sins do not suffer in hell, sinners suffer in hell. I wonder what people who say that believe about hell, because he is not punishing sin in hell, he is punishing sinners in hell. He hates—now here is the paradox—and he loves at the same time. For God so loved the world that he hates. Hate and love are simultaneous as God looks upon hateful, rebellious, corrupt, loathsome, wicked God-dishonoring sinners.

Now here is the distinctions we need to make. This is just so crucial. I hope people will listen carefully. Hate and love both have two meanings each. Hate can be intense loathing of a quality or hate can be be-yond that the intense intentionality to destroy. Love, similarly, can be an intense delighting in a quality and it can be an intense intentionality to bless even in spite of the presence of some unsavory quality.

So in any given text in the Bible, we have to ask: is the hatred being spoken of here only an intense loathing of a quality of a person or is it also the intent to destroy? And it is different. If you went over to Malachi one you would find the latter. And I think some of those texts in the Psalms refer to the former. Same with God’s love. God’s love moves him to save millions of people who in and of themselves are loathsome to him.

Now here is why this matters. If we don’t understand that God finds us hateful and loathsome in our ug-ly sin, we won’t be as stunned by what love is for us. God saves millions of people who in and of them-selves are loathsome to him until he saves them and makes them the apple of his eye, which makes sal-vation stunningly more, stunningly more—if you get that. That God comes to us not in our attractiveness like, oh, I really love this person and just hate their sin. No, he finds me reprehensible because of my rebellion, just like we find certain wicked people reprehensible because of their sin. And he is coming to us and he is dying for us in order that he might make us into the apple of his eye.

So God can love us, with the intent to save us, even while he is hating God-despising rebels like us. And then when he saves us he transforms us so that now he not only loves us with the intent to bless us for-ever, but he loves us with an ever-increasing delight, I think, in helping us make much of him.

Thank you Pastor John. And thank you for listening to this podcast. Please email your questions to us at askpastorjohn AT desiringgod DOT org. At desiringgod DOT org you will find thousands of free books, articles, sermons, and other resources from John Piper. … I’m your host, Tony Reinke. Thanks for listening.