Marco from Reading, Pennsylvania, writes in to ask this: “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.
God Hates Sinners
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: “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” (Psalm 5:4–5). Or, “The Lord tests the righteous, but his soul hates the wicked and the one who loves violence” (Psalm 11:5). 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 disapproves of them. Sin is not sinful except as committed by sinful hearts. Sin is an expression of anti-God, human corruption in 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 make that misleading statement believe about hell because he is not punishing sin in hell — he is punishing sinners in hell.
Hates and Loves
He hates — now here is the paradox — and he loves at the same time. “For God so loved the world” (John 3:16) that he hates. Hate and love are simultaneous as God looks upon hateful, rebellious, corrupt, loathsome, wicked, God-dishonoring sinners.
“Hate and love are simultaneous as God looks upon hateful, rebellious, corrupt, loathsome, wicked, God-dishonoring sinners.”
Now, here are 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 beyond 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 they are different. If you went over to Malachi 1, you would find the latter. And I think some of those texts in the Psalms refer to the former. The same is true with God’s love: God’s love moves him to save millions of people who, in and of themselves, are loathsome to him.
Stunned by Salvation
Now, here is why this matters: If we don’t understand that God finds us hateful and loathsome in our ugly sin, we won’t be as stunned by what his love is for us. God saves millions of people who are loathsome to him in and of themselves until he saves them and makes them the apple of his eye, which makes salvation stunningly more. 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 forever, but he loves us with an ever-increasing delight, I think, in helping us make much of him.