Today’s question comes from an anonymous man: “Hello Pastor John. There’s something I’ve been struggling with, and that thing has been not feeling convicted for my sin. I know that as a believer I should feel bad for indulging in sin. Smoking pot, watching porn, lying — every time I do those things that I should not do, I never feel convicted, nor do I feel like God is punishing me or is angry with my sin. In fact those things make me feel good in the moment. I guess my main thing is I don’t know how to hate sin, especially when I don’t feel any immediate backlash from God for indulging in it. It’s almost like God is giving me a free pass. And I just am wondering why that would be. How do I learn to hate my sin?”
First, let’s be really clear that this man is absolutely right that he needs to hate sin. This is not optional. It’s commanded in the Bible, not suggested. The command is not merely to flee evil but to hate evil, just like the command is not merely to do mercy but to love mercy, to love righteousness. He has his finger on the very essence of the change that needs to happen to every fallen sinful human being.
“The tongues of our souls have to be put out of taste for the bait of the devil.”
Jesus put it like this when he was describing his own coming: “This is the judgment: the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil. For everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his works should be exposed” (John 3:19–20).
Our problem is not that we don’t have light, but that we love the darkness. We love it. Our friend who sent this question in bears witness to why we love it. He says, “Every time I do those things that I should not do, they make me feel good.” The Bible calls this “the fleeting pleasures of sin” in Hebrews 11:25. Of course sin feels good. Nobody would do it, otherwise. Nobody sins out of duty. We do it because it feels good, and the reason we don’t hate these behaviors is because we love them. They feel good and we like to feel good, so we like them.
We’re like children who find the taste of poison sweet and pleasing, and we have to be taught first that the bottle with the skull on it is deadly. The big “SIN” on the bottle means it will kill you. Don’t drink that. Avoid it. More deeply, we need to go deeper than to have a sign out front that keeps us from doing what we really, really, really love to do. We’ve got to go deeper.
Our tongues, the tongues of our souls, have to be put out of taste for the bait of the devil. I love that quote from a Puritan. I don’t remember who said it, but they said, “O God, put my tongue out of taste for the bait of the devil.” It’s exactly what has to happen. We can’t just constantly love evil and not do it. We have to start hating evil. And to do that, we need new spiritual taste buds. We need the miracle of new birth.
How do we get these new spiritual taste buds? That’s his question. We start by realizing that we must get them. They’re not optional. We must. This is not peripheral, marginal, icing on the cake to Christianity. This is necessary. We must get these new taste buds, and we can’t get them by our willpower. That’s what we’ve got to realize. We must because God commands us to.
“Our problem is not that we don’t have light, but that we love the darkness.”
“O you who love the Lord, hate evil!” (Psalm 97:10). Paul in Romans 12:9, “Let love be genuine. Abhor what is evil” — it’s a command; it’s not an option — “hold fast to what is good.” He doesn’t just say leave evil, reject evil. He says abhor it. You can’t get hatred for evil by an act of willpower. You know you can’t. He wouldn’t even be writing it if you could, because we are spiritually dead and we need a new moral life in our taste buds, the taste buds of our soul, that tell the difference between good and evil by how horrid sin tastes and how sweet holiness tastes.
Ephesians 2:3–5 sets up the awful problem: “We all once lived [among the sons of disobedience, verse 2] in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind. But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us . . . made us alive.” That means taste buds that abhor sin came to life. Taste buds that delight in holiness came to life. That miracle has to happen. We need to be given life, a new heart that’s alive to the horror and the outrage of sin and alive to the sweetness of holiness. That has to come into being.
Just before Paul said in Romans 12:9, “Abhor what is evil,” he said, “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind” (Romans 12:2). That transformation is a gift of God, and so we must cry out for it and desperately long for it and not be cavalier about our deadness to it. The great thing is God has not left us without clear guidance and strong help as we pursue the gift and the grace of this transformation and this love for holiness and hatred of sin. God hasn’t walked away and left us helpless, as if there’s nothing we can do, and we just say, “Well, it’s a miracle. I’ll just wait till it happens.” No. The main gift that he’s given us is his word, the Bible. This is the main instrument that the Holy Spirit uses to give the love of holiness and the hatred of sin. This is the work of the Spirit, and his instrument is the word.
“Search for the beauty and fearsomeness of God, and cry out for a heart that loves holiness and hates sin.”
You can see this, for example, in Psalm 119:104. It goes like this: “Through your precepts I get understanding; therefore I hate every false way.” Wow, what a “therefore.” What a “therefore.” “Through your precepts I get understanding; therefore I hate every false way.” Hatred for false ways comes through gaining understanding through the precepts of the word of God. That word functions at two levels and I’ll just mention these.
First, it threatens and warns us about the dangers of loving sin and shakes us into seriousness, which the Holy Spirit can use to open our eyes to what’s truly valuable. When I read this man’s words that he said to us, it’s as if the Scriptures were specifically written to answer him. It’s amazing how tailor-made the Scriptures are, because here’s what he said: “Every time I do those things that I should not do, they make me feel good in the moment. I don’t feel any immediate backlash from God for indulging in it. It’s almost like God is giving me a free pass.” Wow. What telling words. “In the moment, it feels good.” “No immediate backlash.” “Almost a free pass.”
In other words, God has taught this man. God has taught this man that the good feeling that comes from sin will not last. He’s taught this man that the good feeling is in the moment. He’s taught this man that the backlash is not immediate, but it will come. He’s t aught this man almost it feels like a free pass, but it most certainly is not a free pass. So, he knows. He knows the truth. The Scriptures are crystal clear.
Job 20:5, “The exulting of the wicked is short, and the joy of the godless but for a moment.” James 5:5, written to the self-indulgent, “You have lived on the earth in luxury and in self-indulgence. You have fattened your hearts in a day of slaughter.” This is coming. It’s coming. There’s no way out for the one who loves sin. Paul mentioned sexual sins and others, and then says, “On account of these the wrath of God is coming” (Colossians 3:6). Galatians 5:21, “I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.” Matthew 5:29, “If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body be thrown into hell.”
The word of God is filled with bright red flags waving in this man’s face, in all of our faces, telling him and us, “Stop indulging in sin” to make him serious enough that the Holy Spirit might take that seriousness and drive it down deep to the transformation that has to happen, which leads us to the last way that the word works.
“The Bible is the main instrument that the Holy Spirit uses to give us love of holiness and hatred of sin.”
Not only does it warn us, but the main way that the Holy Spirit uses the word of God to create love for holiness and hatred for sin is by showing us God himself in his infinite worth and beauty and the sufferings of Jesus that he went through to purchase our holiness. Proverbs 8:13, “The fear of the Lord is hatred of evil.” In other words, when the word reveals the infinite value of God and awakens reverent awe of him, the reflex is, “I hate evil that is against this God.” Paul puts it positively like this: “We all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit” (2 Corinthians 3:18).
Transformation into the kind of person who loves holiness and hates evil comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit, but he does it as we behold the glory of the Lord. So, that’s what I urge mainly every day, every day. Pore over the Scriptures, looking for the beauty of Christ and the fearsomeness of God, and cry out for a heart that loves holiness and hates sin.