We have a follow-up question from a listener named Isaac. “Pastor John, in episode 924 you said Christians are known as ‘sin haters.’ I agree wholly, but sometimes in living this out, I become too self-focused. So what is the difference between hating sin — what you call for — and ‘hating’ myself because I sin — which is so often what I feel? What is the difference between sin-hate and self-hate?”
Let me first say something that will probably strike Isaac as depressing. And then, I hope, because it is true and because it is real and because of the wider biblical context, it will be hope-giving and not just depressing. I think it is impossible to really hate our sin and know that this sin originates in my corrupt heart and not hate that part; that is, hate my heart, my sinning self, insofar as I am corrupt, world-loving, God-hating, rebellious. And that is who we all are without the regenerating work of the Holy Spirit.
“There is a genuine and proper self-hatred that is essential to fighting the fight of faith.”
Paul describes us in Ephesians 2:2–3. We “once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience — among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature” — this is not alien to us — “by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind.” You can’t know yourself to be a child of wrath — that is, a person who God is so angry with — and not be angry with yourself if you are in sync with God.
Now, of course, God enters into our lives with the power of the Spirit. The old man is crucified. Sins are forgiven. A new nature is given through rebirth. The Holy Spirit takes up residence in our hearts. He begins to lead us in paths of righteousness. We are not the same people anymore that we once were in such awful rebellion. So, you might think: Well, that is the end of that self-hate.
There are two catches. One is that Paul tells us to remember what we came from in Ephesians 2:12. This is just ten verses later than what I just read from Ephesians 2: “Remember that you were at that time separated from Christ, alienated from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world.” So, remember that. Don’t forget that. Bring that to your mind. Let it humble you. Hate that old self.
The other catch is that, in spite of our newness in Christ, the old nature must be seen and recognized now and put to death now, daily. Paul said, “Put to death . . . what is earthly in you” (Colossians 3:5). Reckon to be dead to that old nature. You can’t put your old nature to death if you love it. In cases like this, you only kill what you hate. And it is not just sin that you kill. It is the old you that keeps trying to raise its head, and you must hate that old you.
“It would be sin if you hated the new you that the Holy Spirit is shaping after the image of Christ.”
And, yes, it is a real you. I base that on Romans 7:24 where Paul cries out, “Wretched man that I am!” — not just, Wretched sin that I do. He is not calling the work of the Holy Spirit wretched. No, he is not, because he says in Romans 7:18, “I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh.” But he knows that something good does dwell in him. The Holy Spirit dwells in him. A new nature dwells in him. What he is calling “wretched” is his old sinful nature. And the way he says it is, “Wretched man that I am!” And he knows he is still responsible for those acts that crop up from his old nature.
So, in that sense I think there is a genuine and proper self-hatred that is essential to fighting the fight of faith. Now, here are two or three warnings how that — what I just said — can go haywire.
1) I have already said it would be sin if you hated the new you that the Holy Spirit is shaping after the image of Christ. Every hint of godliness, every degree of love to Christ, every mustard seed of faith should cause you to feel thankful that God is at work in you, making you new. It is a sin to hate this new work of God. Don’t ever hate what God has wrought in you by the power of the Holy Spirit. And he is at work in you if you are born again. And here are two more warnings how things can go haywire.
2) Jesus bases his whole argument for self denial on the preciousness of the human soul, the value of everlasting existence. Listen to how he says it. “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.” Here is his argument: “For whoever would save his life will lose it.” Well, you don’t want to lose it. “But whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel’s will save it.” And you do want to save it. And then he adds, “For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world and forfeit [or lose] his soul? For what can a man give in return for his soul?” (Mark 8:34–37). The whole argument, the basis of Jesus’s argument, is: You should love your soul — that is, love it in the sense of doing whatever it takes to save it.
So, in this sense, we should never, never, never hate our soul. That is, we should never act in a way that destroys the soul. The whole world is acting as though they hate their soul by living in sin. We should love our souls in the sense that we will do anything, we will deny ourselves anything, we will sell anything, we will go anywhere, we will believe Jesus to the max — including any self denial — in order to save our souls. That is the way Jesus is arguing. So, don’t ever become a self-hater in the sense that you don’t care about saving your soul, but only destroying it.
3) And the last warning about how things can go haywire in this recommendation that there is a genuine self hatred that belongs to the Christian life is the third warning. Don’t dwell on your past corruption or on your present remaining corruption to the degree that it keeps you from leaning into hope with such joy that you are set free to love. And here is the text: “Brothers . . . one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal of the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 3:13–14).
“Don’t dwell on your corruption to the degree that it keeps you from joy, freedom, and love.”
Notice the key words: forgetting what lies behind. So yes, remember your corruption enough to humble yourself and keep yourself utterly dependent on grace (Ephesians 2:12). But forget your corruption if it ever keeps you back from pressing on toward the goal of the prize of the upward call of God in Christ with joy and hope and confidence and love.
So Isaac, that is how you measure whether your self-hatred is pathological and self-defeating, or whether it is Christ-exalting and hope-giving. Does it throw you on to grace in Christ? Does it intensify your love to Jesus and your confidence in his love for you and his readiness to use you for his glory? Say to yourself often: I am the temple of the Holy Spirit. I am not my own. I was bought with a price. I will glorify God in my body (1 Corinthians 6:19–20).