Does God Hate the Sin but Love the Sinner?

Troubled sinner: “I’ve done a terrible thing.  God must hate me.”

Well-meaning friend: “No, that isn’t true.  God hates the sin, but loves the sinner.”

That’s some pretty typical Lifetime TV counseling.  “God hates the sin, but loves the sinner.”  I would guess it’s also been the theme of more than one sermon preached from the pulpits of American Christianity. It’s a handy theological sound bite.  But is it true?

Short answer:  The Truth is too big to fit into that saying.

Usually, when people say, “God hates the sin, but loves the sinner,” what they mean is, “God hates the sin, but God does not hate the sinner.  God loves sinners; He doesn’t hate them.”

That’s wrong.

According to the Bible, God always hates sin, and God always hates sinners. The Psalmist says,

For 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. You destroy those who speak lies; the Lord abhors the bloodthirsty and deceitful man (Ps. 5:4-6).

God does not send sins to hell.  He sends sinners to hell.  Nor is sin the child of God’s wrath.  Sinners are.

And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you 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 children of wrath, like the rest of mankind (Eph. 2:1-3).

So God hates both the sin and the sinner. The question is, does God also love sinners?

That answer, too, is bigger than a simple “yes” or “no.”

First, we need to remember that the word “love” has shades of meaning, and here the New Testament words for “love” are helpful.  Agape is the love of selfless devotion to another, whether the other is worthy or not, whether the love is requited or not.  Philos is the love of friendship, the love that likes another person, that is pleased with a person and enjoys that person’s company.

The Father loves (agape) the Son (Jn. 3:35).  The Father also loves (philos) the Son (Jn. 5:20).

At the same time that God hated the world of unbelieving sinners, the Father loved (agape) the world of unbelieving sinners (Jn. 3:16), but not in such a way that He loves (philos) the unbelieving sinner.

God loved (agape) the world in such a way that He sent His beloved (agape) Son, made His beloved Son to be sin (2 Cor. 5:21) and turned His wrath and hatred against sin and the sinner in the Person of His Son, in order to save unbelieving sinners, so that unbelieving sinners might believe in the Son and be rescued from God’s wrath.

Of course, all sinners being, by nature, dead in sin, no sinner has the ability even to believe in the Son, and so, in a special demonstration of His love for sinners, God has given us the gift of faith in Christ, who is our only refuge from God’s hatred and wrath, and has made us alive together with Christ (Eph. 2:1,4-5).

Those who do not believe in the Son remain under God’s wrath and hatred (Jn. 3:36), and yet, while their time of grace lasts, God’s love is still extended to them that they may repent and believe.

Those who do believe in the Son are hated by God as sinners, but are sheltered by God from His own wrath and hatred through the righteousness of faith, and there, as we look to Christ for refuge, we are both loved (agape) by the Father (1 Jn. 3:1) and loved (philos) by the Father (Jn. 16:27), so that “there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (Rom. 8:1).

Simul iustus et peccator. Righteous and sinner at the same time.

Does this all sound illogical?  In a way, it’s supposed to.  This is how God shatters the wisdom of the wise. As Luther says, “Here we are in an altogether different world—a world that is outside reason…Here we are in a divine theology, where we hear the Gospel that Christ died for us and that when we believe this we are reckoned as righteous, even though sins, and great ones at that, still remain in us” (AE:26:234).

Short and sweet bits of wisdom like “God hates the sin, but loves the sinner” are handy.  But God does not fit in a sound bite.

I’ve attempted here a reaction to the sound bite, but Luther reacted to it long before it existed, at least in English. I could have just quoted him for the entire post, but I didn’t want to appear lazy.

This is also how Christ defines the righteousness of faith in the Gospel of John. He says (John 16:27): “The Father Himself loves you. Why does He love you? Not because you were Pharisees, irreproachable in the righteousness of the Law, circumcised, doing good works, fasting, etc. But it is because ‘I chose you out of the world’ (John 15:19). And you have not done anything except that ‘you have loved Me and have believed that I came from the Father.’ This object, this ‘I’ sent from the Father into the world, this pleased you. And because you have taken hold of this object, the Father loves you, and you please Him.” Nevertheless, in another passage He calls them evil and tells them to ask for the forgiveness of sins. These two things are diametrically opposed: that a Christian is righteous and beloved by God, and yet that he is a sinner at the same time. For God cannot deny His own nature. That is, He cannot avoid hating sin and sinners; and He does so by necessity, for otherwise He would be unjust and would love sin. Then how can these two contradictory things both be true at the same time, that I am a sinner and deserve divine wrath and hate, and that the Father loves me? Here nothing can intervene except Christ the Mediator. “The Father,” He says, “loves you, not because you are deserving of love, but because you have loved Me and have believed that I came from the Father” (John 16:27).

Thus a Christian remains in pure humility. He really and truly feels that there is sin in him and that on this account he is worthy of wrath, the judgment of God, and eternal death. Thus he is humbled in this life. Yet at the same time he remains in a pure and holy pride, by which he turns to Christ. Through Him he strengthens himself against this feeling of divine wrath and judgment; and he believes that he is loved by the Father, not for his own sake but for the sake of Christ, the Beloved (AE:26:235).

 

 

About Pastor Paul Rydecki

Rev. Paul Rydecki is originally from Stevensville, Michigan. Although baptized in the LC-MS, he joined a WELS congregation with his parents at an early age. He graduated from Northwestern College in 1995 and from Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary in 2000, when he was ordained and commissioned as a world missionary to Puerto Rico. After four years in Puerto Rico and three in Mexico, Rev. Rydecki accepted a call in 2007 to Emmanuel Lutheran Church in Las Cruces, New Mexico, where he now lives with his wife, Amy, and his four sons, Nathan, Jacob, Samuel and Lucas.

Comments

Does God Hate the Sin but Love the Sinner? — 17 Comments

  1. We are having this very conversation in Bible Class. It stems from a statement that I made in a recent sermon in which I said that God loves us because Jesus died for us. We have been looking at some of the same passages that you have brought up. I have emphasized that we must keep the attributes of God distinct from each other. God is love. Thus, He acts in love toward us. His love results in His creating of all things. However, creation is in rebellion. God is also holy. Thus, He acts in justice toward sin and sinner. There must be judgment and punishment. God hates sin and sinner. Because we are sinners by nature, we are hated by God and under His wrath. Yet, the good news of Christianity is that God has a provided the atoning sacrifice. Because God is love, He sent His Son take away the sin of the world. In this way God’s justice is fulfilled. Therefore, in Christ God loves us. Without the atoning blood of Christ, we are left with just another religion of the world that says that God is love. He loves us just the way we are. They say a loving God would not send people to hell. They say that God is merciful and all you need to do is just tell Him that you are sorry. They say that you can gain God’s love by being like God. But, we must maintain that God is also holy. That is exactly why it was necessary for Christ to die in our place.

  2. Good post!

    God’s love is a mystery. How can anyone be so filled with “the love of selfless devotion” to suffer infinite injustice, humiliation, pain, and death for someone they hate, are completely unpleased with and never enjoy that person’s company? Why does God love us?

    How can God be love and also hate?

    Humanly and logically it’s impossible.

  3. Exactly why we need to have a balance of Law and Gospel in every sermon!
    If we overemphasis God’s Love without the Law, the very fact of how desperately we needed Savior gets lost.

  4. “God showed His love for us in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.”

  5. There is an overarching understanding about Scripture . . . and the genius of Luther and others was to “get it” – to see past merely the forensic judgements, and understand that from Genesis 3:15 onward, The Lord God meant to save every soul – and worked actively to do so – especially those who believed in Him and His promise of redemption.

    The forensic determinations, are true and a part of matters, but God is the Father of both the Prodigal and the elder son. And in that, one catches the heart of all Jesus preached. The Gospel is NOT merely a forensic determination, it is the eternal act of a loving Father.

    And then, one understands, while knowing the law must point out sin and condemnation; the first foreign to God, and the latter, His threat of last resort, but NOT His will – revealed or not.

  6. @Rev. Brian L. Kachelmeier #1
    “God loves us because Jesus died for us.”

    That can be understood correctly, but isn’t it more accurate to say Jesus died for us because God loved us? I used to think God couldn’t stand even the thought of us until Christ washed us clean and made us presentable to him, but then I really noticed the first few words of John 3:16, “For God so loved the world…” It was because God loved us from eternity that he sent his Son to wash us clean — with his blood.

  7. @Pastor Ted Crandall #7

    It is most certainly true that because God loved us, He sent His Son to die for us. Likewise, because God first loved us we are to love others.

    I am approaching this topic from the perspective of maintaining that God is both love and at the same time holy. God loves His whole creation. Yet, God does not judge sin because He is love. God judges sin because He is holy. Thus, it was necessay that out of love God sent His Son to die for us while at the same time it was necessary for God to be just out of the attribute of His holiness Christ is the propitiation for our sins.

    If we isolate a passage such as John 3:16, then we end up only talking about God’s attribute of love. God is love. Therefore, God so loved us that He sent His Son to die for us. I have heard people then draw the conlusion that the death of Christ on the cross was merely the manifestation of how much God loved us. He loved us so much that He was willing to die for us. Further, I have also heard people then say such things as the strange concept that God sends people to hell because it is the loving thing to do. If a person can’t stand to be in union with God, then it is out of love that God allows him/her to exclude himself/herself from fellowship with Him. Eventually, the only thing left to talk about is that God is love and He loves you just the way that you are. When we emphasize God’s love, it transcends sin.

    However, if we remove the atoning sacrifice of Christ, we are only left with the prospect of God’s judgment because He is holy. When we look at the attributes of God, we understand that God created us because He is love. When we look at a passage such as John 3:16, we understand that because God is love, He loved us and sent His Son to be the atoning sacrifice. Notice that a passage like this does not say that because God is holy, He sent His only Son. In fact the passage makes it clear that He did not send His Son because He is holy. If He had, the Son would come to condemn the world. Because of original sin, we are under God’s wrath and condemnation.

    God sends the Son out of love. Christ is the propitiation for our sins because God is holy. In this way, God is just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Christ’s person and work. God is a righteous judge and He will judge according to His righteousness. When we talk about God’s righteousness and justice, we are talking about the attribute of God’s holiness. In Christ, there is no condemnation and nothing can separate us from the love of God in Christ (Rom. 8). However, for those who are not in Christ they remain under the wrath of God.

  8. I also forgot to mention that the approach that I am using is helpful in answering the statement:

    “I don’t believe that a loving God would send anybody to hell.”

  9. @jb #5

    It seems you are trying to minimize the “forensic determination” of the Gospel. Isn’t the very purpose of the Gospel save those who are perishing? Isn’t “salvation” itself having our own guilt removed from us and instead given the complete and perfect righteousness of Christ?

    The eternal act of the Omnipotent, Loving Father was to bring about a different forensic determination for us at an incredibly great expense to Himself. I have life and hope where before was only death and despair all because my sins are not counted against me. I have a righteousness not of my own, but one apart from the law. That is entirely pointless without a forensic determination. There is no righteousness or need of salvation without forensic determinations. If I had not first been guilty and under condemnation, Christ’s righteousness imputed to me would be of no value.

    The result, the summation and the point of the Gospel is that a different forensic determination now exists in abundance for all humanity. We have not been abandoned to death and hell as we deserve! God’s justice, holiness, and zeal for perfection are just as much attributes of God as are His love and mercy. The wrath of God is very real and all that awaits those who aren’t covered by Christ’s perfect and complete propitiation given to us in His body and blood for the foregiveness of our sins. What is foregiveness but a forensic determination by the ultimate and most supreme Judge of all eternity?

  10. @Rev. Brian L. Kachelmeier #8
    “I am approaching this topic from the perspective of maintaining that God is both love and at the same time holy…helpful in answering the statement: “I don’t believe that a loving God would send anybody to hell.”

    I share your concern that emphasis on the love of God can lead to universalism. I’m also concerned that an emphasis on the holiness of God can lead to other errors. (Is this an application of the proper distinction between Law and Gospel?)

    Here’s a sincere question: God is most certainly holy, righteous, and just (the adjectives), yet I’m not aware of Scripture describing God as holiness, righteousness, or justice (the nouns). Yet we do read that God is not only “loving,” but “love.” Is there any other attribute assigned to God in Scripture as the noun? If not, why is love singled out?

  11. I agree with this site and what it says but doesnt God still call US to love the sinner but hate the sin?

  12. To quote Johann Gerhard…

    “The divine attributes, as we consider them in and of themselves are really and most simply one with the divine essence.”

    And again, “They are in God inseparably, for it is impossible for the essence of a thing to be separated from the thing itself, so also the attributes cannot be separated from God because they are God’s essence itself” (“On the Nature of God.” CPH, p. 114. )

    When we confess the unity of the divinie essence, we are making an assertion of the simplicity of the divine essence. The essence of God is “simple” meaning that God’s essence does not consist of a composition of attributes. He is not a compound of pieces, parts, or various elements. We do not say that God is the composite of the attributes of love, holiness (justice), omnipotent, omniscient, omnipresent, etc…

    When we talk about the simplicity of God, we are meditating upon the reality that His attributes are His essence and His essence is His attributes. God is His attributes. He is not the sum of His attributes. God is not good because He has goodness. Rather, God is good because He is good. The goodness that God has is the goodness that He is. God is holy not because He has holiness. Rather, God is holy because God is holy. He is the holiness that He is. God is love not because He has love. Rather, God is love becauce God is love. He is the love that He is. The essence of God cannot be divided. He simply exists.

  13. @John Rixe #15
    Are we Christians supposed to hate sin but love the sinner? Good question. But like the original post, not a simple yes or no answer, if we would be faithful to the Scriptures.

    The Christian is always to hate sin and every form of evil:

    O you who love the LORD, hate evil! (Ps. 97:10)
    I hate every false way (Ps. 119:104)
    I hate every false way (Ps. 119:128)
    I hate falsehood (Ps. 119:163)
    Yet this you have: you hate the works of the Nicolaitans, which I also hate. (Rev. 2:6)

    The Christian is always to love (agape) the sinner, including his/her enemies:

    “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ 44 But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45 so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. (Matt. 5:44-45)

    The Christian is never to hate a fellow Christian in the sense of revulsion or wishing them evil:

    You shall not hate your brother in your heart, (Lev. 19:17)
    Everyone who hates his brother is a murderer (1 Jn. 3:15)

    Yet there is a sense in which the Scriptures speak of a godly hatred for the wicked (that is, unbelievers who practice open idolatry or rebellion against the Lord):

    a time to love, and a time to hate; (Ecc. 3:8)
    I hate those who pay regard to worthless idols (Ps. 31:6)
    I hate the double-minded (Ps. 119:113)
    Do I not hate those who hate you, O LORD? And do I not loathe those who rise up against you? I hate them with complete hatred; I count them my enemies. (Ps. 139:21-22)

    Finally, there is also a sense in which Jesus commands his disciples to “hate” the members of their own family. But the context makes clear that in this case, “hatred” is neither revulsion nor wishing them evil, but rather the detachment of the heart from everything and everyone that is not Christ.

    “If anyone comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple. (Lk 14:26)

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