One cliche statement that we often hear is, “God hates the sin, but loves the sinner.” Is this based on Scripture? I’m afraid not. The Bible simply does not say it. In fact, it says the very opposite: “The boastful shall not stand before Your eyes; You hate all who do iniquity” (Ps 5:5). To a degree, even we are commanded to hate others: “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” (Luke 14:26). We are also commanded to hate ourselves: “He who loves his life loses it, and he who hates his life in this world will keep it to life eternal” (John 12:25). We are also commanded to hate evil (Rom 12:9). Righteous hatred is such a hard pill to swallow because of the self-focused, self-sufficient, self-loving, self-worshiping, and self-exalting culture in which we live. What we all need to understand is that at the cross divine love and holy hatred collided. God is love (1 John 4:8), but He is also hate (Ps 7:11). In other words, having a biblical view of hatred is just as important as having a biblical view of love.
Here are some other Scriptures that speak of God’s holy hatred:
- “I hate the assembly of evildoers, And I will not sit with the wicked.” Ps 26:5
- “I hate those who regard vain idols, But I trust in the Lord.” Ps 31:6
- “I hate those who are double-minded, But I love Your law.” Ps 119:113
- “For they speak against You wickedly, And Your enemies take Your name in vain. 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 the utmost hatred; They have become my enemies.” Ps 139:20-22
- “The fear of the Lord is to hate evil; Pride and arrogance and the evil way And the perverted mouth, I hate.” Pro 8:13
- “All their evil is at Gilgal; Indeed, I came to hate them there! Because of the wickedness of their deeds I will drive them out of My house! I will love them no more; All their princes are rebels.” Hos 9:15
We like to talk about God’s love, mercy, kindness, forgiveness and grace. We should preach and talk about those things often and fervently, but if we neglect the full counsel of God, we begin to fashion a god in our own image. That’s called idolatry. Let’s face it; many professing Christians worship an incomplete Jesus. Furthermore, if we don’t understand God’s hatred, the love of God will not mean much to us. We have to come to terms with the hatred of God. The most well known but perplexing verse in the NT that confronts us with God’s hatred for sinners is Romans 9:13—“Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated.” It’s understandably hard to wrap our minds around this, but if we take the Bible seriously we have to accept it and lay our fickle emotions, opinions, and traditions aside. Charles H. Spurgeon, the “The Prince of Preachers”, said, “I can tell you the reason why God loved Jacob; it is sovereign grace. There was nothing in Jacob that could make God love him; there was everything about him that might have made God hate him, as much as he did Esau, and a great deal more. But it was because God was infinitely gracious that he loved Jacob, and because he was sovereign in his dispensation of this grace, that he chose Jacob as the object of that love.” If not for sovereign grace, we’d all be the object of God’s hatred, rather than His love.
How do we reconcile God’s love and hatred in our human, finite, fallen minds? We can’t entirely. The finite creation (us) cannot completely comprehend the infinite Creator. The natural cannot completely understand the supernatural. We have to accept the fact that God is both love and hate, strive to come to terms with the character of God, and be conformed to His image (Rom 12:2). In the grand scheme of things, God’s hatred will be poured out on the non elect for eternity in Hell. We have to understand that God is perfectly just and good for only saving some because we all deserve his hateful wrath. Romans 9:14-15 sheds more light: “What shall we say then? There is no injustice with God, is there? May it never be! For He says to Moses, “I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion.” When we understand and continually remind ourselves that God has saved us sinners from experiencing His hate, it causes us to be thankful, humble people.
As for the redeemed, yes, we still sin, but God’s hatred and wrath was poured out once-and-for-all on Jesus instead of us and now He sees us clothed in the righteousness of His Son. Christ’s righteousness was transferred to our account (2 Cor 5:21). Therefore, He loves those whom Christ died for with a special, saving love as a husband’s unique love for his bride. Because of God’s love, we are no longer the object of God’s hate. For the non-elect, God’s love is shown to all creation by allowing them to live –‘common grace’ (Matt 5:45). In other words, God is restraining His wrath towards the non-elect and giving them rain, food, and pleasure in this life.
Usually, the follow up question is this: “How should we treat sinners?” We love them with unconditional love, as Jesus commanded (Luke 6:27). This entails not merely being in the presence of unbelievers and being nice to sinners (as Jesus was), but loving them enough to preach the Truth of the Gospel to them without fear of offending them (Rom 1:16). The most loving thing is to care for someone’s soul and thus share the message of how God is willing to save a sinner, through Jesus, from eternally experiencing His holy hatred. So, we might want to consider dropping the “God-hates-the-sin-but-loves-the-sinner” catch phrase because there’s no clear biblical evidence to support such a statement. The effect of it purports a gospel of cheap grace. Instead, we should echo what Scripture says: God sent His Son into the world to save sinners (Rom 5:8), commands all men everywhere to repent or perish (Acts 17:30; Luke 13:3), and God commands us to do good to all men (Gal 6:10) and to make disciples (Matt 28:19-20).