Hate the Sin, Love the Sinner?



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  • Hate the Sin, Love the Sinner?

    St Augustine of Hippo coined the phrase God loves the sinner, but hates the sin. or Cum dilectione hominum et odio vitiorum, which translates roughly to With love for mankind and hatred of sins. Ellen G. White also quotes the phrase in one of her books published in 1917, in which it became a common saying among Seven Day Adventists and spread widely to other denominations. Sadly, this evangelical cliché is not only unbiblical theologically, but it is a Universalist phrase that is opposite of the character of God.

    The Universalists will point out that God loves (1 John 4:8-9) “Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love. This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him.” However, God also punishes the sinner and hates all who do evil. God is not one sided. He is not simply an infinitely loving and merciful God, but He is also infinitely just. He must deal with sin. He must punish rebellion.

    We cannot love perfectly, nor can we hate perfectly (without disdain and malice). But God can do both perfectly, because He is God. God can hate without any sinful intent. He can hate the sin and the sinner in a righteous way and still is willing to lovingly forgive at the moment of that sinner's repentance and faith (Malachi 1:3; Revelation 2:6; 2 Peter 3:9).

    Thus there is nothing intrinsically impossible about wrath and love being directed toward the same individual or people at the same time. Our problem of proper comprehension from God's perspective is that in our human experience "wrath" and "love" abide mutually exclusive and separate, not considered together as one. Love either drives wrath out, or wrath drives love out. By our natural understanding, we do not think that a wrathful person is loving person, and cannot apply it to God as a governing attribute. But this is not the way it is with God. God’s wrath is not an implacable, blind rage, it is justice fulfilled.

    Fourteen times in the first fifty psalms alone, we are told that God hates the sinner; his wrath is on the liar, and etc. In the Bible, the wrath of God rests both on the sin (Rom. 1:18ff.) and on the sinner (John 3:36). A few Scriptures help illustrate the comprehension and meaning of the God's position about his hate of the sinner.

    Psalm 5:5, The boastful shall not stand before Thine eyes; Thou dost hate all who do iniquity,

    Psalm 11:5, The Lord tests the righteous and the wicked, and the one who loves violence His soul hates.

    Lev. 20:23, “Moreover, you shall not follow the customs of the nation which I shall drive out before you, for they did all these things, and therefore I have abhorred them.

    Prov. 6:16-19, here are six things which the Lord hates, yes, seven which are an abomination to Him: Haughty eyes, a lying tongue, and hands that shed innocent blood, A heart that devises wicked plans, feet that run rapidly to evil, A false witness who utters lies, and one who spreads strife among brothers.

    Hosea 9:15, “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.

    Clearly, God hates sin. But, He does not punish sin. He punishes the sinner because sin comes from within; it is the fruit or product of a corrupt heart. God's Holy and Just character will not allow Him to ignore the residence of rebellion and corruption. As we can read from Scripture, the cliché and understanding related to it is in error for truly "God hates the sinner." God in his perfections must be wrathful against his rebel image-bearers, for they have offended His holiness; God in his perfections must be loving toward his rebel image-bearers, for he is a merciful God.

    The balance comes in the whole, for while we were yet sinners, Jesus died for us (Rom. 5:6). There is no way we can appease God by moral conduct "trying to be better." That is why God became one of us by the flesh (John 1:1, 14; Heb. 2:17), to take our place and become sin on our behalf (2 Cor. 5:21).

    It would be scripturally correct to say that God hates sinners (Psalms 5:5), but because of Jesus death on the cross our sin was propitiated. Now when God looks at the cross he sees the believer and when he looks at the believer He sees Jesus. Christ righteousness was imputed to us, the active believer. 2 Corinthians 5:21 is a summation.

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