The following is a disclaimer regarding this article: Reader, tread carefully through this article. Some of what I write in this article may shock you. But just know, everything I write is backed up by Scripture. Agree with me? Awesome! Don’t agree with me? That’s okay. I pray that you reach out to me in love and address your concerns. I will always be open-minded if Scripture is foundational. Again, whether we agree or not, we both believe that Jesus is Lord and His gospel is the power that saves.
Growing up in the southern “Bible-Belt” where back-road church revivals are popular, I have heard the following phrase for the majority of my life: “God loves the sinner, but hates the sin.” That statement has been commonly used by so many modern-day evangelists. So many people, when sharing the gospel through evangelism, tend to share with their audience that “God loves the sinner, but hates the sin.” However, is this statement biblical? Does Scripture support the idea that “God loves the sinner, but hates the sin?” In order to answer this question, we must tread through concepts like conflicting verses within Scripture, God’s wrath and love, Christ’s atoning work on the cross, and the beauty of salvation.
Conflicting Bible Verses
Simply, there are 3 verses that denies credibility of the statement, “God loves the sinner, but hates the sin.” 2 come from the Book of Psalms and 1 comes from the Book of Malachi. Psalms 5:5 reads, “The boastful shall not stand before your eyes; you hate all evildoers” (ESV). Psalm 11:5 reads, “The Lord tests the righteous, but his soul hates the wicked and the one who loves violence.” And Malachi 1:2-3a reads, “‘I have loved you,’ says the Lord. But you say, ‘How have you loved us?’ ‘Is not Esau Jacob’s brother?’ declares the Lord. ‘Yet I have loved Jacob but Esau I have hated.'” Now, these verses do not mean that we ought to go around and tell unbelievers “God hates sinners (you).” No. Shame on you if you do that. That is foolish and ultimately, God hating sinners is not the gospel. The gospel is this: Out of His love and grace, Christ died for sinners.
A Balance of God’s Wrath and Love
“God loves the sinner, but hates the sin” fails to capture God’s wrath. J.I. Packer writes the following in his book, Knowing God: “Indignation is ‘righteous anger aroused by injustice and baseness.’ Such is wrath. And wrath, the Bible tells us, is an attribute of God (Packer, Knowing God, 148). Wrath is a vivid attribute of God’s character. He is holy. We are not. And the consequence of not being holy is facing the wrath of God (refer to Romans 1:18). God is a judge in this way, administering justice for His broken law. After all, A. W. Pink notes that “a study of the concordance will show that there are more references in Scripture to the anger, fury, and wrath of God, than there are to His love and tenderness” (Pink, The Attributes of God, 75). Further than this, God, in his sovereingty and by his justified wrath, sends sinners to hell. This is vividly seen in Matthew 25:41, which reads, “Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels.” God sends sinners to hell, not the sin. Burk Parsons says it best: “So, as many hear that phrase, ‘God loves the sinner but hates the sin,’ the reason that’s not entirely appropriate is because it’s not just the sin that God sends to hell. God sends sinners to hell. God has enmity with those sinners, and they have enmity with Him.” However, it is dooming to overlook the love of God by looking at the wrath of God. Romans 5:8 – “But God showed his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” 1 John 4:16 – “So we have come to know and to believe the love that God has for us. God is love, and whoever abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him.” Paul even describes in Romans 8 that nothing can separate us from the love of God. However, you must know that this love is not for everybody. This love is reserved for believers. Not everyone will be saved. Not every sinner will be saved. There will be sinners sent to hell. But, think about this: The people you share the gospel to whom profess faith in Christ Jesus and the work He has accomplished on the cross will experience this love. And that, reader, is beautiful which brings joyful tears to my eyes. Now, since we have mentioned Christ’s work on the cross, let’s focus on that.
Penal Substitutionary Atonement
Christ’s work on the cross was an act of penal substitutionary atonement. As seen in Scripture, God’s wrath is directed towards people. So, in order to not face this wrath, a substitute or sacrifice is needed. Ligonier Ministries notes the following: “In penal substitution, the penalty that is due to us for our transgression is paid by a substitute, namely, Jesus Christ.” This concept of atonement reflects old covenant/testament sacrificial practice. Ligonier also describes that “this [Old Covenant Sacrificial System] depicted the transfer of sin and guilt from the sinner to the substitute” (in this case, animals). However, Hebrews 10:4 tells us, “For it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sin.” So, Christ who is Emmanuel which means God with us, serves as our substitute. By his death on the cross, our sin and guilt is transferred from the sinner to the substitute (who, in this case, is Jesus). Because of this beautiful act of penal substitutionary atonement, we now need not fear to face the wrath of God for Jesus faced His wrath for us. Sinners who do not place their faith in this gospel will be sent to hell. So, it is indeed inappropriate to tell them “God loves the sinner, but hates the sin.” If they do not hear and accept this gospel, it will not matter that “God loves the sinner, but hates the sin” because they will be separated from God for eternity.
John Piper describes stunning salvation by saying, “If we don’t understand that God finds us hateful and loathsome in our ugly sin, we won’t be as stunned by what his love is for us. God saves millions of people who are loathsome to him in and of themselves until he saves them and makes them the apple of his eye, which makes salvation stunningly more. God comes to us, not in our attractiveness, like ‘Oh, I really love this person and just hate their sin.’ No, he finds me reprehensible because of my rebellion, just like we find certain wicked people reprehensible because of their sin. And he is coming to us, and he is dying for us, in order that he might make us into the apple of his eye” (Piper, God Loves the Sinner, But Hates the Sin?). I chose to call this stunning salvation that Piper describes “beautiful salvation” because this salvation is both stunning and beautiful. God, even though I am a sinner, does not save me because I am attractive to Him. Rather, He saves me because He is a good, gracious, merciful God.
Chief of Sinners
Paul tells Timothy in I Timothy 1:15, “The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost.” Some translations entail Paul calling himself “the chief of sinners.” Now, if Paul, the writer of the majority of the New Testament was the chief of sinners, then I am even more of a sinner. Stephen Nichols says this: “I was a worse sinner than anyone whom we say God hates. We all were. We need to understand, as R.C. said many times, that the smallest sin is an affront to the holiness of God and brings down the thundering wrath of God upon us” (Nichols, Is it true that God “loves the sinner but hates the sin?”). He then goes onto say, “When we slip into these kinds of statements we think we’re doing God a favor, but we’re not doing sinners a favor because we’re not helping them see the wrath of God or what that means. Until they see that, they don’t see their true need for a substitute, and they don’t fully understand what Christ was doing on the cross” (Nichols, Is it true that God “loves the sinner but hates the sin?”).
So, after reviewing Scripture and quotes from people who are way smarter than me, is it appropriate to tell people, “God loves the sinner, but hates the sin?” No. Is it even biblical to say this statement? Again, no. However, God’s gracious act in redeeming us “while we were still sinners (Rom. 5:8) and allowing us to be reconciled into a loving relationship with Him is a beautiful salvation that brings tears to my eyes. And that is the gospel that I want to share. That in our sin, Christ died for us.
Soli Deo Gloria,
Nichols, Stephen. Is it true that God “loves the sinner but hates the sin”? Ligonier Ministries.
Packer, J.I. Knowing God. Downers Grove, IL: IVP Books, 1973.
Parsons, Burk: Is it biblical to say “God loves the sinner, but hates the sin?” Ligonier Ministries.
“Penal Substitution.” Ligonier Ministries.
Pink, A.W. The Attributes of God. Ada, MI: Baker Books, 2006.
Piper, John. God Loves the Sinner, But Hates the Sin? Desiring God.