One of the most common maxims in Christianity is, “God hates the sin but He loves the sinner.” Advocates often back this up with the fact that Jesus tells us to love our enemies and says God “makes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the just and the unjust” (Matthew 5:44-45). On the other hand, Jesus also said, “Depart from me, you who work iniquity” (Matthew 7:23b). Is this a contradiction? No, the Bible does not contradict itself. So, let’s do a fact check: Is it true that God hates the sin but loves the sinner?
Can God Tell Us to Love Sinners Whom He Hates?
The Bible plainly records that Jesus told us to love our enemies, yet we only have to read Matthew 23 to see that Jesus pronounced woes over His enemies and told of their coming judgment. But this is not a contradiction.
There are ways that humans are like God, and there are even more ways that believers are like God. But there are still differences. We must accept the fact that our limited knowledge and understanding compared to God’s omniscience dictates that our relationship and behavior toward people must differ from God’s relationship and behavior toward people.
God knows who are His elect (2 Timothy 2:19). He loves them for Christ’s sake; and because of Christ’s atonement, God forgives elect sinners when they believe, and He does not impute sin to them (John 3:16; Romans 5:13; Ephesians 1:3-7; 4:32). Although they may still do things that the law defines as sin, sin cannot rule them because they are not under the law but under grace (Romans 6:14). Their past sins are forgiven, and because they are not under a covenant that defines and condemns sins, they are sinless (Romans 3:25; 5:13; 8:1-2). Now, keep in mind that it is through Jesus Christ alone that God removes our sin and separates us from it as far as east is from the west (Acts 4:12; Psalm 103:12).
It follows that those who are not elect, who have not put their trust in Jesus Christ as their Savior, are those whom God has not separated from their sins. God knows who they are; and He not only hates their sins, but He also hates the sinners. In an age when we like to think we’re tolerant (we’re actually living in a very intolerant age), many people shy at attributing hatred to God. But these Scriptures cannot be broken:
For you are not a God who has pleasure in wickedness. Evil can’t live with you. The arrogant shall not stand in your sight. You hate all workers of iniquity.Psalms 5:4-5
His winnowing fork is in his hand, and he will thoroughly cleanse his threshing floor. He will gather his wheat into the barn, but the chaff he will burn up with unquenchable fire.Matthew 3:12
Then he will say also to those on the left hand, ‘Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire which is prepared for the devil and his angels….’Matthew 25:41
If a man doesn’t remain in me, he is thrown out as a branch, and is withered; and they gather them, throw them into the fire, and they are burned.John 15:6
But these, as unreasoning creatures, born natural animals to be taken and destroyed, speaking evil in matters about which they are ignorant, will in their destroying surely be destroyed, receiving the wages of unrighteousness; people who count it pleasure to revel in the daytime, spots and blemishes, reveling in their deceit while they feast with you; having eyes full of adultery, and who can’t cease from sin; enticing unsettled souls; having a heart trained in greed; children of cursing; forsaking the right way, they went astray, having followed the way of Balaam the son of Beor, who loved the wages of wrongdoing; but he was rebuked for his own disobedience. A mute donkey spoke with a man’s voice and stopped the madness of the prophet. These are wells without water, clouds driven by a storm; for whom the blackness of darkness has been reserved forever.2 Peter 2:12-17
These Scriptures don’t support the notion that God loves the sinner. And, these are just a sampling of such passages found in both the Old and New Testaments.
Believers are not sinners. This is because Jesus Christ has atoned for their sins. Christ is their justification, their sanctification, and their righteousness. Those who trust in Jesus Christ are in Him, which is the same as being under the New Covenant (Christ is our Covenant—see Isaiah 42:6-7; 49:8-9). He does not accuse or condemn. All in Him are counted as sinless.
On the other hand, the unbelieving will die in their sins and are reserved for judgment and destruction (John 8:24; 2 Peter 3:7; Revelation 21:8). So, why does Jesus tell us to love our enemies?
Why Does Jesus Tell Us to Love Sinners Whom He Hates?
When Jesus tells us to love our enemies, He’s giving us a code of behavior fit for our limited knowledge. Unlike God, we don’t know who are our Heavenly Father’s children and who are the enemy’s children (see “The Parable of the Tares of the Field”). And so, just as God sends sunshine and rain and myriad additional blessings upon everyone for the sake of the elect, we must love everyone for the sake of not showing hatred toward those who may be elect.
Additionally, the Bible tells us, “For we know him who said, ‘Vengeance belongs to me,’ says the Lord, ‘I will repay.’ Again, ‘The Lord will judge his people’ (Hebrews 10:30). We are not to judge outsiders (1 Corinthians 5:12-13). Because we cannot discern who may be elect, we are to treat everyone with love and leave the judgment to God.
Is Gods’ giving physical benefits (e.g. rain and sunshine) to the unbelieving world a form of grace? If it is, it would indicate love.
Some churches teach what they call common grace. Common grace is the belief that God bestows grace to all humanity, not just to His elect. It’s an attempt to explain why God bestows good on the reprobate. But it’s a flawed explanation.
Although there are, of course, differences among theologians, most who teach common grace say that it is God’s Divine favor to all humans, including the reprobate, as displayed in the natural world, in God’s partially restraining sin to keep the world from falling into chaos, and in God’s giving sinners the ability to do some good toward one another.
The fact that these things happen is not in dispute. But I believe that saying that the cause is God’s common grace toward even the reprobate is contrary to the Scriptural evidence. We’ve already seen some of the passages that speak of God’s hatred of sinners and the fact that He will punish them. In light of that, to say that God extends common grace to them makes God two-faced.
In Matthew 24, Jesus gives us a straightforward statement that contradicts common grace. He describes “great oppression, such as has not been from the beginning of the world until now, no, nor ever will be” (Matthew 24:21). But then He says, “Unless those days had been shortened, no flesh would have been saved. But for the sake of the chosen ones, those days will be shortened” (Matthew 24:22). Are those terrible days shortened because of common grace—God’s favor on all, including the reprobate? No. The days are shortened for the sake of the elect only. He has no grace for the rest of humanity.
Let’s face it. The chickens in the barnyard may think how gracious the farmer’s wife is when she throws them feed. But it is not the chickens she loves; she loves her family whom she will feed with those chickens. The difference between the elect and the reprobate is just as distinct, and the fate of the reprobate is similarly sealed.
But John 3:16 Says that God Loves the World
John 3:16 starts by saying, “For God so loved the world….” But we can’t stop there. In its entirety, John 3:16 says, “For God so loved the world, that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish, but have eternal life.” John 3:16 defines what it means by God’s love of the world by explaining that whoever believes in the Son won’t perish but have eternal life. God’s love for the world is limited to the believers. John 3:18 makes this even plainer: “He who believes in him is not judged. He who doesn’t believe has been judged already, because he has not believed in the name of the one and only Son of God.” God is loving and saving the world by loving and saving only some—His elect who believe on His Son. The rest, He has already judged.
If God loved reprobate sinners, He wouldn’t want to curse them in wrath for eternity. He would want to save them. And, since God is omnipotent and sovereign, He would do what He wanted. He would save all people. Since the Bible very clearly teaches against universal salvation, the Bible contradicts both the idea that God loves the sinner and the doctrine of common grace.
All that God does for the reprobate, He does for the elect’s sake. God’s good toward the reprobate is not a result of “common grace” or of God’s supposed love for the sinner—both of which are myths—but is a manifestation of God’s grace toward His elect.
The events God is directing in this world are not working for the good of the reprobate.
We know that all things work together for good for those who love God, to those who are called according to his purpose. For whom he foreknew, he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. Whom he predestined, those he also called. Whom he called, those he also justified. Whom he justified, those he also glorified.Romans 8:28-30
Throughout all of Scripture—and with especially great clarity in the New Testament—God teaches us that He not only hates sin; He hates the sinner. But He saves His elect through the atonement of His beloved Son who makes us sinless in God’s sight by paying for our sins, fulfilling and ending the law that defines the sin that would otherwise condemn us, and putting us into the New Covenant under which He imputes no sin and makes us accepted in the Beloved (Ephesians 1:3-7). God sees us as being without sin and loves us in Jesus Christ. But the unbelieving outside of Jesus Christ God judges and hates as sinners.
The Bible exposes the claim that God hates sin but loves the sinner as false.
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