Yes, you did read that correctly.
And yes: it is wrong.
A friend recently sent me an article. It told the story of someone who was told categorically that God, “hates the sin, but loves the sinner”. The article went on to describe how the person reacted to this kind of attitude (it did not end positively, to say the least).
This article challenged me. Is this really a good thing for Christians to say to people? Does God love sin and hate sinners? Is this really what Christianity is all about…or does this simple phrase actually miss something so important that it has become destructive?
1. What do people hear?
One of my favourite books from childhood was the BFG by Roald Dahl. The main character in this story, the “Big Friendly Giant” speaks in rather broken and simple English, a point picked up by the other main character; a young girl named Sofie. In respose, the BFG announces, “What I means and what I say is two different things”.
Sometimes what we mean and what we say are different. Worse still, what we mean, what we say, and what another person HEARS can all be completely different!
If we say, “I love you, but I hate your sin”, what do you think the other person hears?
I can almost guarantee they won’t hear anything about love. In fact, they are likely to hear “I hate you and your sin”. Worse still, because we do not live perfect lives ourselves, what’s actually heard it, “I hate you, but I love sin (because I sin all the time!)”.
If you are a Christian, then you have accepted the fullness of Christ as your saviour. As such, nothing short of Christ-like living will do! We need other to keep us accountable for how we live, to make sure we are living in accordance with the Christian faith. We sometimes need to hold others accountable for how they live…
…but this is not the way to go about it!
2. Does God really “love the sinner and hate the sin”?
Let’s look at what we’re actually saying a little more closely.
What is sin? Sin is any word, action or thought which separates us from God. Sin is choosing our ways over God’s ways. Sin is putting ourselves in the place of priority, a place which rightly belongs to God.
Does God hate sin? Of course He does! God wants a relationship with us in the way a loving father wants to relate to his own child. So, it makes sense that God would hate anything which gets in the way of this relationship.
Does God still love us, even although we are sinners. Well, consider this verse:
God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. (Romans 5:8 ESV)
So, yes: God does hate sin, and yes: God does love sinners!
BUT…it’s actually only half of the story…
3. “For God so loved…”
What’s the full story? Look again at Romans 5, but with a few more verses included:
God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Since, therefore, we have now been justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God. For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life. More than that, we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation. (Rom. 5:8-11 ESV)
If you want to really share the Gospel with someone, or if you really want to challenge someone about behaviour which does not reflect their faith in Christ, don’t tell them God hates their sin but loves them as a sinner. Tell them God hates sin, but loves them so much that He has done something about their sin. We are reconciled to God by Jesus.
How best to conclude? Well…pictures speak much louder than words, so… enjoy!
Remember, God hates sin, but loved us so much that He made a way for us to be reconciled to Him, by Jesus Christ. Instead of telling people that, “God loves sinners but hates sin”, tell them this instead.
Soli Deo Gloria. Amen.