Does God Hate the Sin but Love the Sinner?

D. A. Carson’s article on “love” in the New Dictionary of Biblical Theology contains this helpful discussion about the statement “God hates sin but loves sinners.”

There is a small element of truth in this thesis. God always hates sin; he is invariably and implacably opposed to it. And it is true that God loves sinners: God ‘demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us’ (Rom. 5:8; cf. John 3:16). Nevertheless the thesis, with its simplistic antithesis between the personal sinner and sin in the abstract, is mistaken. The same apostle who declares that God’s wrath is revealed from heaven against ‘all the godlessness and wickedness of men’ (Rom. 1:18) also speaks of God’s wrath against individuals (2:5); indeed we are all ‘by nature children of wrath’ (NRSV). The first fifty Psalms repeatedly describe the kinds of people on whom God’s wrath rests, not just the kinds of sin. Indeed, the language can move from God’s wrath to God’s hate and abhorrence: ‘The arrogant cannot stand in your presence; you hate all who do wrong. You destroy those who tell lies; bloodthirsty and deceitful men the Lord abhors’ (Ps. 5:5-6, NIV).

None of this means that God’s wrath is arbitrary or whimsical. In Scripture, God’s wrath, however affective, is the willed and righteous response of his holiness to sin. God’s holiness, like God’s love, is intrinsic to the very being of God; his wrath is not. To put the point another way:God has always been holy, as he has always been love; he has not always been wrathful. but where his holiness confronts the rebellion of his creatures, he must be wrathful (and the entire sweep of the Bible’s storyline insists he is), or his holiness is anaemic. Yet for all that he is no less the God of love.

Dr. Carson addresses the “hate the sin, love the sinner” thesis in connection with God’s love and wrath, but I have heard the thesis more often in connection with human response toward sin and sinners. While it is too simplistic to say, as Carson points out, that God hates the sin but loves the sinner, I think this is a good and helpful statement to guide our our response to sinners and their sin. Unlike God, we do not have the ultimate responsibility to mete out justice, since vengeance is his exclusive domain (Romans 12:19; Hebrews 10:30). Even Christian rebuke and discipline falls under the rubric of love, not wrath (2 Corinthians 2:6-8). And Jude beautifully captures the attitude we must have toward people and their sin: “To others show mercy with fear [Love the sinner!], hating even the garment stained by the flesh [Hate the sin!]” (Jude 23).[1]

To say that God hates the sin but loves the sinner is too simplistic, since Scripture does speak of God showing wrath and abhorrence toward sinners. But as a guide for our human attitudes and actions, this statement is helpful, and resonates with Scripture.

[1]Even the psalmist’s statement: “I hate them with a perfect hatred” (Psalm 139:22) is an expression of his solidarity with God’s cause, not permission to exercise hateful wrath (God’s domain) against God’s enemies.

How Can We Teach Children About Worship?

Fatherhood Religious Stock PhotosI’ve been reading Worship by the Book  (edited by D. A. Carson). This morning I came across a valuable insight for parents who wish to teach their children about true worship:

Kids of that age [10-12 years, and presumably younger] do not absorb abstract ideas very easily unless they are lived out and identified. The Christian home, or the Christian parent who obviously delights in corporate worship, in thoughtful evangelism, in self-effacing and self-sacrificing decisions within the home, in sacrificial giving for the poor and the needy and the lost–and who then explains to the child that these decisions and actions are part of gratitude and worship to the sovereign God who has loved us so much that he gave his own Son to pay the price of our sin–will have far more impact on the child’s notion of genuine worship than all the lecturing and classroom instruction in the world. Somewhere along the line it is important not only to explain that genuine worship is nothing more than loving God with heart and soul and mind and strength and loving our neighbors as ourselves, but also to show what a statement like that means in the concrete decisions of life. How utterly different will that child’s thinking be than that of the child who is reared in a home where secularism rules all week but where people go to church on Sunday to “worship” for half an hour before the sermon.

I was struck by the fact that children learn what they see us do. What we do consistently and passionately they see as important. Conversely, what we do inconsistently or without passion, they see as unimportant. Not only that, but we must actively interpret our actions to them. We are going to church to worship with God’s people. We are giving this tithe because everything we have comes from God anyway.

Here are seven commitments with regard to teaching our children using concrete actions:

  1. If I will teach my children that the Gospel is the power of God for salvation, then not only will I explain the Gospel to them, but also they will see me sharing the Gospel with others. When they are old enough, they and I will share the Gospel together.
  2. If I will teach my children that God can be trusted to provide for us, then we will be generous in giving to needy people together.
  3. If I will teach my children that corporate worship is essential, then we will consistently gather with God’s people together.
  4. If I will teach my children that the Bible is the Word of God, then we will read it, sing it, and memorize it together.
  5. If I will teach my children that marriage is a wonderful gift from God, then my children will see my wife and me treating each other with love and respect.
  6. If I will teach my children that sin dishonors God and always brings sorrow, I will abhor sin myself, shield my children from undue exposure to sin, correct them when they commit sin, and humbly admit it when I commit sin against them.
  7. If I will teach my children that God loves them, then I will do my best to show love to them–not only by providing for their physical needs, but also by listening carefully when they speak, playing with them, and treating them with tenderness.