Hate the sin, love the sinner?

Love the sinner?

You have heard it said “hate the sin, love the sinner,” but I say… Is that really what the Bible teaches us to do? The easy answer is ‘yes’, Christians are to love everyone, friend, foe, good, bad or indifferent – including the sinner. The Sermon on the Mount is the standard source for this answer:

You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.
Matt 5:43-48, ESV

But when we poke a bit under the covers, we see that not only are there a few verses that run contrary to that idea, we also see actions by God, Jesus, the prophets and apostles that also run contrary to the idea. In the final analysis, we have to ask do we simply take Matt 5 at face value and obey it, or do our actions need to be guided by a set of principles that are a bit more nuanced than what we see in Matt 5? Let’s start by looking a bit closer at Matthew 5.

Sermon Source

As most people know, Matthew 5 is in what’s commonly referred to as “The Sermon on the Mount”, a 3-chapter sermon that Matthew presents of Christ’s teachings. What most people don’t seem to know is that everything taught in Matthew 5 is NOT NEW! Everything Jesus taught was already included in the Old Testament. Many people seem to think that Jesus taught something new in the Sermon on the Mount, and completely ignore His own statements to the contrary, right smack there in the beginning of the Sermon on the Mount  (Matt 5:17,18). Here are other Biblical instructions on loving one’s enemy:

If you meet your enemy’s ox or his donkey going astray, you shall bring it back to him. If you see the donkey of one who hates you lying down under its burden, you shall refrain from leaving him with it; you shall rescue it with him. – Exodus 23:4-5 (ESV) Note that this law was taught in the form of an example representing a particular moral paradigm. Although easily misunderstood by the modern Western mindset, this form of instruction is actually quite common for many of the Mosaic laws.

He answered, “You shall not strike [the enemies] down. Would you strike down those whom you have taken captive with your sword and with your bow? Set bread and water before them, that they may eat and drink and go to their master.” – 2 Kings 6:22 (ESV)

O Lord my God, if I have done this, if there is wrong in my hands,  if I have repaid my friend with evil or plundered my enemy without cause,  let the enemy pursue my soul and overtake it, and let him trample my life to the ground and lay my glory in the dust. Selah (Ps 7:3-5, ESV)

If your enemy is hungry, give him bread to eat, and if he is thirsty, give him water to drink,  for you will heap burning coals on his head, and the Lord will reward you. (Prov 25:21-22, ESV)

So as we can see, the examples and commands to love one’s enemies (as well as the commands to show actions of love – same thing) were not new ideas to a 1st-century Jew – unless he, like many Christians today, had a poor Bible reading habit or was content to sit at the feet of teachers who did not teach the “whole counsel of God”.

Side B

Speaking of the “whole counsel of God”, we need to ask: is this everything God’s Word says about treating sinners/enemies/wicked people? The answer is ‘no’. There are quite a few places where we see God, Jesus, the OT Prophets and NT Apostles acting towards wicked people in ways that can easily be described as ‘hatred’. Somehow, we need to make these verses – and more importantly, the principles behind them – fit our overall understanding of how to treat ‘sinners’.

The boastful shall not stand before your eyes; you hate all evildoers. (Psalms 5:5, ESV)

The Lord is in his holy temple; the Lord’s throne is in heaven; his eyes see, his eyelids test the children of man.  The Lord tests the righteous, but his soul hates the wicked and the one who loves violence.  Let him rain coals on the wicked; fire and sulfur and a scorching wind shall be the portion of their cup. (Psalms 11:4-6, ESV)

He declares his word to Jacob, his statutes and rules to Israel.  He has not dealt thus with any other nation; they do not know his rules. Praise the Lord! (Psalms 147:19-20, ESV) If this doesn’t sound like hatred, please consider the ramification of what happens to those who do not know the Lord…and read on.

Do I not hate those who hate you, O Lord? And do I not loathe those who rise up against you?  I hate them with complete hatred; I count them my enemies.  Search me, O God, and know my heart! Try me and know my thoughts!  And see if there be any grievous way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting! (Psalms 139:21-24, ESV)

“From new moon to new moon, and from Sabbath to Sabbath, all flesh shall come to worship before me,” declares the Lord.  “And they shall go out and look on the dead bodies of the men who have rebelled against me. For their worm shall not die, their fire shall not be quenched, and they shall be an abhorrence to all flesh.” (Isaiah 66:23-24, ESV)

“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. I have laid waste his hill country and left his heritage to jackals of the desert.” If Edom says, “We are shattered but we will rebuild the ruins,” the Lord of hosts says, “They may build, but I will tear down, and they will be called ‘the wicked country,’ and ‘the people with whom the Lord is angry forever.’” Your own eyes shall see this, and you shall say, “Great is the Lord beyond the border of Israel!” (Malachi 1:2-5, ESV)

…when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven with his mighty angels in flaming fire, inflicting vengeance on those who do not know God and on those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus. They will suffer the punishment of eternal destruction, away from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of his might, when he comes on that day to be glorified in his saints, and to be marveled at among all who have believed, because our testimony to you was believed. (2 Thessalonians 1:7-10, ESV)

“Rejoice over her, O heaven, and you saints and apostles and prophets, for God has given judgment for you against her!”  Then a mighty angel took up a stone like a great millstone and threw it into the sea, saying, “So will Babylon the great city be thrown down with violence, and will be found no more”   …  After this I heard what seemed to be the loud voice of a great multitude in heaven, crying out, “Hallelujah! Salvation and glory and power belong to our God,  for his judgments are true and just; for he has judged the great prostitute who corrupted the earth with her immorality, and has avenged on her the blood of his servants.”  Once more they cried out, “Hallelujah! The smoke from her goes up forever and ever.” (Revelation 18:20-21; 19:1-3, ESV)

Before we go on, there is one thing worth noting: I find it very odd that these passages on God and God’s people pouring out hatred, loathing and abhorrence on people are always surrounded with verses praising Him. Say what you will, but if we do not see anything praiseworthy about this, then I daresay we have totally missed the point these authors are making! That alone is worth an entire essay of its own.

The verses listed above are not exhaustive, but if we listed them all, we would include God’s statements (and actions) about the people in Noah’s day, Sodom & Gomorrah, the Ten Plagues, Canaanite conquest, a number of the Psalms, Jesus’ statements at some of His detractors, Peter vs Ananias & Sapphira, Paul vs Elymas and more. Not all of these verses explicitly state a hatred, but they all describe both an emotion and an action towards both the sin and the wicked people perpetuating the sin. I submit that the distinction between the sin and the sinner is purely an invention of the modern Christian: the Bible doesn’t make this distinction – only modern Christians do. Furthermore, these scenarios show several consistencies worth pointing out:

  • They appear in several dispensations (Adamic; Noahic; Abrahamic; Mosaic; Grace; at the 2nd coming; in Eternity. In other words, they’re not just in the Old Testament or in the past. Not only are they in this dispensation of Grace,  they’re also in the future;
  • Even the people who seem to be on God’s side can get the short end of the stick (I think we would be wise to question the validity of the faith of these people, but that’s a rabbit trail for another time);
  • Although humans sometimes participate in this Biblical hatred, the impetus of the wrath/hatred is always divine, NOT human (this is critical!);
  • They are always surrounded by a declaration of praise and/or worship of God


Oftentimes when I share these passages with people, if they’re not shocked to see that these passages are in the Bible, they look at me like I have a weird obsession with things best left unsaid. I can’t say that I blame them, and in part, I suppose it’s not completely their fault. These passages are not comfortable to the Western mind, and many pastors simply refuse to mention them, let alone teach about them – small wonder people find themselves in unfamiliar territory when this subject comes up.

The problem, however, is that these passages are part of the inspired Word of God, and they appear with a good deal of consistency from Genesis to Revelation. And that means that we have to make some attempt to understand what’s going on here and how this works into the larger framework of our view of God, Man, Sin, Judgment, etc. If these naysayers don’t get their theology in line, they’ll miss their cue in eternity when all heaven breaks out in song and they’re on the sidelines wondering why anyone is rejoicing over the scene that just took place. (Trust me – I don’t completely get it either, but I gotta go with what the Bible says here, and like it or not, there’s no two ways about it.)

It is my firm opinion that these verses do NOT teach that we should cultivate an attitude of hatred for people who are sinners!! This kind of animosity is thoroughly incompatible with the mountain of verses that teach that we should love our enemies. I have not completely settled my mind on the full measure of these passages, but at the very least, what these verses do indicate is that there appears to be a line, and when people cross that line, they have moved from ‘regular sinner’ to ‘wicked person’, and it is the glory of God to judge that person with – for lack of a better term – hatred and wrath. It is also my firm opinion that the believer who observes this divine hatred/wrath has a first duty to guard his own heart and, like David, ask God to search out his heart lest his pride swell him up to the point that he finds himself in the place of giving an account to God for his actions. I think David’s Psalms are key in seeing the big picture here. You’ll see this in action in Ps 139:17-24.

Whatever these verses may ultimately mean, one thing is quite clear: a complete view of the Bible must compel us to dispense with a simplistic “love the sinner, hate the sin” sentiment. That may be a fine initial rule, but it does not represent the whole counsel of God.

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