Does God Really Hate the Sin But Love the Sinner?

Say something frequently enough and others will believe it. Sprinkle in some nutritious kernels of truth, and the saying will enjoy the privileged position of becoming sacrosanct. For example, the phrase “God hates the sin, but loves the sinner” is so woven into our cultural lexicon that I suspect many people believe that it’s a Bible verse.

While not a Bible verse, the platitude does have its moorings in the fifth century Church. In his “Letter 211,” St. Augustine encouraged the nuns in a Hippo monastery to respond to their sisters who have fallen prey to lust, “With due love for the persons and hatred of the sin.” That exhortation from the ancient theologian has church discipline as its immediate context.

Sadly, church discipline is a concept that is seemingly as misunderstood within the Church as it is by those outside the Church. For the uninitiated, the Bible speaks of church discipline in terms like “Purge the evil person from among you” (1Corinthians 5:13) and even “deliver this man to Satan.” (1 Corinthians 5:5) Our current discussion about the oft-quoted and bastardized phrase is divorced from any talk about church discipline.

When claiming that “God hates the sin, but loves the sinner,” most people are referring to those already outside the Church. And, it’s often used to soften the blow when Christians talk about sin. For example, while talking to gay family or friends, many Christians will shamefacedly mumble something about God’s clearly defined parameters for human sexuality, and then quickly and eagerly move to the point in the conversation about love, completely skipping over repentance and turning away from sin.

The overemphasis on loving the sinner at the expense of hating the sin is bad enough, but I believe that the whole concept lacks a robust understanding of the Bible’s position on God, humans, and sin. As the Psalmist writes, “But you are not a God who delights in wickedness; evil may not dwell with you. The boastful shall not stand before your eyes; you hate all evildoers. You destroy those who speak lies; the Lord abhors the bloodthirsty and deceitful man.” (Psalm 5:4-6)

Even a cursory reading of the Bible confronts the reader with the reality that God hates sin. God is holy and cannot allow sin in His presence. Humans, on the other hand, are fallen; humans are sinful. Since God cannot allow sin in His holy presence, that creates a problem for humans. How can sinful humans have a relationship with a holy God? That’s a problem that no humans can solve.

Next Page: If humans can't solve the problem, how can we be reconciled to God?