The Myth of “Love the Sinner, Hate the Sin”

What’s  your take on the clique “God loves the sinner, but hates the sin”? Here’s mine.

One of the readings from the Lectionary for this third Lent Sunday is Romans 5:1-11. As I reflected on this passage this morning I was reminded of its power and the way it subverts the oft quoted bumper-sticker cliche “God Loves the Sinner but Hates the Sin”.

This slogan is one of the most unbiblical ideas I’ve ever heard that get’s touted as if it were actually a verse in the Bible. However, the verses in the Bible, here Romans 5:1-11, actually teach the opposite. God loves the sinner full stop. No “But”!

You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless Christ died for the ungodly. (5:6)

God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners Christ died for us. (5:8)

For if, while we were God’s enemies, we were reconciled to him through the death of his Son, how much more, having been reconciled, shall we be saved through his life! (5:10)

“Still powerless”, “the ungodly”, “still sinners”, and “God’s enemies”. God loved us as the person described by these characteristics. A person is not divisible in the way the cliche, and our underlying anthropology assumes. In the Bible there is no such division of a person that separates what we do from who we are. Identity is inseparable from our activity. Romans 5:1-11 teaches the radical idea: God loves the sinner. That’s how radical God love is. And praise be to God for his radical love.

  • Iantbarker

    I don’t get it. Nothing here tells me that God still doesn’t hate sin, even if He loves the sinner.

    • Anonymous

      I didn’t say god doesn’t hate sin. In fact he does which makes his love so radical. Again on what basis do you separate sinner from sin?

      • BradK

        You stated that “This slogan [that God loves the sinner but hates the sin.] is one of the most unbiblical ideas I’ve ever heard that get’s touted as if it were actually a verse in the Bible. However, the verses in the Bible, here Romans 5:1-11, actually teach the opposite.”

        You went on to affirm the first half of the slogan, that God loves the sinner. If you aren’t saying or implying that God doesn’t hate sin then in what way is the slogan “one of the most unbiblical ideas” that you have ever heard? If the part about God loving the sinner is biblical and the part about God hating sin is biblical, then exactly what is objectionable about the slogan? Romans 5:1-11 doesn’t in any way seem to teach the opposite of this slogan. This passage simply doesn’t directly address God’s attitude towards sin itself. This passage doesn’t exist in a vacuum. God’s attitude towards sin is addressed elsewhere in scripture. You mention the Romans passage as evidence for God loving sinners period. But how do you deal with other passages like Psalm 5:5, Leviticus 20:23, Proverbs 6:16-19, and Hosea 9:15 that reference God hating not just the sin but sinners?

        Jason Staples ( seems to have the right of it in his response to your post…

        “Although I’m sympathetic to Willits’ sentiment in this post, I don’t think he’s exactly right. It is precisely God’s love that does separate sin from the sinner, transforming the sinner into something else. So in this sense the statement “love the sinner, hate the sin” isn’t exactly wrong, in much the same way that parents can love their drug-addicted son or daughter but hate the addiction enough to intervene and go to great personal and financial expense to get the kid clean. Only a person who loved a great deal would take such measures to free someone from addiction. Those who truly love the most are those who most hate sin, hate that which is harmful to the beloved. Other people can simply walk by, perhaps shaking their heads in pity. Thus parents are the most concerned for the behavior of their own children precisely because they love them the most.”

        Fwiw, I can’t stand this slogan either, mainly because I can’t stand “bumper sticker Christianity.” But since you pushed back on Iantbarker, I thought it worthwhile to push back on your pushback. :-)

  • Gregory

    But His taking sin “as far as the East is from the West” from us seems to show God’s desire to hold on to us and separate the sin He hates. True, He loved us while we were still sinners, but His goal all along was to cast sin off in its entirety.

    The Bible is filled with passages that identify behaviors God hates (many verses get extremely specific). Yet, God’s love for us is touted all the more – the only way this isn’t contradictory is if God wholly loves us while wholly hating sin, whether it be the general “sin and death” that entered our world at the fall, or when we succumb to temptations.

    • Anonymous

      Yes I agree with your statement of the goal. God restores the sinner by forgiveness and new life. But that doesn’t mean he separates sinner from sin in his love and concrete saving action in Messiah. Yes indeed God is said to hate but he hates the sinner and pours out his wrath on the rebellious. But as you suggest Gods hate is out shined by his love.

      • burichan21

        God hates sin. God loves sinners. Is the “but” throwing you off that much? These sentences separated do not mean God hates sin and sinners. God loves sinners and their sins. No, that would be contradictory, which is something God is not. God hates sin despite the sinners, which he loves. God loves sinners despite their sins, which he hates. That is what the slogan means, and it is Biblically sound.

  • Steve Walton

    Do you mean ‘cliché’ rather than ‘clique’ Joel?

  • Jeremy Myers

    Perfect sense!

  • Marcus Hübner

    Maybe we can put it the other way around and let go of the article and it’ll make more sense?
    “Got hates sin, but (still) loves (radically) the sinner”?

    I think ur right, that the bible doesn’t separate the deed and behavior from the doer. Though the bible makes clear, that God hates eversthing, that is rebellious to his claim to be ‘the god’ and sovereign. Which can be better put into the term ‘sin’ without any article; the article breaks down sin to (one) special behavior, when the bible describes sin as a nature.

    So God really hates sin with furious anger – but he still loves, radically and unconditionally and indiscribable, the sinner!

  • Keith Irwin

    The world is full of sinners. God hates sin. God loves the world, his creation, so much that he desires to redeem it by sending Jesus who can reconcile us to God from this otherwise impossible disconnect. However, by virtue of free will we retain the ability to deny this grace.

    Removing the second portion of the phrase could be misleading in several ways:
    1. Where is our free will responsibility to accept God’s grace?
    2. What happens to non-reconciled sinners?
    3. What about justice and judgment?

    The first portion of the statement needs the second as much as the second portion needs the first. Without the second portion, the statement sounds universalistic. After all, Paul’s words in Romans already account for the second portion of the phrase because his words are being spoken to those who have already accepted God’s grace. (5:10)

    A tangential question I would then have is, is God’s love unconditional if achieving God’s reward requires action on our part?

  • Anonymous

    An additional problem with this slogan is that it is usually given as an imperative (“Love the sinner, hate the sin!”). As you point out, God is amazingly adept at radically loving us despite our sin. However, we are not as good at it and would do well not to try doing both until we can love the sinner as best we can. Moreover, most NT admonitions about dealing with sin are in the context of close relationship, not scattershot from the pulpit.

    Tony Campolo had a good alternative that has a better Scriptural basis (Matthew 7): “Love the sinner and hate our own sin.”

  • John Thomson

    It is probably truer to say that God both loves and hates the sinner.

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

    Ps 11:5 (ESV)
    ​​​​​​​​The Lord tests the righteous, ​​​​​​​but his soul hates the wicked and the one who loves violence. ​​​

  • Rob

    What about Romans 7, where Paul declares that if I want to do what is right, but I do what is evil, it is no longer really “I” who does it, but rather sin within me? This seems to be a strong reason to separate the person from the sin, and show that the person enslaved to sin is the object of God’s love, not qua sinner, but qua person made in God’s image. The fundamental truth is God’s eternal love toward His creatures – that He loves us in our sin is merely a contingent truth of the fallen world we’ve created for ourselves.

    But Romans 7 is incredibly complex and I could be misreading. Just a thought.

    • John Thomson


      This is a thought worth reflecting on. Depends largely how we understand the spiritual condition envisaged in these verses. For myself, I understand this section to be Paul viewing himself as a renewed man but still without the indwelling Spirit. He is exploring the question; can the law sanctify (produce fruit for God as earlier in 7:1-6) even a regenerate person. The answer is negative. Law has no moral power even for a renewed heart. The presence of the Holy Spirit is necessary if sin is to be rejected and holiness pursued.

      What I do think is important is that Paul is teaching here a topic he further develops namely that believers should recognise that when they sin they are acting contrary to their true identity, their true self. They should hate the sin and nature that produces it but should not view that nature or sin as who they really are. They should confess and forsake the sin but constantly remind themselves they are a new creation.

      In other words Christians should never be condemned by their sin. It should never lead to despair. Rather we should recognise it as that which belongs to a self/nature now repudiated and judicially finished. Our task through the Spirit is to recognise this and implement its implications.

  • Inchristus Blog

    Ps 5:5 “you [God] hate all who do wrong”

    I could not agree more with your thesis. If God separates sin from sinner, then Hell would be empty. If parents separated sin from sinner, then how could they administer correction? When a criminal goes to jail, it is not their behavior that is locked up, but the one behind the unlawful behavior.

    We desparately need a theology of hate. Sounds crude, I know, but Scripture and moral reason cry out for it.

  • Steve
  • John Butzu

    Wow – I thought I was going to hate this article till the final paragraph or two – what a great way to study God’s word! I appreciate this article very much. May God bless you! John Butzu – []

  • Jeswine

    Jude 23
    Rescue others by snatching them from the flames of judgment. Show mercy to still others, but do so with great caution, hating the sins that contaminate their lives.

  • Jeswine

    All the verses that you mentioned here reinforces the ‘Love the Sinner, hate the sin’ concept. It is also exemplified in the story where Jesus tells the prostitute ‘Nor do I condemn you. Go and sin no more’. No one is saying that God’s radical love is only applicable to those who are sinless. If that was the case, then whats so ‘radical’ about that love? And how are we, who are not perfect, qualified for that love? But that also does NOT mean that God is fine with the sins and weaknesses that plagues us. He wants us to get rid of them with His help. For that, we first need to have to accept that we are sinners and make a sincere decision to grow out of our weaknesses with the help of the Holy Spirit. These days the phrase under discussion is mostly used when talking about the issue of homosexuality. That is because many in the world and the even in the Christian community dont even consider homosexuality to be a sin or a weakness. That is just going too far. And that is not what God wants.

    • Kristen Padilla

      John 8:1-11, from which you quote, was not part of the earliest manuscript. The UBS Greek New Testament puts it in double brackets.

  • Joe83420

    It’s not about his love, it’s about YOUR love! Do YOU love him enough to repent from and forsake sin?

    John 14:15 “If ye love me, keep my commandments.”

    John 15:10 “If ye keep my commandments, ye shall abide in my love; even as I have kept my Father’s commandments, and abide in his love.”

  • historian

    it is imperative if you analyse and quote a primary source that you are also translating it yourself from the original language of the manuscript.

  • Ben Shigure Ho

    The book of Jude devotes itself to people who call themselves Christians, yet do not live as Christ commanded. But then there comes a concious point in a person’s life whereby they wish to continue in sin. We can continue to love them, but their sin ultimately destroys them if they are unwilling to repent.

  • Brian9999

    Please note that Joel is not advocating a license to sin. I see many on this thread still clinging to “hate”, despite the uplifting reflection laid out in this article. God’s love is indeed radical. It makes no sense. That’s what makes HIM so awesome!

  • Sam

    I can’t believe how people don’t understand about hate sin and love sinner. Just as a loving father or mother love their children no matter what good or bad their children do, they simply love them. Parents will still hate when their children do bad stuff and they punish them for that. Although parents punish their own children, they still love them. Punishing is NOT a lack of love; it’s simply an act of judgement. God loves us no matter what good or bad we do, but he will still punish us when we do bad. Smarten up guys.

    • KC

      Yes – but even loving parents have to separate themselves from grown children who abuse their love and choose to continue to practice their sin when it brings harm and detriment to the relationship between them. We are talking about those who choose to practice sin not those who commited an act of sin and repented/turned away from their sin. A sinner is characterized by his or her sin.

      • Sam

        Those examples are of relative order, but God is Absolute. The comparison of the relationship between parent and child is similar to God and humans but not perfect. We are not characterized by what we do, for that is not who we truly are. I’m Hindu, and the Vedic Scriptures declares that our true identity is Atma, the transcendental Self. We are One, and this oneness is the True Self, above and beyond physical limitations, unborn and eternal, immaculate and untouched by actions and sin. We are not sinners; we are the One pure Self. We sin because we are separate from our true Self. This is why we feel separate from everyone else. We don’t feel any sense of oneness. The result of this ignorance is sin. Moreover, I love what Swami Brahmananda Saraswati had said about God: He said that even if He (God) willed it, He could still not ever separate Himself from anyone or anything because He is Almighty and He cannot possibly become less than Almighty.

  • KC

    God lovED the sinner so much that He sent Christ to pay for the sin. Therefore, what is left for those who refuse to turn away from their sin and accept Christ as payment for their sin?

  • Victor Pond

    This is just a thinly veiled excuse to not repent of homo-hatred. It makes it sound like the one espousing this “compassionate” sounding statement is in some way in a better spiritual state. It’s a distraction from self-examination. Well, we were commanded to “love thy neighbor as thyself” This trumps any flimsy attempt to create categories and hierarchies of sinners.

  • Bob7RU57N01

    Wisdom of Solomon 14 [9] For equally hateful to God are the ungodly man and his ungodliness, [10] for what was done will be punished together with him who did it. Full stop. No “But!”

  • Shane

    More accurate is God both loves the sinner and hates the sinner. God has righteous indignation everyday against the ungodly. Not just hating their sin but hating them. Man sins because he IS a sinner. Man in his natural condition is an enemy of God. God hates the sinner and loves the sinner simultaneously.