By Dr Paul M Elliot
Church history records a variety of strongly-held positions on this question. Some have said that God loves all mankind equally. Others have said that God only loves His elect. Still others have said that God loves all men, but loves believers in a special way. What is the truth?
In the final analysis, we must be careful to say what Scripture says about the love of God and His attitude toward sin — no more, but also no less. And on the authority of Scripture, we must conclude that it is accurate to say that God loves sinners, but hates sin — but also that those who persist in their sin will personally experience the eternal wrath of God.
While We Were Still Sinners”
Romans 5:8 alone is a sufficient basis for the assertion that God does indeed love sinners: “God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” If God did not love sinners, He would not have sent His Son to die for them. But it is important to explain further.
Scripture teaches the general love of God for all His creatures, which is based in His goodness toward all (Psalm 36:6, 104:21, 145:9, 15-16; Matthew 5:45, 6:26, 19:17; Luke 6:35; Acts 14:17). Love is one of God’s essential attributes (1 John 4:8, 16). From these and other Scriptures it is clear that God does not withdraw His love completely from His creatures, even in their fallen state.
Examples of God’s Love for Sinners
Scripture teaches the love of God toward sinners throughout its pages. In the Old Testament, we see that God loved the nation of Israel, and specifically the generation that He brought out of Egypt (Deuteronomy 7:7-8, Hosea 11:1), despite the fact that this same generation died in the wilderness in unbelief (Hebrews 3:15-4:11). God loved Israel even when they were worshipping the Baals (Hosea 1:1-4), and His enduring mercy (Psalm 106:1) was shown in His deliverance (44-46), despite the fact that His wrath was kindled against them because of their sin (40-43).
In the New Testament, we see that Jesus loved (hegapesen, from agapao) the rich young ruler (Mark 10:21) although there is no indication that this young man received Christ but rather that he remained lost in his self-righteousness. And the Apostle Paul tells us that God demonstrated His love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners (Romans 5:8), and while we were enemies (5:10), Christ died for us.
God’s Love and God’s Wrath: Truths in Balance
Scripture is also clear in teaching that God hates sin. He hated the sin of Israel even to the point of abhorring her (Psalm 78:59). God pours out His wrath upon the unrighteous because they are by nature unrighteous, and steadfastly remain in unbelief (Romans 1:18-3:20, 2 Thessalonians 2:10, 2 Peter 2:12-13).
Scripture also makes it clear that the holy God hates sinners with righteous hatred because of their sin (Psalm 5:5-6, 11:5-7, 45:7 [which speaks of Christ, cf. Hebrews 1:9], Proverbs 6:16-19, Jeremiah 44:1-14, Revelation 2:15), and that God’s holy wrath is presently upon the unbeliever (John 3:36, Romans 1:18, Ephesians 5:6).
But Scripture also makes it clear that one of the attributes of God’s goodness is His sovereign mercy and compassion (Exodus 33:19). Out of all the people of the nation of Israel that God says He loved, God set His special love upon His elect of that nation, and on His elect in all periods of history including both Jews and Gentiles (Malachi 1:1-3, as explained in Romans 9:6-29). This special love of God was manifested (ephanerothe, revealed by demonstration) in sending Jesus Christ into the world to die for sinners (1 John 4:9). God manifested this love while we were yet sinners (Romans 5:8).
Those who are saved, as the objects of God’s special redeeming love (1 John 4:10), are no longer the objects of God’s holy wrath (Ephesians 2:3-4). But those who persist in unbelief and do not come to Christ for salvation will personally experience the hatred and wrath of God for eternity in the Lake of Fire (Revelation 20:11-15).
Flee From the Wrath to Come
The message of the Gospel is this: Flee from the wrath to come by taking refuge in the love of God now. Only Jesus Christ, who is the visible manifestation of the love of God, can redeem sinners from the wrath to come (John 14:6, Romans 5:9, 1 Thessalonians 1:10). “God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life….He who believes in Him is not condemned; but he who does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God….He who believes in the Son has everlasting life; and he who does not believe the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God abides on him.” (John 3:16, 18, 36).
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Sermon placed with full permission. Thank your Dr Paul M Elliot