I saw a post on social media that went something like this: “When you love people, you love all of them. There are no boundaries. If you have boundaries, you’re not living into the kingdom of God that is always expanding and always welcoming. Your boundaries are nothing but fear mongering.” At the heart of this comment is the modernist assumption that God’s love is unconditional. This is an assumption that has crept its way even into the minds of conservative Christians and it permeates the theology of liberalism. To say “when you love people, you love all of them,” I agree wholeheartedly that you cannot distinguish between race, ethnicity, nationality, language, gender, social status, wealth, or ability. Things, by and large, that are out of an individual’s control. As Christians we must love our brothers and sisters in the faith regardless of their physical or social differences. As Christians, we can never love sin nor those who refuse to repent of their sinful lifestyle.
Dr. R. C. Sproul once said that any preacher who teaches God’s love is unconditional should be defrocked. I agree with him. The notion of God’s unconditional love is nowhere uttered in Scripture, and is actually contradicted by the call to and need for repentance (2 Chr. 7:14, 30:9; 1 Jn. 1:9; Acts 3:19; Pro. 28:13; Mt. 3:8, 4:17). In some sense, God does love even those who are imperfect in their faith. Even this does not necessitate unconditional love. Those who are adopted sons of God, while imperfect and impure in this life, are viewed by God through the lens of His Son, the Unblemished Lamb. We see very quickly that God’s love is indeed conditional. It is conditioned on the person and work of Jesus Christ.
God does hate things. God explicitly hates sinfulness (Dt. 12:31, 16:22; Ps. 5:4-6, 11:5-7; Pro. 16:16-19; Is. 1:10-15; Amos 5:21-23; Mic. 3:5; Zec. 8:17; Mal. 2:16). In fact, God hates sinfulness so much that in the Old Testament, he prescribed an annual ritual, in which all of Israel was to partake, that would cleanse their sins from the previous year (Lev. 16). This ritual sacrifice in the Old Testament pointed Israel to Christ, who became the once and only sacrifice of God’s people (Heb. 10:1-18). Jesus becomes the condition on which God loves His elect.
Dr. Sproul addresses this question from another angle, and I’d like to present it here, too. He first draws attention to the most well-known benediction (Latin for, “good word”) from Numbers 6:24-26, “The Lord bless you and keep you; the Lord make his face to shine upon you and be gracious to you; the Lord lift up his countenance upon you and give you peace.” Dr. Sproul makes the point that the opposite of this benediction—the supreme malediction (“bad word”)—could read like this:
May the Lord curse you and abandon you. May the Lord keep you in darkness and give you only judgment without grace. May the Lord turn his back upon you and remove his peace from you forever.
He summarizes this very poignant analogy:
When on the cross, not only was the Father’s justice satisfied by the atoning work of the Son, but in bearing our sins the Lamb of God removed our sins from us as far as the east is from the west. He did it by being cursed. ‘Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us—for it is written, “Cursed is everyone who is hanged on a tree”’ (Gal. 3:13). He who is the incarnation of the glory of God became the very incarnation of the divine curse.
Jesus Christ becomes the curse, the object of malediction, so that God’s wrath can be poured out on the only being who could drink that cup, for the purpose of transferring His benediction on those who trust in Jesus as their Lord and Savior. Upon reading Scripture, it becomes adamantly clear that God’s love for any redeemed sinner is based not in what that sinner has done or can ever do, but is conditioned upon the perfect life and sacrifice of Jesus the Christ.
Now, there are many—and I hear this a lot among conservative/evangelical circles—who say God hates the sin but loves the sinner. This is a heresy that goes hand-in-hand with unconditional love.
The language of Scripture is very blunt and very clear, God abhors wickedness. Unrighteousness is an abomination to Him. Lawlessness is condemned and sinfulness is convicted. Dr. Sproul responds to that heresy with a quip of his own: sin doesn’t go to hell, sinners do. The error of both “hate the sin, love the sinner” and unconditional love is they falsely lead people to believe that they can be sinners—meaning actively, unremorsefully, proudly sinning—and still be accepted by God. Again, God can and does love imperfect humans. Luther was right to say we are both justified and a sinner. Dr. Sproul explains this: ”In and of ourselves, under the analysis of God’s scrutiny, we still have sin; we’re still sinners. But, by imputation and by faith in Jesus Christ, whose righteousness is now transferred to our account, then we are considered just or righteous.” Without a saving faith in Christ, which is manifested in a deep desire and active practice of mortifying sin (See Col. 3:5 and “How to Mortify Sin”), then there can be no divine benediction in your life. If you want to be the object of God’s love, you must first love what He loves, which is His Son and our Savior, and then you must love the things that He loves, namely righteousness, which means hating the things He hates, universally sinfulness.