Hating Sin

My March church magazine article

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Hatred is a strong word isn't it. We teach children not to say “I hate you!” When we hear the word used in phrases like “religious hatred,” it's always negative.

However, if something is truly terrible and evil, then presumably hating it is acceptable. For example, I can hate abuse, or slavery, or injustice. In that light, the Bible talks about God hating sin, i.e. rebellion against God and his good rule over us. For example:

Do not plot evil against each other, and do not love to swear falsely. I hate all this," declares the LORD. (Zechariah 8:17 NIV)

And speaking of the sinful practices of a group called the Nicolatians in the early church Jesus says:

But you have this in your favour: You hate the practices of the Nicolaitans, which I also hate. (Revelation 2:6 NIV)

Because God is a holy God and because evil is such a terrible offence to him, he hates it. And because we are called to be holy like God (Leviticus 11:44; 1 Peter 1:15-16), we should hate it too – that's what he commends the Christians in Ephesus for in Revelation 2:6. Similarly, the Psalmist tells us that when we understand God's word, we will hate the the evil it condemns.

I gain understanding from your precepts; therefore I hate every wrong path. (Psalm 119:104 NIV)

As Christians, we face a difficult challenge if we are to hate sin. We constantly face the temptation to conform to the pattern of the world around us, where some sins are hated, but many are tolerated and many are revelled in. Think of our society's attitudes to alcohol, obeying authorities, lying, cheating, sex, money, greed and so on. As our society has drifted ever further from its Christian moorings, so it has drifted ever further from a right definition of what is right and wrong, let alone right actions. But the standard for Christians is not to be good compared to society, the standard is to be holy as God is holy.

We can even face a difficult challenge in church. Again the tendency is to conform to the standards around us, what author Jerry Bridges calls “cultural holiness.” This can be good, in that the examples around us may be encouraging us to greater holiness. However, the risk is that we take on the blind spots of our church culture and we set the standard by that, rather than by the holiness of God. It is not unusual to find churches tolerating all sorts of sin, just read the letters to churches in Revelation 2-3 or Paul's first letter to the Corinthians.

An important step in growing to mature Christian faith is to hate our sin, where the definition of sin is set by God in his word. If we don't hate our sin, we won't want to change and become more holy. To hate our sin, we need to meditate on what God calls sin and how he feels about it. Once, by God's grace, we see things with his eyes, we are more likely to want to act in his ways.

Let me ask you some questions to think about it for this month.

1. Where are you tempted to conform to the world and stop hating sin?

2. What blind spots are there in our churches to sin?

3. What can you do this month to meditate on God's definition and attitudes to sin?

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