Unredeemed sinners are fully haters of God does not mean salvation instantly turns us into complete lovers of God. Saved sinners do not become perfect overnight. While justification is fully the work of God and takes place at the moment of conversion, sanctification (dying to self and growing in grace as we become more and more Christlike) is the stuff of a lifetime. But our inner orientation and disposition changes. We no longer hate God, and we grow to more and more love God.
There are plenty of non-Christians – along with too many Christians, sadly – who have an altogether false and unbiblical understanding of the state of unredeemed sinners. The overall biblical witness is very bleak indeed. In general there is nothing favourable being said in Scripture about the lost and their condition without Christ.
I will list a few of the many descriptions the Bible presents on this in a moment. But let me first share one passage which I recently read again in my daily reading. The Apostle Paul is describing himself in his days before coming to Christ. It is a pretty nasty picture. As we read in Acts 26:9-11 when he was defending himself before King Agrippa:
I myself was convinced that I ought to do many things in opposing the name of Jesus of Nazareth. And I did so in Jerusalem. I not only locked up many of the saints in prison after receiving authority from the chief priests, but when they were put to death I cast my vote against them. And I punished them often in all the synagogues and tried to make them blaspheme, and in raging fury against them I persecuted them even to foreign cities.
He hated Christians. And that meant he hated their God. That is why in Acts 9:4 we read these words: “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?” To hate and persecute God’s people is to hate God himself. So this was a very damning picture of Paul before he was saved.
But some folks might look at someone like Saul and think, ‘Well, I was never that bad.’ But we are simply kidding ourselves if we think this way. The truth is, all those who are unregenerate have the same opposition and animosity to God and to believers as Saul did.
Sure, not all – or even most – unbelievers may express their deep-down hostility to Christ the way Saul did, but it is there. They are haters of God and God’s people. Paul made this clear in many places, including in Romans 1. He closes this chapter by describing the unrighteous this way (verses 28-32):
And since they did not see fit to acknowledge God, God gave them up to a debased mind to do what ought not to be done. They were filled with all manner of unrighteousness, evil, covetousness, malice. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, maliciousness. They are gossips, slanderers, haters of God, insolent, haughty, boastful, inventors of evil, disobedient to parents, foolish, faithless, heartless, ruthless. Though they know God’s righteous decree that those who practice such things deserve to die, they not only do them but give approval to those who practice them.
That is not a very flattering picture of those who are still unsaved sinners. That is quite a list, and it includes “haters of God” in verse 30. Our default position as unbelievers is to hate God. Of course in our pride and arrogance we deny this. But Paul says much more along these same lines. Consider one more text, also from Romans.
Romans 8:7-8 says this: “For the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God’s law; indeed, it cannot. Those who are in the flesh cannot please God.” Or as the NKJV puts it: “Because the carnal mind is enmity against God; for it is not subject to the law of God, nor indeed can be. So then, those who are in the flesh cannot please God.”
Plenty have spoken to this text. Let me share some powerful words by Charles Spurgeon. On April 22, 1855 he preached on “The Carnal Mind Enmity Against God.” He said this in part:
There is no difficulty in understanding my text; it needs scarcely any explanation. We all know that the word “carnal” here signifies fleshly. The old translators rendered the passage thus; “The mind of the flesh is enmity against God”—that is to say, the natural mind, that soul which we inherit from our fathers, that which was born within us when our bodies were fashioned by God. The fleshly mind, the phronema sarkos, the lusts, the passions of the soul; it is this which has gone astray from God, and become enmity against him.