This week’s reading for Reading Classics Together at Challies.com was chapter 4, The Problem of Forgiveness from John Stott’s The Cross of Christ. This chapter tackles the question of why it is impossible for God to forgive us without Christ’s sacrifice for sin. Why can’t God just forgive us in the same way that we are required to forgive others?
Stott gives two quick answers and then uses the rest of the chapter to explain them more. Anyone who thinks it God can just forgive us without the sacrifice of his Son does not yet understand the gravity of our sin or the majesty of God.
The problem of forgiveness is constituted by the inevitable collision between divine perfection and human rebellion, between God as he is and us as we are.
In order to carefully examine these two things—the seriousness of sin and the majesty of God—Stott takes the bulk of this chapter to think through four biblical ideas with the reader.
- The Gravity of Sin: “Every sin is a breach of what Jesus called ‘the first and great commandment,’ not just by failing to love God with all our being but by actively refusing to acknowledge and obey him as our Creator and Lord. … Sin is not a regrettable lapse from conventional standards; its essence is hostility to God (Rom. 8:7), issuing in active rebellion against him.”
- Human Moral Responsibility: “…Scripture invariably treats us as morally responsible agents. … Our responsibility before God is an inalienable aspect of our human dignity.”
- True and False Guilt: “The Bible takes sin seriously because it take humanity seriously. As we have seen, Christians do not deny the fact—in some circumstances—of diminished capacity, but we affirm that diminished responsibility always entails diminished humanity. … [T]o be punished, however severely, because we have deserved it, because we ‘ought to know better,’ is to be treated as a human person made in God’s image.”
- God’s Holiness and Wrath: God’s wrath “is his holy reaction to evil.” “God’s holiness exposes sin; his wrath opposes it.” Stott lists a few metaphors used in the Bible to illustrate for us that “sin cannot approach God” and that “God cannot tolerate sin.” First, God is said to be high, which the biblical authors use to show his transcendence (or “otherness”). Second, God is far away from us, so that sinners cannot approach him. Then there are light and fire, two things that make close approach impossible. Last, there is the metaphor of sinners being vomited, showing that God finds sin repulsive.
Those who have a biblical view of God’s wrath and human sin understand the need for the cross. Our sin and God’s wrath stand in the way of our forgiveness, and some sort of satisfaction for sin is necessary. That takes us to next week’s reading, chapter 5, Satisfaction for Sin.