In Chapter 4 of The Cross of Christ, The Problem of Forgiveness, John Stott identifies five vivid metaphors used in Scripture to illustrate that sin cannot approach God, and God cannot tolerate sin: height (Psalm 7:17), distance (Josh 3:4), light (1 John 1:5), fire (Heb 12:29), and vomiting (Rev 3:16).
“[these] all say that God cannot be in the presence of sin, and that if it approaches him too closely it is repudiated or consumed.
Yet these notions are foreign to modern man. The kind of God who appeals to most people today would be easygoing in his tolerance of our offences. He would be gentle, kind, accommodating, and would have no violent reactions.
Unhappily, even in the church we seem to have lost the vision of the majesty of God. There is much shallowness and levity among us. Prophets and psalmists would probably say of us that ‘there is no fear of God before their eyes’. In public worship our habit is to slouch or squat; we do not kneel nowadays, let alone prostrate ourselves in humility before God. It is more characteristic of us to clap our hands with joy than to blush with shame or tears. We saunter up to God to claim his patronage and friendship; it does not occur to us that he might send us away.
We need to hear again the Apostle Peter’s sobering words, “Since you call on a father who judges each man’s work impartially, live your lives… in reverent fear.” (1 Peter 1:17) In other words, if we dare to call our judge our Father, we must beware of presuming on him. It must even be said that our evangelical emphasis on the atonement is dangerous if we come to it too quickly. We learn to appreciate the access to God which Christ has won only after we have first cried, “Woe is me for I am lost.”
In [R.W.] Dale’s words, “It is partly because sin does not provoke our own wrath that we do not believe that sin provokes the wrath of God.”
– John Stott, The Cross of Christ: 20th Anniversary Edition (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1989), 128-9.
We need to hold fast to the biblical revelation “of the living God who hates evil, is disgusted and angered by it, and refuses ever to come to terms with it.” That’s the essential background to amazing grace offered at the cross.