Perhaps one of the more famous stories from the Gospels is the story of the woman caught in adultery found in John 8. I was recently thinking of this story as an example of how to respond to a situation a particular situation. As a result, I want to share some thoughts as I pondered this story.
First, there is no indication in the story that the woman was not guilty of adultery. Multiple witnesses testified that she was caught in the act. The woman herself does not plead innocence. So we can conclude that Jesus did not let her avoid punishment because she was not guilty.
Secondly, many commentators have pointed out that the men who brought her to Jesus were not following Old Testament law. According to the law, both partners in the adultery were to be brought and charged together for the offense. Because of their neglect of the law, the men who brought the woman to Jesus were not without guilt in this matter.
In his wisdom, Jesus confronts the men with their duplicity by saying the famous line, “He who is without sin, cast the first stone.” The accusers could not bear up under such scrutiny and they scattered without pursuing the matter further.
The third observation is the order of the statements with which Jesus responded to the woman. After acknowledging that all the accusers had gone, Jesus said to the woman, “neither do I condemn you, go and sin no more.” Notice that Jesus pronounced his pardon before he commanded her to cease from her sin.
The order of these statements is critical to our understanding of the Gospel. We don’t need to clean ourselves up before coming to Jesus. In fact, a proper understanding of Scripture would teach us that we are unable to clean ourselves up. Only God can do it.
The Apostle Paul uses the analogy of a dead man. Until God makes us alive, we are spiritually dead. Dead people do not respond to verbal commands or any other form of stimulus.
My point in all this is that we are broken people living in a broken culture and we are called to minister to people like us who have made a mess of life. We must invite them into relationship with Jesus without laying on them the impossible task of cleaning themselves up first.
I make this point because large segments of the church, whether from bad theology or just bad practice, do indeed push people to change their behavior as a condition for coming to Jesus.
If you are in a church that does this, please stop. Jesus will have a huge issue with you if you handle “sinners” in a way that goes against his example.