The other day I was scrolling through my newsfeed on Facebook when I ran across a link that a friend of mine had posted to a blog post. The post was clearly dealing with the issue of homosexuality, that much I could see from preview. It also looked like it may be coming from a slightly new angle so I clicked on it to investigate further. One of the primary arguments that the author was making was that many Christians are very literal in their interpretation of the Scriptures on issues such as homosexuality. However, when it comes to other issues like alcohol, gluttony, divorce, etc. we beg for "a little context." Now, let me say this, on that particular point I absolutely agree with the author and applaud her boldness in pointing it out. One of the things that frustrates me the most is that we, as evangelical Christians, like to categorize sins and typically the really bad ones, the ones God abhors, are the ones that someone else is guilty of. I want you to hear me very clearly here because this is important, there are no "good" sins or sins that are less deadly than others. Cheating on a test is as bad as cheating on your spouse in God's economy and both of them drove nails into the hands and feet of Jesus as He was being crucified.
Now let me get to my rub with the author of this blog article I was reading. Her argument was fairly coherent and scriptural regarding the point above, but then there came a point where she pulled out one of the favorite verses of those who believe we should be tolerant of all kinds of things that God calls sin, John 8:11 or at least part of it. The author quoted this verse as follows;
And Jesus said, "I do not condemn you, either."
This is, of course, the situation when Jesus came upon a group of men who were getting ready to stone a woman to death because she had been caught in adultery. Jesus breaks in and tells them that the one who has committed no sin should be the one to cast the first stone. Naturally, no one qualifies and as Jesus is drawing on the ground the angry crowd fades away. Finally, Jesus looks around and asks the woman where her accusers are. "No one, Lord" she replies. Then Jesus tells her that He isn't going to either.
This looks to be a pretty solid argument from the Bible for us to be accepting and tolerant of sin. The problem is the same ones who want us literalists to contextualize everything don't bother to read the context of this statement or even the rest of Jesus' statement. The complete exchange reads like this;
Straightening up, Jesus said to her, "Woman, where are they? Did no one condemn you? She said, "No one, Lord." And Jesus said, "I do not condemn you, either. Go. From now on sin no more."
That's right Jesus, the loving, penultimate example of tolerance used the word "sin" and told someone not to do it. Let's break this down a little bit further and gain some real context and hopefully shed some real light on the issue of sin and tolerating it.
The first thing that we must notice is that by the Law the men in the crowd were perfectly justified in stoning the woman. However, what they were missing was the Christ, the author of the Law, was among them and when the divine Judge of all humanity is present He gets to call the shots. Christ then levels a statement at them that causes them to consider their own sinfulness, the plank in their own eye as it were. Faced with the reality that they were equally as sinful they decided, I imagine, that they would like a little grace if they were on the receiving end of some stones.
As for the woman we see the compassionate Savior offering the forgiveness that only He has the right to offer. In light of the fact that Christ is the Judge He also has the prerogative to offer forgiveness on the basis of what He was going to do on the cross. We also need to understand that Jesus, being God-in-flesh, knew this woman's heart. This is something that the author of the Gospel is not privy to and neither are we. However, we can safely assume that she was contrite over her sin. Being contrite and finding herself in the presence of the Lord she was in the perfect position to receive forgiveness and the Bible tells us two very important things about that.
Therefore there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. Romans 8:1
If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. 1 John 1:9
God does not overlook sin and pretend it doesn't exist, He causes it to rise to the top so that it can be dipped off and thrown away. The fact that Jesus tells this woman to "Go. From now on sin no more" tells us that He wasn't overlooking the sin in her life, He was dealing with it in a way that only He can do.
For us, there are several lessons that we need to take to heart. First of all, we are all dreadfully sinful. We may want to surround people who carry the weight of the more obvious sins (homosexuality being a prime example) and toss stones in their direction but we need to remember that God has a much larger pile of stones than we do. Understand that if Jesus had wanted to stone the woman in this passage He would have been absolutely justified. That's not what He came to do though. He didn't come to cast stones and carry out the letter of the Law as man interprets it. He came to deal with the problem that the Law was in place to make us aware of...sin. In essence, Jesus stood in the midst of the circle and shielded us from the stones and when everyone's arms were tired we look up to see that we are alive and He had laid His life down for us.
The second thing is this, when the Judge is present we need to step back and let Him do the work. Nowhere in the Bible will you find that it is our duty to judge people's souls. Are we to help people along the way and inspect their lives for spiritual fruit? Absolutely! Look at what John says in his first epistle just before the verse quoted above;
If we say we have fellowship with the Him and yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth...1 John 1:6
If someone claims to be a follower of Christ and there is little, if any, evidence of that in their lives then that is something we can see and draw some conclusions about. Right now, as we live in the time of the New Covenant, the Judge of men's souls is present. We have the Holy Spirit who is doing His work in the hearts and minds of people all over the world. We also have the complete revelation of God in His Word. While we can never judge a person's soul we can point to what God has said and pray that the Holy Spirit will invade their heart to enlighten them to the truth. Whenever a Christian claims that "sin A" is wrong and points to God's Word to show it, they are not judging they are letting God's Word do that.
The other part of letting the Judge do His work is that we step back and allow Him to offer forgiveness and redemption to the person and begin the work of sanctification. Jesus made no bones about it, what that woman had done was sin but He also offered forgiveness to her and then told her not to do it anymore. Our role in this process, as God's Church, is to help people through the difficulties that come after they have had a saving encounter with Christ. We can do this through encouragement, accountability, and discipleship.
This passage has become just about as popular as Jesus' statement of "Judge not lest ye be judged" in our world today. Sadly, we abuse both of those statements and in doing so we miss the greatest part of the Gospel, that God doesn't ignore sin but that He pours His light onto it so that we can be forgiven. Let us apply that truth to the way in which we interact with people in the world and how we judge sin and sinners.