Wednesday, February 14, 2007

“Neither do I condemn you; go and sin no more”

In this picture, Jesus casually writes on the ground while the religious leaders use a case of adultery to test him (see John 8:1-12). They pointed out that Moses said an adulteress should be stoned to death, but they wanted to know what Jesus said about it. After continuing to write on the ground, as if paying no attention, Jesus stood up and replied, “He who is without sin among you, let him throw a stone at her first” (John 8:7). Then he stooped down to write on the ground again.

No one could condemn the adulterous woman because no one was without sin. “Being convicted in their conscience,” John writes, they “went out one by one, beginning with the oldest even to the last. And Jesus was left alone, and the woman standing in the midst” (John 8:9).

Did He then stone the woman to death by Himself? No. When he looked up and saw no one there but the woman, he asked her, “Has no one condemned you?” When she answered, “No one, Lord,” Jesus replied, “Neither do I condemn you; go and sin no more.” (John 8:10-11).

God does not wink at our sexual sins and sinful lusts. He does not give us freedom to do whatever feels good to us. Instead, He gives us freedom from our sins - by forgiving us. God declines to condemn us even though we are guilty. He also expects us to forgive each other if we want His forgiveness (Matthew 6:14-15). We all equally deserve to be condemned and punished for our sins, including sexual sins. But Christ’s forgiveness extends even to the most scandalous sins of the flesh.

This does not mean sexual sins are no longer sinful, or that Christians can choose any sexual lifestyle they like. The apostle Paul writes to the Christians in Corinth:

“Do you not know that your bodies are members of Christ? Shall I take the members of Christ and make them members of a harlot? Certainly not! Or do you not know that he who is joined to a harlot is one body with her? For ‘the two,’ He says, ‘shall become one flesh’ [Genesis 2:24]. But he who is joined to the Lord is one spirit with Him. Flee sexual immorality. Every sin that a man does is outside the body, but he who commits sexual immorality sins against his own body. Or do you not know that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God, and you are not your own? For you were bought at a price; therefore, glorify God in your body and in your spirit, which are God’s” (1 Corinthians 6:15-20).
In the same chapter, Paul reminds Christians that “the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God” (1 Corinthians 6:9). Among other examples of “the unrighteous,” Paul includes fornicators, adulterers, homosexuals, and sodomites. God’s condemnation of these sins still stands; yet Paul also adds, “And such were some of you. But you were washed, but you were sanctified, but you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus and by the Spirit of our God” (1 Corinthians 6:11).

This means Baptism and repentant faith have separated us from all these sins, and have completely cleansed us in God’s sight. Baptism and God’s Word continue to work in us, so we grow in purity and holiness. Christ urges us, as well as the sinful woman, to “sin no more.” In Christ we continually struggle against sexual temptations, fighting back with prayer and study of God’s Word. We also battle against the faith-destroying effects of sin, by repenting when we fall into sin.

But the strongest weapon God could give us in this battle is His precious gift of forgiveness. While our conscience troubles us, and the results of our sexual sins hurt us, Jesus calmly erases our sins and writes instead: “100% pure and sinless. Paid in full.” Or rather, in His own words: “Neither do I condemn you. Go and sin no more” (John 8:11).

IMAGE: Metsu, Gabriel (1629-1667). Christ and the Adulteress. Oil on canvas. Photo: G. Blot/C. Jean. Location: Louvre, Paris, France. Photo Credit: Réunion des Musées Nationaux / Art Resource, NY

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