Sin forgiven, not indulged

Published 10:51 am Monday, April 22, 2013

The “favorite Bible verse” of those who do not believe the Bible, I have come to recognize, is the incident usually labeled “the woman taken in adultery” (John 8). People who characteristically resent and reject the moral mandates of the Bible snatch Jesus’ statement quoted here and play it for all it is not worth.

The men, religious officials, who brought this woman “caught in the act of adultery” sought to condemn her to the execution by stoning stipulated in the old Mosaic Law. Jesus successfully challenged them by calling for the one among them who is “without sin.” They all faded away in recognition of their individual sins, and he asked the woman who remained to condemn her. When she observed none remained, Jesus concluded, “Neither do I condemn you.”

This actually happened, and this is what, in fact, Jesus said. And those who usually reject biblical morality run with it. Their conveniently chosen private interpretation is there is no condemnation of sin at all. I am unimpressed by what they say, because how I see them behave betrays their motive. They think: If sin is not condemned, then I cannot be condemned for my sin; if I cannot be condemned for my sin, I am free to act as however I wish.

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Sometimes they will self-servingly apply their fabricated doctrine to others. If the religious officials could not condemn this woman and if Jesus would not, then no one could condemn her. The application such people then appropriate is when we see someone sin, we are all to withhold judgment. We are to be, to use a popular and equally misunderstood term, “nonjudgmental.” This person is to go as free and guiltless as did the woman that morning in the Jerusalem temple.

Altruism, however, is apparently still not the motive. This is, again, self-interest. If I do not judge other people’s sins, no one has a right to judge my sin. The social dynamic here is not forgiveness, but indulgence. It is not the acknowledgement of sin and then the willingness to forgive what is admitted to be sin. It is the denial of the fact of sin or even the very existence of such a thing as sin.

Jesus did say neither he nor anyone present condemned the adulterous woman. But this is not all he said and did. The people who conveniently and self-indulgingly exploit this incident turn their eyes away from the text to ignore: “Go and sin no more.” This is not the next thing Jesus said, an addendum, but the rest of his assertion, essential to it.

Jesus recognized this woman had actually committed adultery. She had, in fact, sinned. She was guilty of the sin of adultery. She had earned condemnation for her sin and could have been condemned.

This, not by the also guilty religious officials, but by he who had no sin. Jesus was in the position to condemn but chose not to do so.

The ground upon which Jesus acted was not moral indifference or social indulgence, but divine forgiveness. Jesus was the one without sin and who, therefore, could have cast the first stone (if stoning were actually required). But he is also the Son of God, and all sin is essentially and ultimately sin against God himself. It is acting contrary to the way God created humans to act, an act of moral and spiritual self-destruction.

We know this by reading the narrative in its context. The purpose of this account is not to discuss sin and forgiveness. Jesus had been teaching responsive people in the temple, and the religious authorities (“scribes and Pharisees”) confronted him to disrupt his teaching and destroy his credibility. “This they said to test him, that they might have some charge to bring against him.” The point was made, and there was no reason for the writer to add details of matter aside from it.

Presuming upon how Jesus regularly acted, it is fully reasonable to take it that this woman confessed, if only by not attempting to deny the charge. Jesus either heard this in her words or sensed it in her attitude and, so, forgave her. He didn’t refer to a “mistake” or “indiscretion”; Jesus called sin as sin.

Finally, the purpose of God sending his Son to earth was not to catch people in their sin, but to convict them of sin so he is able to forgive. He came not to punish for sin but to save from sin and from sinning.

God offers this salvation even to those who disingenuously misinterpret his Word for their own moral indulgence.