As the crowd watched, she was dragged into the center court of the temple. The scribes and Pharisees had the stones in their hands, and they were prepared to kill her. They told Jesus her crime. “She was caught in the act of adultery.” Then they tried to trap Him into an answer by saying that Moses had commanded them to stone an adulterer and by asking Jesus what He would do. Jesus, “full of grace and truth” (John 1:14), gave a beautiful and wise statement. “He who is without sin among you, let him be the first to throw a stone at her” (John 8:7, NASB). No one fit that criteria, so they dropped their stones and walked away. I’m afraid that too often we are the stone throwers instead of the grace givers. Our brothers and sisters in Christ fall, and we leave them lying in the ditch of their sin instead of lifting them up and helping to set their feet on the right path again.
The Bible has much to say about sin and its devastating consequences. We know verses like “the way of transgressors is hard” (Prov. 13:15) and “be sure your sin will find you out” (Num. 32:23). We see examples of people like Achan, whose sin affected the whole nation of Israel. So I don’t ever want to minimize the serious results of sin.
My contention is that, in addition to the consequences the person is already suffering, we throw a stone of rejection or a stone of criticism. We justify our actions by thinking, Well, that’s what happens when you sin. We take on the Lord’s job of creating the punishment for sin instead of working at restoring the sinning person back to a position of conformity to Christ and usefulness in the body of Christ. Many of the hasty, judgmental statements we give people are simply because of self-righteous pride. Somehow, we get the idea that we could never do whatever it is the fallen person has committed. We might not admit it, but sometimes we think, Well, I’m not as bad as that person. In God’s eyes, any sin is great enough to put Christ on the cross, and we do people a major injustice when we treat them as if their particular sin is beyond the reach of God’s boundless grace.
A lady I’ll call “Ann” was involved in adultery. She told me that the people in her church were kind to her when she first repented of her sin; but then as months went by, Ann felt the stones of rejection and loneliness as she lost friends, encouragers, and prayer partners. Then a teenager who had sinned in several different ways was justifiably expelled from her Christian school. But after her repentance, neither her youth pastor nor principal spoke to her for months. Other young people in her youth group shunned her and criticized her behavior. Their stones hurt her to the point that she said she never wants to be like them.
Instead of focusing on the stone throwers, let’s look at a Christlike ministry to fallen individuals. First, Christ never justified the woman’s sin. Notice that He said, “Go and sin no more” (John 8:11). Excusing sin or softening its reality does nothing to help the person change. Christ honestly confronted the immoral lifestyle of the woman at the well (cf. John 4:18). Paul left no question regarding the Corinthians’ sin (cf. 1 Cor. 5, 11). Especially in our post-modern, post-absolute society, many preachers and counselors shy away from honestly addressing the real depth of the person’s sinful choices.
Another building moment we should learn from Christ’s grace talk is that He offered unconditional forgiveness. He sent the scribes and Pharisees away and assured her that He also would not condemn her (8:11). The adulterous woman knew she had done nothing to grant Christ’s forgiveness. None of us merits God’s grace and forgiveness. That’s the definition of grace—it’s a gift of kindness when we deserve punishment. Assuring the fallen believer of God’s promise of forgiveness can be a healing ointment to his soul.
Jesus not only offered honest confrontation of her sin and the encouraging reminder of His forgiveness but also gave the woman hope for the future. People who feel like they are trapped in their sin pattern desperately need hope that they can change through the power of the Redeemer. Notice that Christ’s simple yet transforming words, “from now on, sin no more,” indicate that He believed in her for her future.
Do we see our brothers and sisters in Christ as useless after their sin, or do we lovingly meet them where they are and help them take the next step in their spiritual journey? So if we were standing in that crowd, ready to stone the adulterer, would we throw stones or minister grace?
|Joy Wagner taught classes and was the ladies’ dorm supervisor at Northland Baptist Bible College (Dunbar, WI) for 10 years. For the last year, Joy has been working as a counselor at Red Rocks Baptist Church (Lakewood, CO).|