I was in Rome, St. Peter’s cathedral. There’s a little prayer room in there where you can go to be with God. That’s when I finally came back to him.
I’d spent a year avoiding God… too ashamed to spend time alone with him, too afraid of the disappointment and anger I believed I would experience when I finally did.
Yet, on the other side of the world, surrounded by tourists and pilgrims, God came to me.
And instead of anger… he showed me mercy. And instead of wrath… he revealed Love.
And to my heart he spoke Truth.
“I do not need – nor want – you to change… I just Love you.”
And in that little chapel, in St. Peter’s Cathedral in Rome, I bowed my head and wept as this simple Truth cut through my shame and fought its way into my heart.
I don’t believe my experience is that much different from others.
So many of us feel that we can’t truly come to God as we are.
That due to who we are, or what we have done… we wouldn’t be accepted. That we wouldn’t be loved.
Perhaps you’re fighting bitterness and unforgiveness, you’re trapped by it, but you just can’t let go.
Or you’re in bondage to a life of consumerism and materialism which is destroying you.
Perhaps you are trans or gay, and someone lied to you, telling you that Jesus won’t accept you unless you change, or stay celibate.
Or perhaps you’re battling an addiction. Maybe its alcohol, drugs, porn, whatever… it doesn’t matter. You are filled with shame because of it. You’ve tried to beat it, but you can’t. You’ve failed.
And perhaps you’re afraid to tell anyone. Maybe because you’re in leadership in your church, or just because you’ve been told your whole life that “Christians are more than Conquerors!” So, you’re really meant to have it all together.
And maybe you don’t know if you would be accepted or forgiven if you let people know what you’re going through.
And so, you feel trapped by shame. Stuck between your own self-hatred and the fear that sooner or later the wrath of God is going to fall on you and you will be condemned.
If that is where you are right now, then my heart breaks for you my friend.
You are not alone in feeling this way, but you needn’t be trapped by fear.
This image you have. This idea of this angry, wrathful god who is just waiting to punish you. Who cannot accept you unless you change.
This image is a lie.
The God Jesus reveals to us is infinitely more accepting and magnificently more loving then the church has often been able to cope with or comprehend.
The Jews during the time of Jesus had the same trouble accepting this about God.
They believed that God’s willingness to bless and accept them was tied to how well they obeyed and followed the Law.
If they wanted to be blessed, they had to do the right things and live in the right way. Striving for purity and obedience was a must.
But, when Jesus came he started revealing to people that God’s character was a lot different then what they had been led to believe.
And that revelation shocked many of the religious elite to their core.
To the point where they started to look for ways to entrap and discredit him.
One such occasion happened when Jesus had just returned from a trip to the Mount of Olives. He had come to the temple, and due to his popularity, a crowd had quickly gathered to hear him teach.
Seizing the opportunity, the religious leaders dragged a woman before Jesus who had been caught having sex with a man who was not her husband. She had broken the sacred Law. She had tainted the purity of God’s design for marriage.
“The Law says she should be killed.” They demanded! “What do you say?”
And just like that the trap was sprung.
The Law. God’s law, the law of Moses, condemned this woman. Jesus had no choice.
Surely, he would have to agree.
She had failed. She had not lived up to the perfect standard and according to the law she deserved to die. According to the religious elite she should be condemned. In fact, if you had asked them, they likely would have gone so far as to say that God had already condemned her.
And so, they ask Jesus, the one who said of himself “I and the father are one (John 10:30).” And “those who see me see the father (John 14:9).”
“What do you say? Is she condemned?”
Yet, Jesus did not even dignify their question with an answer.
Instead he reaches down in the dust and starts drawing in the sand.
Unsatisfied with Jesus’ lack of response the religious leaders continue to demand an answer.
Finally, he stands up.
I can just imagine him pausing, the crowd silent, spell bound by this confrontation, the woman weeping gently, resigned to the verdict that would come, that must come.
Jesus had no choice…. The law was clear.
But, the words that came from Jesus’ lips shocked everyone, instead of pronouncing a verdict of death, he puts the question back on the religious.
“All right,” he says softly. ‘Let the one who has never sinned throw the first stone.”
Then, as if he was not in the middle of a large crowd, or engaged in some heated confrontation, he kneels back down and writes again in the sand.
I can imagine the stunned silence, followed by the sound of thudding rocks as the woman’s accusers dropped their rocks and overcome by shame, silently disappeared into the crowd.
And I can just hear his voice as the woman looks up in surprise… the terror melting away, replaced now with sobs of shock and relief as her eyes met those of Jesus… and instead of gazing into the face of wrath… she sees Love staring back at her.
“Where are your accusers?” He asks. “Did even one condemn you?”
“No”, she stutters in response.
“Then neither do I…”
Let’s pause a moment and feel the weight of that statement.
Neither… do… I
Those are the words of Jesus to the condemned sinner…
Those are the words of God…
Through this story Jesus indicates a reversal of the current religious system. As has already been highlighted the Jews believed that they were made righteous through their obedience to the Law.
Yet, Jesus demonstrates the opposite.
As a practical example of his earlier teaching in John 6, he displays that “human effort accomplishes nothing.”
This woman, sits before him, condemned both by her community and the Law of God.
Yet, Jesus, God in the flesh speaks to her soul and says, “I do not condemn you!”
I pray that these words would speak to your heart today.
It does not matter who you are, or what you have done, or what you plan to do tomorrow, you are not condemned by God, you are not rejected. His acceptance of you is not based on what you do, or even what you try to do, he accepts you for no other reason than this.
You are his precious child. And you are Loved.
Now there are those who would want to challenge this statement. Perhaps they would want to point out that I hadn’t finished quoting the words of Jesus in this passage.
What about the part where Jesus says, “Go and Sin no more?”
Doesn’t that seem to indicate some responsibility or requirement on the part of the woman? Is there not an expectation that she now must do something in order to retain her salvation?
Sure, we all believe that God’s love is unconditional, and that his grace is freely given. But, in order to be saved surely, we have to stop sinning right? Or even if we can’t stop entirely, we need to at least be trying to stop? Right?
Well, to address that question let’s take another quick look at the narrative.
When the woman is dragged before Jesus, she is already condemned. The men surrounding her fully expect to stone her that very day. She does not come to Jesus willingly, nor does she come with a repentant heart.
Yet, knowing this… knowing that it is likely that she will go back to her lover, that there is a chance that she will never change her behaviour, he saves her anyway.
He doesn’t stop to make sure that she has committed herself to a change in behaviour before speaking up in her defence.
Nor, does he pause to highlight that “He does indeed agree with the Torah and his most illustrious religious colleagues that this woman’s actions are of course repugnant are in fact sin.” No, Jesus is not afraid of having the Religious mistake his silence on this matter as condoning her actions.
No, he sees the woman before him. He Loves her. And he redeems her.
There is no condition placed on his salvation, there is nothing asked in return.
There is only simple, pure, unadulterated Love. Love that keeps no record of wrong (1 Cor 13). Love that is willing to sacrifice one’s own reputation, and standing within its community and in front of its peers (John 15:1). Love which chooses to be misunderstood and embracing ambiguity…. Saves.
Because… in that moment… the person is more important than the doctrine.
And so, in light of this how do we understand Jesus’ words to “go and sin no more”?
Well, it is obviously not a requirement of the woman’s salvation. Because, by the time he has uttered those words he has both saved her and pronounced her free from condemnation.
No, I believe it is better understood as an exhortation.
Paul follows this same pattern in his own teaching. Speaking often to a community of believers living lives which are constantly in conflict with the life and teachings of Jesus, he says “You are the body of Christ… be the body of Christ.” “You are the Temple of God… Be the Temple of God.”
Paul does not question the salvation of these churches even though their lives and lifestyles often fall magnificently short of being a good example of the “Christian life.”
No, in line with the example of Christ… Paul encourages them… exhorts them to live out of the new Freedom and Identity that Christ has given them.
This is how we should understand Jesus’ exhortation to “Go, and sin no more.”
Jesus has saved her, redeemed her, and having down that he now calls her to live out of the freedom that he has given her.
And so, if you feel like the woman in this story I pray you will be encouraged. You have no need to fear the condemnation, or wrath of God. As Jesus demonstrated to us… he has made his verdict. He has decreed his judgement, and that judgement is love (Rom 8:1).
You do not need to fear approaching the throne of your Father. He not only loves you, but understands your struggles, he understands your pain, he has experienced your weakness (Heb 4:16).
And having seen you, he does not turn away, but says “Come, all who are weary and carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest (Matt. 11:28-30; 1 Peter 5:7).”