The Difference Between Being Forgiven and Found “Not Guilty”
Read John 8:8-11(ESV)
And once more he bent down and wrote on the ground. But when they heard it, they went away one by one, beginning with the older ones, and Jesus was left alone with the woman standing before him. Jesus stood up and said to her, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?” She said, “No one, Lord.” And Jesus said, “Neither do I condemn you; go, and from now on sin no more.”
What does this passage tell you about Jesus? What does it reveal about His character?
I once heard someone quote this passage of Scripture when he was trying to make a case that Christians should not be opposed to same-sex relationships. His reasoning was that Jesus didn’t condemn the woman for breaking a law that was clearly forbidden in the Old Testament. If Jesus was lenient about adultery, why wouldn’t He be lenient about same-sex relationships or any other sexual sin that was outlawed in the Old Covenant? In this man’s eyes, this incident was an example of Jesus rewriting the law because the Pharisees were too strict. But that’s not what is going on here.
First, Jesus didn’t rewrite any laws. In Matthew 5:17, Jesus said: “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them.” Jesus’ new covenant doesn’t rewrite what is sinful and what is holy. Adultery was and is still against God’s law (the same goes for same-sex relationships). Jesus didn’t make the law more lenient. If anything, He took the law even further because He applied it to our hearts, not just our outward actions. In the case of adultery, Jesus said: “You have heard that it was said,’ You shall not commit adultery.’ But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart” (Matthew 5:27-28).
Second, Jesus’ beef with the Pharisees isn’t that they were too strict in upholding the Law. His words in Matthew 23:2-5 give us some insight on why Jesus was angry with the scribes and Pharisees: “The scribes and Pharisees sit on Moses’ seat, so do and observe whatever they tell you, but not the works they do. For they preach, but do not practice. They tie up heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay them on people’s shoulders, but they themselves are not willing to move them with their finger. They do all their deeds to be seen by others.” So, you see that Jesus wanted them to obey God’s law. But He didn’t want the people to copy the Pharisees because they were hypocritical and insincere.
Finally, in this incident in John, Jesus was not declaring the woman innocent nor was He setting a precedent intended to change the interpretation of the law regarding sexual sins. Jesus’ reply was brilliant because He upheld the law but also expanded it to include and expose the sins of her accusers.
As we discussed yesterday, Jesus knew that this was more about the Pharisees trying to trap Him than it was about a woman who had committed adultery. He knew they were trying to use her situation to put Him between a rock and a hard place. If Jesus had said she wasn’t guilty, they’d accuse Him of not upholding the Law. If Jesus condemned her to death, He would have been guilty of executing her without Roman authorization which was illegal. But His reply put the onus on those who were accusing her and caused them to examine their own hearts.
When Jesus looked up from His mysterious drawings in the dirt, notice His words: “Neither do I condemn you; go, and from now on sin no more” (v.11). He wasn’t saying that what she had done was ok. He never said she was innocent. In telling her not to sin anymore, He was clearly calling her actions sinful. There is a difference between being not guilty and being forgiven. What Jesus offered her was forgiveness for the wrong she had done and the opportunity to start again. That’s the Gospel message. Not that our sins don’t matter but rather that in Christ, we are forgiven and we are changed. “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (Romans 8:1).
Lord, I confess that I have sinned against You many times in my life. And yet, I am not condemned. Not because I am not guilty but because You took the punishment for my sins upon Yourself and offered me mercy, grace, and forgiveness instead. I don’t deserve it but what a priceless gift. Amen.
~ Pastor Nat Crawford
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