How can I overcome condemnation? Part 4

“And Jesus said to her, ‘… Go and sin no more.’ ” John 8:11c

So far we have looked at three ways to overcome condemnation:

– Rest under Christ’s gracious teachings (John 7:53-8:2)

– Redirect those who condemn me to their own sin (John 8:3-9)

– Replace my guilt with Christ’s forgiving grace (John 8:10-11b)

Today our final and most important way to overcome condemnation is to RELY ON CHRIST TO OVERCOME SIN (John 8:11c). After forgiving the woman’s adultery, Jesus said to her, “Go and sin no more.” (John 8:11c). Is Jesus talking about sinless perfection here? No, because that would contradict other Scriptures (cf. I John 1:8, 10). He is not referring to sin in general or to sinless perfection, but He is referring specifically to the sin of adultery. Jesus forgives and forbids in the same breath.

Christ did not condone, rationalize, or excuse her sin. He forgave her so she could live the way she was created to live… for God’s glory. This was probably the first man who was more interested in saving her than exploiting her, and in forgiving her than condemning her. Jesus provided the assurance and motivation she needed to live for Him now.

And He does the same with us. Christ did not forgive you so you could continue in your sin. He forgave you so you could live for Him now (2 Corinthians 5:15). You must rely on His Spirit and Word to resist temptation and obey His commands (Matthew 4:1-11; 26:41; John 8:31-32; 16:13-14; Romans 8:11; I Corinthians 10:13; Galatians 5:16-17).

So many of us live with negative labels. Sometimes they are not our own fault. But so many times they are of our own doing. And thus, we think that our story is one of failure and shame. But you know, it doesn’t have to be that way. Because our story can be a story of grace. For it is grace that heals broken hearts and restores estranged sinners.

And Jesus points us to what we are meant to be. We don’t have to live in our past. We don’t have to live with the label. We don’t have to live a life that is powerless in the face of temptation and sin. We are chosen for something more.

You know, none of us deserve to be forgiven. We haven’t earned it. Nor have we paid the price ourselves. Yet, in His grace, when Jesus forgives our sin, He forgets (Hebrews 10:17). Our past ended one second ago. Once you have experienced grace, it is now time to show it to others. We are to be gracious with others as Christ has been gracious with us (Ephesians 4:32).

What stones are you holding onto today? The Stone of unforgiveness, bitterness, anger, hatred, or prejudice? Whatever stone you are carrying, it is time to lay it down. Whether you meant to throw it at yourself or someone else, don’t you think it is time for you to lay down your stones? Why not take this opportunity to give your stones over to Jesus?

When I shared this message at the provincial jail near our home in the Philippines a few years ago, some musicians played a song while several inmates came forward to drop their stone that was given to them at the beginning of the chapel service into a bucket labeled “Grace.” I then challenged them to trust Christ to build something beautiful with what their stone represented. It was wonderful to watch each person drop his or her stone into the bucket of grace and then look up with a huge smile on their face as if to say, “I’m free! I’m free from condemnation because of Jesus’ grace!”

I got goosebumps watching this unfold. After they were finished surrendering their stone of condemnation to the Lord, we prayed this prayer:

“Lord Jesus, we confess that nothing we do makes us deserving of Your magnificent grace. Lord, some of us have been carrying these stones around… stones that were weighing us down. Stones that were keeping us from experiencing Your grace. But today, we are giving You those stones. Take them, Lord, and use them to build something beautiful in our lives. We are so glad that when You forgive us, You forget. And You are not only willing but pleased to use any vessel – just as long as it is clean today – at this moment. It may be cracked or chipped. It may be worn or it may have never been used before. But we can count on this – because of Your grace – our past ended one second ago. From this point on we can be clean and filled with Your Spirit. Use us for Your glory, Lord. In Jesus’ name. Amen.”

How can I overcome condemnation? Part 3

“And Jesus said to her, ‘Neither do I condemn you.’” John 8:11b

How can I overcome condemnation? I can overcome condemnation when I rest under Christ’s gracious teachings (John 7:53-8:2) and redirect those who condemn me to their own sin (John 8:3-9). The third way I can overcome condemnation is to REPLACE MY GUILT WITH CHRIST’S FORGIVING GRACE (John 8:10-11b).

The woman caught in adultery could have slipped away with the rest, but she remained with Jesus. “And Jesus was left alone, and the woman standing in the midst. When Jesus had raised Himself up and saw no one but the woman…” (John 8:9b-10a). The leaders had felt the merciless exposure by the Son of God, but the woman had felt His warmth. So she remains with Jesus. The warmth of Jesus’ love and grace draws broken people to Himself.

Jesus then asks her, “Woman, where are those accusers of yours? Has no one condemned you?” (John 8:10b). She said, “No one Lord” (John 8:11a).  The leaders condemned themselves now instead of the woman. Now that the jury is gone, the woman awaits her verdict. And the One who can condemn, does not. Jesus said to her, “Neither do I condemn you.” (John 8:11b).

What a contrast between the religious establishment’s condemnation and the Lord Jesus’ forgiving grace. If you have been deeply wounded by religious people, please understand that they do not represent the Jesus of the Bible. He is compassionate and forgiving no matter how good or bad you have behaved. He cares far more about your heart than He does your behavior. He invites you to come and be, not come and try harder.

Jesus wants to replace our guilt with His forgiving grace. It is a gift. God doesn’t give us what we deserve, but He does give us what we need. We deserve to be condemned, but we need His cleansing forgiveness.

We have such a difficult time understanding this as humans because this is not how we treat one another. Nor is this how we treat ourselves. This is not how we live in society. You mess up, you pay for it. In the states where you deserve death, you will be put to death by lethal injection in most states where they still have the death penalty.

But not in the state of Gods’ grace. In the state of grace, the penalty for our sin is already paid for us. The courtroom was a wooden cross and the debt that was paid was suffered by Jesus Christ. When He hung on the cross it was as if He was saying to us, “You deserve to be here because of your sin, but I’m going to die in your place because I love you and I don’t want you to die eternally. I want you to have a relationship with Me so I’m going to pay for it so I can look at you and say, ‘Not guilty.’” That’s grace. And He wants to take our guilt and give us grace. All He asks is that we believe in Him alone for His gift of eternal life and forgiveness (John 3:16; Acts 10:43).

If you have already done that, but are still struggling with guilt, ask the Lord to show you if you have any unconfessed sin in your Christian life. If you do, confess it to Him, and the Bible says God “is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” (I John 1:9). If you still have guilt, then you are probably being accused by Satan who wants to plague you with false guilt. Dismiss his lies and claim God’s truth which says you are totally forgiven in Christ (cf. Colossians 2:13-14)! This includes the forgiveness of your past, present, and future sins.

When it comes to forgiving yourself, put a dot on the line (diagram 1) to indicate where you are between these two extremes – “I always put myself down” or “I’ve learned to accept Jesus’ forgiveness.” If you are more to the left you were probably mistreated or neglected, and therefore need to experience Jesus’ forgiveness on a horizontal level with other loving believers. We tend to see ourselves the way authority figures saw us when growing up. Since we were wounded in the context of relationships, we will also need to heal in the context of relationships. We can let Christ replace our guilt with His forgiving grace as we relate to other believers who love us and care for us no matter what.

Prayer: Lord Jesus, You are the only One who can replace the guilt and shame of my sin with Your forgiving grace. Forty-one years ago I came to You in faith and You forgave all my sins – past, present, and future – the moment I believed in You for Your gift of forgiveness. Since that time, I have struggled to believe I am forgiven. Other people forgive me sooner than I forgive myself. Much of my life I have been my worst critic. Thank You for showing me that it is time for me to lay down the stones I have thrown at myself. It is time for me to give You those stones to build something beautiful in my life. I need other brothers and sisters in Christ to help me in this healing process. Please lead me to them so they can help me and I can help them. In Your matchless name I pray. Amen.

How can I overcome condemnation? Part 2

“And again He stooped down and wrote on the ground. Then those who heard it, being convicted by their conscience, went out one by one, beginning with the oldest even to the last. ” John 8:8b-9

The second way I can overcome condemnation is when I… REDIRECT THOSE WHO CONDEMN ME TO THEIR OWN SIN (John 8:3-9). This is what Jesus did when His gracious teaching was rudely interrupted by the religious leaders. Satan loves to keep people from hearing God’s grace. 3 Then the scribes and Pharisees brought to Him a woman caught in adultery. And when they had set her in the midst, 4 they said to Him, ‘Teacher, this woman was caught in adultery, in the very act.’ ” (John 8:3-4). During the feast of Tabernacles many people lived in close quarters. The religious leaders caught a woman in the act of adultery.

Have you ever been caught in the act? I love Bill Cosby’s story of his son and the cookie jar. He tells of the time his son was caught up on a stool with his hand in the cookie jar. Bill, said, “Did I not tell you that you could not have a cookie?” “Yes”, his little son replies, “but I was getting the cookie for you”. “I don’t want a cookie” Bill tells him. “Well, can I have it then?” his son asks. That was a very smart answer when your hand is caught in the cookie jar.

Have you ever been caught red-handed? You were guilty and everyone knew it. Like your humming along on the highway, and a policeman gets behind you and puts on his lights. I mean, isn’t that a wonderful feeling? And you have nothing to say, because you know that you were going way too fast. Whenever you are caught in the act, there is no point in arguing. The guilt is yours, and you must deal with the consequences. This woman was caught in the act. She was guilty of the crime. Her accusers were right. She didn’t put up any defense. This woman had just committed the act of adultery. The sin that she committed was a serious crime. It was one of many crimes that carried with it the death penalty. It was ranked right along with murder, kidnapping, witchcraft, and offering human sacrifice.

For this woman to have been caught in adultery, the leaders must have set it up. They now set her in the middle of a crowd where everyone could see her and what Jesus would do with such a case. This was unlawful because they had a court to try such cases. But where was the man? The leaders set this whole thing up so the man could escape. They seemed to have a personal vendetta against this woman. The leaders then say, “’ 5 Now Moses, in the law, commanded us that such should be stoned. But what do You say?’ 6 This they said, testing Him, that they might have something of which to accuse Him.” (John 8:5-6a). The law of Moses said to stone an adulteress and adulterer (Leviticus 20:10; Deuteronomy 22:22-24)). But the leaders weren’t concerned with justice, but with trapping Jesus. If Jesus says not to stone her, He is in conflict with the Mosaic law. If He says to stone her, He is in conflict with the Roman Law – for only the Romans had the right of capital punishment, not the Jews. So Christ is confronted with a situation in which He could offer no acceptable response.

Why did these men want to throw stones? The same reason that we want to throw them. We throw stones because we… harbor hatred, hold on to bitterness, are entangled in anger, want to have revenge, will not let go of the things that upset us or because it is easier to throw stones at others rather than ourselves.

Stones can be valuable as well, for you use stones to build something. You can use stones to cover something up or you can even decorate with stones. When you hold a stone in your hand, what do you feel? There is a hardness. There is a heaviness. There is a coarseness. There is sometimes a feeling that you just want to throw that stone, isn’t there?

Although we would never think of actually throwing stones at other people, far too often we throw emotional or spiritual stones at others, don’t we? Hurtful comments, generalizations, gossip, judgmental statements, or harshness with the truth. What is it that makes people want to throw stones?

Frustration: When we become frustrated it distorts our ability to see things clearly.

Fatigue: Everything always looks worse when we are tired.

Failure: When others fail, we are quick to judge their actions. When we fail others, we are quick to justify our actions.

False Assumptions: When we get only bits and pieces of the truth, we create assumptions based on faulty logic.

Feelings: If we make the choice to follow our feelings we make the choice to be shallow.

How does Jesus respond to this attempt to condemn Him? “But Jesus stooped down and wrote on the ground with His finger, as though He did not hear.” (John 8:6b). Much speculation has centered around what Jesus wrote. But the Bible is silent on this point! The act of writing – not what was written – is what is most important. When Jesus is tested about the Law of Moses, He writes on the ground “with His finger.” The two times in the Bible when God is mentioned writing with His finger are here and on Mount Sinai.  

Jesus was more than a Teacher of the Law (John 8:4). He was also the Giver of the law. He was the Son of God (John 20:31), God in human flesh (John 1:1,14), the Creator of all things (John 1:3). The same finger that wrote the law on the tablet of stone on Mount Sinai (Exodus 31:18), is the same finger that wrote on the ground. If Jesus was the Law-Giver, then He could forgive this woman like He had forgiven Israel at Mount Sinai (Exodus 33:12-34:9).

“So when they continued asking Him…” (John 8:7a). The leaders thought Christ was stalling so they persistently questioned Him. “He raised Himself up and said to them, ‘He who is without sin among you, let him throw a stone at her first.’ ” (John 8:7b). Is Jesus referring to sinlessness when He says,“He who is without sin among you”? No. In the original language, this verse literally says, “He who is without the sin [of adultery] …”  Christ is referring to a specific area of sin.

As the truth began to sink in, we read, “And again He stooped down and wrote on the ground.” (John 8:8). The fact that Jesus wrote on the ground twice reminds us that God also wrote on the tablets of stone two times on Mount Sinai. Moses broke the first tablets when he came down from the mountain and saw the golden calf and the revelry of the people (Exodus 32:19; cf. 31;18; 32:15-16). So God wrote them a second time with His finger (Exodus 34:1).

Some writers have suggested that Jesus may have wrote on the ground the names of the women whom the Pharisees slept with. The Law required the man and woman be stoned. Where was the man? Was he one of the leaders or a friend of the leaders? There would have been ample opportunities for the leaders to commit adultery during the feast.

“Then those who heard it, being convicted by their conscience, 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). As the sun was rising, the leaders were leaving. The older ones left first because they had more guilt since they had been committing adultery longer. Instead of focusing on the woman’s sin or on trapping Jesus, the leaders were now forced to look at their own sin.

When people are quick to condemn you or criticize you, set a boundary with them. Ask them, “Have you ever committed a similar sin? How did you feel? Would you have wanted others to remind you of that or put you down in front of other people?” When you are being attacked, it is better to take the offensive rather than be defensive. This is what Jesus did with those who sought to accuse Him at the expense of a broken woman. He defended this woman, and her accusers retreated when faced with their own sin.

I believe many Christians remain silent in their shame because they are afraid of condemnation from other believers in the church. Some of my most hurtful moments have come from misunderstandings with other Christians or shame-based preaching and teaching. Those were situations where I felt condemnation not compassion. Sure, I was taught that God loved me, but I was still a worthless sinner who needed to try harder.

God is showing me that people who are hurting often hurt other people. Instead of facing our own pain, we have a tendency to act out our pain with others. It is much easier to focus on the shortcomings of another person than to face our own.

If you are afraid to seek help from other Christians, please understand that Jesus Christ is not in the business of condemnation. The Bible says, “For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved.” (John 3:17). Christ wants to cleanse you, not condemn you. It is important for you to ask Jesus to lead you to believers who will love and care for you regardless of your past or present problems. A Christian cannot offer you the compassion of Christ as you deal with your brokenness, if he or she has not walked through their own brokenness with the Lord.

Prayer: Lord Jesus, I needed to hear this message this morning. Much of my life I have lived under self-condemnation simply because of who I am. I did not love myself growing up. I perceived myself to be unlovable and worthless. But as I listen to Your Word, Your truth is helping me to see that You are a kind and gentle Savior Who loves me and wants to set me free from condemnation and shame. Lord, please teach me to see myself as You do – as a lovable child of God whose primary purpose is to be, not do. My value comes from what You say, not what I do or what other people think, say, or do. Please show me how to respond to broken people who want to tear me down rather than build me up. Just as You set boundaries with the woman’s accusers to protect her, please teach me how to do the same with my accusers so that Your truth protects me from the lies of the enemy. Help me dismiss the lies that keep me under condemnation and replace them with the truth that empowers me to live a life filled with Your purpose and hope. As I heal and become the man You created me to be, please help me pay it forward to other sons and daughters of Yours who are living under condemnation. In Your name I pray. Amen.

How can I overcome condemnation? Part 1

“Now early in the morning He came again into the temple, and all the people came to Him; and He sat down and taught them.” John 8:2

Are you living under condemnation? Are you weighed down by guilt and anxiety about your past? Maybe you have done things which would embarrass you if they became public knowledge. You may have a criminal record or a moral charge or a domestic conflict that, to this moment, is private information. You may wrestle with a past that has been fractured and wounded by a mental or emotional breakdown. Futile attempts at suicide may add to the previous scar tissue and increase your fear of being labeled “sick” or “nervous.” It’s possible you live with memories of an immoral relationship, a financial failure, a terrible habit, a divorce or a scandalous involvement. You may be your worst critic of your past.

Many of us are driven by shame. We believe we are flawed at the core of our being. Yes, we hear preachers say that God loves sinners, yet we are convinced that we are still worthless and unloved. We live under condemnation whether it be of our own doing or the doings of others, including the master of condemnation – Satan himself (Rev. 12:9-10).

How can I overcome this condemnation that keeps me buried under a load of guilt and shame? For the next few days, Lord willing, we will look at John 7:53-8:11 to discover God’s remedy for the condemnation that often plagues us.

The first way I can overcome condemnation is to REST UNDER CHRIST’S GRACIOUS TEACHINGS (John 7:53-8:2). After Jesus had freely offered eternal satisfaction to the people gathered at the feast of Tabernacles (John 7:37-39), John tells us, “And everyone went to his own house.” (John 7:53). The religious leaders had criticized Nicodemus after His attempt to defend Jesus’ right to be heard. They didn’t believe a prophet would arise from Galilee. More than a prophet would arise from Galilee, however, and offer everlasting hope to that region. “But Jesus went to the Mount of Olives.” (John 8:1). The religious leaders slept comfortably and late, but Jesus spent the night on the Mount of Olives. Jesus had no place to lay His head in Jerusalem.

“Now early in the morning He came again into the temple, and all the people came to Him; and He sat down and taught them.” (John 8:2). The day after the Feast of Tabernacles, Jesus went into the temple and all the people came to Him. Why did all the people come to sit under Jesus’ teaching? Was it because He beat them up spiritually and emotionally and people love to be put down? No. I believe these people were tired of the demands of the religious leaders, and they were drawn to the gentle and forgiving grace of Christ (cf. Matthew 11:28-30; 12:20).

Notice that the Bible says Jesus “sat down and taught them.” Although sitting down was a normal rabbinic practice, I think it is very significant that John tells us this. Jesus did not stand like He did the day before in the temple (John 7:37). He “sat” among them to teach them. He was on the same level as His audience. He longs to connect with people so they can begin to see themselves as He sees them – someone who is infinitely loved and valued by God.

As they sat under His teaching and discovered the magnificence of His grace, they were healed from the malignancy of their guilt! How precious and broad is Christ’s love they found, yet how petty and narrow is man’s legalism (trying to keep the Law to gain God’s acceptance). How refreshing is the Lord’s grace! Yet how rigid is the legalist’s guilt! Christ’s grace was setting them free from their guilt and shame. And He wants to do the same for you. “For God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved” (John 3:17). Christ did not come into the world to condemn us. He came into the world to cleanse. He did not come to rub our sin in. He came to rub our sin out.

We can be free from the plague of condemnation and shame by coming out from under shame-based religious systems. These systems may preach the love of God and that Christ died for our sins, but at the core of their teaching they believe: “You are bad, God is good, so try harder.”

As Christians we need to be under the grace and truth of Jesus Christ which teaches: “God is good, you are being restored, so come and be.” As we place ourselves under His teaching, we will begin to see the weight of condemnation lifted and the wellspring of Jesus’ grace settle into our hearts and minds so we can focus on being and not working to earn His love and grace.

Prayer: Lord Jesus, I am learning so much from You about who I am in the sight of God. I used to see myself as a worthless sinner who is saved by grace. But You are helping me to see I am a child of God who is infinitely loved and valued by You and my Father in heaven. Lord, my heart is deeply concerned about the millions of people who are under religious teachings that condemn and oppress broken people in need of Your healing grace. They have no hope of freedom from condemnation and shame. They need You Lord Jesus. Please show them how good and gracious You are. Help them to come to know Your saving grace that makes them a new person on the inside who is free from condemnation and shame. In Your name I pray. Amen.