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.
From John 7:53-8:11, we can learn how to overcome condemnation.
1. REST UNDER CHRIST’S GRACIOUS TEACHINGS (7:53-8:2). The day after the Feast of Tabernacles, Jesus went into the temple and “all the people came to Him” (8:2). Why did all the people come to sit under Jesus’ teaching? Was it because He beat them up spiritually and emotionally? 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).
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 you, but to cleanse you.
2. REDIRCT THOSE WHO CONDEMN US TO THEIR OWN SIN (8:3-9). Jesus’ gracious teaching was rudely interrupted by the religious leaders who caught a woman in the act of adultery during the Feast of Tabernacles when people were living in close quarters (8:3-4). 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 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 (8:5-6a). 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. Christ responded to the religious leaders’ attempt to condemn Him by stooping down and writing “on the ground with His finger” (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.
The leaders thought Christ was stalling so they persistently questioned Him (8:7a). Jesus was more than a Teacher of the Law (8:4). He was also the Giver of the Law. He was the Son of God (20:31), God in human flesh (1:1, 14), the Creator of all things (1:3). The same finger that wrote the Law in the tablet of stone on Mt Sinai (Exodus 31:18), is the same finger that wrote on the ground. If Jesus was the Law-Giver (and He is), then He could forgive this woman like He had forgiven Israel at Mt. Sinai (Exodus 33:12-34:9).
Then Jesus says, “He who is without sin among you, let him throw a stone at her first” 8:7b). Christ is not referring to sinlessness here because in the original language it literally says, “He who is without the sin [of adultery]…” Christ is referring to a specific area of sin. Then Jesus “stooped down and wrote on the ground” a second time (8:8). Perhaps Jesus wrote down the names of the women 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.
As the truth began to sink in, “those who heard it, being convicted by their conscience, went out one by one, beginning with the oldest even to the last” (8:9). 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 us or criticize us, set a boundary with them. Ask them, “Have you ever committed a similar sin? How did you feel? Would you have wanted them to remind you of that or put you down in front of others?” When you are being attacked, it’s better to take the offensive than be defensive.
3. REPLACE OUR GUILT WITH CHRIST’S FORGIVING GRACE (8:10-11a). The woman could have slipped away with the rest, but she remained with Jesus (8:9b). The leaders had felt the merciless exposure by the Son of God, but the woman had felt His warmth. Jesus asks her, “Woman, where are those accusers of yours? Has no one condemned you” (8:10b). She said, “No one Lord” (8:11a). The leaders condemned themselves now instead of the woman. Now that the jury is gone, so the woman awaits her verdict. And the One who can condemn, does not. Jesus said to her, “Neither do I condemn you” (8:11b). Jesus wants to replace our guilt with His forgiving grace. It’s 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. 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 in many states where they still have the death penalty.
But not in the state of Gods’ grace. In the state of grace, it’s already been paid for you. 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 if He was saying, “Jeff, 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 of from all unrighteouness” (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 to have completely forgiven you!
4. RELY ON CHRIST TO OVERCOME SIN (8:11c). After forgiving the woman’s adultery, Jesus said to her, “Go and sin no more” (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).
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 (EpheFsians 4:32).