1 Brothers, if someone is caught in a sin, you who are spiritual should restore him gently. But watch yourself, or you also may be tempted. 2 Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ. 3 If anyone thinks he is something when he is nothing, he deceives himself. 4 Each one should test his own actions. Then he can take pride in himself, without comparing himself to somebody else, 5 for each one should carry his own load.
6 Anyone who receives instruction in the word must share all good things with his instructor.
7 Do not be deceived: God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows. 8 The one who sows to please his sinful nature, from that nature will reap destruction; the one who sows to please the Spirit, from the Spirit will reap eternal life. 9 Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up. 10 Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of believers.
1 Jesus went to the Mount of Olives. 2 At dawn He appeared again in the temple courts, where all the people gathered around Him, and He sat down to teach them. 3 The teachers of the law and the Pharisees brought in a woman caught in adultery. They made her stand before the group 4 and said to Jesus, “Teacher, this woman was caught in the act of adultery. 5 In the Law Moses commanded us to stone such women. Now what do you say?” 6 They were using this question as a trap, in order to have a basis for accusing Him. But Jesus bent down and started to write on the ground with His finger. 7 When they kept on questioning Him, He straightened up and said to them, “If any one of you is without sin, let him be the first to throw a stone at her.” 8 Again He stooped down and wrote on the ground.
9 At this, those who heard began to go away one at a time, the older ones first, until only Jesus was left, with the woman still standing there. 10 Jesus straightened up and asked her, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?”
11 “No one, sir,” she said. “Then neither do I condemn you,” Jesus declared. “Go now and leave your life of sin.”
The Bible records many of Jesus’ social interactions. He was not afraid of interacting with all kinds of people – from the most important in society to the least – to Jesus it made no difference, because in God’s eyes we are all equal, and He cares as deeply for those we would consider to be the most worthy to those to whom we wouldn’t give a second glance. Jesus died for everyone – not just the rich and famous.
Possibly the most well-known of His encounters with the “dregs of society” is the story of the woman caught in adultery in John 8. When we read it carefully and look at how Jesus confronts the teachers and the Pharisees’ hypocrisy, we cannot help but squirm in our own seats, as hypocrisy is something we all struggle with.
The non-believing world often accuses Christians of having a ‘holier-than-thou’ attitude, and if the truth be told, there are many times when that accusation is well and truly deserved.
In John 8 we find two different types of people. Firstly there are the scribes and Pharisees – the religious elite of their day. They were the ones who were responsible for the spiritual oversight of the people, but they had completely misunderstood their role in society. Over time they had changed from being the spiritual carers of the people and were now more of a spiritual police force.
They regarded themselves as the epitome of the religious world and completely abused their God-given authority. They were no longer custodians of God’s law, but enforcers. They had dissected the law and interpreted it into almost 1,000 separate rules and regulations. And what made things worse was that they considered themselves to be righteous in every way. They put on a show and made appearances so the world would think they were spiritually perfect, and criticised and condemned anyone who didn’t live up to what they believed were their standards of perfection. Jesus was particularly harsh on the Pharisees. In Matthew 23 He accused them of being hypocrites, blind guides, blind fools, blind men, snakes, and a brood of vipers.
So I suppose it’s quite understandable that they were annoyed with Him and hatched up all kinds of plans to try and trap Jesus, just as they did in John 8.
They pointed out the faults of others while they maintained what they foolishly believed were faultless lives.
Do we know people like this? We know people who are self–proclaimed keepers of the law. These people think they are the religious elite. They take the Word of God and pile up rules and regulations on the people of God. They put on a show and try and convince the world they are the righteous ones. They are very quick to point out the faults of others. They think their lives are perfect and use every opportunity to present themselves as models of religion. These are the holier-than-thou types.
The woman caught in the sin of adultery represents the second type of person. Here we have the unreligious. She was nothing more than a pawn in the game the Pharisees were playing, but we can safely assume that she was a prostitute – either one who had agreed to be part of their plan only to have it backfire on her when she was publicly humiliated, or she was part of their plan without her knowledge and consent. Either way, they knew where to find her while committing adultery, which means she was either a prostitute or at least a person of very loose morals. Note also that the Bible doesn’t just say she was an adulteress – it says she was caught in the act of adultery. The NKJV says “this woman was caught in adultery, in the very act.” To put it bluntly, the Pharisees kicked her door in, dragged her out of bed and frog-marched her into the temple courts, almost certainly without a stitch of clothing on. She was as far removed from religion and righteousness as possible. She made her living dealing in sin, and her lifestyle was entirely the opposite of how a godly life should be lived. Do we know people like this?
We all know ungodly people. We know people who never darken the doors of a Church except for weddings and funerals. Many people that we know personally live their lives as far removed from God’s standards as they possibly can. Their life consists of moving from one sin to another. They don’t care about God and they certainly don’t care about living a godly life.
These are the two opposite extremes we see in all societies, and in this remarkable account in John 8 they come together with the inevitable fireworks and conflict that we see when Godly people (at least those who think they are Godly!) come face to face with the scoundrels and dregs of society.
The woman was caught in adultery. She was doing what she was accustomed to doing – sinning. She was living life the only way she had ever known. She was living in sin, she was committing sin and she was participating in sin. Simply put, she was a sinner caught in more sin.
She was living like many people are living today. The world is lost and it is dying, but the vast majority of people are blissfully unaware of their situation. They are doing what they are accustomed to doing – sinning because it’s all they’ve ever known. Genesis 6:5 records for us what God saw on the earth just before the great flood: “The Lord saw how great man’s wickedness on the earth had become, and that every inclination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil all the time.” For many people, nothing has changed. They don’t know the Word of God, they don’t care about Him, and they have no idea what He requires of them. They just live in sin, they keep committing sin after sin, and they just keep participating in sin. They don’t know any other way, so they keep living the only way the know how, in sin. That’s how the woman in John 8 lived, and it’s how so many people today are living.
So the scribes and Pharisees drag her to Jesus. They didn’t care about her at all. She was just a pawn in this elaborate plan they’d hatched to trap Jesus. They knew the law said she should be stoned for her sin, and they dragged her to Jesus to find out His opinion.
There are many scribes and Pharisees in the Church today. They look for someone to pounce on. They find someone who doesn’t know the Lord, living in sin, and they drag them to Jesus. Then they say, “Look at me and look at them. I’m so much better than this low–life sinner.” They pat themselves on the back for being so righteous. The religious elite, just as in Jesus’ day look at the sinners and condemn them before the Lord.
The Pharisees were right about one thing: God’s law clearly stated that the woman should be stoned. Leviticus 20:10 says, “If a man commits adultery with another man’s wife - with the wife of his neighbour - both the adulterer and the adulteress must be put to death.” Of course, a common objection raised about this account in John 8 is that there is no mention of the man as it takes two to commit adultery, and it would seem that he got off scot-free, but the Pharisees weren’t interested in the law being applied. They were only interested in backing Jesus into a corner. Their case was cut and dried. The law says she was to die, and with no regard for this poor woman and the public humiliation she was suffering, you can almost sense the sneers on their faces and in their voices as they say, “This woman was caught in the act of adultery. In the Law Moses commanded us to stone such women. Now what do you say?”
What would Jesus say? He knew exactly what was going on. He knew the hearts of the scribes and the Pharisees. He knew their hypocrisy, and it was not without good reason He had accused them of being snakes and a brood of vipers. He knew their hearts and that they had no regard for the woman, but only for themselves. They had no intention of bringing her to Jesus to enforce the law. All they wanted to do was trap Jesus. Jesus knew the hearts of the scribes and Pharisees then, and He knows their hearts today too.
He knows the innermost thoughts and motives of everyone. He knows those who have no regard for Him and those who only tear down others to lift up themselves. He knows those who twist His Word for their own benefit.
He also knew the heart of the woman. We need to understand that at no stage did Jesus condone her sin or agree to sweep it under the carpet. He knew she was an adulteress and what her lifestyle was like. She had no secrets from Him, and neither do we. He knows what’s going on in the world today. He sees this world full of sin and sinners. He sees every act committed in the light and the darkness. He sees into the hearts of those who live these lives totally immersed in sin. We can fool the world, we can fool each other and we can even fool ourselves, but there is nothing hidden from God.
He knew the hearts and motives of the scribes and the Pharisees, the terrible sinfulness of the woman, and He knows the heart and motives of every person who ever has and ever will live. He knows those who use religion to lift themselves up, and He knows those who are living their lives removed from Him. He knows it all.
So how did Jesus respond? Well, He called sin what it is: sin. We don’t know what He wrote in the sand, but we do know that it certainly got the attention of those who thought they were superior to the woman. Some scholars believe that Jesus wrote a record of the sins that the Pharisees themselves had committed. Others say that He wrote the law in the sand, as if to say to the Pharisees, “Don’t you come here and tell me what the law says. I wrote it.”
Whatever it was, it convicted and shamed the Pharisees so much that they walked away. They came to realise their own sinfulness. And then He told the woman to go and sin no more. He didn’t deny the woman had sinned, and He certainly didn’t condone her sin.
What are we able to learn from all of this? Firstly, the Lord alone is worthy to judge. He is the one who wrote the law, and He is the one who is worthy to apply it. None of us is in the position to call down judgment on someone else. We are all sinners, and therefore we are unworthy to drag others before Jesus. However, this does not mean we don’t apply the Word of God to our lives and to this world. What it does mean is that as the Church, as the ones mandated to bring God’s light and truth into the world we are still to bring people to the Lord, but not for judgment and condemnation. We are to bring them to Jesus to find forgiveness and grace. There is a famous quote that says, “Christianity is one beggar telling another beggar where he found bread.”
As Christians we know the Word of God and we know what it says about people who are living and dying without Jesus. By His grace we have found Him and have experienced His forgiveness for ourselves. And we are mandated and duty bound to do all we can to lead these people to the same forgiveness. We are all responsible for ourselves before God. When Jesus confronts us with our own sin, comparing ourselves to others is not an option. He knows our intentions and motives for everything we say and do. We may look good on the outside and present ourselves as religious, but God knows the heart. He knows absolutely everything about us and cannot be fooled. He doesn’t look at the outside but the heart.
The greatest thing that Jesus did for the woman in this story was to extend grace to her. We too can learn to treat others and each other with grace. She was a sinner but Jesus gave her grace. I am a sinner, and so are you, but Jesus has given us grace. Ephesians 2:8 tells us “it is by grace you have been saved, through faith - and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God.”
The reality is that we are no different from the woman in John 8. In God’s eyes there are no big sins and little sins. There is only sin. So we are not much different from the woman, but just as He did with her, Jesus offers us grace today. He came and gave Himself on the cross because of our sins. He paid the price for your sins, and He paid the price for you, too.
And the challenge to us as the Church today is this: If Jesus treated the woman caught in adultery with grace, and if He treats each of us with grace, how dare we drag others before God demanding that He condemn them? God will apply the law in ways that He sees fit. He may choose to treat us with a stinging rebuke or with gentleness. He is sovereign and He can do as He wishes. Out task though is to gently and graciously lead others to Christ – a place where they will find His perfect truth and His perfect grace. It is only when we seek His wisdom that we discover grace and law are not opposite extremes, but that they fit and work together perfectly. John 1:14 says that Jesus “came from the Father, full of grace and truth.”
James ends his letter with these words: “If one of you should wander from the truth and someone should bring him back, remember this: Whoever turns a sinner from the error of his way will save him from death and cover over a multitude of sins.”
We will not bring sinners to repentance by dragging them before Jesus and by beating them on the head with a Bible. And we will certainly not do it by throwing stones at them.
Galatians 6:1 says “If someone is caught in a sin, you who are spiritual should restore him gently.” There is only one way we can do that – by treating others with the same grace we have experienced for ourselves.
Homegroup Study Notes
As the Church, there are times when we need to show grace and love to people, while at the same time we cannot compromise the Word of God.
How have you personally felt torn between these two “opposite extremes?”
Why do you think the Church often struggles to get the balance right between grace and law?
In which ways do you think the Church sometimes deserves being labelled as “holier-than-thou?”
Read John 8:1-11
The woman in this story was merely a pawn in the political game the Pharisees were playing, but she was treated very differently by the Pharisees and Jesus.
The Pharisees were only interested in condemnation and judgment, while Jesus treated her with grace and love.
(It is important though to note that at no stage did He condone her sin.)
What lessons can the Church learn here when dealing with people living their lives far removed from God?
What steps can we take to ensure that we don’t drag people to the feet of Jesus in order to accuse them?
How do we gently bring them into the presence of God to find and experience forgiveness instead?
John 1:14 tells us that Jesus is full of grace and truth.
Close by praying that the Lord would (a) teach us how to show grace to others, and (b) teach us how to speak the truth in love.