Do you often feel condemned by Christians and the church? Is it difficult to see love beyond all the judgment, arrogance, and hostility from the people who are supposed to represent Jesus to others? Let us re-visit a familiar example of Jesus’ view on such condemnation.
The Adulterous Woman is Judged
The book of John chapter 8 reports an incident between Jesus and the religious leaders. They brought to Jesus a woman caught in the very act of adultery; she was a sinner. Her public exposure must have been incredibly embarrassing, but it was likely overshadowed by fear, for she was facing possible execution for her ‘sin’.
The religious leaders used this incident as a trap for Jesus who had a reputation for being soft on sin. They pointed out her offence to Jesus and reminded him of the requirements of the law in this case. Then they asked Jesus a question.
“Teacher, this woman was caught in the act of adultery. In the Law Moses commanded us to stone such women. Now what do you say?”
Of course, Jesus turned the tables on the religious leaders and they all slipped away.
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. Jesus straightened up and asked her, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?”
“No one, sir,” she said.
“Then neither do I condemn you,” Jesus declared. “Go now and leave your life of sin.”
What Did Jesus Mean by ‘Leave Your Life of Sin’?
Notice that, though the case was clear that she had sinned, Jesus did not condemn her. But he did urge her to leave her life of sin. What does this mean? Was he presenting her a condition upon which he was withholding condemnation?—‘If you will leave your life of sin, I will not condemn you for this.’ No, and there is no suggestion that she even repented or ‘committed her life to Jesus.’
Was this a threat?—‘Leave your life of sin or else…’ It was not. The fact is, adultery is not good for people and usually leads to bad consequences to themselves and others. Jesus, concerned with her welfare, urged her against this.
Might Jesus have had some insight into what brought this woman to her situation? Did he know her personal background or the difficult and painful circumstances that ultimately led to her ‘sin’? I don’t know, but I do think Jesus recognizes that we all have histories, weaknesses, and issues that cause us to do things that are not best for us. His response to her was simply, ‘Neither do I condemn you.’
Does Jesus Condemn Us Today?
Jesus does not condemn us today, no matter what we do. He wants what is best for us and others; he taught us how to rise above our compromised and unsatisfying lives; he died and was resurrected to provide us eternal life, but when we fail to do what is best for us and others, he says, ‘Neither do I condemn you.’
We still have religious leaders among us, and many of them are quick to condemn. Not all are ministers but they must consider themselves Christian leaders, because they feel free to condemn others. They may not execute those they consider sinners, but they accuse, show their disapproval, and gossip about those who ‘sin’. Instead of providing love and support, they distance themselves from those who do not behave appropriately. They condemn.
All the while, Jesus is saying, ‘Neither do I condemn you.’ Let us be more like Jesus toward everyone: ‘Neither do I condemn you, but here is something better.’ The thing that is better is Jesus—Jesus without baggage.