Thursday, December 04, 2008

Hate the Sin, Love the Sinner

Jesus was once offered a chance to take a stand on an issue of sexual immorality.

It was a rather cut and dry one too: adultery Since the beginning of the Jewish faith, the sinful nature of adultery had never been ambiguous. You don't do it, and when you do, there are clear punishments. And they had caught this women in the act. No gray areas there. Never did the Pharisees pitch the ball so clearly up the middle as they did here. All Jesus had to do was swing.

But He did something shocking. At first, He said nothing.

...which, frankly, could not have irritated the Pharisees more. It only seemed to confirm to them that he was simply a rabble-rouser. That He would do anything to undermine their authority with the people.

So they pressed again. Mind you, the woman is standing right there. And the punishment at this time, if you haven't read the story, is death by stoning. There are better ways to go.

Annoyingly, Jesus' silence continued. Instead, He was doing something in the dirt with his finger. I would give good money to know what it was He was drawing or writing. Many have theorized. But apparently the gospel writer didn't think it important. Or maybe he couldn't see what it was either.

In any case, Jesus finally pauses. All of the Pharisees heft their rocks, ready to stone either Him or the women pending His answer. But He hits them in the gut instead...

“If any of you hasn't sinned, go ahead and throw your rock.”

...and He goes back to His sand.

Amazingly, one by one, starting with the oldest (who apparently had the most regrets) and ending with the youngest (who hadn't accumulated as much sin...yet...), they dropped their rocks and left. Only the woman and Jesus remained.

Jesus, Master of the Rhetorical Question, asks her, “Didn't anybody stick around to condemn you?”

Her response is obvious. His is not. “Then neither do I condemn you. Go home...but leave your sinful lifestyle behind.”

DOH! If the pharisees had just rounded the corner and listened, they would have heard it...He didn't shy away from the issue! He didn't want that life for her. He was just as certain as they were that it was against God's plan for her. But His approach was different than theirs. He first earned her trust. He saved her life. Rescued her from the consequences of her actions. But then, having gained her trust, He showed her the full depth of His love. He pointed her to a better way. He was not ambiguous on the nature of her actions.

Many centuries before, His Father had done the same for Israel. He saved them from Egypt, rescued them from bondage and slavery. And only then, after showing His love to them, did He invite them into covenant relationship, and give them His commandments. Likewise, Christ's love does not leave someone in bondage to sin. But it does rescue them, give them an opportunity to be set free from it, in a loving, grace-filled manner.

Scripture is clear about what God considers sin. Earlier in His ministry, in the right context, Jesus had spoken about adultery. He even challenged people to take it to the next level, weeding unfaithfulness out of their minds and hearts, as well as their actions. But in this passage, Jesus saw a better way to handle things. The conviction that God has laid on my heart, both personally and for this congregation, is to live out the full love of God in all situations. Not omitting our conviction of sin, but seeing God's heart for those who are caught up in sin, and offering His love to them.

When we are willing to love first, God is better able to use us in ministry. Sin of any kind is difficult to overcome. And all of us need someone who can come alongside us to both encourage and challenge us to live a life of holiness. It's easy to say “Hate the sin, love the sinner.” It's another thing to live it out, inviting fellow sinners into loving relationships, and walking with them on the path to righteousness.

Jesus neither came down hard on this woman, nor ignored the presence of sin in her life. His answer to her was more beautiful than music, more profound than art. “Neither do I condemn you,” AND “Leave your life of sin.” I may spend the rest of my life trying to understand how He did that. I have yet to perfect my heart in this matter, and I don't expect you to master it tomorrow either. But I believe the journey into Christ's love will be a worthy pursuit for us both. Will you travel it with me?

Father God, give us your heart for the sinner, for the broken, for the lost. You have rescued us from our failures, and drawn us into a loving community. Help us to do the same for others. Let our zeal for Your holiness always be tempered with Your Grace, and vice versa. For You are both Just and Loving, as you showed us in Your Son Jesus. Mold us in the image of His love. Through His Name we pray, amen.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

this was truely awesome, david. I have always struggled with his and you put it so succuintly and clearly so I hope to do the same in life in action!