We read of Jesus’ encounter with the woman caught in the act of adultery (John 8) and we yearn to struggle to let the text stand for what it is. Jesus declares, “Neither do I condemn you.”
The text is a proclamation of non-condemnation; period. His next words, “Go and sin no more,” are not a condition for her forgiveness, no matter how much our law-laden minds may want it to be. Gerhard Forde writes of this,
You see, we really are sealed up in the prison of our conditional thinking. It is terribly difficult for us to get out, and even if someone batters down the door and shatters the bars, chances are we will stay in the prison anyway! We seem always to want to hold out for something somehow, that little bit of something, and we do it with a passion and an anxiety that betrays its true source — the Old Adam that just does not want to lose control.
As Forde alludes, grace takes the conditional control of the Law from our grasp. Jesus didn’t say “I will not condemn you as long as you go and sin no more.” He said, “I do not condemn you.”
Grace has no conditions.
We have no further record of what happened next. We can only speculate and that may be dangerous, so maybe another text fills in the gaps for us to understand how this amazing grace works in the lives of God’s children.
Simon, a Pharisee, once invited Jesus to dine in his home (Luke 7:36-50). There at his table, the scene is interrupted by a social outcast, a woman of ill repute who pours her precious perfume on Jesus’ feet and then begins to kiss them and anoint them with the hair of her head.
Throughout this story one could wrongly surmise that what transpires is that because of her act of kindness Jesus acknowledges her sins have been forgiven. This will not hold up though to the scrutiny of the final verses when we learn after parable that the woman’s love for Jesus is the result of her forgiveness, not an activity to win His love.
So I think we can rightly conclude that this same principle works itself out in every tale of Scripture, and for us as well. We love Him because He first loved us. So what does this look like then played out in the halls of our lives?
1. First, we can let up our shades. We can take off the masks that are fooling no one. God loves us in spite of who we are, and by the way, who we are is perfectly known by Him regardless of how well we deceive others.
2. We can recognize that the very best deed we can offer still has something in it needing forgiveness. With many honesties, in every charitable effort, there is still a heart condition to contend with; such as the thought of what glory might I receive for the act; or maybe even worse, how will God revere me now? A quick test of this is to challenge the antithesis; what thoughts run through my mind when I’m not recognized for my good labors; when God doesn’t grant me gifts in return for my good?
3. We can find contented rest in Jesus’ loving grace. This is what these two women found in these texts. Because they recognized the magnitude of the forgiveness afforded them, they now only wanted to be near Jesus, and/ or they wanted what He wanted. They were fixed from the inside out.
The problem we have, as Gerhard Forde concludes, is that while we struggle greatly with the Law, for it tells us what is wrong with us, we would prefer to remain behind its prison bars because we struggle even more with grace, because it tells us we are impotent to do anything about it.
Recognizing the unconditional love of the Father for us frees us unconditionally. The cell door is gone. The light is off above your seat… and you are free to move around in His grace. We may be quite surprised to find all that we desire there.