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.
Thank you dear friend and Sister. This video is fantastic and moving! My contemplative title for this post, amazingly, was Grace That is Greater Than All My Sin… how awesome is that? It is indeed the grace found through the Gospel of Jesus Christ that changes lives. And since we all have been forgiven much, why would we do any less than love much. Blessings to you today.
This is good stuff! Grace has no conditions but it does have consequences. As I dwell on this verse in John 8 I think that Jesus was telling the woman not only what to do but what she would do. Grace is that thing that comes into us and changes us while we aren’t looking…not all at once but eventually and inexorably.
That is said so well Pastor J! “Grace has no conditions but it does have consequences.” It’s quotes like yours that make me wish I had sent you the article first, so the quote could be in it. 🙂 Thanks good friend and many blessings.
Pastor Joseph Welcome to ChristianBlessings. Nice to “see” you.
My pleasure! As I read it just kind of came to me.
Yes, His love is absolute and unalienable. Yes, His grace is freely and unconditionally given, no ifs of buts. But the necessary condition of our accepting it is our repentance. Jesus’s message everywhere he went was repentance from sins and turning to the will and love of the Father. The woman caught in adultery was on her knees weeping and pleading for her life, truly repenting from her sin. Jesus forgave her and did not condemn her because of that repentance. No, he would not have cast a stone even had she been unrepentant — but He will judge our sins on the Last Day. His grace is not so cheap that He would have stood by the bedside of her adultery and expressed His approval. His grace is free — but in order to accept it, we first have to lay down our sins.
Thanks Joseph. It is truly good to hear from you my friend. I think there is something to these texts that makes them worth discussing even more. Like you, I naturally follow along with repentance fitting into the equation as a mandatory component, but I think our turning from sin has much more to do with the recognition of His loving and forgiving grace than a mechanical decision to do so. In Jesus’ parable to Simon, we are not told that the men came pleading with the debt holder, but only that it is recognized the debt cannot be paid. The loaner cancels the debt of both men. Jesus’ words, ” he who is forgiven little, loves little” has an alter truth, “he who is forgiven much, loves much.” Leaving me to grasp that the woman responded to her forgiveness that was given “while she was yet a sinner.”
Simon’s problem was that he didn’t see his debt was as large as the woman’s, so he didn’t respond as she did. None the less, the text seems to teach that woman responded as she did because she recognized her debt was large… with no hope to pay it. It is also clear the debt is forgiven before she responds (forgiven little, loves little; forgiven much, loves much). I described this as being fixed from the inside out. Once forgiveness and grace was applied, the recipient responded rightly. I’m very much aware we will probably never agree on this one totally good friend, but it is always good to hear your input to bounce through the journals of my mind. Thanks again and many blessings.
Thank you. It’s nice to talk to you, too. I think we’re in agreement, actually. His grace goes before us (what St. Augustine called prevenient grace), and it’s only by that grace that we are even able to repent, to do anything salutary at all. That grace is the impetus and the invitation to repentance — but we do have a choice, the Catholic Church teaches, to accept that grace or refuse it. And my point was just that His grace is free, but must accept it and walk in it. I just get a little nervous hearing talk about free grace without repentance — as there are some extreme teachers out there who effectively teach that Christ’s grace covers us no matter what, such that repenting and turning toward Him isn’t even necessary. I’m glad that isn’t where you were going. 🙂
“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.”
Hard for us hard-headed, control freak humans to understand… but so basic.
And welcome back, my friend.
Thanks my good friend… it is truly good to be back (in many ways). Blessings to you today.
Pingback: Adding the Un to Conditional Grace | Resting in His Grace