condemnation and forgiveness: the believers’ responsibility

image courtesy of Rembrandt

I have been overwhelmed lately by the power we, as Christians, hold.  That we can forgive at all is remarkable.  But truly astonishing is that we have been given the responsibility of distributing God’s forgiveness to the world.  One could argue that God, in some way or another, follows our lead when it comes to offering forgiveness to a broken world.


She was sleeping around, and the religious leaders caught her.  Rather than stoning her outright, though, they determined to use her to make Jesus look bad.  So they stood the lady — maybe half-clothed — up in front of everyone while they asked Jesus what they ought to do with her.  [Believing they could catch Jesus in this sort of trap (side note) requires that he had the reputation of one who forgives much.]

Jesus began scribbling with his finger on the ground.  A lot of scholars believe he was listing the sins of each person there.  I personally think he was making a grocery list, in order to appear faintly aloof.  But that’s besides the point.  What’s important is what came next.  Jesus looked up and said, “If any one of you is without sin, let him be the first to throw a stone at her.”  Then he started in with the scribbling again.

The crowd dispersed, leaving only this woman, Jesus, and a bunch of difficult-to-read words in the dirt.  Jesus pointed out that the angry crowd had disappeared, and then he asked the guilty lady a rhetorical question: “Has no one condemned you?”  She replied there was no one.

Then Jesus said — and this is what stood out to me this morning — “Then neither do I condemn you.”

I may be reading far too much into this one English word, but my Bible doesn’t say, “AND neither do I condemn you.”  It says then, as in “if, then.”  It sounds to me like Jesus is saying, “Well if they don’t condemn you, then I don’t condemn you, either.”

We know Jesus was the only guy present that day who was without sin, making him wholly qualified to throw stones, according to his own instructions.  But Jesus didn’t withhold his condemnation that day because of his sin.  Of course, we argue that Jesus withheld condemnation because of his love and mercy; after all, forgiveness is his business.  

But I wonder if there’s not something else going on here?  Maybe Jesus didn’t condemn this lady — at least in part — because the people of God, as messed up as they were, had not condemned her.  Maybe this story is a forerunner to these words from John 20:

Again Jesus said, “Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.”  And with that he breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit.  If you forgive anyone’s sins, their sins are forgiven; if you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven.”

Now, these are just ideas.  I’m just thinking out loud this morning.  But if I’m even just a little bit right, that’s a whole lot of power we hold.*  I hope we’re using it wisely.  And with much mercy and love.

* I’d argue with great certainty that, even if I’ve got it all wrong on the story of the woman caught in adultery, I’m still right about the power we hold to exercise God’s forgiveness on his behalf.


Filed under forgiveness, musings on the Word

5 responses to “condemnation and forgiveness: the believers’ responsibility

  1. randy morgan

    i sure do like it when you blog…i like it a lot.

  2. Zee

    We indeed have a lot of power – so much that it sometimes plain scares me.

    There’s no word “Then” in Greek, but what you are saying makes sense.

  3. Ted

    You are corret that’s a huge amount of power. I almost think condemnation and guilt work like Chinese handcuffs. You have to really want to get stuck in it to get stuck in it, and forgiveness, the natural state of things, is all around us. Perhaps we have the power to hold other peoples’ fingers in the handcuffs.

  4. I think the Holy Spirit is speaking this truth to His people in these days. The verses in John 20 overwhelmed me a few weeks ago and I journaled on August 28 about it. We pay alot of attention to the verses about Jesus giving his disciples the authority to heal and to cast out demons, but John 20: 23 lets us know that forgiveness is a very important responsibility we carry. In fact it was the first direction He gave after He breathed on them to give them the first investment from the Holy Spirit. To think that if I do not forgive then they will not be forgiven, frightens me. But now we are His body here on earth . . . staggering isn’t it?

  5. Eagle

    Sorry Brett….I also believe forgivness is a myth. Or that it’s treated cheaply. Many fundagelicals treat forgivness so cheaply they almost expect it. Plus they act as if the sin that was committed was equal to stealing that maple glazed donut in the kitchen that Dad told you not to eat. While Christians talk about forgiveness (and seldom practice it by the way… at least in the evangelcial circles I once moved in…)

    There are some things fundys expect. Forgiveness according to them means that its like it never happened and is everything will be like it was before. Forgiveness also doesnt mean that the relationship will be restored. And as I leanred forgivness can be highly manipulative. When Christians can practice and talk about forgiveness in the following situations maybe I’ll reconsider:

    1. A husband forgiving the murderer who killed his wife.
    2. A vicitm of sexual abuse who was sodomized who can forgive her molester.
    3. A married partner who can forgive the cheating spouse who than files for divorce and walks out of the marriage.
    4. A crtically ill person fighting cancer who leanrs that her husband wants to leave her…

    If forgiveness is going ot be true…then its in the brutally hard situations like the ones above that will separate Christians from the world.Brett, I was a fundagelical for 10 years and I don’t think Christians get forgiveness. They treat it cheaply, they expect it and at the same time they seldom practice it.

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