The Dawn of Grace - Part 5
Theme: Grace and Holiness
This week’s lessons show how the grace that came through Jesus Christ fits with the
perfect law of God and its condemnation against us for our sins.
Scripture: John 1:17
The question is: Why did Jesus not condemn the woman? Why did he not cast the first stone? We can understand that he wanted to be gracious. We would want to be ourselves. But how could he forgive her and still uphold the law? As soon as we reflect on that, we realize that the reason he did not condemn the woman is surely the same reason why he does not condemn us, if we are among those who have believed on him. Why does Jesus not pronounce a sentence of eternal death on those who come to him in faith today? It is because of his atoning work on the cross by which he was, at that time, soon to take upon himself the punishment for the sins of all whom the Father would give to him. Jesus forgave the woman, but he did not do it easily or in disregard of God's law. He did it because his death was to make forgiveness possible.
This is the gospel, of course. And it is the only solution to how God can remain just and also save the sinner. To us salvation is free; it is by grace. But it is by grace only because the Son of God took the punishment for sin by dying in our place. Here are some characteristics of the reign of law versus the reign of grace, which came by Jesus Christ.
- Under the law God demanded righteousness from men; under grace God gives righteousness to men.
- Under law righteousness is based upon Moses and good works; under grace righteousness is based upon Christ and Christ's character.
- Under law blessings accompany obedience; under grace God bestows blessings as a free gift.
- Under law there is nothing in men or women by which we can achieve what God demands; under grace that power is made available.
We must never think that grace, wonderful as it is, either permits or encourages us to go on sinning. For it is not only grace that came through Jesus Christ, but truth did also (John 1:17). And the truth in this matter is that God still requires holiness of his people. “Shall we go on sinning so that grace may increase?” asked Paul. He answered, “By no means! We died to sin; how can we live in it any longer” (Rom. 6:1, 2)?
This is why the ending of the story of Jesus and the woman who was trapped in adultery is so important, though it is often overlooked. Jesus did not only forgive her on the basis of his coming death for sin. But having done that, he added, “Go now and leave your life of sin.” This always follows upon forgiveness. For God is unchanging, and he continues to be righteous and demand righteousness even when he is forgiving. No one can be saved and then continue to do as he or she pleases. If we are saved, we must stop sinning.
At the same time, we can be grateful that Jesus spoke as he did. For we notice that he did not say, “Leave your life of sin, and I will not condemn you.” If he had said that, what hope for us could there be? Our problem is precisely that we do sin. There could be no forgiveness if forgiveness was based upon our ceasing to sin. Instead of that, Jesus actually spoke in the reverse order. First, he granted forgiveness freely, without any conceivable link to our performance. Forgiveness is granted only on the merit of his atoning death. But then, having forgiven us freely, Jesus tells us with equal force to stop sinning.
And here is the greatest wonder: There is nothing that can so motivate us to leave a life of sin as God's forgiveness. Did the woman do it? I am sure she did. She had experienced grace in Jesus Christ and that has always proved to be the most transforming life experience in the universe.
Have you learned that “grace and truth” came with Jesus Christ? Not all people have. I suppose it is fair to say that you are at some point in this story, whether you are aware of it or not. You may be in the position of the rulers, not necessarily in using your knowledge of what is right and wrong to come down hard on other people, though you may, but in merely going away when you are confronted by your need for forgiveness. The men in the story needed forgiveness as much as the woman. That is the meaning of their guilty withdrawal. But they did not find it, since they left instead.
Or you may be like the crowd. The people were watching. They were spectators. They saw the rulers' conviction and Jesus' compassion. They may even have marveled at both. But they did not enter into the action. Like many today, they stood at a distance and did not get involved.
Fortunately, there was also the woman. You may be like her. I hope you are. Of all the people who were present that day, by far the best one to have been was the woman. For she not only witnessed the events; she experienced them, and that meant that she entered into the reality of Jesus' great grace. The crowd did nothing except go home and forget what it had witnessed. The rulers went from Jesus into increasing spiritual darkness, and six months later they were back again even more hardened than before to demand the death of the sinless Son of God. They had their law, but it did not save them. It hardened them, and they perished by it. Only the sinful woman was saved, and it was because she had discovered that, although law had come through Moses and condemned her, grace and truth truly had come through Jesus Christ.
- We have seen that God is both just and gracious. How does the account of the woman caught in adultery illustrate both of these qualities in Jesus?
- Compare the religious leaders, the crowd, and the woman in the story. What behavior characterized each of them? What example does the woman offer us?
Application: Think about ways in which people have been gracious to you when you acted in a way that was undeserving of it. Look for opportunities to show that same grace to others.