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The Problem with Naming People’s Sin
Jesus told a woman caught in adultery: “Go and sin no more” (John 8:11). Since Jesus said this, does this give the church the right to tell people not to sin?
It’s one thing for Jesus, who “knew no sin” to say this and quite another for people like us—with tree trunks protruding out of our eyes—to say the same thing. The central point of the story where Jesus says these words is that none of her accusers were in a position to judge her. Jesus invited whoever was without sin to cast the first stone, but no one met that requirement. They were as much sinners as she.
Jesus, the only one who was qualified to condemn the woman, did not do so. Rather he told her to abstain from this sinful activity.
Here’s the lesson: if you want to judge someone else, you first have to be sinless. But if you are sinless, like Jesus, you won’t have any inclination to do so.
But what about the time that Jesus told the Samaritan woman that she had five husbands and was living with a man who was not her husband (John 4:16-18)? Doesn’t this mean that Jesus was setting a model for naming people’s sins?
Jesus didn’t mention this information to judge this woman. The only reason he let this woman know that he was aware of her past was to convince her that he was the Messiah. If this woman would “drink” the water he had to offer she would never thirst again. Even though he knew about her past, the offer of “life” was still on the table, no questions asked!
Had there been any shame or judgment involved, meeting a man who knew everything about her would hardly have been a joyful encounter. However, she went back to her town and joyfully proclaimed what she had heard.
Jesus did not try to fix people’s moral lives. He loved people and offered them everlasting life as they are, regardless of their moral lives. Whatever transforming impact God’s love has on people, it has incredible power because it is given before—and apart from—the transformation itself.
This is how we are called to love. We are to be the shadow that Jesus casts—to imitate God by “living in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself for us (Eph 5:2). We are to demonstrate the kingdom of Calvary-like acts of service and then proclaim the message of God’s kingdom.
We are to serve, no questions asked. We are to love before they are transformed—even our enemies—with a nonjudgmental love to all who are thirsty. To do this we must refrain from doing what Jesus never did: namely positioning ourselves as wiser, morally superior, or the “fixer” of others.
—Adapted from The Myth of a Christian Nation, pages 130-132
What Kind of Sinners Feel Welcomed by Your Church?
Perhaps the greatest indictment on evangelical churches today is that they are not generally known as refuge houses for sinners—places where hurting, wounded, sinful people can run and find love that does not question, an understanding that does not judge, and an acceptance that knows no conditions. To be sure, evangelical churches are usually refuge…
Is the Bible against body piercing and tattoos?
Some Christians argue against body piercing and tattoos on the basis of a couple of Old Testament verses that prohibit them (Lev. 19:28). Several years back an aggravated lady tried to get me to preach against these things in my church (she’d observed that a number of people in the congregation had body piercings and…
Sinful Nature and Free Will
Q: If our sinful nature is what causes us to sin/reject God, can we be held responsible for our sins, when this nature resulted from Adam and Eve’s sin? Do we really have the freedom to either choose/reject God if our sinful nature compels us to reject God? On the other hand, if our sinful…
The Flesh: 4 Things to Know
The New Testament contrasts “life in the Spirit” with “life in the flesh” (see Gal 5:16-20). In some translations, the word for “flesh” (sarx, in the Greek) is translated as “sinful nature” as if one’s identity, or who we are in our essential being, is sinful. However, such a view of the flesh denies that…
The Case for Annihilationism
Annihilationism is the view that whoever and whatever cannot be redeemed by God is ultimately put out of existence. Sentient beings do not suffer eternally, as the traditional view of hell teaches. While I am not completely convinced of this position, I think it is worthy of serious consideration. In this essay I will present…
How do you explain the violent judgement of Ananias and Sapphira?
Question: You talk a lot about the violent depictions of God in the Old Testament. But what about God’s slaying of Ananias and Sapphira in the New? How do you explain that? Answer: The same way I explain divine violence in the Old Testament. There’s simply no reason to think the cruciform hermeneutic (reading Scripture…