Christ spoke of His Church as being “in the world but not of the world.” There are many things in this old world that Christians cannot accept if they listen carefully to what God is saying to us. Let us learn from the Scriptures how Jesus dealt with the social sins of his day.
You remember the woman who was caught in the act of adultery? It is a story that gets quite a bit of attention in our preaching. There is something about the sin of adultery that interests people. While Jesus was teaching, the Pharisees brought in a prostitute and told him that they had caught her in the very act of adultery. These men were not interested in the woman’s welfare. They only wanted to trap Jesus.
The Pharisees continued, “Moses says she should be stoned to death. (Such a person should not be permitted to live for fear that she would contaminate others.) What is your opinion, Jesus?” they asked.
Jesus had an answer for them: “If any one of you is without sin, let him be the first to throw a stone at her.” Then the Bible says, “they began to go away . . .”
Jesus turned to the woman and said, “Has no one condemned you?”
The woman replied, “No one, Lord.”
Jesus replied, “Neither do I condemn you. Go now and leave your life of sin.” Go and sin no more.
Jesus had his choices in dealing with this woman. According to the law of Moses, He could have said, Execute her. He could have said, Let’s try to figure out why she has become a prostitute. Maybe she never had a chance in the early years of her life. Perhaps her mother was a prostitute and her father had run away refusing to care for his family. Or He could have said, Aren’t you all sinners? Why condemn her? Don’t you have enough in your own life? He did not excuse her by saying, I forgive you. That’s what love is all about.
This was not Jesus’ solution to the woman’s problem. No. Instead He said, “Your accusers did not condemn you. Neither do I condemn you. Go now and leave your life of sin.”
Jesus did not deny the Law. The sixth Commandment tells us that adultery is sin. You remember that Jesus said, “Do not think that I have come to abolish the law . . . but to fulfill (it)” (Matthew 5:17). The woman stood guilty before Jesus. He affirmed the absolutes that many in our day are anxious to eliminate from our culture.
Neither did Jesus condone her sin and say, “In our day, since people do not think of adultery as a sin, it is not a sin.” In other words, cultural acceptance of behavior sets the standards for how we live. Not so in Jesus’ book. Sin is sin and must be dealt with.
How authoritative is the Bible in our day? This is a burning question around the world. The Christian ethic in western civilization stands or falls according to how we answer this question.
Bo Giertz was a gifted pastor and bishop in Sweden. He was voted the most influential church leader in Sweden during the 1990s and became known as a gifted proclaimer of Church doctrine as anchored in Scripture. In 1941, he wrote the best-selling novel, The Hammer of God.
In his book, Giertz presents a conversation between two pastors who were to appear on the same program. They had different points of view regarding the voice of authority in the Church. One pastor taught that a person’s conscience was the highest authority. He believed that what was valid truth in Jesus’ day might not be valid today. The other pastor responded that Christianity must cling to the Word of God to the end of the ages or else it will cease to be Christianity, since it would no longer have the Gospel to proclaim.
This controversy goes on in the Church today. A modern view says that God’s Word alone is not the final authority. Before we reach a conclusion on what is truth, we must interpret Scripture in the light of what culture says about the subject. For example, the acceptance or rejection of same-sex marriages cannot be made based on what is taught in the Bible alone, for we must also consider how culture views the subject.
In contrast, the conservative view, which many of us believe, that says the Bible is the inspired Word of God, and the only authority in matters of faith and life. What culture says cannot change God’s Word.
Now back to our original question – What did Jesus say to the woman who was caught in the act of adultery? He forgave her, but told her not to continue her same lifestyle. “Leave your life of sin,” were Jesus’ parting words to the woman.
In this post-modern age, where do we stand on many lifestyles that are acceptable in our culture? I refer to cohabitation, free divorce, the practice of homosexuality, the acceptance of non-Christian religions as coequal with our Christian faith. Fifty years ago in our Lutheran Church, such behavior and thought were denounced as wrong. Today, we have divided convictions on these subjects. Where will these diverse opinions lead the Church? What will be our authority in matters of faith and life? If we cannot have unity except by compromising the truth, let us pray for division. Truth cannot be compromised.
Our Lord has spoken; His Word has not changed. He did not condone sin nor seek to change the law. His arms reached out to the sinner in his day and in ours, as he offers us forgiveness and a word of admonishment to “leave your sinful lifestyle.”
That, my friend, is grace. Without this message, the Church ceases to be the Church with a forceful voice to a crumbling society. Without this voice Ð “Thus says the Lord” Ð we cannot long endure as the dynamic spiritual influence in our nation. Who then will lead the wandering sheep who have no shepherd?