Rachel Gilson: Truth and Mercy Triumph Over Judgment With Sexual Sin

In today’s cultural climate, conversations around human sexuality unravel before they even get started. Those of us who hold to the traditional biblical view are often told we’re judgmental, yet the accusation is issued so often that it’s hard to tell a false alarm from a true indictment. As followers of Jesus Christ, we long to embody beautiful orthodoxy. Although the phrase “grace and truth” is shouted from every rooftop, we’re painfully aware of how difficult it is to practice in the context of real relationships and real conversations.

The tension is palpable: It manifests itself as a physical tightness in your chest when someone discloses their sexual attractions for the first time. You feel it, too, as tears on your face, when you can’t figure out how to express your love for your same-sex attracted friend and also affirm God’s singular plan for sex between a married man and woman.

As someone who came to Christ after years of sexual and romantic relationships with women, I’ve been on both sides of this conversation. I was once the person receiving a hard word; now I’m the one giving it. Some of us—I’m raising my hand, here—tip more easily toward truth telling and less easily toward grace. Others err on the side of permissiveness, loving their friends enough to show grace but maybe leaving out the Bible’s clear teaching on sex.

I recently spoke to a father who confided in me, face fallen, that his response to his daughter coming out several years ago was to put up a wall of theology. He desperately wanted to know if he could make it right without sacrificing his convictions or his relationship with his daughter. Another woman approached me detailing how she had for decades kept up her loving relationship with her gay sister, convinced that simple friendship embodied Jesus to her. She was scared that her failure to speak truth would ultimately bring harm and felt very unsure of how to enter into the conversation after so many years of staying out.

There are many, many stories like these. Where can we turn for a model? Scripture declares that Jesus Christ is the one who took on flesh and lived full of grace and truth, and oh, how we need his guidance.

Although John 8 is debated by scholars, feminists, and others, nonetheless the passage offers us a powerful case study. In the story, we find Jesus teaching in the temple. The scribes and Pharisees walk in, bringing with them a woman who has been caught in the act of adultery. The text says they’re trying to trap Jesus by asking: “What should be done to this sinful woman? Should they treat her as God’s law demands?”

To the grace oriented, notice that the scribes and Pharisees are not wrong in naming the woman’s guilt and also appealing to the law. Sexual sin is called out by God and is morally culpable. To the truth oriented, notice how easy it is to use another human being to make a point, to use an image bearer for one’s religious agenda. The scribes and Pharisees never speak to the woman, only about her.

Jesus doesn’t immediately respond. He bends down to sketch in the dirt and keeps them waiting. When he does answer, he stands up and delivers a blow. “Let him who is without sin among you be the first to throw a stone at her.”

It’s a dangerous move since Jesus is dealing with people who are sure they are right. (Indeed, according to the Law and the circumstances, they are.) In his response, Jesus essentially agrees with their theology; He doesn’t argue that the adulterous woman didn’t sin or that the Law doesn’t really prescribe death. He disagrees, however, with their methodology. Jesus knows exactly what’s in their hearts—their motivation and their own sin. He demands that those of us with a passion for the truth always take care to train that critical light upon ourselves as much as others.

Once everyone has left, Jesus stands and asks, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?” This is the first time she’s addressed. He invites her to speak for herself by asking her a question about her accusers. In response, she simply acknowledges that nobody has condemned her. “No one, sir,” she says.

Jesus’s response is famous. It’s also scandalous. “Then neither do I condemn you,” Jesus declares. “Go now and leave your life of sin.”

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Source: Christianity Today