Forgiveness -Without Strings

With this in mind, I would like to present a different scripture from Matthew for consideration. This isn’t some obscure scripture, in fact it’s very well known.  What I want to do with it, though is attempt to break it out of the personal salvation box, just to see what happens. So here is a different perspective on the all too familiar encounter between Jesus and the woman caught in adultery. What I want to point out is a new and different interpretation on the dramatic significance of this encounter between Jesus and the woman. This perspective might shake up some people, especially those who put a lot of stock in the pre-established Christian interpretation of the scriptures. But it shouldn’t because I am, after all, citing Jesus as He is going about the usual business of bringing ministry to anyone and everyone He happened to encounter. Add to this, what He’s doing here is so consistent with other accounts of His ministry; there’s no off script stuff happening here, this is standard Jesus fare. Because of this we won’t be afraid of potentially stepping on a few toes, doctrinally speaking.

Jesus returned to the Mount of Olives, 2 but early the next morning he was back again at the Temple. A crowd soon gathered, and he sat down and taught them. 3 As he was speaking, the teachers of religious law and the Pharisees brought a woman who had been caught in the act of adultery. They put her in front of the crowd. 4 “Teacher,” they said to Jesus, “this woman was caught in the act of adultery. 5 The law of Moses says to stone her. What do you say?”

They were trying to trap him into saying something they could use against him, but Jesus stooped down and wrote in the dust with his finger. 7 They kept demanding an answer, so he stood up again and said, “All right, but let the one who has never sinned throw the first stone!” 8 Then he stooped down again and wrote in the dust.

9 When the accusers heard this, they slipped away one by one, beginning with the oldest, until only Jesus was left in the middle of the crowd with the woman. 10 Then Jesus stood up again and said to the woman, “Where are your accusers? Didn’t even one of them condemn you?”

11 “No, Lord,” she said.

And Jesus said, “Neither do I. Go and sin no more.”                    [John 8:1-11 NLT] 

In this story Jesus was going about business as usual, He was in the temple preaching and answering questions when a group of Pharisees came up to Him holding a woman in restraints, whom they claimed had been caught in the very act of adultery. I am using this scripture to leverage my point that God’s love is unconditional. You will hear Christians proclaim that God’s love is indeed unconditional, then, without pause, begin listing conditions that the bible says are necessary in order to have a relationship with God. The conditions they’re referring to are doctrines. Another way to describe them is as hoops a person must jump through in order to have a good and working relationship with God.  If he/she fails to jump through the hoops, they will miss out on God’s love and worse, they will suffer His wrath!  How is this not conditional?! According to the doctrine, if the person remains outside of God’s love he or she is in a bad way with God and will need to rectify things—put things right with Him before they die.

What happened to this unconditional love? Something you may well hear a Christian say is: “God loves the sinner but hates the sin.” If God’s love IS unconditional in the truest sense of the word, then all the conditions that go along with the personal salvation narrative (baptism, alter calls, and so on) will no longer have any meaning, no clout, and no purpose!  I can make this claim with every confidence because the woman who was caught in adultery (a direct breach of one of the 10 commandments), Jesus was able to forgive and not condemn (Neither do I condemn you.) Then Jesus ends with: “Go and sin no more!”

Take special note that even in this last statement, His gift of “no condemnation” comes without condition! He doesn’t say that He will not condemn her (forgive her) on the condition of her sinning no more, nor even on her promise that she’ll sin no more… He says only that He doesn’t condemn her! The passage in John doesn’t give any specific reason why Jesus made this decision to not condemn this woman. It doesn’t (because there wasn’t any specific reason nor need for further explanation) and He offered this forgiveness freely and without any reason other than He is God and God’s love IS truly UNCONDITIONAL!

Jesus returned to the Mount of Olives, 2 but early the next morning he was back again at the Temple. A crowd soon gathered, and he sat down and taught them. 3 As he was speaking, the teachers of religious law and the Pharisees brought a woman who had been caught in the act of adultery. They put her in front of the crowd. 4 “Teacher,” they said to Jesus, “this woman was caught in the act of adultery. 5 The law of Moses says to stone her. What do you say?”

They were trying to trap him into saying something they could use against him, but Jesus stooped down and wrote in the dust with his finger. 7 They kept demanding an answer, so he stood up again and said, “All right, but let the one who has never sinned throw the first stone!” 8 Then he stooped down again and wrote in the dust.

9 When the accusers heard this, they slipped away one by one, beginning with the oldest, until only Jesus was left in the middle of the crowd with the woman. 10 Then Jesus stood up again and said to the woman, “Where are your accusers? Didn’t even one of them condemn you?”

11 “No, Lord,” she said.

And Jesus said, “Neither do I. Go and sin no more.”                    [John 8:1-11 NLT] 

In this story Jesus was going about business as usual, He was in the temple preaching and answering questions when a group of Pharisees came up to Him holding a woman in restraints, whom they claimed had been caught in the very act of adultery. I am using this scripture to leverage my point that God’s love is unconditional. You will hear Christians proclaim that God’s love is indeed unconditional, then, without pause, begin listing conditions that the bible says are necessary in order to have a relationship with God. The conditions they’re referring to are doctrines. Another way to describe them is as hoops a person must jump through in order to have a good and working relationship with God.  If he/she fails to jump through the hoops, they will miss out on God’s love and worse, they will suffer His wrath!  How is this not conditional?! According to the doctrine, if the person remains outside of God’s love he or she is in a bad way with God and will need to rectify things—put things right with Him before they die.

What happened to this unconditional love? Something you may well hear a Christian say is: “God loves the sinner but hates the sin.” If God’s love IS unconditional in the truest sense of the word, then all the conditions that go along with the personal salvation narrative (baptism, alter calls, and so on) will no longer have any meaning, no clout, and no purpose!  I can make this claim with every confidence because the woman who was caught in adultery (a direct breach of one of the 10 commandments), Jesus was able to forgive and not condemn (Neither do I condemn you.) Then Jesus ends with: “Go and sin no more!”

Take special note that even in this last statement, His gift of “no condemnation” comes without condition! He doesn’t say that He will not condemn her (forgive her) on the condition of her sinning no more, nor even on her promise that she’ll sin no more… He says only that He doesn’t condemn her! The passage in John doesn’t give any specific reason why Jesus made this decision to not condemn this woman. It doesn’t (because there wasn’t any specific reason nor need for further explanation) and He offered this forgiveness freely and without any reason other than He is God and God’s love IS truly UNCONDITIONAL!

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