Over the past several years I have watched as a dear friend of mine has turned her back on the faith she once claimed. Years ago, I thought, she believed the Bible. She said that she wanted to follow what God wanted for her life. Yet over the years I have seen her make decision after decision that was contrary to the truth of the Bible.
I often wondered if it was my fault. I know that I didn’t speak truth to her as often as I should have, and she has known me during the darkest seasons in my life. She has watched as I willfully chose to rebel against what I knew to be true. I have wondered if perhaps my sinful rebellion led her away from the truth of the Gospel. The weight of this is heavy, but I believe that the blood of Jesus can cleanse even my sins.
Now I see her making choices that break my heart. I want to beg and plead with her to turn from away from the direction she is going, but when I have she hasn’t responded.
So what are we as Christians called to do when we encounter this situation? What are we as Christians supposed to do when we are watching those we love walk away from Jesus? Are we supposed to condemn them? Are we supposed to stop being their friends? I think we can find answers in scripture itself.
What did Jesus do? I know that phrase has been treated with contempt over the years, but I believe it is a valid question that needs to be considered when we are facing such a dilemma.
The book of John gives us a few ideas to think about. In John chapter 8 we find Jesus teaching. Picture a scene with Jesus sitting down surrounded by people listening to him. Suddenly the religious leaders rush in and throw a woman caught in adultery to the ground near Jesus. The religious leaders remind Jesus that the law says to stone her, and they ask Jesus what should be done with the woman.
Can you picture yourself sitting in the crowd? I can. I can see myself sitting a few rows in listening intently to what Jesus was saying, then suddenly a woman falls down to the ground. I look up and find myself startled by these powerful religious leaders standing, seemingly towering over us and a woman on the ground. My first response would probably be of judgment in my heart. I would feel self-righteous and curious as to what Jesus would say. I would sit there probably feeling glad that it wasn’t me that was lying on the ground.
The scriptures say that these religious leaders kept demanding an answer from Jesus. The situation feels a bit heated and intense. Yet, Jesus doesn’t respond right away. He probably looked at the woman in the dust beside him, and finally stood up. What does Jesus say? Let’s look at the scripture passage.
“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!”Then he stooped down again and wrote in the dust.
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. Then Jesus stood up again and said to the woman,“Where are your accusers? Didn’t even one of them condemn you?”
“No, Lord,” she said.
And Jesus said, “Neither do I. Go and sin no more.” John 8:7-11 NLT
I really would love to know what Jesus wrote in the dust that day. We are left to wonder because the Bible doesn’t tell us. Yet we do know what Jesus said. “Let the one who has never sinned throw the first stone” We then see, slowly, one by one, these powerful leaders slip off, leaving this woman alone before Jesus.
Then Jesus, who has the only authority to actually condemn her, he says, “Neither do I.”
I believe this passage has a lot of powerful truth for us, but before I go any further I want to make a few points. I do not believe that this passage is saying we don’t speak truth to those who are in sin. I do not believe we are to avoid sharing the gospel with people around us. I do believe that as a whole the christian community is better at condemnation that they are at loving. We need to speak truth, and to do so gently and lovingly. Jesus didn’t deny her sin. He even commands her to “sin no more,” But Jesus didn’t condemn her either.
There is a time coming when we all will face judgment, but God is graciously giving us more time to repent. Rather than condemning those around us who are struggling with unrepentant sin, lets work a little bit harder on loving them into the kingdom.
If you want an even bigger picture of God’s relentless, grace-filled, and powerfully forgiving love I challenge you to read the book of Hosea. Put yourself in the place of Hosea’s wife, because in God’s eyes that is exactly what we are. He is the constant pursuer and lover of our souls. God is giving us mercy and allowing us time to really repent.