John 7:53-8:3 Everyone went to his home. 8:1 But Jesus went to the Mount of Olives. 2 Early in the morning He came again into the temple, and all the people were coming to Him; and He sat down and began to teach them. 3 The scribes and the Pharisees brought a woman caught in adultery, and having set her in the center of the court.
The account of the woman caught in adultery and Jesus' acquittal of her is perhaps one of the most powerful episodes in John's Gospel. Theologian and pastor Dr. R.C Sproul writes of the significance of this text in his "St. Andrew's Expositional Commentary" on John:
"Jesus said to her the sweetest words any human being could ever hear from His lips: 'Neither do I condemn you" (v 11b). If you can't relate to those words, then your heart has been hardened, because each one of us comes to God like this woman, guilty, ashamed, naked, and exposed. But Christ clothes us with the cloak of His righteousness, covering our nakedness and shame, and says to us, "Neither do I condemn you."
Sproul is referring to that wonderful truth of justification by faith. Today's post will enable you to grasp the central truth of the Gospel: justification by faith, and the life issuing forth from it: sanctification. The beauty of these truths will be explored in the account of Jesus and the adulterous women in John 7:53-8:11. Central to the doctrine of justification is what occurs when a sinner is declared a saint. What takes place when a sinner is declared to be a saint? What changes ought to result from that momentous Divine declaration at saving faith? We will now attempt to answer these questions by exploring this powerful account. Notice the following thoughts...
1. Condemned a sinner by the Law. 7:53-8:9
The truth of justification by faith alone has to do with the change in the sinner's legal status before Holy God. God's way of dealing with His creatures is two-fold: Law and Gospel. The Law of God is designed to show my need for the Gospel. Mankind is certainly welcomed to try to get to God by way of moral living, law-keeping and ritual. However, the Law of God's design shows that sinful man falls short. The central tenet of God's Law is: "do this and you shall live". None of course are able to meet the stringent demands of perfection.
The light of God's grace is necessary to show me the awfulness of my sin and the awesomeness of Jesus Christ. Once I agree with the Law's indictment of my spiritual, moral and relational estrangement, I'm ready to receive the remedy of the Gospel. The Gospel's central tenet is not "do this and live", but instead, "become alive and you shall do." Sadly, sinful man by himself is unwilling to agree. Instead, sinful human beings attempt to take the Law (or something equivalent) and make it their gospel.
The Pharisees and Jewish leaders had already concluded they were "right" (i.e righteous) and everyone was wrong. What they miscalculated was the inability of the Law of God to grant the righteousness required for being in relationship with Holy God. We read in Romans 3:20 that "….by the works of the law no flesh will be justified in his sight…”. The Apostle Paul, a former Pharisee himself, writes in Romans 7:7 & 9 (7) "What shall we say then? Is the Law sin? May it never be! On the contrary, I would not have come to know sin except through the Law; for I would not have known about coveting if the Law had not said, “You shall not covet.” 9 "I was once alive apart from the Law; but when the commandment came, sin became alive and I died."
All the Law of God can do is demand righteousness, not grant it. Although the woman in this episode was clearly guilty, yet her accusers were no better. Only Christ, and Christ alone was perfect. If anyone is ever going to escape the condemnation of God's Law, they need to go the route of Christ. Thus we come to our second thought...
2. Christ the Judge and Justifier 8:10
A sinner's journey in becoming a saint in God's sight must first begin by their admission, by His grace, that they are indeed guilty. When we are brought to Christ, we are brought to the One that knows everything about us and Who desires to release us from those very things keeping us from Him - namely our sin, the wrath of God and condemnation. Paul spells this out in Romans 3:25-26 "whom God displayed publicly as a propitiation in His blood through faith. This was to demonstrate His righteousness, because in the forbearance of God He passed over the sins previously committed; 26 for the demonstration, I say, of His righteousness at the present time, so that He would be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus."
When Jesus stooped down on the ground and began to write in the dust among those accusers and the woman caught in adultery, what was it He was writing. Many have speculated, but perhaps the best explanation is where many see an allusion to Jeremiah 17:13 "O Lord, the hope of Israel, All who forsake You will be put to shame.
Those who turn away on earth will be written down, because they have forsaken the fountain of living water, even the Lord." Christ is first of all portrayed as the righteous judge. By turning the tables on the legalists, it turns out that everyone deserved to be stoned! The Lawgiver was in their midst!
However, Jesus is simultaneously the justifier - that is - He is performing the role normally attributed to the Father as the One who declares the sinner guiltless. By performing this dual role of "Judge and Justifier" in John 7:53-8:11, Jesus is showing Himself equal with the Father in terms of Divine authority as God while of course being the man - Jesus of Nazareth. The great Bible commentator Ellicott notes:
"Thus God appeared in a double character, at once as just or righteous Himself, and as producing a state of righteousness in the believer. Under the Old Testament God had been revealed as just; but the justice or righteousness of God was not met by any corresponding righteousness on the part of man, and therefore could only issue in condemnation. Under the New Testament the justice of God remained the same, but it was met by a corresponding state of righteousness in the believer a righteousness, however, not inherent, but superinduced by God Himself through the process of justification by faith. In this way the great Messianic condition of righteousness was fulfilled."
So, when a sinner is declared a saint by God in salvation, we find the agreed upon indictment of the Law of God condemning them, and Christ the Judge and Justifer every ready to acquit them. By this point in the scene, all of the woman's accusers have left. All that remains are Jesus and herself. We now come to the third main idea....
3. Condemned no more! Justification by faith 8:11
So did the woman caught in adultery express saving faith in Jesus? We find her response to Jesus' question about her accusers with these words in John 8:10-11a "Straightening up, Jesus said to her, “Woman, where are they? Did no one condemn you?” 11 She said, “No one, Lord.” Unless this woman's heart had been touched by grace and unless she had freely responded in turn with true saving faith, she would not had called Jesus "Lord" (see 1 Corinthians 12:1-3). Romans 10:8-10 reminds us that none can call Jesus their Lord unless the Spirit has been doing His work through the Words of God. With the adulterous woman's affirmation of Jesus' identity as her Savior and Lord, Jesus states powerfully in John 8:11b "And Jesus said, “I do not condemn you, either. Go. From now on sin no more.”
The Apostle Paul expresses this powerful result of justification, namely: no condemnation, in his letter to the Romans. Romans 5:1 "Therefore having been justified by faith, we have peace with God." And again in Romans 8:1 "There is now therefore no more condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus." The woman's position has changed. She is no longer a sinner apart from God, but a sinner, saved by grace, and now declared a saint of God. By position this woman is guiltless. But now we find one final truth in this change of the woman from sinner to saint, namely...
4. Keep on for God! Sanctification from faith 8:12
In justification the sinner is declared a saint by position. The righteousness of Jesus Christ is credited to that person. Justification is an instantaneous, legal declaration by God. But now what follows is the progressive, experiential change - sanctification. In the totality of salvation, the sinner is not only saved "from" something but also saved "to" something. Jesus told this woman to go and sin no more. She was to abandon her lifestyle of sin. She was to pursue God in a progressive, ongoing work of sanctification. It didn't mean she would never sin again, since sinless perfection in this life is impossible. Nonetheless, she was now set free from the power sin had over her and she could now begin to truly walk for God. Ephesians 2:10 states: "For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them."
In sanctification, the Christian is becoming in experience whom God has already declared them to be by position. The grace of justification is the root, with sanctification being the stem, leaves and flower issuing forth. The practical righteousness ever being worked out by the Christian in cooperation with the Holy Spirit in sanctification is based upon Christ's credited righteousness granted in justification. We read in James 2:26 "For just as the body without the spirit is dead, so also faith without works is dead."
So truly we have witnesses then the transformation of the adulterous woman from a sinner to a saint. She was no longer an adulterer. Jesus told her to live for God from faith in sanctification, since she had been justified by faith in saving reliance upon Jesus Christ. The Law of God had rightly condemned her actions. By grace she saw her only place of appeal - Jesus Christ - the Judge and justifier.