I read an article in Relevant Magazine recently that completely misrepresented the relationship between Law and Love. Here’s the quote that is problematic. See if you can figure out what’s wrong:
“Jesus, left alone with the [adulteress] woman, simply says to her two things: ‘I do not condemn you. Now leave your life of sin.’ The order of these two sentences is everything. Reverse the order of these two sentences and you’ll lose Christianity. Reverse the order and you’ll lose Jesus.
As was the case with Jesus, so it will be with his people when we create environments that communicate ‘no condemnation’ first, before we ever start talking about law, obedience and ethics. Because with Jesus, grace and love establish the environment for the morality conversation.”
So, is this factual?
Is it theologically sound?
To be fair, I had to spend quite a while thinking about it before I was able to put my finger on exactly the issue. So, here is a question that might help the lightbulb come on:
Was “Jesus” the same God as the one of the Old Testament?
If yes…then there’s simply no way to make the argument that he put “no condemnation” BEFORE “law/ethics.” He literally spent hundreds of years drilling law-and-ethics into his Children’s heads, before Jesus introduced the other side of the coin.
When we understand that Jesus was the same God of Justice from the Old Testament, then we can understand why he didn’t “condemn” the religious leaders any more than he condemned the adulteress. (That’s something today’s “Love and Mercy Pharisees” might want to consider.) Jesus didn’t tell the religious leaders they needed to “go and sin no more.”
Maybe that’s because the religious leaders weren’t wrong.
The angry, “scolding,” judgmental crowd was just following the rules that God himself had put into place. If Jesus hadn’t come along before the stoning that day, the religious leaders would have been completely justified in carrying out the execution of the adulteress woman. Have you ever thought about that?
They were justified by God’s law to keep doing what He commanded them to do.
So, if Jesus was God, then law/ethics and obedience came first, long before grace/mercy. The Relevant article has it exactly backward.
In other words, the religious culture of Jesus’ day is exactly backward from the “religious” culture we’re dealing with in the West in 2017.
We no longer live in a culture where the importance of law, ethics, and obedience has been drilled into our heads since childhood. Most of us, instead, have been taught the Law of Never-Condemning, as preached by Relevant magazine.
That makes a huge difference!
When you don’t understand that you deserve to die (the way the adulteress woman understood it), then the grace of Jesus has no impact. None.
When you reverse the order and put “no condemnation” BEFORE the lesson that all humans deserve condemnation, the ministry of Jesus doesn’t make any sense at all.
What if Jesus happened upon an adulteress woman being confronted today? How would that look? This is what I think he would see:
Rare Religious Leader: This woman was caught cheating on her husband…
Crowd: So what? Nobody is perfect.
Rare Religious Leader: True. Nobody is perfect. But she’s destroying her family.
Crowd: You just think you’re better than everyone!
Religious Leader: What do you think, Jesus? Should there be consequences for this woman’s sin?
Jesus: Let the woman speak. What do you say for yourself, woman?
Adulteress: Well, my actions weren’t right. But–I know you won’t condemn me. You will love me no matter what!
Jesus: As water reflects the face, so one’s life reflects the heart.
Adulteress: Uh…Jesus…that’s Old Testament stuff…
Religious Leader: How about this one, then: “Anyone who rejected the law of Moses died without mercy on the testimony of two or three witnesses. How much more severely do you think someone deserves to be punished who has trampled the Son of God underfoot, who has treated as an unholy thing the blood of the covenant that sanctified them…?” That’s from the book of Hebrews.
Crowd: Pharisee! Pharisee! We should focus on grace, like Jesus did!
Religious Leader: I’m sorry, but it kind of sounds like you’re making a new Law out of your favorite Jesus quotes…and maybe ignoring others…
Crowd: *picks up stones* Judgmental heretic! You are precisely the type of person Jesus hated!
*Religious Leader Cowers* *Adulteress Woman also picks up a stone*
…What would Jesus do?
For more about the role of Justice in the Gospel message, you can read this personal story about the time my 3-year-old experienced mercy for the first time. Would that lesson have been impactful, if my daughter hadn’t learned about rules/obedience FIRST? What’s the point of mercy, if a child doesn’t really believe they deserve consequences?