Each month, we ask two writers to reflect on a quote by Dr. Stanley. For December, Jamie A. Hughes and John VandenOever explore how imperfect humans can inhabit the grace and righteousness Jesus secured for us. Here’s an excerpt from Dr. Stanley’s sermon “God’s Answer for the Empty Life”:
Sometimes when we see people who are immoral as they can be, we want to confront them about it and tell them off. But even when it came to the woman caught in the very act of adultery, Jesus did not condemn her. Throughout His ministry, Jesus communicated, “God has not sent Me to condemn, but to forgive and to cleanse those who are living in sin.” He says, “I have not come to call the righteous to repentance, but sinners” (Luke 5:32).
by Jamie A. Hughes
Every time I read the story of the woman caught in adultery (John 8:2-11), I can’t help but smile at how Jesus undoes the plans of the scribes and Pharisees. They bring a woman—a person who was both powerless and extremely vulnerable—and sling her into the dirt in front of the Lord. They probably saw it as a tidy two-for-one opportunity. In one moment at the temple, they could apply the law and stone the woman for her sin while also building a case against Jesus Himself.
But of course, He takes the conversation in an entirely different direction. Rather than dive into the weeds of Mosaic law, Jesus meets their clever accusation with silence, choosing instead to write something in the dust before asking a question of His own—one that forces them to examine their own sins. They came, stones in hand and voices raised, ready to mete out what they saw as just punishment, and they leave in humbled silence. But we can’t cluck our tongues in disapproval. Dr. Stanley points out that we are just as eager for retribution as any Pharisee ever was.
Jesus, thankfully, isn’t like us. He’s not some exacting accountant keeping our good and bad deeds in columns, tallied up to prove a point the moment we step into eternity. His love is far more radical. It sets us free from sin and any consequences that come with it—even the punishments we try to inflict on ourselves and others. For Him, condemnation isn’t the goal, but healing and restoration are. As Gregory of Nyssa wrote centuries ago, “Christ is the artist, tenderly wiping away all the grime of sin that disfigures the human face and restoring God’s image to its full beauty.”
For Jesus, condemnation isn’t the goal, but healing and restoration are.
Following Jesus doesn’t require a hefty manual, a complicated list of dos and don’ts. The whole of it is contained in Matthew 22:34-40: “‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the great and foremost commandment. The second is like it, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ Upon these two commandments hang the whole Law and the Prophets.”
Not “You shall judge” or even “You shall resolve.” Those heavy burdens aren’t laid on our shoulders. Jesus, who looked at the woman caught in adultery with kindness in His eyes, turns that same tender gaze upon each of us and says, “You shall love.”
What a marvelous calling.
by John VandenOever
If your sin looks like the sin I fight, it’s easier for me to relate to you. I might even perk up and listen to your experience. But what if your particular struggles are different from mine? It’s likely I’ll wonder what’s wrong with your faith. That’s how many of us live from day to day.
When the woman caught in adultery was thrust before Jesus for judgment, He didn’t play the comparison game. He said, “Let him who is without sin among you be the first to throw a stone at her” (John 8:7 ESV). His standard was sinlessness—not degrees or types of sin, but a complete lack of it. If we had never sinned, then maybe we could cast judgment. Only Jesus qualified for this distinction, and yet He refrained from condemning her.
Jesus’ standard was sinlessness—not degrees or types of sin, but a complete lack of it.
Jesus sees our sin for the pain it brings to us and to others, and He’s perfectly aware of how the image of God was darkened within humankind after the fall. This is why He came—to defeat sin and death, reconcile us to Himself, and restore His image in us.
But first we must see our need: “If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us” (1 John 1:8 ESV). It’s essential that we acknowledge our self-serving attitudes and actions and agree with how God defines good and evil in His Word. “If we say we have not sinned,” John writes, “we make him a liar, and his word is not in us” (1 John 1:10 ESV).
The self-righteous have no one to save them. But the endless grace of God awaits the sinner who embraces the life-giving merits of Christ.