Mercy and Grace - The Woman Caught in the Act of Adultery?

I remember visiting a home group for one of the local churches I visit, where a lady and I struck up a conversation about God’s Mercy and Grace. 


The explanations of mercy and grace I gave her, was that Mercy is when you don’t get what you deserve, and Grace is when you get what you don’t deserve.


To illustrate, if you are speeding on the road, and the police pull you over, and he does not give you a ticket.  That’s Mercy.  If that same Officer then writes you a check for $1000 for speeding, that’s Grace.


Mercy and Grace are beautiful.



Now midway in my conversation, a visitor came and sat next to us, and overheard some of what was said.  The visitor then chimed in that she was an avid student of Grace as seen in the life of Jesus.


She said that Grace and Truth Came by Jesus Christ.  She then went on to cite the Story of the Woman caught in the very act of Adultery as cited in John 8:1-11.  She said “Grace came when Jesus did not Condemn her, and the Truth came, when Jesus said Go and Sin More.”



I was shocked.



What proceeded was an interesting conversation and a study of the account in John 8, to explain why that was not an act of Grace and Truth, and neither does it apply to the new Covenant believer.


First the back drop. 


Galatians 4:4-5  But when the fulness of the time was come, God sent forth his Son, made of a woman, made under the law, to redeem them that were under the law, that we might receive the adoption of sons.


Jesus Christ ministry was under Law.  We must bare that in Mind when we examine this scripture. 


¶Jesus went unto the mount of Olives. And early in the morning he came again into the temple, and all the people came unto him; and he sat down, and taught them. And the scribes and Pharisees brought unto him a woman taken in adultery; and when they had set her in the midst, They say unto him, Master, this woman was taken in adultery, in the very act. Now Moses in the law commanded us, that such should be stoned: but what sayest thou? This they said, tempting him, that they might have to accuse him. But Jesus stooped down, and with his finger wrote on the ground, as though he heard them not.   John 8:1 - John 8:6 (KJV)


So far so good, the stage is set, Jesus Christ has been brought face to face with the Leviticus 20:10:


¶And the man that committeth adultery with another man's wife, even he that committeth adultery with his neighbour's wife, the adulterer and the adulteress shall surely be put to death.  Leviticus 20:10 - Leviticus 20:10 (KJV)


Now bare in mind, the accusers are also brandishing their stones.  In their minds, someone is getting stoned,  Either the Woman, or Jesus if he does not answer within the confines of the Law.  Its On!


So when they continued asking him, he lifted up himself, and said unto them, He that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone at her. And again he stooped down, and wrote on the ground. And they which heard it, being convicted by their own conscience, went out one by one, beginning at the eldest, even unto the last: and Jesus was left alone, and the woman standing in the midst.  John 8:7 - John 8:9 (KJV)



Wait a Minute, what did Jesus do?  He answered with a brilliant use of the Law.  He by no means denied the woman’s Guilt.  In Fact, He never denied the Law or that she was Guilty.  Jesus was agreeing with the Law and the Sentence instructed in the Levitical Law.  What Jesus did, by saying one without sin should cast the first stone, was delay the Punishment. 


The woman caught in the Act of Adultery, received Mercy.  She did not get the stoning she deserved. 


In Addition, this concept is very much applicable under the Law, where the children of Israel would have to wait a Full Year for the day of Yom Kippur, where the Punishment for their Annual Sins was passed to a Spotless lamb for the covering of their sins.  This is not outside the bounds of the Law, judgment is postponed until a substitute can be found.   We see this all throughout scriptures, where Adulterers, like King David, are not stoned instantly, but rather have their sins covered by blood of Animals.


Let go on with the story.


When Jesus had lifted up himself, and saw none but the woman, he said unto her, Woman, where are those thine accusers? hath no man condemned thee? She said, No man, Lord. And Jesus said unto her, Neither do I condemn thee: go, and sin no more.  John 8:10 - John 8:11 (KJV)


We reach the end of the Saga.  Jesus also shows mercy to the woman, and allows her to go.  His final words to her are a Commandment, “Go and Sin No More.”


The story is Full of Mercy all within the confines of the Law, but was there any Grace?


No.  Honestly, Jesus never told her, that her sins were Forgiven.  Jesus did not make her a new Creature or give her a clean heart.  She was still a sinner and living under the law.  On Yom Kippur she would have confessed her Adultery as she probably had done years before, and Gone on.


If Jesus were to introduce something new called Grace while still under the Old Covenant, he would have Violated Deuteronomy 4:2, which said we cannot add anything to the Law and Commandments.    Jesus had to Use Law, until it was fulfilled at the cross and the New Covenant was introduced.  Jesus could not Mix the two otherwise He would have been stoned.


This Amazing Act of Mercy transformed that woman’s Life.  I’m not trying to diminish that fact.  I’m simply saying this is an Old Covenant Story, and we cannot apply it to new covenant Believers.


Here’s Why.


Imagine how that woman would feel, if after she had received this extraordinary pardon, if she happened to sin Again?  She would have broken the One commandment of the Man who showed her the greatest Mercy.  To that, the guilt and Shame would be Overwhelming as she failed to live up to his commands.  She would feel even Worse, knowing that she had betrayed him. 


To do it once and get away with it, is one thing, but to do it again, after I’ve been pardoned.  She may have struggled.  She probably would have wanted to avoid Jesus because she would be so afraid of what he might say a second time around.  She probably thought that she’s used up her only life line and there can’t be any more Mercy for her.   She may have even wanted to avoid Jesus out of her Shame.


She would be experiencing what Paul later wrote about in Roman’s 7:18;


For I know that in me (that is, in my flesh,) dwelleth no good thing: for to will is present with me; but how to perform that which is good I find not. For the good that I would I do not: but the evil which I would not, that I do.  Romans 7:18 - Romans 7:19 (KJV)


Something is missing in Paul’s account of this struggle.  What’s Missing is the Grace gift of the Holy Spirit.  He does not have the Holy Spirit in His Life,  that is what he cannot find in his life, which is why he cannot do good.  That is why he said “but how to perform that which is good I find not.”  Something was missing.  Just as something would be missing from the woman after she walked away from Jesus with his Command, the Ability to perform that which he commanded.


She was still a Sinner by Nature, still living under the Law.  She had not received the Holy Spirit, Not been made a new Creation.  It would have been impossible for her to perform that which Jesus told her to do.  After receiving such a gift, and feeling obligated to do good to honour her pardon, every failure would have hurt that much more. 


Do we realize this is what we do to Christians when we teach a mixing of Grace and Law.  We say, you’re saved and God has given you heaven, Jesus paid the Highest Price, So now you Better Live up to it by reading you bible, paying tithes, Going to Church on Sunday, Forgive everyone, etc.  We just tacked performance based religion onto what should be a free gift with no strings attached.


We don’t always recognize the effect that has on people.   When we cannot live a life thankful enough, holy enough, or righteous enough to reflect the value of the Gift, we get discouraged, frustrated and sometimes even Angry at God.  But God never put such a demand on us. 


Here is the good news.  He doesn’t expect us to respond to this gift by our actions, he expects us to respond to this gift by our faith. 


When Jesus was first baptized, God spoke from the cloud and said this is his beloved Son, in Whom He is Well Pleased.  Jesus had yet to preach a Sermon, Perform a Miracle or do any other good Work.  For us, this side of the Cross, the moment we put our Faith in Jesus Christ, God speaks over us, and say “You are my beloved Child, in whom I’m well Pleased.”  If we never read out bibles, never give money or never share our Faith, That Declaration will stand as long as we in faith in Christ.


Unlike the woman caught in the Act of Adultery, Jesus does not say to us today “Go and Sin No More.”  He says “You are Totally Forgiven.”  So even if we, like in my hypothetical story, sin a second time after the initial pardon, we can rest assured that we are still in Good Standing with God, because ALL our Sins are Forgiven through Faith in What Jesus Has done.  We would never have to struggle with Shame and Guilty based upon our lack of Performance, because all our failure to perform and sins of Omission have been forgiven once for all.


When Christ removed our sins, once for all, and removed the yoke of the Law, then made us righteous, holy and acceptable to God Once, all our efforts were no longer required.  He did it all. 


So after my conversation with our visitor to the home group, she had a lot to think about.  She explained that she had never really taken the time to read it in that light.  Now that she had, she was even more grateful to message of the Cross, and the Grace we enjoy today that came by Jesus Christ.

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Tags: Covenant, Grace, Mercy, New


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