There are basically two different ways we treat fellow sinners. We either act like self-appointed judges who, like the Pharisees, act out of our supposed self-righteousness, or we act like needy sinners who never step very far away from the cross and, therefore, like Jesus (who, unlike us, was not a sinner at all!), are quick to dispense grace and forgiveness. To summarize it another way, we either live by the letter of the law, which kills the soul, or we live by the Spirit, which gives life (2 Cor 3:6).
These two approaches are what we see in massive contrast in John’s account of the woman caught in adultery. The contrast is startling. Please stop here. Take two minutes to read John 8:1-11 before proceeding.
In John’s example of the redeeming love and grace of Jesus we see the difference between treating people according to the letter of the law and treating them according to the Spirit. Here we see pompous leaders, who long to squash a sinful woman like a bug, contrasted alongside a Savior whose abundant grace pursues and ultimately restores her.
How a Self-Righteous Pharisee Treats Sinners
The scribes and the Pharisees, the self-righteous religionists, drew public attention to the woman’s sin in order to bolster their own reputation as spiritual experts of the law. Their accusation, though true, was for the purpose of trapping Jesus. However, in order to do so they used the woman’s humiliation, public shame, and condemnation for their own self-serving purposes, not for the nurture and care of her broken soul. In short, these spiritual leaders thought first of judgment, but never of mercy, grace, or restorative love.
But something unexpected happened. Jesus turned the tables on the “punishers” and they were caught in their own trap just as passages like Psalm 7:15-16 predict.
How a Grace-Dispensing Savior Treats Sinners
When Jesus effectively turned the focus of the self-righteous leaders to their own guiltiness before God (that they too deserved death as violators of God’s law), they lost the grounds for their accusation and judgment of her. Jesus, on the other hand, pursued the sinner with grace—the kind of grace that first forgives and receives before instructing to live in holiness and obedience to God (2 Cor 5:15).
When sinners are treated according to the letter of the law the soul is killed and any attempt at restoration fails miserably. However, when sinners are treated with the redeeming grace of God then the Spirit gives life as He grants the twin gifts of repentance and faith and the subsequent ability to heed the call to “go and sin no more.”
Which of these two approaches describes us? Are we like the scribes and Pharisees who were quick to pronounce judgment on others and rid their life of offensive sinners who were beneath them? Or are we like Jesus who—without lowering God’s standard of holiness—reached out to sinners with patient grace? Have we forgotten that the ground is level at the foot of the cross? Do we recognize that no matter how long we’ve been a Christian we will never get to the point where we will have the “right” to condemn another? Are we daily conscious of the reality that there is only one who has the power to condemn and that it is not you or me? (Rom 8:34).
Let’s get honest with ourselves. How do we treat fellow sinners, really?