What does Jesus’ attitude towards sinners of the day show us about sexual morality? He mixed freely with sinners, but his words of rebuke were for the religious people. It has sometimes been said that this means that Jesus didn’t think sexual morality mattered. But Jesus visited people’s homes to bring forgiveness and change. Jesus rejoiced at the change that came to Zacchaeus.
Jesus didn’t condemn the woman at the well, but he did speak of the hurt in her life. Sexual immorality was a hurt for the woman. He didn’t blame her. He didn’t come to put out our smouldering wick, but to fan it into life. He knew our need and condition.
To say that he approved of her life style is to miss his whole message. “I have not come for the well, but for the sick.” He didn’t disapprove because of some austere ethic on sex. He disapproved because of the destruction it brought to the woman and those around her.
The sickness was twofold, the community’s rejection of us as sinners, our alienation from each other, and our rejection of ourselves. He rebuked the community for rejecting the sinner, and he healed us by giving us God’s free forgiveness. The third sickness was the destruction that our sin brought into our lives and the lives of others. This is what he sought to heal. Condemnation doesn’t heal this.
When another woman was caught in adultery, Jesus didn’t deny it was sin. He rather affirmed that it was sin, when he said to the men, “He that is without sin should throw the first stone.” He came to bring God’s forgiveness and this forgiveness had the power to radically change our focus in life.
Like he said to the lame man, “Your sins are forgiven. Take up you mat and walk.” He didn’t say he hadn’t sinned. That would be useless. We don’t need to be told we haven’t sinned. We know we have. We need to be told we are forgiven. This is what heals. Telling the world they haven’t sinned, by changing its definition, doesn’t heal our disease. Love forgives, it doesn’t deny.
Then Jesus said to the woman, “Go and do not sin anymore.” Again, this affirms Jesus’ attitude towards adultery. But he also saw the woman’s condition. He saw the woman’s background, and the way society had given her no chance. He saw the patriarchal powers, shown by the men who wanted her dead. He didn’t come to condemn her, but to help her.
Jesus didn’t show any disrespect for the law of Moses. He showed no variance from the moral values of that law. He rather affirmed them more strongly. Forgiving sin against the law affirms the law. Jesus lived the law of Jubilee, restoring debtors to life. The Jubilee had pity on us who had fallen into tough times, even by our own fault, and sought to give us another opportunity. It sought to lead us all to treat others with kindness and grace, and not to judge.
The account with the woman caught in adultery shows up the heart of the men who wanted to stone her. Their sin was worse. They had carefully avoided open immorality, though it was likely hidden in their hearts, but they accused the woman like satan himself accuses humanity. Jesus showed up our hearts, when we seek to establish our own righteousness by condemning others.
Jesus showed that the harshness of the law of the Old Testament wasn’t a reflection of God. Rather it reflected the hardness of our own hearts. Retributive laws, like “tooth for tooth,” were to limit our violence and vengeance. Jesus annulled these laws. He said he was giving us a new heart, which would seek to restore the sinner, and the one who wrongs us. He wants us to show the core of the Torah, which was to love God and to love neighbour as our self, to do for our neighbour what we would want them to do for us, if we were in their position.
Those who wanted to stone the woman caught in adultery were motivated by a blood lust, a scapegoating, pack violence. This is especially prevalent in pagan societies. We see it in our modern cultures, when the media and interest groups go after people from other groups who have sinned. They think they are doing good, but “don’t know what spirit they really have inside them.” They try to crucify others, as much as the people then wanted Jesus dead. They love blood shedding, slaying a person’s reputation or career, and then protest the church for its failures.
This blood lust fills the human heart. And if we go back to pagan society, this is what we will face more. The law calls for blood shedding, to limit the human heart from too much violence. But if you take away this law, and take away the gospel, then you won’t be left with the faults of the church, you will be left with something far worse than that. You are left with unbridled fallen humanity.
Jesus came to take away our blood lust, to fill us with compassion for others, and for those caught up in any fault. God said he takes no pleasure in the soul that dies, but would rather every person turn from what kills us. He even gave his life on the cross in a call for us to see, to turn. This is what he calls us to do for others. Not to condemn those caught up in a fault, but to give ourselves for them, to help them.
This is the only way we can be delivered from our sin. If we hate those who sin, then a worse sin is inside us. Learning to serve others, even those we abhor the most, our enemies for whatever reason, cleanses our own heart from our sin. We start to get the satan out of our heart, and God’s Spirit has a chance of filing us instead.
Service Fulfils Law
The way Jesus loved the woman caught in adultery does not show he condones sin, or that sexual morality isn’t the will of God, but it was to deliver us all from a worse sin, and that is our lack of love for others. To love, is the fulfillment of the law, even of sexual law. When we love our neighbour, we will not do any wrong against him or her. This fulfils the law, not our violent punishments.
But we have unfortunate doctrines about punishment being needed to fulfil the law, and we read the cross in line with these doctrines. But this isn’t the heart of God and it isn’t what his cross is about. It is not about God punishing his Son to fulfil the law. We have misread God, because we love violence. God calls us to overcome evil with good, just as his cross did.
Law isn’t fulfilled by punishment, but by love and service. This is what Jesus taught us all when he met with the woman caught in adultery. He was moving us from the Old Testament cultures, which were ordered, regulated and limited by law, to open our eyes to what God is really like.
But Jesus wasn’t teaching us that sexual immorality is ok. Going against God’s creation plan for our lives brings us many hardships. He didn’t come to add to those hardships. The hardships are punishment enough. He came to help us out of them.
Genesis One & Two
So, there is no confusion about the teaching of Jesus. He was fully for the sexual morality of Genesis one and two, creation morality, but he also focused on other critical issues. These are the issues of self-centeredness that rule our hearts, producing the kind of societies that bring hurt into people’s lives. Selfish society produces abuse, and this sometimes leads people into sin, and then society condemns them for that sin.
Hurt produces the environment in which sexual immoralities develop and in which more people become victims of these abuses. We may not have fallen into these sins, but into others instead, still as victims of our fallen world. Jesus saw this woman as a victim and helped to set her free. He reserved the harsher words for others who had greater opportunities to bring change to society, but instead served only themselves.
Does that mean that one kind of sin is ok, while others are not? Paul said all sins bring destruction to us and those around us. They are all community destroyers. Paul listed them together, immorality, with greed, dishonesty and anger against others. These all destroy us. And they all take us out of the kingdom of God. They all bring about the fruit of death. Jesus didn’t die so we could continue in these things “saved.” He died to save us from these things, to turn us to a reconciled living with each other. This new life brings about the fruit of eternal living.
God’s heart is not condemning, but redeeming, rescuing a nation of slaves, and rescuing us from our slavery to ourselves. What we see in both Jesus and Paul is a Genesis one and two view of sexuality and marriage. This isn’t a cultural view, because our cultures, even the Hebrew culture, often deviated from this in many ways.
This creational reality doesn’t change for us. If we shift from this reality as a community, our community will open the door to lowering the value of all human life. And if it is the value of human life that is at stake, which matters to God much more than his own honour, then the church’s response must be to care about community restoration through serving.
Jesus was for sinners, for them all, in whatever view they held about things. He wanted to bring a change of heart to us all. He wouldn’t get into camps. They often tried to trap him with questions. Like the question about Rome: would he stand for the Jewish zealots, or for the Roman blasphemy. But people on both sides needed his heart surgery. Questions like this, asked on our media today, are self-serving.
Treating issues this way is politics. Our sexual morality is not a political issue. Jesus was about people. Jesus spoke to people about themselves, not about political issues. We don’t treat people as an issue. We listen to each other, learn from each other, and desire that God’s liberty come into all our hearts. This isn’t about what side we are on, but about being set free as people.
It’s not like the church can be arrogant and the world has no check on our behaviour. Especially when the church becomes part of the nation’s culture, many nominal believers enter it, or even believers who fall and sin. The world corrects in these cases and that is good. But they correct because they know from the church what is right. But God’s revelation isn’t only in the church. Even Jethro, a Midianite priest, had valuable counsel for Israel. God’s light is in all our hearts.
We need to maintain our freedom to speak on sexual morality. But it doesn’t matter if people agree with us or not. Rather, we share in a loving community, that lives and demonstrates the truth. Arguing about these things in our media breeds hatred amongst us. No one who hates is right. The only winner there is satan. Both sides of the debate in sexual morality bully and bring sanctions against those who disagree with them. They are both wrong. This isn’t love. It is divisive and manipulative. God isn’t like that. All our hearts need surgery.