The story of Jesus saving the woman caught in adultery has long fascinated me. At its core, it’s a simple story. Jesus sees a woman about to be stoned for her sin. He intervenes, teaches a crucial lesson in love and forgiveness, and as a result, she lives.
But every time I read her story in John 8, I seem to uncover something more. I won’t pretend to be the source of the observation I’m about to share. It was born in someone else’s brain. But I can’t stop mulling it over.
Scripture refers to this unnamed woman simply as “the woman caught in adultery.” But notice what it doesn’t call her. It doesn’t call her “the adulterous woman.” Oh your Bible, like mine, may have a bold, italicized title above the passage that labels her “the adulterous woman.” But look again. The actual verse doesn’t say that. “The woman caught in adultery.” It’s a fine distinction — an even finer line — but don’t rush past that tiny detail.
The woman here isn’t identified by her sin. She isn’t called “adulterous”. Her sin isn’t her identity, nor is it what defines her in Jesus’s eyes. No, she’s a woman who engaged in this particular sin, a woman who’s been caught in this particular sin, and a woman who’s about to be forgiven of that particular sin.
That sin isn’t who she is.
It isn’t what she was created to be.
And it isn’t the reason Jesus saved her.
Jesus doesn’t mince words. We sin and we’re sinners. Paul and the other authors of the Bible don’t mince words either. All of us have sinned. All of us have fallen short.
So who was this woman? Someone Jesus wanted to save.
Who was she created to be? Someone worth forgiving.
Why did Jesus save her? Because her identity wasn’t bound up in her sin. Her value wasn’t in how perfect she was or in how clean a life she had lived. Her value was in who created her, why she was created, and what she would go on to do after she was saved.
We have no idea what she went on to do. But when Jesus did something amazing, it was typically followed by something amazing. So it’s pretty safe to assume she didn’t shrug off such a jaw-dropping moment and go back to old sins and an old life. You don’t forget the day you almost died and you don’t forget the person who saved you. You certainly don’t forget the day or the man who saved you when you’re a first century woman caught in adultery.
I can’t imagine it did anything less than change her forever.
God does not identify you by your sin. In fact, He sent His son so that He could separate you from your sin and reunite your soul with Him. How incredible!
Bella recently shared a quote with Rachel and I: “Satan calls you by your sin but God calls you by your name.” It’s a well-known quote but I somehow had missed it all these years. But there’s so much depth and truth in it.
You and I have sinned. We blew it at one point or another. We messed up and we deserve every stone the crowd is ready to hurl. But God disagrees. God steps in. God writes in the dirt. God scares away the stone-holders. God lifts us up. God smiles and spares us.
He calls us by our name, not by our sin. We’re a people who’ve been caught in all forms of adultery against God. All sin is a form of adultery. We have a relationship with God but we cheat on Him with… you name the sin and someone’s slipped into it. And yet He doesn’t call us adulterous. He doesn’t cast us out. He doesn’t stone us. He calls us chosen. He calls us forgiven. He calls us redeemed.
His forgiveness doesn’t negate our sin, don’t get me wrong.
It’s much better than that.
His forgiveness obliterates our sin.
Literally wipes it out of existence. We’re still blessed to remember it so we can learn from it. Grow. Know how to avoid it the next time. But on a spiritual level? It’s gone. Deceased. It is no more. It was left hanging on the cross when Jesus died and rose again, defeating death, hell and the grave.
Jesus pulls us up out of the dirt, dusts us off, spares our lives and tells us to go and try better next time, kiddo. Go and sin no more. Go into all the world and proclaim the gospel. Don’t look back down at the dirt. Don’t go back to sin. Go out and tell people about Jesus. Free from your sin. Free from your shame. Free from your adulterous heart. Free to serve Him and lead others to the One who can do the same for them.
Is there a better word to describe grace than amazing?