Jesus went to the Mount of Olives. Early in the morning he came again to the temple. All the people came to him and he sat down and began to teach them. The scribes and the Pharisees brought a woman who had been caught in adultery; and making her stand before all of them, they said to him, “Teacher, this woman was caught in the very act of committing adultery. Now in the law Moses commanded us to stone such women. Now what do you say?” They said this to test him, so that they might have some charge to bring against him. Jesus bent down and wrote with his finger on the ground. When they kept on questioning him, he straightened up and said to them, “Let anyone among you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.” And once again he bent down and wrote on the ground. When they heard it, they went away, one by one, beginning with the elders; and Jesus was left alone with the woman standing before him. Jesus straightened up and said to her, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?” She said, “No one, sir.” And Jesus said, “Neither do I condemn you. Go your way, and from now on do not sin again.”
Have you noticed how often people use Scripture to justify their actions? Those who drink alcohol will invariably point to the Miracle at Cana where Jesus turned water into wine as an endorsement that it is okay to drink, no matter that Scripture constantly warns that drunkenness is one of the things that keeps us out of heaven. See Galatians 5:19-21 as a case in point. But we rarely get to that because we know just a few stories in the Bible. This is one of them.
Another is the story that we just read about the woman caught in adultery. Whenever people are caught messing around with other people, defenders immediately point to this story, quoting the famous saying by Lord Jesus: “Let anyone among you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone” (John 8:7). And, then, to bolster their argument they quote something else he said: “Do not judge, and you will not be judged” (Luke 6:37).
Have you heard the term “selective hearing”? It refers to when a person appears to only hear what is important to them. This is what is happening here. We ignore the words that Jesus spoke to the woman at the end. He said, “Go your way, and from now on do not sin again” (John 8:11). There are two things implicit in this statement. One, he unequivocally indicates what the woman did was sin; and two, he warns her against continuing a life of sin.
We cannot use these stories to excuse impenitent sin. Impenitence is not feeling shame or regret about one's actions or attitudes. We all have moments of weakness and failure. Paul did too. We know that he struggled and we know that he fell. But he never justified his sins, exercising every effort possible to walk on the straight and narrow path. See Romans 7:1-17; Philippians 3:12-14; 1 Corinthians 9:26-27.
And he didn’t let his own instances of failure stop him from “judging” people who were living in impenitent sin. His letters to the Corinthians are filled with warnings and rebuke. He also took strict action against people who lived in open sin or taught falsely. He could do this because he followed some other advice our Lord had given. He had said: “Stop judging by mere appearances, but instead judge correctly” (John 7:24).
Using this story as a justification for sin is a sin in itself, so let us not use it as a cover-up anymore. It isn’t.