A few years ago Andrew, my no.2 son, came home with a WWJD wristband. For the uninitiated, WWJD stands for ‘What Would Jesus Do”. It’s part of a movement that seeks to help Christians make godly decisions. When faced with a decision they are to ask themselves what Jesus would have done in a similar position.
I’ve always had mixed feelings about the WWJD approach. Instead of asking what Jesus would do, it may be preferable to ask what would Jesus have me do. Jesus, while He was on earth, was a single Jewish male who died at age 33. Kinda hard for a Christian lady to imagine WWJD when deciding if she should date a particular guy. But easier and more appropriate to ask what Jesus would have her do.
Recently, I have been thinking that the WWJD approach does have its value. But we must take seriously what Jesus actually did. I am thinking of incidents like Jesus’ treatment of the woman caught in adultery recorded for us in John 7:53 – 8:11.
Now the divinity of Christ is a fundamental cornerstone of Christ belief. That means He was behind the writing of Deuteronomy 22:23-24 and Ezekiel 16:38- 40. The divinely commanded punishment for adultery is death by stoning. The Ezekiel passage in particular lumps adultery together with murder. The blatant violation of the marriage covenant was as destructive as murder. Both acts violated the image of God. Both, if left unchecked, would destroy the very fabric of society.
But when Jesus, the author of the law, actually encounters an adulterer, he chooses not to implement the letter of the law. He does not dispute the indictment of the crowd. The woman was guilty. Indeed she ought to be stoned to death. And Jesus invites all that have no sin to toss the first killing rock. No one does. Indeed Jesus is the only one qualified to carry out the sentence. And he chooses not to.
If you are tempted to yell cheap grace, fast forward to Chapter 19 of the Gospel of John. Take a fresh look at Jesus’ passion. Sin must be paid for. The adulterous women indeed deserved to die. But Jesus would die in her place. The only one who had the right to carry out the judgment absorbs the deathly payment.
The woman too had a part to play. She does what is required to receive the grace of God. She accepts her guilt. She could have railed and ranted that it wasn’t fair, that the adulterous male partner was not punished too. She could have given all the mitigating circumstances that she believed led to her fall. But she does none of this. She knows that she had violated God’s law. She knew she deserved to die. It would seem that the basis for receiving God’s forgiveness is to realize that you don’t deserve it.
And what did Jesus do? Here is the closing exchange between God and the adulterous woman.
“Where are your accusers? Didn’t even one of them condemn you?” “No, Lord,” she said. And Jesus said, “Neither do I. Go and sin no more.” (John 8:10-11 NLT)
The goal of the exercise is not that for the adulterer to go back to a life of sexual sin. She is freed from the penalty of sin to resume a life of holiness. She is to sin no more.
You won’t be surprised that this passage of Scripture was not too popular in the early church. The church then was patriarchal and was seen as morally suspect by the non-Christian populace. (The church had love feasts, mind you. Nod, nod, wink, wink.) There was fear that if the full implications of Jesus action in this passage were to be highlighted, it might encourage Christian women to have looser morals.
So if we are to let WWJD be our guiding light we better be prepared for where it leads us. It may lead us, as in the case, to a Jesus who is much more gracious than most of us. Like the early church, we are afraid of grace. We are afraid that if we let God’s grace flow freely we will encourage sin. So we tighten up the legalistic screws. We pile up the punishments when people fall into sin.
But history has shown that tightening up the legalistic screws does not get rid of sin. (Look at the experience of the Pharisees and living religions today that take a punitive route to ensure holiness.) It only drives sin underground where it sometimes morphs into things like spiritual pride and a judgmental spirit.
The fact is all of us have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. The adulterous woman is finally everyman and everywoman. If you see yourself as holier than the adulterous woman than this episode may indeed disturb you. But if you see your moral condition as similar to the woman caught in adultery, than you can only be in awe of the expensive and expansive grace of God.
So, when we are confronted with a brother or sister who has sinned, WWJD? We know what He didn’t do. He didn’t excuse sin or explain it away. He did not waive the penalty of sin. He took it upon himself. But in the presence of a sinner who knew that she had sinned and offered no excuse, he extended grace and the exhortation to a life of holiness. That is what Jesus did. How often does the church imitate her Lord in this matter?
Your brother, SooInn