In the Gospel of John, there is a curious tale about a woman caught in the act of adultery, dragged by Pharisees to the presence of Christ, and surrounded by a crowd all too ready to stone her to death. Caught somewhere between political intrigue and biblical soap opera, Jesus responds to this would-be trap by saying, “Let him who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her” (John 8:7). One by one, the mob goes away and stones fall to the ground, loosed by pierced hearts and weakened hands. I like to imagine a resounding, thunderous boom as each stone met earth with the magnificent weight of grace.
After the crowd is gone, Jesus asks the woman in a manner bordering on rhetorical, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?” When she answers no, Jesus responds, “Neither do I condemn you; go, and from now on sin no more” (John 8:10-11).
How like that woman we all are, caught in sin and shamed by our accusers. But then Christ intervenes on our behalf, protecting us from accusation and death alike, pardoning our sin, and giving us leave to live free from bondage (John 10:10).
And yet, oh, how quickly we forget.
When encountering those sinners—that is, those individuals audacious enough to have aired their flaws publicly— many Christians join in shameful harmony with the deriding shouts of their accusers rather than offering grace and protection. I mean, the very term “sinners” slithers from the tongue like a curse. It is almost as if at some point along the way, some of us decided to pick those stones up again and wind back our arms. All the while forgetting we are sinners too, whether publicly or privately. To get caught up in how wrong others’ actions are or how foolish they themselves seem—judging is seductively easy, is it not? And in that easy seduction, Christ is hidden and the weight of grace forgotten.
Take a moment and consider how their sin, those outward actions by which we are so inclined to judge them, are actually symptoms of an issue of the heart. It is after such a consideration that grace can start to shine. The issue of the heart is that it is broken. Their souls remember Eden, and they are brokenhearted and mourning in the wake of its loss.
I am reminded of when I was in high school and a close friend of mine lost his father unexpectedly. In his anger, confusion, and hurt, he sought comfort in drugs and alcohol. I must confess that too often I have been judgmental of those who use drugs or drink excessively, a great hypocrisy in light of my own life journey. Even knowing these were horrible, unhealthy decisions, though, it was hard to cast judgement over him. I knew how grieved he was and how it made his mind and heart murky with pain, just as I knew he did not have a relationship with Christ. So rather than render judgement and think him a sinful fool for responding to his father’s death in such a reckless way, I was wrought with compassion for him because I knew his actions were an outward reflection of an inward hurt. In that moment of realization, the grace of God seemed so great there was no room left for judgement. And so I attempted to approach my friend with concern, not condemnation. Just as Christ approached the woman caught in adultery. Just as Christ approaches me. Just as Christ approaches you.
In reflecting on how Christ has approached me and reconciled my prodigal heart to God, I have been convinced of two monumental truths. The first is that my outward sins may look different from those I see in others, but they are still many. I may not party hard or sleep around, but I certainly have other damaging habits. I speak harshly to others, cultivate my ego like a fine garden, and most disappointingly, and to my everlasting shame, I withhold the grace and love that others need. So my outward reflections, my sins, may appear different from others, but we all share the same inward hurt. We are all broken-hearted and sinful (Romans 3:23). That creates a common ground for us, and where there is common ground, there is common grace.
The second truth has to do with specific grace, that is, salvation. I have received salvation, and am receiving sanctification. In the ongoing process of reconciliation to God, I become accountable to the body of believers by the biblical standards set forth in Scripture. When I misstep, the Spirit convicts, and my brothers and sisters in Christ have the right to keep me accountable. They have the right, in grace, to call me out and keep me stayed on the course of righteousness. Here, proper judgement from and accountability to Christian peers, with a hefty measure of grace, is wholly legitimate (Galatians 6:1).
However, there are those not yet part of the body of Christ whom we too often try to judge by the same measure of validity, by the biblical standard. But they have not yet begun reconciliation with God. They are accountable for their wrong actions, yes, but only to God. We do not have the right to judge or hold them accountable to the standard by which we live because they do not yet know it.
My fellow believers, please hear me. Feel the weight of grace, and lay down your stones. We are to love because He first loved us (1 John 4:19). So may we confront sin, as Christ would, and stand against it. But may we also confront those committing the sins as Christ would, with compassion and not condemnation—all the while remembering that “God shows His love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8). May it be our most joyous honor and responsibility to reflect that love to others.
Finally, to anyone reading this who does not yet know Christ, please forgive those in the church who have cast stones at you. Please forgive me for casting stones at you. We are not always so good at showing you the sort of grace and love we have been shown. But please also know that there is a remedy for your hurt, no matter what kind of hurt that may be.
His name is Christ, and the weight of His grace is sufficient for every broken heart.