In my last article, we left off with a few questions to ponder about our view toward lust. Whether we hold any double standards when it comes to lust, whether we view one gender ultimately “owning” the sin, and whether we view ourselves with humility, knowing we’re sinners, we also know with utmost confidence that if we’re indeed in Christ, there’s no condemnation.
But we also left off pondering this question: How does Jesus move toward women struggling with sexual sin?
Jesus and the Sexually Immoral
The Biblical account contains many characters who choose to drink from the broken cistern of illicit sex and lust. David is someone who covets another man’s wife and abuses his position of power by demanding Bathsheba be brought to his bedroom. Potiphar’s wife desires what is forbidden, tempting Joseph daily, hoping to sleep with this handsome young man behind her husband’s back. Between Rahab and Judah, Solomon and Gomer, the Bible is full of men and women who sin against their bodies, against one another, and ultimately against God. But it’s in the New Testament where we see sexual sinners encounter and interact with Jesus Christ Himself. And who are those people?
Those who come face to face with Christ as trapped by, caught in, or defined by sexual sin all happen to be women. This reveals to us that sexual sin isn’t just a man’s problem. How in the world the Church came to think this when the gospels record Jesus with these women is purely a wonder. As we look at how Jesus interacts with these women, we are given instruction on how we ought to view ourselves and one another.
These women, like us, feel immense shame for their sin. They’re condemned by the law, like the woman caught in adultery; they’re shunned as outcasts, like the Samaritan woman at the well; and they’re taunted and ridiculed, like the prostitute who anointed Jesus’ feet. But Jesus doesn’t shun these women. He doesn’t look at them with disgust. He instead seeks them while they are sinners and frees them from their sins.
We’re Not Dolls & We’re Not Monsters
We’re given two beautiful truths through these stories. First, Jesus doesn’t view these women as monsters. And second, Jesus doesn’t view these women as porcelain dolls. He graciously receives them in spite of their disobedience, and yet He’s not afraid to break them with the revelation of the truth. He knows they are both unholy and made in the image of God. He both upholds their dignity and calls them to repentance. In short, Jesus gives these women both grace and truth.
To the adulterous woman in John 8, Jesus gives astonishing grace when He assures her, “I do not condemn you.” Having recently been caught by the Pharisees in “the very act” of committing adultery, this woman is forcibly taken and thrown before the feet of Jesus. Most likely shaking and sobbing, she lies vulnerable on the floor, surrounded by hands raised with stones to kill her for her plainly deceitful, unlawful act. But Jesus doesn’t hold a stone. Instead of casting condemnation, He pours upon her forgiveness and freedom.
Why can Jesus do this? Was it merely sentiment for her shameful state when He told her, “I do not condemn you”? On the contrary, it was justice. Stepping in her place, He would willingly receive the just punishment she deserved. She wouldn’t be stoned by the leaders of the law because He instead would fulfill the law by being “stoned” for her. The wrath of God would fall on Him and not her; on the cross He would stand in her place. Thus He tells her, “I do not condemn you,” for He truly would be condemned for her. But He also gives her the command, “Go and sin no more.” He gives her grace and then the power of truthful living. Christ is able to give her such a command because He would accomplish victory for her by rising from the dead. She is given grace to live again and the power to live in the truth.
The Samaritan woman in John 4 has a more complicated situation, but Jesus still graciously sheds His love and light on her messy past and present. We learn from the account that she’s an outcast in her community from the fact that she, contrary to custom, draws water from the well alone, i.e., not in the companionship of others. This solo visit reveals her ostracized status, most likely from the complicated, messy life she’s lived, a life Jesus intimately knows. When Jesus asks her to call for her husband, she replies that she has none. Jesus agrees that she doesn’t since she’s had five husbands and the man she’s sleeping with presently isn’t her husband at all.
It’s important to see that this woman is both a sinner and sufferer, for her previous husbands would have either died or divorced her, causing her great grief in life. Jesus knows about her grief and doesn’t judge her for it, yet He reveals that she’s filling this aching void with an illicit relationship. Though her community rejects her for a past filled with suffering and a present filled with sin, Jesus moves toward her in grace and truth as He offers her living water. He offers her Himself. No more will she satisfy her thirst with another man. He alone will satisfy her thirst, and she will drink from a cistern that isn’t broken and never runs dry.
Lastly, there’s an account in Luke 7 of a “woman of the city, a sinner” who anoints Jesus with her tears and perfume. Most scholars believe that this “woman … who lived a sinful life” was a prostitute by trade. When this prostitute worships at Jesus’ feet in tears and joy, He doesn’t shrink back in disgust but rejoices in her worship. When Simon the Pharisee grumbles, snorting, “If this man were a prophet, He would know who is touching Him and what kind of woman she is—that she is a sinner,” Jesus rebukes him. It was apparent to all that this woman was a great sinner. But Jesus wanted all who witnessed her devotion to realize another fact: They’re all sinners like her. And the only response sinners can give to Jesus is one of great devotion and repentance, as she had done for Him. After He rebukes Simon, contrasting his own lack of devotion with this woman’s lavish, broken-hearted adoration, He tells the woman, “Your sins are forgiven.” Again, Jesus demonstrates truth (acknowledging that she had sinned) and grace (He forgives her).
What We Learn
My sisters, our sins are great. And our sins that involve sexual offense to God in thought, desire, and action must be repented of. But know that God will not shun you. He already knows and desires for you to be known by Him. He hasn’t come to condemn you but to offer you his Son Jesus, for there is no condemnation to those who trust in Christ Jesus.
He doesn’t view you as doubly shamed or ultimately cursed because you committed a “man’s sin.” He offers you something much better than the sin that so easily ensnares you. There’s no need for the deceptions, dangers, and destructiveness of sexual sin. He is all we need. Come to Him. Come to Him as the worshiping woman did long ago, perhaps fearful to be in the presence of others, they the religious and she a prostitute. But in spite of them, she went into Simon’s house because of Jesus. And she cried at His feet, adoring and anointing Him, knowing that she’s unworthy but that He deserves all worth. May you know Jesus’ acceptance of you in spite of what you’ve done because of what He has done for sinners. May His kindness lead you to repentance.
And may we within His Church follow His example. This is an admonishment for me, as well. May we never put up an unneeded barrier for people to confess in church and receive the help they need, more truly, the help they want! We do not have the power to forgive sins, but let’s not create a wall for those who need His forgiveness and the healing that comes when the Church consoles a weeping heart.
May we be His hands and feet. May He heal our hearts.
 D. A. Carson, “The Gospel According to John” (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1991), 221. In this volume of “The Pillar New Testament Commentary,” D. A. Carson explains,“Jesus exposes the whole truth (as the woman herself later admits, vv. 29, 39), but in the gentlest possible way: he commends her for her formal truthfulness, while pointing out that she has had five husbands (presumably each had died or divorced her) and the man with whom she is now sleeping is not her legal husband at all.”