Doing What Jesus Did?
Jesus said unto her, “Neither do I condemn thee: go, and sin no more." John 8:11
Jesus told his disciple to "follow" him. To the fishermen who heard these words, it meant abandoning their nets and becoming the disciples of Christ, to receive his teachings, to become the founders of His church. To millions since it has meant trying to be like Jesus, showing compassion, doing good, loving our neighbors as ourselves, living lives of self-denial and sacrifice. There is no doubt that the example of Christ has been one of the most powerful civilizing forces in the history of the world.
In the last century the best seller In His Steps was read by Christians in all denominations. It was a fictional account of several people who agreed in their personal and business lives to always "do what Jesus would have done." To millions this became the sum total of Biblical ethics: "What would Jesus do?" A great deal of good was accomplished by people who tried to live by this ethic, when it was still connected to Biblical theology.
But this ethic also accomplished a great deal of evil, for a very simple reason: True morality must be the expression of Biblical faith, or people will drift into hypocrisy or sentimental mush. Some hypocrisy in the past is replaced by mounds of mush today. It is the mush that threatens to bury us.
In John 8 Jesus said to a poor sinner, "Go and sin no more." On another occasion he said to a different kind of sinner, "How can you escape the damnation of hell." (Matthew 23:33) How am I to know what to say to sinners? To some he said, "You are of your father the devil." (John 8:44) Even to Peter there were two messages, "Blessed are you, Simon Barjonah: for flesh and blood hath not revealed it unto thee, but my Father which is in heaven." (Matthew 16:17) But a few hours later, "Get thee behind me, Satan!" (Matthew 16:23) How am I supposed to know? How do I do what Jesus did?
Jesus was truly a man, just as we are. He is therefore the perfect example of what a man ought to be. But He is also truly God, and there's the rub.
If I do not think that He is God, then I cannot understand what happened when he told the adulterous woman, "Neither do I condemn thee. Go and sin no more." If he is not God, then his words are simply pious platitudes that may serve to help the woman, but then again may not.
Are these words to be my example? Is this what I am supposed to tell sinners of every stripe, "Neither do I condemn thee. Go and sin no more." Do I say that to the sodomite, the fornicator, the thief, the liar and the cheat? Will I say it to the unbelieving, vow-breaking clergyman? What about the gangster and the crooked politician? Shall I pat myself on the back, wallow in the mush of sentimentality, and bask in my own self-esteem? I am quite a decent fellow, after all, for I am "doing what Jesus would do." In the first place, the modern sinner could care less what the average preacher says. Twentieth century man is tired of platitudes and pious inanities. There is no small amount of smugness and self-righteousness when the liberal intones, "Neither do I condemn thee; Go and sin no more." Who do they think they are?
But there is a great difference between Jesus saying "Neither do I condemn thee: go, and sin no more" and me saying it. Only God has power to justify the sinner, and justification is a free act of his grace and mercy, dependant upon faith. When a man believes he is justified, he is adopted as a son of God, and the Holy Spirit is sent forth into his heart (Galatians 4:6). The word of Christ is therefore the word of power, the original power of the Son of God.
Jesus could say to the woman, "Neither do I condemn thee," and it was the word of justification and power, for He knew her heart and the faith that was even then blooming there. By the same token he knew the hearts of the Pharisees, read their rebellion and wickedness and could pronounce upon them the awful decree of the God of Judgment. You and I can do neither, for we cannot read the hearts of men.
Justification does not come by pity or by benevolent feelings, but by faith in Jesus and his shed blood. When the ground of justification becomes pity and emotion, courts become perverted, criminals are set free, capital punishment is derided, children are not chastened, churches no longer practice discipline, and power in society is transferred to the guilty, the lawless, and the wicked.
The true minister is a minister of God's grace, not the originator of it. The minister's message must be the word of truth: if you have newness of life, if you believe, if you repent, if you turn from your wickedness, then you are forgiven, you are cleansed, you have power to become the sons of God. It is frightful arrogance, and fearful blasphemy for a minister to pronounce forgiveness where God has not pronounced forgiveness.
"Beloved, follow not that which is evil, but that which is good. He that doeth good is of God: but he that doeth evil hath not seen God." (I John 1:10)
On the other hand, the minister has no right to say, "how shall you escape the damnation of hell?" on his own. Only God knows the heart and the spiritual condition. Because he is the Son of God, the words of Jesus Christ came with authority. The preacher must always keep this in mind. He can only say, as the minister of Christ, "If you do not believe; if you harden your heart; if you remain unconverted, you shall die in your sins." The preacher's jurisdiction is ministerial, not original.
When Jesus said, "Go and sin no more," His words carried the weight of divine authority and power. If he was only a man, his words are pious advice; if he is God, his words are life-changing.
Liberal churchmen taught America to "follow Jesus," but they omitted to tell us that Jesus is God. And we have been "following Jesus." We told criminals, "Go and sin no more" and released them. We told fornicators and adulterers, "Go and sin no more." But we discovered that our words had no power. We went and sinned some more. And some more. And a whole bunch more. But we continued to tell each other, "Neither do I condemn thee; go and sin no more." We continued to sin and sin, until our inner cities became war zones, our families were in shambles, our churches social centers for humanistic programs and psychological analysis. Governments became corrupt, as sinful legislators told each other to "go and sin no more," but helped themselves to the public funds.
As we discovered that our words had no power, we gave up and no longer told men to go and sin no more. It didn't do any good anyway, so we just contented ourselves with the pious "Neither do I condemn thee." Besides, no one seemed to know what was wrong anymore. So we accepted sodomy, blasphemy, fornication, idolatry, and unbelief. Our disobedience became more and more expansive. We flattered ourselves that we were "following Jesus" as we broke down all the barriers of morality, decency, faith. We forgot that we are but men. Only the words of God have power and authority. But we didn't believe that God had any words; we thought Him to be as empty as we are. Empty preachers spoke empty words to empty people.
Biblical ethics is not rooted in "following Jesus," but in the doctrines of God and man. Man is the image of God, and is called to serve as prophet, priest, and king under God. He must love God with all his heart, soul, mind, and strength, and his neighbor as himself. The proper question is not "What would Jesus do?" but "What has the Lord commanded me?" A figurative rendering of "Follow me," can never replace the clear precept of Christ: "If you love me, keep my commandments."
And so the whirlwind comes. A generation is arising who has not heard of faith in God, of regeneration, of righteousness; a generation that has been so little chastened and disciplined that they expect to be accepted no matter what they do, or what they believe; a generation without values, without honor, without the fear of God. We neglected to tell them the words of God; we only babbled something about being nice and tolerant. Where will we hide when the storm comes, if Jesus is not God?
Pastor C. W. Powell
Trinity Covenant Church
6050 Del Paz Drive
Colorado Springs, CO 80918
Email: Write Pastor Powell