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The Gifts of the Giver — John 8:1–11

FAITH, ITSELF A GIFT OF GOD, is the willingness to receive the gifts of God without insisting upon either our worthiness or our unworthiness. If we consider ourselves worthy (which we are not), we refuse the Giver by implying that the gift is something which ought to be given. In that case, the gift is not a gift of unmerited love, but reward for good conduct.

By the same token, if we insist upon being unworthy (which we are), we refuse the Giver by implying that the gift is something we ought not to be given until we deserve to receive it. In that case, the gift is not a gift because we refuse it as a self-punishment for sin.

In both instances we seek to justify ourselves: in the former by pride, in the latter by false humility. In neither instance are we willing to be justified by the grace of the Giver, who knows that our pretension to pride and our pretense of humility are equally ungrateful responses. The two are but opposite sides of the same sin: self-centered works-righteousness.

The gospel throws down a gauntlet to all who think they can save themselves by humble pride or proud humility. Our only justification is to be forgiven of both our worthiness (virtues) and our unworthiness (vices), our self-righteousness and our unrighteousness, and to take satisfaction in neither.

By definition grace is a gift freely given. If it is to be possessed, it must be freely received. Grace unconditionally received is the meaning of justification by grace through faith alone.

What then of the woman caught in adultery? Adultery is unfaithfulness. We are all “caught” in it. We are all unfaithful to God. That is why it is dangerous to throw stones unless we want to throw stones at ourselves. “Let him who is without sin among you be the first to throw a stone…” (John 8:7).

The scribes and Pharisees went away unrighteous, unrepentant, and condemned. They were “caught” by their refusal of grace and thus were trapped in their guilt. The woman “caught” in adultery went away righteous, repentant, and not condemned. She was freed by her acceptance of grace and thus was not imprisoned in her sin.

It is all a question of how we seek to be justified. Our works of keeping the law do not justify us, nor can we justify our works. Only God’s grace—forgiveness—has the power to put right what is wrong, be it the sin of law or the law of sin. Both condemn us for failing to do God’s will, which is to love unconditionally and to forgive unequivocally. Since neither of these is humanly possible, unconditional love and forgiveness must be accomplished for us by God through Jesus Christ.

Righteousness, too, is the gift of the Giver. It is never ours. It is still God’s when it is given to us. “I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me” (Gal. 2:20).

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ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED AS “Biblical Insights for Christian Living,” TODAY’S WORD FOR ADULTS,