Beautiful Encounters: When Jesus Strips the Labels Off

Yesterday Erin Davis delivered eight talks for a LIVE recording session for radio. Her messages were based off her book Beautiful Encounters: The Presence of Jesus Changes Everything—and these recordings are set to be aired next year on the Revive Our Hearts broadcast. I’m blogging on her messages to share some of the content with you before you tune in on the radio!

 

"When people look at me, all they see is ________________________."

 

What words would you use to fill in that blank? How do other people define you? For that matter—how do you define yourself?

We all lug different types of labels around every day:

  • If you make people laugh, maybe you're the funny girl.
  • If you wrestle with the scale, maybe you label yourself overweight.
  • If you're a perfectionist with an image to maintain, maybe you strive to look like you've got it "all together" spiritually.

But no one wants their identity boiled down to one thing, even if the label is a strength, a talent, or a gift. Even our "positive" labeling is heavily burdensome . . . and when our labels are actually sin, despair and shame are quick to engulf.

In John 7:53–8:11, we meet an unnamed woman. Your Bible might title this section The Woman Caught in Adultery or The Adulterous Woman.

That titling is an accurate reflection of how she was seen; when the crowd holding rocks looked at her, they didn't see her. They saw adultery—full stop.

Jesus is in the business of dealing with our labels.

Some of you know what this feels like. Maybe it's because of a choice you made in the past, like abortion—or maybe it's because of an ongoing sin struggle, like anger. We think: when people look at me, this is all they see.

But Jesus is in the business of dealing with our labels.

The woman in the story did sin. She was caught in the act. There was no denying her guilt. Even though the religious leaders were out of whack spiritually, they actually weren't being unreasonable; according to Jewish law, the punishment she deserved was to be stoned.

Imagine with me for a moment:

Your head is down. You're shaking, wondering who is going to take the first shot. You brace your body for impact. You keep your eyes tightly shut.

Suddenly, you notice that it's quiet. You slowly open one eye—then the next.

All your accusers are gone. Jesus is the only one standing there. There isn't a rock in sight.

Jesus stood up and said to her, "Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?"

He wasn't asking because He wanted to know; Jesus knew her accusers were gone. He had watched them leave one by one.

When Grace Engulfs Sin

He was about to teach her about grace, but He wanted to get to the heart of this issue: His grace was bigger than her sin.

The punishment for sin is death (Romans 6:23)—but God's free gift is life. Instead of death, Jesus offered the adulterous woman forgiveness.

So did her sins go unpunished? Did He let her off the hook? After all, that's what the crowd of accusers was worried would happen. They were concerned about justice.

But God is both loving and just. He didn't let her off the hook; He offered to hang there for her instead. The theological word for what Jesus offered her that day is propitiation. Which means . . . full payment.

1 John 4:10 says it this way: "In this is love, not that we have loved God but that He loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins."

He makes the full payment for our sin-debt—and He is the payment.

That's why this encounter is so radical.

Because Jesus is God, He was the only one in the crowd that day with the authority to condemn her. But He did not. Instead, He dealt with her labels.

It's worth noticing. The threat of punishment was not enough to motivate this woman to change. She must have known that adultery was punishable by death; she may have even heard stories of other Jewish women being punished like she almost was.

We aren't told if this woman went away and left her life of sin, but we do know that encounters with Jesus' grace are transforming.

Perhaps she went on to be:

  • the grace-filled woman
  • the prayerful woman
  • the faithful woman
  • the radical woman . . . who told many, many other women how Grace was available for them too.

Who Are You, Really?

Some of us have worn our labels so long, they seem stitched into the fiber of our being. Sometimes we even like our labels, because they're comfortable and we know how they work and they seem to provide us with security. But they pale in contrast with the new labels Jesus wants to put on you. Here's just a taste:

  • You are a child of God and co-heir with Christ. (Romans 8:16–17)
  • You have moved from not my people to my people, from not beloved to beloved. (Romans 9:25)
  • You are forgiven. Not because you've earned it, not because you deserve it, but for Jesus' name's sake. (1 John 2:12)

What labels are you wearing today? Ask the Lord to reveal them to you, and share with us in the comments. 

Then . . . let's ask the Lord for a radical encounter with His grace, and rifle through His Word on a hunt for a brand new set of labels.

Did you discover God’s Truth today?

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About the Author

Lindsey Wagstaffe

Lindsey Wagstaffe

Lindsey Wagstaffe's greatest passion is to see the glory of Christ, cherish Him unreservedly, and assist others in doing the same. She treasures the family and church that God has blessed her with, and lives outside of San Francisco with her parents and two younger sisters.

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