Legalists Play “Gotcha!”

The One Year® Chronological Bible, NKJV (Tyndale, 2013), October 14

“Then the scribes and the Pharisees brought to Him a woman caught in adultery” (Jn. 8:3).

UnknownLegalists play “gotcha” at the expense of others. Imagine being the woman caught in adultery by Pharisees at the break of dawn. They “set her in the midst” of the early morning crowd and seem thrilled with their early morning catch (8:3). No doubt she is ashamed, humiliated, and only half-dressed. One wonders what happened to the man with whom she committed adultery.

The Pharisees catch this woman to catch Jesus—“‘Now Moses, in the law, commanded us that such should be stoned. But what do You say?’ This they said, testing Him, that they might have something of which to accuse Him” (8:5-6).

Jesus responds by ignoring the spectacle of the woman but addressing her accusers: ”He who is without sin among you, let him throw a stone at her first” (8:7). Jesus is the ONLY one without sin, yet He doesn’t throw a stone at her.

Jesus doesn’t come to stone or condemn people; He comes to redeem guilty sinners. Unforgiven people are condemned already. All are in need of grace and redemption, including the Pharisees, who are blind to their need. Legalists typically are unforgiving people who condemn others but are in need of the same grace and redemption Jesus offers to guilty sinners.

The inclusion of this story in John’s Gospel reveals God’s value of women, Christ’s redeeming grace, and the coldness of legalism. The woman leaves the scene forgiven, cleansed, and changed, while the religious men just leave—ashamed.

This and other scenes in the Gospels highlight the attitudes of legalists:

  • Legalists (women may be Legalists as well) delight in shaming others caught in sin.
  • Legalists exclude those unlike themselves.
  • Legalists establish a list of personal convictions by which they measure and approve or disapprove of others. They use their list of acceptable habits and behaviors to make others feel inferior and dirty for not being like them.
  • Legalists love rule-keeping which “quantifies spirituality” while neglecting grace, mercy, and the acceptance of others unlike themselves.
  • Legalists concern themselves with image rather than transparency.
  • Legalists justify harsh criticism of others by using their “spiritual gifts” of discernment.
  • Legalists attack and reject those who walk in freedom.
  • Legalists are self-appointed cultural police. They monitor the clothes worn by others, the music and entertainment enjoyed by others, etc.
  • Legalists view themselves as better than and above others.

Questions from today’a chronological Bible reading (Jn. 7:1-8:20; Lk. 9:51-62; Mt. 8:18-22):
Why does Jesus oppose His disciples in their desire to call fire down on the Samaritans? What does their response to the Samaritans’ rejection of Christ reveal about people who follow Christ but misunderstand Jesus’ goal?
Describe Jesus’ standards for fellowship. How are those standards reduced today?
Jesus’ message and presence create a disturbance everywhere He goes, which divides people. What is the basis of this division?