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Years ago my son Christopher came home one day with a rat on his shoulder. He had bought it at a pet shop because he thought it was cool. He hadn’t bought a cage. He didn’t have rat food. He hadn’t thought about things like that. So we got a cage, and then Christopher built a very cool little house for the rat. As I recall, it was made of balsa wood, and we thought it was so cute. We went to bed that night thinking how the little rat would go to sleep in his new little house. When we got up the next morning, the house was gone, and the rat was a little fatter. Apparently, the rat ate his house. Why? Because a rat is a rat, and a rat is never going to change.
The question is, do people change? Is it possible for you to change or for me to change? I think we like the idea of change in general. Maybe you’ve thought that if you could move to a new place, you would change. Maybe you’ve thought, If I were married, then I know I would be happy, because I am not happy as a single person. Or maybe you’ve thought, Well, if I just had kids, I know I would be happy. Maybe you’ve tried a new wardrobe or even Botox.
Some people say the answer is within, but the Bible teaches the opposite. The Bible teaches that the problem is within. It says, “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked; who can know it?” (Jeremiah 17:9 NKJV)
The Bible tells the story of a woman who had been caught committing adultery. The people who found her wanted her put to death. They brought her to Jesus and threw her down on the ground in front of him. The men who brought her there didn’t care about her; they were trying to trap Jesus. And what could have been the worst day of this woman’s life turned out to be the best.
In a way, Jesus faced a dilemma. If he consented to their stoning her, it would have been an accurate thing to do according to the Mosaic Law, but it also would have been heartless. If Jesus told them to let her go, then he would have been disregarding the Mosaic Law. The way Jesus handled this was quite interesting. He stooped down and wrote something on the ground. Whatever it was, it was something very significant because they left, from the oldest to the youngest. Everyone was gone. What do you think this woman was thinking? Maybe it was, Oh, man. I am so dead right now. If these religious men could not stand before Jesus, then how could I ever stand before him?
Jesus looked and her and said, “Where are your accusers? Didn’t even one of them condemn you?” (John 8:10 NLT)
She said, “No, Lord” (verse 11).
So Jesus told her, “Neither do I. Go and sin no more” (verse 11).
Jesus didn’t just see her for what she was; he saw her for what she would become. He knew her life was going to change. God sees the same in you. He sees what you can be, not what you are and not what you were.
He told her to “go and sin no more,” which seemed like a tall order. He knew she would still sin. I am not making excuses for sin, but I am saying that we are all going to mess up. We are all going to fall short. The Bible even says that “if we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us” (1 John 1:8 NKJV). We are going to sin.
Here is what Jesus was saying: “Lady, I don’t want you to continue in this lifestyle anymore. I want you to make a break with the past. Go and sin no more. Make a change. You can do this.”
Sometimes people say, “You know, God loves me just like I am.” That is true. God does love you just like you are. But he doesn’t want to leave you that way. He wants to change you, just as he wanted to change this woman.
I think she had been so mistreated by men that she was cynical. She had never met a man like Jesus – holy, yet compassionate. Her accusers were gone, and he promised four things to her.
First, her sins had been forgiven. God will forgive us, but we have to confess our sins. A lot of times we rationalize sin. We justify it. We say, “You know what? Everyone is doing it. It is not that bad. I’m a still a good person.” To confess our sins means to agree with God about them. We need to stop making excuses for our sins. It is so easy to blame others.
Second, he promised that her sins could be forgotten. God not only forgives, but he forgets. God said, “For I will forgive their iniquity, and their sin I will remember no more” (Jeremiah 31:34). We should not choose to remember what God has chosen to forget. God can forgive and forget your sins, no matter what they are, if you will put your faith in Jesus Christ.
Third, she didn’t have to fear judgment day. Yes, there will be a judgment day. The Bible says that one day, everyone who does not believe will stand before God. Jesus said to her, “Neither do I [condemn you].” She didn’t have to fear that. It is so great to know that when we put our faith in Jesus, we are forgiven and don’t have to be afraid of judgment day. He paid the price.
Fourth, she had new power to face her problems. Jesus said, “Go and sin no more.” She could become a different person.
So can people really change? No, not by themselves. But God can change us. He can make us different people on the inside.