© Original content written by James R. Carlson
We often view the perspectives of liberalism and conservatism as polar opposites. But what if they were two sides of the same coin? It may be hard for some to see but perhaps we can learn something new from the greatest teacher of all time – Jesus Christ.
Conservatism is often called the philosophy of tradition. At the core of conservative thinking is a belief in a transcendent order of body of natural law (so said Russell Kirk). Morals is at the foundation of conservative thinking.
Liberalism is often considered the philosophy of love. Liberals often aspire to a social gospel and neglect the true Gospel of Jesus Christ, which is the forgiveness of sin – the true Love of God. However, love is a central part of liberalism as liberals seek social justice for all who suffer needlessly in society.
Conservatives are often criticized by liberals for not caring about people whereas liberals are criticized by conservatives for not standing firm on moral principles. The opposition between the two is understandable but the division is a false if we look at the example of Jesus who was confronted with a problem one day.
Religious hypocrites spied out a woman who was committing adultery. They captured her, removed her, and may not have allowed her to put her clothes on when they presented her to Jesus. We may ask of those who found her, how did they know she was committing adultery? Did one of their friends trap her?
Jesus was a teacher (prophet, God, etc.) who taught that love fulfills the Law of Moses. The religious rulers of Israel were threatened by Jesus and wanted to trap him in his words so they could have something to accuse him of. They brought the woman they caught in adultery and put her before him and asked him a hard question.
2 Now early in the morning He [Jesus] came again into the temple, and all the people came to Him; and He sat down and taught them. 3 Then the scribes and Pharisees brought to Him a woman caught in adultery. And when they had set her in the midst, 4 they said to Him, “Teacher, this woman was caught in adultery, in the very act. 5 Now Moses, in the law, commanded us that such should be stoned. But what do You say?” 6 This they said, testing Him, that they might have something of which to accuse Him. But Jesus stooped down and wrote on the ground with His finger, as though He did not hear. [John 8:1-6]
Jesus flat out ignored them. Perhaps the first thing we should do with religious hypocrites is to ignore them as well. Jesus not only ignored them, he understood the dilemma they put him in. Jesus was teaching that Love fulfills the Law of Moses. His dilemma was that if he said to forgive her, he would have been following the Law of Love but would have also denied the Law of Moses (the traditional law with moral principles). However, if he said to stone her, then he would have followed the Law of Moses but denied the Law of Love. No matter what Jesus did, if he answered the religious rulers according to their direction, he would have lost and they would have won. So Jesus ignored them. He then answered them according to his perspective and not theirs.
7 So when they continued asking Him, He raised Himself up and said to them, “He who is without sin among you, let him throw a stone at her first.” 8 And again He stooped down and wrote on the ground. 9 Then those who heard it, being convicted by their conscience, went out one by one, beginning with the oldest even to the last. And Jesus was left alone, and the woman standing in the midst.
Jesus also taught to judge not lest we be judged for with the judgement we give we will also be judged by it. Jesus knew that each of those who condemned the woman caught in adultery were also guilty of sin. But the Greek text may actually say, “He who is without [THE SAME] sin among you, let him throw a stone at her first.” Was Jesus saying that because each of them had already committed adultery they were willing to judge her? In either case, each of the people who had stones, ready to kill her for her sin, dropped them when they considered their own sin.
After they all left, Jesus then confronted the woman who had committed adultery.
10 When Jesus had raised Himself up and saw no one but the woman, He said to her, “Woman, where are those accusers of yours? Has no one condemned you?” 11 She said, “No one, Lord.” And Jesus said to her, “Neither do I condemn you; go and sin no more.”
No one was left to condemn her. The Old Testament law (Law of Moses) says that if two people are caught in adultery, they are both to be brought out in public and stoned to death. But the religious leaders who tested Jesus did not follow the law; perhaps they were protecting their male friend who also committed adultery with the woman. But the Law of Moses says that if only the woman is accused, she is to drink a mixture of water and dirt and if she gets sick, then she is guilty and should be stoned. But if there was no one to accuse her, then there was no punishment that the Law of Moses could provide for her sin.
In following the leadership of the Holy Spirit and not the religious rulers, Jesus was able to both keep the Law of Moses perfectly and apply the Law of Love mercifully. When the woman responded and called Jesus Lord (see Romans 10:8), she received her salvation in Christ Jesus. Jesus forgave her of her sin following the Law of Love. And Jesus also said she must not commit sin any more, following the Law of Morality (and of Moses). The love of God is not without morals, and morality is given by God because he loves us and wants us to have the best life possible.
Jesus showed that one could apply both the law of morals and the law of love at the same time. Jesus forgave the woman but rebuked her sin. We see in Jesus the perfect liberal and the perfect conservative all in one person. Jesus was not only a good teacher, he is the master teacher – Rabboni.
Pray this simple prayer:
God of heaven, I believe in Jesus Christ and what he did for me on the Cross. I believe that he paid for the penalty of my sin, which I admit I have done. I ask for and thank you for your forgiveness of my sin. Please bring me closer to you so that I may know you. By your Holy Spirit, please make in me a clean heart, a renewed spirit, and a right mind that I may do those things that are pleasing to you. Thank you God, Father of the Lord Jesus Christ, and now my Father in heaven. Thank you for loving me and for forgiving me!