Jesus, Simon, and the Sinful Woman: On Love | Luke 7:36-50
Brad O’Dell | April 30, 2023
Go ahead and turn in your Bibles to Luke 7, where we’re going to be this morning. This morning we cover the third sermon in a series that we’re calling “Conversations with Jesus.” What we’re looking at over the spring are these accounts in the Gospel of Luke—that are unique to Luke—of people who had these one-on-one encounters with Jesus and how their lives were impacted, how their lives were changed in that. Our prayer is that as we do this, as we go through this series, that each and every week as we come before the Lord and as we seek his face we would have fresh encounters with Jesus as well, and that out of this series we would walk away just a little more changed week after week as we see the goodness of who Jesus is, as we hear his words of comfort, as we hear his teaching and instruction for our lives. That’s our prayer.
The first week we looked at Jesus and Zacchaeus and saw how Jesus changed Zacchaeus’s life, and then we saw the account of Mary and Martha with Jesus. This week we actually come into an account where we have a woman who’s simply called “a sinful woman.” We don’t know her name, we don’t know much about her; she’s just known as “a sinful woman” in the passage. There’s a meal setting.
All three of these accounts that we’ve looked at are these settings where people are spending time with Jesus around meals. It just made me think right at the outset how significant these mealtimes are, and how significant a thing it can be to just open your table up and invite people and to in love try to be Jesus’ presence in that space and how Jesus can really open up hearts, peel layers back, and bring people to an understanding of who they are and an understanding of who he is—the sweetness and goodness of that. I think we see a little bit of that again in the account that we have in front of us today in the account of Jesus and this sinful woman.
Here’s how I want to work through the text today. I want to take it in chunks and just follow the flow of the passage, so I’ll read a chunk and we’ll open that up and see what there is to see, then we’ll see how it advances in the next portion as we read that.
What I’m going to do is I’m going to read Luke 7:36-39, and we’re going to see that there’s a problem that’s presented to us. So we’re going to look at the presenting problem of the scene that’s in front of us.
Then, as the account develops, we’re going to read verses 40-47. We’re actually going to see that Jesus is going to give an explanation of what’s actually going on and then redirect towards what the real problem. We’re going to look at the explanation of what the real problem is.
Then we’re going to look at verses 48-50 and we’re going to see the solution to that problem, the solution to that real problem that we see in the text.
So, that’s going to be our outline, that’s going to be our progression. Let me read verse 36, and we’ll get into it.
1. The Presenting Problem
Luke 7:36-39: “One of the Pharisees asked him to eat with him, and he went into the Pharisee's house and reclined at table. And behold, a woman of the city, who was a sinner, when she learned that he was reclining at table in the Pharisee's house, brought an alabaster flask of ointment, and standing behind him at his feet, weeping, she began to wet his feet with her tears and wiped them with the hair of her head and kissed his feet and anointed them with the ointment. Now when the Pharisee who had invited him saw this, he said to himself, ‘If this man were a prophet, he would have known who and what sort of woman this is who is touching him, for she is a sinner.’”
We see this problem in the passage, a scene that’s kind of disconcerting, something that’s a little odd to see at first and something that’s a little uncomfortable in this display with this woman. I think to understand what’s going on here we need to understand a little bit of what this meal looked like.
In the account of Jesus and Zacchaeus, we saw Jesus sitting at a meal with Zacchaeus, but this was more of a personal setting. Zacchaeus invited him into his personal house. Zacchaeus was a sinner, he was not someone who was well-respected in the religious community of that day, so it was probably just him, his household, his household servants, Jesus, and whoever Jesus brought with him—a more intimate, close space.
This meal is a little bit different. This is a respected religious leader of the area, one of the Pharisees. He probably would have had some other Pharisees and scribes that came with him, and he invited Jesus into this meal. The idea of this meal is that this would have been an open meal for others in the community to come in and to hear the discussion that was taking place. You see, Jesus was this respected teacher who had been traveling around. He taught as one with authority. Jesus also, if you were to look back on the context of Luke 7, was starting to be recognized as one of these prophets of old, someone who spoke on the authority of God in this unique way and could call people to what God had called them to and to bring it with power on them. So people were starting to say, “Is this one of the prophets? God has been silent for four hundred years; it seems like the prophets have come back in John the Baptist and in Jesus.”
What this Pharisee is doing is inviting Jesus in as a respected rabbi, as another teacher, as someone who even is speaking with this prophetic authority, and he’s going to come and he’s going to invite him to discuss things—discuss things of law, discuss things of how that applies, discuss different views that different rabbis have. This would have been something that was open to the public to listen in on.
That’s why we see that this woman is able to have access to this meal that she comes into. All we know about this woman is just how Luke describes her. He just says “a woman of the city” came in, and she was “a sinner.” That was the language of verse 37. “A woman of the city, who was a sinner.”
This starts to create a little bit of a scandal in this setting, because this was a place for respectable people who were concerned about walking holy lives before God and living lives before God. So someone who was a notorious sinner having access to this space is quite a bit different.
Not only is it scandalous that she’s present, but then her actions are even a little more scandalous, of course, right? She doesn’t just come in and listen from the back; instead, she comes up to the table where Jesus is sitting—Jesus would have been sitting on the ground with his feet kicked out behind him the way they ate meals then—and she approaches his feet, and as she does, she’s overcome with emotion, and she just starts crying—probably not hysterically; that’s not the right word. But she’s crying heavily, so her tears are falling from her face. As she does that, her hair (Jewish women usually kept it up tight) was hanging free. So she starts actually wiping his feet with her hair—very interesting. Not common at all. Then she starts kissing the feet of this respected rabbi and pouring this very expensive ointment on his feet. People are thinking, “What is going on here? Who is this woman? We know a little bit about who she is, but how does she know Jesus? What’s Jesus’ relationship with her? What could explain this very affectionate show that she has with him?”
There’s a problem here, and the people are very suspicious, and that’s what leads Simon to say, “Boy, if Jesus were a prophet like the people say, he would know who this is! It doesn’t really seem like he is who he says he is.”
2. The Explanation of the Real Problem
So Jesus actually just turns and knows that this is the thought of Simon, and he gives a parable to explain what is actually happening in this account and then to redirect and say, “However, this is a real problem here. It’s not what you think it is, but there is a real problem,” and he starts to draw attention to that. He uses this parable to do it (verse 40).
“Jesus answering said to him, ‘Simon, I have something to say to you.’ And he answered, ‘Say it, Teacher.’”
This is interesting, because Simon had just been thinking in his mind, This guy’s probably not a prophet! If he would have known . . . But here Jesus immediately shows his prophetic credentials in that he reads Simon’s mind and speaks directly to it. Jesus goes on with a parable.
“‘A certain moneylender had two debtors. One owed five hundred denarii, and the other fifty. When they could not pay, he cancelled the debt of both. Now which of them will love him more?’ Simon answered, ‘The one, I suppose, for whom he cancelled the larger debt.’ And he said to him, ‘You have judged rightly.’ Then turning toward the woman he said to Simon, ‘Do you see this woman? I entered your house; you gave me no water for my feet, but she has wet my feet with her tears and wiped them with her hair. You gave me no kiss, but from the time I came in she has not ceased to kiss my feet. You did not anoint my head with oil, but she has anointed my feet with ointment. Therefore I tell you, her sins, which are many, are forgiven—for she loved much. But he who is forgiven little, loves little.’”
I think we see here an explanation of what the real problem is in this setting that Jesus is trying to draw attention to—not only for Simon, but for everyone else there. First, let’s look at the parable and make sure we understand it. It’s a pretty clear parable, but I want us to bring in what’s in view there to modern-day understanding so we understand the significance of it.
A denarius was about a day’s worth of wages. So for one person to be five hundred denarii in debt was to be almost two years’ worth of wages in debt to this master. That’s pretty significant. The other had about fifty, so a little less than two months’ worth of wages. So that’s the idea. I don’t know what your wage is, but calculate that out for yourself. What’s the difference between two months’ worth as opposed to two years’ worth? Those are the two sums put before us.
What we see is two different scenarios. The one who had about two months of debt that he had to pay off, that’s a tough situation. It’s not enviable, it’s not something that he would like to do, but it’s something that’s manageable. He’s like, “I’ll have to buckle down, I’ll have to figure this out, but I can get myself out from under a couple months’ worth of wages by tightening up in some other areas and focusing.”
However, being two years of wages in debt is a different scenario altogether. This is a heavy burden, this is a heavy weight from which it would be difficult to see how you could possibly, in your own power, get out from underneath it. It would probably lead someone in that day to sell themselves into indentured servitude, and that’s the only way that they could, over much time, work off this debt to this person. That’s a pretty dire situation, a pretty dire scenario.
Those are the two scenarios we have, and he says, “Listen, to be forgiven of those debts is wonderful, but the person who is forgiven this crushing debt, this overwhelming debt, this despairing debt, he will have a release, he will have this thankfulness. He will see the goodness and mercy of the master in a way totally unlike the other one, who thought, ‘I could have figured it out myself, but that is kind of nice to have been forgiven that debt.’” That’s what we’re looking at here.
First we see what the problem is not. The problem is not this woman who has this show of affection that people are reacting to. In this we see, actually, the great love of the woman.
Here’s what’s important to recognize: likely, in this passage, this woman has had a previous encounter with Jesus, and Jesus has already given her the message of forgiveness, and all of her actions at this time are a response to the great grace and forgiveness that has already been shown her by Jesus. All of this is an outpouring of affection, an outpouring of love, an outpouring of this overwhelming peace that has taken hold of her heart because of who Jesus has been to her and what he’s said to her.
We see this in a couple places. In Luke 7:47—if you’re reading the ESV this isn’t quite as obvious—it says, “Therefore, I tell you, her sins, which are many, are forgiven—for she loved much.”
That last little clause, “for she loved much,” can be read a couple of different ways. It can be translated a couple different ways grammatically. It could be the grounds of her forgiveness: because she loved much—because she came in and because she loved Jesus so much and because she did all these wonderful things to honor Jesus in this way—then Jesus said, “Boy, this person loves me a lot; I will therefore respond with the forgiveness of sin.”
But that’s very inconsistent with the parable, right? In the parable, the forgiveness of the heavy debt is what came first, and then the love is what comes as a response; the overwhelming thankfulness is the response to the forgiveness that was shown.
We also see it there in verse 48 when Jesus says, “Your sins are forgiven.” This is a grammatical construction written in the perfect tense. You don’t have to take that away and walk away with it, but some of you are going to want to hear that. There’s this idea of, “This is a state that you are currently in.” That’s what he’s saying to the woman. This is a word of assurance more than a new declaration to her. “You are in the state of forgiveness, remember, my daughter; now you can go in peace.”
This was a woman who had likely already been forgiven by Jesus, and this is her response of love. We see her love in a few different ways: we see it in her actions, we see it in her boldness, we see it in her humility.
First we see it in her actions. We won’t spend much time on this; we’ve talked about it a little bit. She comes into this space, she approaches Jesus, and she has this very expensive ointment. That’s the idea in view. Alabaster was a very unique element; only the most precious of ointments were put in this, because the alabaster flask was expensive in and of itself. To get the ointment out you actually had to break the top of the flask. I don’t know why that is; I was not an alabaster-flask-maker in that day; but that’s what the commentators said. So to get this out she would have had to shatter the nice vase, which is something in and of itself.
Also, the ointment itself is set in distinction to oil. Olive oil would have been the thing that people usually used to anoint people in that day; it was very common. But something like this would have been something very special, something you use for the most special occasions of life. So you see that in her actions she considers Jesus worthy of the highest honor and the highest praise. She brings this ointment to him and she sees that his feet are not clean as well, so while she’s back there and she’s overwhelmed with this emotion she actually starts to clean his feet as well.
We also see her love in her boldness. You see, when you are forgiven like this and when you receive this type of grace from someone, nothing will keep you from showing your affection or for coming to show your delight and your thankfulness to this person. That’s what you see in her. You see, it would have been very bold of her to step into this environment. We talked about this a little bit. She was a notorious woman of the city who was a sinner. We don’t know what her sin was, but she was notorious. She had been forgiven by Jesus; she would be wanting to have a new identity. She would want to be seen in a different way. She’s walking in a new life; she wants to leave that past behind and walk in something new. But she comes into this space where she knows that it’s a place of scorn; it’s a place where people are going to heap shame on her; it’s a place where people are going to look down on her.
Not only does she come into this space because she wants to come to Jesus and thank him for his goodness in her life, but she actually approaches the table. She isn’t concerned about herself, right? She has her hair down. She starts weeping in a very powerful way, in an overwhelming way, and she’s not concerned about herself, she’s only concerned about Jesus. She has a great boldness.
You see, I think in our walk with the Lord a lot of us actually miss this aspect, and I think the woman in this scene is a good example to us. A lot of us feel like we don’t really have access to God. Even if intellectually we know that we’re forgiven, even if we know that we’re saved, when we’re sin a lot us still live in our shame. We still carry that weight around and we don’t feel like we can go to Jesus. We don’t hear the words of Jesus in Hebrews 4, that you can approach the throne of grace with confidence.
We see that this woman approaches Jesus. She doesn’t think that Jesus is going to run her off, she doesn’t think that he’s going to say, “Hey, this isn’t the time. Come on.” He doesn’t say anything. She knows the heart of her Savior; she knows that she can approach him with confidence and that he’ll respond with love.
We also see it in the face of the revilement and the scorn. I think it’s another good example for us. A lot of us love Jesus—we love coming to church, we love singing songs of worship, we love talking about him with our Christian friends—but when we get into those spaces—maybe at work, maybe with certain friends, maybe in different other aspects of life—and we feel like there’s this revilement that will come upon us, this scorn for what we believe and what we say about Jesus, we tend to shrink back. We say, “Well, I do love Jesus, but I’m just not really going to draw much attention to that in this space, because I don’t like to be reviled.”
Jesus said in the beatitudes, “Blessed are those who are reviled and persecuted for my sake.” He said, “Hey, if people have persecuted me in this life, they will persecute you.” A lot of us, when we actually come to those spaces and the cards are down and we have to face that, when people say what we believe is actually wrong and hurtful and mean, we shrink back, and our boldness withers. We see that we do not have the great love for Jesus that this woman seems to have. She’s an example to us.
We also see her love in humility. I set this in distinction to boldness, right? Boldness, but also humility—those two traits together are really unique and they’re very beautiful. We see her humility, first of all, in her emotions as she comes near to Jesus. She’s overwhelmed. Likely she would have come to anoint his head with this ointment; that’s the common practice. It was not a common practice at all to anoint feet with an ointment like this. But she’s overwhelmed with her emotions as she approaches her Savior, and then she starts tending to Jesus’ feet like a servant would.
It was common for servants to wash the feet of honored guests in that day, when people came in, so she’s tending to the feet of Jesus. She does not consider herself so important that she can interrupt everything. She doesn’t say that “I need to have a central place, I need to have sole access to Jesus.” She comes humbly, she tends to his feet because that’s what she has access to, and she shows her affections there.
In Isaiah 52:7 the prophet says, “How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of him who brings good news, who publishes peace, who brings good news of happiness, who publishes salvation.” This woman has experienced good news of salvation, good news of peace. These are the feet that brought her that good news, so she sees them as lovely.
The rest of us have seen dirty feet and we’re like, “I’ll stay back a little bit. I’ll wait till Jesus is done,” right? No. These are beautiful feet to her because they are the ones that brought salvation into her life. We see her great love.
In distinction to that, we see what the problem actually is, and that’s the little love of Simon. Really, this is the big problem that we take out of the parable. What debt represents in the parable is sin, the weight of sin of sin that is on someone’s life. The forgiveness of debt is the forgiveness of sin. What Jesus is saying is, “This woman has experienced this forgiveness of sin, and that’s what explains her actions.” So we see that he says, “However, he who is forgiven little loves little.”
Now, it’s a little tongue-in-cheek. Jesus knows that no one is actually forgiven little, where to some people he says, “Oh, you only have a little bit of sin; don’t worry about it.” Some, “You have a lot of sin!” That’s not how it works in God’s economy. But this is Simon’s understanding of his relationship with God.
What we see here is the big problem. Simon does not see his sin and therefore does not see his need of forgiveness. This is what leads him to have little love for God, little love for God’s representative or God in flesh, Jesus.
We see this a couple of places in the parable, but we mostly see it in the context of Luke 7. In the parable we see it in his lackluster treatment of Jesus. Now, when Jesus goes into saying, “Hey, you didn’t provide water for my feet, you didn’t give me a kiss of greeting, you didn’t anoint my head with oil,” he’s not necessarily coming down on, “You didn’t do what common courtesy should be.” He’s not necessarily saying that.
What likely happened was Simon did the very basics of what you could do in that day to be able to host someone, but he didn’t go above and beyond. He didn’t see Jesus as really that worthy of that much honor. In fact, likely what we see here is that Simon expected that Jesus was the one who should be honored to be able to come to the table of Simon. You see, Simon here is sitting before the Lord of all glory, but he actually thinks that the honor is due to him.
We also see it in his pride, as Simon sits there assessing Jesus in his mind. “I don’t know if this guy can really be a prophet. I know what a prophet should be.” We see Simon sitting in the seat of judge as he sits before the judge of all the earth, before whom he will give an account for every word he says. We see his pride, we see his self-righteousness there, so we see that he doesn’t quite see himself clearly, he doesn’t see his sin.
We see it a little more clearly in the context of Luke 7. You see, Luke actually put this account right after a conversation that people were having about John the Baptist. Jesus is talking about John the Baptist. Look at Luke 7:28-30. Jesus is talking about John the Baptist, and he says, “I tell you, among those born of women none is greater than John. Yet the one who is least in the kingdom of God is greater than he.”
Then it says this: “When all the people heard this, and the tax collectors too, they declared just.” Now, we talked about this a couple weeks ago. Tax collectors are representative of the worst of sinners in that society, so this is kind of the general crowds and all the sinners. They saw the goodness of this message of repentance that John brought. He had this baptism of repentance, and he said if you received the baptism of repentance the kingdom of God has come near. Jesus actually continues this preaching of the kingdom and this calling people to repentance. It’s the sinners—it’s the common folk—who see the goodness, justice, and the wonder of God, and they declare God just, because they were baptized with the baptism of John.
But the Pharisees and the lawyers rejected the purpose of God for themselves, not having been baptized by him. The Pharisees and the lawyers did not see their need for this call of repentance that John the Baptist had brought, and they did not see their need for repentance that Jesus brought when he said, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” They don’t see that they have that much sin; they don’t think that they are the kind of people who need any type of forgiveness and repentance. In fact, they kind of expect that they have it figured out themselves.
So we see that this leads Simon to have little love for Jesus, little love for God, because he has a poor appropriation of the significance and weight of his sin.
What this does is it leads to a false seeing in another sense. He does not see others with eyes of grace. You see, Simon has not received the goodness and the freedom of forgiveness and grace, and this is why when he looks at the woman he looks with scorn, he looks upon her with shame. He does not see her as she truly is, he doesn’t see her as a redeemed woman, he doesn’t see her as someone who has been made new, he doesn’t see her with the eyes of promise and hope and to see what she could be as God makes change in her life—he doesn’t see any of that.
That’s why Jesus, after he tells the parable, he turns to Simon and he asks a simple question. He just says, “Simon,” as he looks at the woman, “Simon, do you see this woman?” Which is a really funny question, right? Simon’s like, “Do I see that woman?! Yes, I see that woman! I’m wondering if you see that woman, Jesus! What’s going on here? I’ve been concerned about the woman; of course I see the woman.”
Of course, it’s a little bit of a ridiculous question, except that Jesus is saying, “Do you really see this woman?” He didn’t. He only saw her in her sin, he only saw her in her worst moments. He couldn’t see her through the eyes of grace. Why is this? It’s because his heart had not been impacted by the wonder of God’s forgiveness and the joy of grace. Therefore he could not actually see others in grace and show them the same.
Darrell Bock has a good quote. He says, “The contrasting attitudes apparent in the text reveal a fundamental paradigm for relating to the world. The Pharisee, in his desire for purity, separates himself from fellowship with sinners, and he keeps a woman like the one who approaches Jesus at a great distance, thereby making it clear that her lifestyle is not endorsed. Jesus talks and preaches about sin, but he does not isolate himself from sinners. He understands that in order for light to shine in darkness the light must engage the darkness.”
What a beautiful contrast! Not separation but engagement, because I see you with the eyes of hope, I see you with the eyes of grace, and I know that Jesus can change your life, and there can be glory and beauty out of it.
I don’t necessarily have an attitude where I’m always trying to call people out. I’m always just trying to say, “Here are all the things I’ve done wrong, and I need to know it and I need other people to know it,” but I actually have a heart where I’m going to try to engage someone, I’m going to try to call them up to what God has for them, call them up to a vision of goodness and glory and beauty that maybe they don’t see for themselves. That’s what my heart is—not just to call them out and show them where they’re wrong; I want to call them to something beautiful because I see them with the eyes of hope and promise. Why do I see them with the eyes of hope and promise? Because I know who I was. I know who I was, and I know Jesus’ grace in my life. But for his grace, where would I be? So I see that for other people.
3. The Solution to the Problem
Here at the end of the passage we see in a few statements the aspects of the solution to this problem of failing to see your sin and having little love for God. Luke 7:48-50:
“And he said to her, ‘Your sins are forgiven.’ Then those who were at table with him began to say among themselves, ‘Who is this, who even forgives sins?’ And he said to the woman, ‘Your faith has saved you; go in peace.’”
What we see here is the reality of sin and the reality of sin forgiven, and then we also see the significance of faith and then the result of peace. Those are the things I want to look at. I’m going to say it like this: the first thing we need to have as a solution to this problem is to know your sin fully and then to also know your sin fully forgiven. You have to have both. You have to know your sin fully—you have to know its weight, you have to know its significance, you have to know its destructiveness, you have to know its darkness. This is a very difficult thing to do. We don’t like to dwell on these things. We all have this false image of ourselves, this false self, that we like to think of ourselves as pretty good, pretty alright. We like to try to rationalize our decisions to where we don’t really see ourselves and the seriousness of our sin in very clear ways.
Not only that, though, we must know the strength of how much we actually love our sin. We see this in Augustine’s Confessions, and I think it’s a really beautiful thing. He’s saying, “I’ve found in myself that it’s not just that I wanted what sin could get me—if I stole something, it’s not just that I wanted the thing that I stole.” He said, “I actually found a delight in myself for just the wickedness itself.”
He says it like this: “I had no inducement to evil but the evil itself. It was foul, and I loved it. I loved to perish. I loved my own error—not that for which I erred, but the error itself. Base soul, falling from your firmament to utter destruction, not seeking anything through the shame but the shame itself.”
He saw in himself, and I think we need to see in ourselves, it’s not just that we love what sin brings to us, but there’s something in us that just loves the sin itself, just loves to do what’s wrong. That’s the darkness of sin.
I think we have to see that fully and bring this before God in such a way that we deal with it and we know the weight of it, we know the significance of it, so that when we receive this fully forgiven there is this weight that is released off of us. There is this joy, this exultation of soul, that we say, “How could this possibly be, that a sinner such as me could approach the throne of grace with confidence? How could it be that even I could be loved by Jesus in this way?”
How do we do this as Christians who are already redeemed? Should we cast our minds and beat ourselves up? That’s not what it is. I think this is handled well in a book called The Spiritual Disciplines Handbook. There are two definitions by Adele Calhoun that I want us to see: self-examination and confession. I think this is good for us all to have seasons where we do this.
Self-examination; here’s a good definition. It’s “a process whereby the Holy Spirit opens my heart to what is true about me. This is not the same thing as a neurotic, shame-inducing inventory [that’s very important]. Instead, it is a way of opening myself to God within the safety of divine love so I can authentically seek transformation.”
When was the last time you did this? When was the last time you came in the love of God, in the rest that you have, in the forgiveness that’s already been shown, but then just said, “Lord, I want you to open up my heart to what is true about me? Within the confines of your sure love, I want to have an examination of where I’m at.” Then you confess your sin as fully as you can.
What is confession? She has another good definition that I love. Confession is this: “to surrender my weaknesses and faults to the forgiving love of Christ.” It’s not to beat myself up, it’s not to say, “What’s wrong with me? Who am I? Good grief; how could I do all these things?” and just walk away down and out. No, it’s to take these things, put them before the Lord, and just surrender them to the forgiving love of Christ, to receive his love in the midst of it.
What’s this look like practically? It might meant taking seasons of remembering your past, remembering what Jesus has saved you from; not to where you can swim in it, not so you can rejoice in it, not so you can weigh yourself down with it; but just to remember what Jesus has saved you from.
You see this all the time in the Old Testament. They go back and they recount the stories of how God delivered them, and of his goodness in their lives, because they’re prone to forget. So they go over it again. They let their hearts be filled up again, they let the wonder of it hit their hearts again.
It looks like this: as you’re in this moment of self-examination, just make a list. Actually start writing it out. Make a list of everything that God brings to mind. You can do this a few different ways. Maybe go to Psalm 32 or Psalm 51, psalms of confession, and as you pray those psalms to God see what God puts on your mind, and just start writing things down.
Google this. Say, “New Testament lists of sins,” and you’ll find them. There are these lists of sins in the New Testament, like Galatians 5. “Now the works of the flesh are evident: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these.” “Things like these,” right? That expands it to things that are even similar.
There are a number of these lists. Just go through them and say, “God, where are some of these aspects still in my life, still in my heart?” Just write them out within the confines of divine love—not fretting, not beating myself up—but, “I’m trusting you as I confess these.”
Then think about confessing your sins to someone you trust who can speak grace into your life. This is a way of bringing things out to the light, or, as some people call it, relinquishing the false self. This can be very freeing as you do this seeking the grace of God.
Also, it’s not just that you know your sin fully and seek to do that as much as you can, but that you need to know your sin fully forgiven. You see that in the passage. He brings up the many sins of this woman. He says, “Listen, her sins are many,” but then he immediately responds with the word in verse 47, “but they’re forgiven.” He says it again in verse 48. “Your sins—yes, they’re many—are forgiven.” In fact, three times in this passage it identifies this woman as a sinner, and then three times in this passage Jesus gives her a new identity: she is forgiven.
You have to know both that you have to know your sin fully and know your sin fully forgiven.
What does this look like? If you made a list, maybe make a little ceremony out of it. Go set it on fire and actually just sit there and watch it burn, in thankfulness to God, and watch it disappear into nothing. Such is the grace of God in your life because of Jesus’ sacrifice for you on the cross, because of what he’s accomplished.
Use Scripture and apply it to these sins as you confess them before the Lord. Go to a passage like 1 John 1:9: “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” Rest in that; believe it.
Psalm 103: “He does not deal with us according to our sins, nor repay us according to our iniquities. For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is his steadfast love toward those who fear him. As far as the east is from the west, so far does he remove our transgressions from us.”
Pray those, believe them, rest in them. Let them bring joy and lightness and wonder to your heart. You might not think that it should be the case, but it’s what God has said is the case because of what he’s done in Christ, because of what he’s done in choosing you in salvation.
Maybe sing a song of worship to God, a song like “Amazing Grace.”
“Amazing grace, how sweet the sound
That saved a wretch like me!
I once was lost, but now am found;
Was blind, but now I see.”
Right? Sing that! Sing it with tears in your eyes. Sing it with confidence, knowing that your sin is fully forgiven.
But it’s not just that. There’s this aspect of faith. Jesus says, “Your faith has saved you.” The aspect of faith is really important. This is what I’m going to say. Also, it’s not just that you know these things, but that you believe. You have to believe in Jesus’ power to save and his will to save. You see, her faith is set in contrast to the people there who doubted that Jesus could forgive sins, that he was worthy to forgive sins, that this was something that he was allowed to do. But her faith, she believed that Jesus was a forgiver of sins, a Savior from sin, and it’s her faith that has saved her.
I think so many times we know these things intellectually—we know that Jesus is Savior, we know that he offers forgiveness from sins, but in and of our own selves and our own thoughts in our minds, in our understandings of ourselves and our hearts, we act as if we don’t truly believe these things.
You see, the key is we need to come to the place where we begin to think of ourselves the way Jesus says he thinks of us, and we need to begin to say of ourselves what Jesus says about us. Jesus says that we’re loved, so we need to stop acting like God doesn’t love us because of what we’ve done. Jesus says that we’re chosen. It’s not because of anything we’ve done; that was his choice! We couldn’t do anything about it. So he chose us, it’s his decision; trust him that he is the one who made that decision. We start to believe that and say it about ourselves.
We need to believe that we’re forgiven, we need to believe that we are a new creation in Christ. “The old has passed away; behold, all things have become new.” This is what we believe.
I think so often in our lives, in our own minds and our own hearts, we just think, “Man, I’m such a screw-up! What’s wrong with me! Why can’t I get it together? I’ll never become anything.” We have this inner dialogue that is saying everything about us that is opposite of what Jesus says about us. We have to start learning the discipline of saying, “Yes, I might feel these ways, and maybe someone with my experience would show these things, but I’m going to believe what Jesus says about me is true and I’m going to start trying to live in the reality of that.”
As we put that faith in Jesus, we see this final thing. He says to the woman, “Your faith has saved you; now go in peace.” We can go in peace. Do you know the joy of being able to go forward from these times of confession, from this time of leaning on the Lord, from this time of bringing your sins fully before the Lord, and what you leave with is peace? That’s my heart for us today, that we go in peace, that we rejoice in thankfulness for the great love that’s been shown us, like this woman does, and that we go in peace. That we have peace with God, we know we have peace with God, and then we have peace in ourselves, knowing that Jesus has defeated the great enemy of our souls. Jesus is the one who has the power to save, Jesus is the one who has the power to forgive, and the forgiveness is full and clear. As far as the east is from the west, so great have our sins been removed from us. That is the hope of this passage; that’s the promise. I pray that we bring our sins to Jesus again today and know the joy of forgiveness. That leads us to a great love not only for Jesus but for others, and it makes us a gracious and forgiving people as we come to others and engage others in our lives. Let’s pray.
Lord Jesus, I thank you for stories like this in your word. I thank you for the sweetness of them. I thank you for how we see your heart, your mercy, your love. Jesus, our hearts need to know that. We need to know your great love for us. Would you take our eyes of ourselves, would you remove us from our foolish pride, and would you let us come into the embrace of divine love with confidence, with boldness, and then would you give us the humility to confess our weaknesses, confess our faults before you? Then would you give us the joy of knowing that it is fully forgiven. Would you see us with eyes of love? You call us to walk in peace and in joy and in rest, not because of anything we’ve done, but because of what you’ve done. God, that’s our heart. We struggle to see it so. We ask that you would give us your Spirit, give us your grace this morning to know it again, and that we would walk out of here as a people who are full of a great love for you and in that that we see others with your eyes of love and your eyes of grace, and go with courage to engage them with your message of forgiveness and peace. We ask this in your name, Jesus, amen.