THE FRENZIED mob was on the verge of violence, filled with indignation over another's immoral behavior. The adulteress was literally "caught in the act" and they were ready to judge. The despicable sinner was dragged to the temple and cast at the feet of an unlikely judge.

Imagine the woman's experience: In an instant she went from sexual pleasure to utter shame and terror. Imagine the frantic attempt to clothe herself as the mob drags her away. Imagine the injustice as her lover is allowed to escape while she is left fearing for her life. Even worse, she's dragged to the last place she wants to be - the temple. The place where all the good people go. Only the clean and pure are allowed to enter. She is anything but, and she knows it. Exposed in her disgrace in front of the crowd, trembling she waits for the first stone to fly.

John 8:1-11 recounts this famous story of a woman caught in adultery and brought before Jesus.

Although this occurred 2000 years ago, the themes resonate in our culture and speak profoundly to both sides of America's culture war. Replace the 1st-century mob with the hatred on the faces of people bearing signs that "God hates fags" or the smug, compassionless religiosity behind the anti-abortion bumper sticker "Mommy, I would have loved you."

It breaks my heart that the church's message to the culture often sounds like, "Come in here and be good like us""- religious people despising those who struggle with sin.

Just as in the 1st century, Jesus cuts us off at the knees. He challenged the religious leaders, "Let him who is without sin among you be the first to throw a stone at her." One by one, they dropped their stones and slinked away. As King David proclaimed centuries earlier, "They have all turned aside; together they have become corrupt; there is none who does good, not even one" (Psalm 14:3).

The heart of the Christian faith is that all of humanity is estranged from God because of sin and all need forgiveness. What is "natural" to us is to live for our own agenda and our pleasures, little heeding the impact on others and completely disregarding our Creator. Jesus came to save us from ourselves, from our sexual insanity and from our arrogant self-righteousness. The perfect ending would have the good, moral people repenting alongside the adulteress.

On the other side, many use this passage to say that since we are all sinners, no one has a right to challenge anyone else. We need to see this: Jesus doesn't ignore the woman's sin, he addresses it head-on. He offers forgiveness, inviting her to leave her life of sin, to experience a redeemed, transformed life. God's agenda for our lives is to be free from what is "natural" to us and experience supernatural transformation through the power of his Spirit within us. This story doesn't condone sin; it offers life change.

The church's message should never be moralistic, but rather - as one writer put it - one beggar telling another beggar where to find bread. Regardless of what you have done in your life - prostitution, anonymous sex, pornography, adultery - Jesus opens his arms to you. All you need is need. The only requirement is a heart seeking mercy and grace.

He invites you, "Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light." *

(Editor's note: Harvest USA is a ministry "proclaiming Christ as Lord to a sexually broken world." For more information about its support groups and church education/equipping services, call 215-482-0111, or visit Web site at www.harvestusa.org.)