By Bob Wilkin
J. D. asks an important question:
I became a believer in Free Grace two years ago, but my family still believes in Lordship Salvation and goes to a Lordship Salvation church. Their pastor said that when Jesus is talking to the woman at the well and calls her out about having five husbands, and the current man she is with is not her husband, He is telling her that she must first get rid of her sin in her life before she can receive everlasting life. I just wanted to know your opinion and a good way to properly explain what Jesus is trying to say. Thanks, and keep up the good work. God bless.
Context. Context. Context.
Nothing in John 4:1-26 suggests that the Lord Jesus was saying that the woman at the well had to repent to have everlasting life. He never used the word repent. Nor did He tell her that she needs to “first get rid of her sin in her life before she can receive everlasting life.” He did not tell her that she needed to stop living in sin in order to have everlasting life.
The reason He mentioned that she was living with a man who was not her husband is clear in context. He already told her that “the gift of God” (John 4:10) is “everlasting life” (John 4:14). But He had yet to tell her, “who it is who says to you…” (John 4:10). He needed to reveal to her that He is the Christ, the Messiah, who has the authority to give everlasting life. He did that by revealing her past and present.
Notice that she knows Messiah is coming and how to identify Him: “‘I know that Messiah is coming’ (who is called Christ). ‘When He comes, He will tell us all things’” (John 4:25, italics added). He then says, “I who speak to you am He” (John 4:26).
She leaves her waterpot behind. Many commentators think that the waterpot symbolizes the old works-salvation religion, the water that was not living. She then goes to town and tells the men about the Man who gave her living water: “Come, see a Man who told me all things that I ever did. Could this be the Christ?” (John 4:29, italics added). Notice the words in italics.
Comparing that with verse 25, we see that she is saying that Jesus is the Christ. Possibly the reason she does not come out and boldly say that is because she was a woman of low reputation.
The Lord Jesus used His omniscience to lead this woman to faith in Him. If you compare John 4:1-26 with John 20:31, you see that she believed that Jesus is the Christ, the one who guarantees everlasting life to all who believe in Him for it.
J. D.’s family is sitting under a pastor who read his theology into the John 4 exchange between Jesus and the woman at the well. He did not allow the text to speak.
One final point. Let’s say that the pastor’s interpretation were correct and that we need to “get rid of the sin in our lives before we can receive eternal life.” How do we do that? If the woman stopped living with her boyfriend, or if she married him, that would stop ongoing sin in that area, but it would not get rid of her past sins in that regard. Nor would it stop other ongoing sins in her life like jealousy, envy, outbursts of anger, etc. Wouldn’t she need to deal with all her sins, including past sins?
How would a person today know which sins he had to stop doing before he could be born again? Does a person have to stop getting drunk and high on drugs? Does he have to stop stealing things? Does he have to stop verbally abusing his wife and kids? Does he have to stop driving in such a way that he endangers all those around him on the road? Does he need to start going to church, giving money for the poor, loving his wife as Christ loves the church, and avoiding all the other sins of omission? Why just pick out one sin?
And how does anyone atone for his past sins? If the blood of Christ is not enough to deal with our sin problem, then we need to take care of that ourselves. If His blood is enough to deal with our past sins, then it is also enough to deal with all our future sins as well.
May our beliefs come from God’s Word, not from tradition or from what we think is most reasonable. If the way we interpret a passage does not fit the passage, then we need to allow God’s Word to tell us what to believe, rather than telling it what it ought to say!
Bob Wilkin is Executive Director of Grace Evangelical Society. He lives in Highland Village, TX, with his wife of 46 years, Sharon. He is an avid race walker and marathon walker.