One of my favorite stories in the Bible is the scene where Jesus forgives the adulterous woman and saves her from being stoned. There she stood, trembling – her secret, shameful sin having been discovered – hanging on the precipice of death at the hands of religious leaders intent on stoning her for her transgressions. Under the law of Moses wielded by the self-righteous religious leaders, she knew she would receive no mercy.
Although the Bible doesn’t include any details about how the woman responded, it isn’t hard to imagine the distress she might have felt. She probably felt exposed and ashamed, as her sin had been found out and revealed in front of the assembly. But beyond that, she must have had a deep sense of hopelessness. The end seemed inevitable. She had made her choices, and she would no longer be able to run from the consequences.
However, that is not the end of the story. Jesus entered the picture and challenged the religious leaders, saying, “Let him who is without sin among you be the first to throw a stone at her” (John 8:7b). One by one, the religious leaders dropped their stones and walked away, leaving the woman standing alone. Jesus looked up and asked her if anyone had remained to condemn her, to which she replied that no one had. Then, Jesus responded with a simple phrase that had power to radically alter the woman’s life, a phrase that continues to reverberate grace in our context thousands of years later: “Neither do I condemn you; go, and from now on sin no more” (John 8:11b).
This story has always resonated powerfully with me because of the way that it demonstrates the overwhelming grace of Jesus that defies our expectations and extends to all people.
At that point in time, adultery was considered to be one of the most shameful sins and, therefore, was punishable by death under the law of Moses. No one would have expected Jesus to pardon a woman who had committed such a grievous sin. Instead, because of our human orientation towards merit and punishment, they would have expected Jesus to “give her what she deserved” and execute punishment to the full force of the law. But Jesus defied their expectations by extending grace, even to this unworthy adulteress. Jesus’ forgiveness brought new hope for the woman, washing away her hopelessness in a downpour of unmerited, life-restoring grace.
This radical, life-changing idea of grace is what serves as the foundation for the Hope Forward program. This opportunity covers us, as students, with grace. In an economy where the majority of students go into deep debt to pay for college, which can lead to powerful feelings of hopelessness as students face years of debt repayments, we are covered with the grace of receiving a fully-funded education. God’s grace and forgiveness of our sins are gifts that we could never earn through our own effort but which are freely given to us. All that is required of us is that we love God, put our faith in Him, and have a heart posture of acceptance for the gifts He has given us. Similarly, Hope Forward tuition funding is not given on the basis of merit, but is instead extended to students with heart postures that are committed to giving back to their communities and bringing hope to the world. Eventually, Hope Forward funding will be given to all students who attend Hope, again reflecting the truth that God’s grace is available and accessible to all.
Not only does this program reflect the grace of God, but it also demonstrates the impact that grace has in the lives of its recipients. President Matt Scogin describes it in this way: “You are covered, so go and live differently.” When our sins are covered by the grace of God, we are freed from our slavery to sin and are free to instead live lives of love and righteousness that bring glory to God. In the same way, when our tuition is covered by the generous grace of donors, we are released from the burden of debt and are free to instead live lives that will make an impact to improve the lives of those around us. Part of this mission involves the freedom to give back to the Hope community out of gratitude for what we have received so that other students can have the same opportunity. Personally, this opportunity has freed me to pursue a career in social work, even though I know that my salary will be low relative to other college-educated positions. Because I do not have to worry about having as much student debt, I was able to choose this major as I believe that social work will allow me to truly serve others in the love of Christ throughout my career.
Ultimately, the Hope Forward program is a practical representation of the beautiful, profound grace of God that frees us from our debt of sin and allows us to live for His kingdom. I believe that the power of this grace will be transformational in the lives of the students, for the college as a whole, and possibly even into the broader context at other universities. Personally, I can’t wait to watch the perfect plan of God at work to bring hope through this program!