Sin is a truth about being human that we’d like to run from. And by run, I don’t mean swiftly leave our sin patterns behind — the second they surface. What’s tempting to run from is the invitation to change over a lifetime of surrender.
I believe that’s what Jesus is offering when he asks us to “go and sin no more.” But if we’re created with an ability and tendency to sin...what does Jesus really mean?
What Does ‘Go and Sin No More’ Mean?
In fact, it was actually in God’s plan that humans chose to invite sin into the world.
Yet there are two times in the gospels when Jesus says to “sin no more.” One is after Jesus heals a man by the pool of Bethesda in John 5:14. The other, likely the more often retold account, is when he does not condemn a woman caught in adultery (John 8:11).
Her accusers are intent on not only stoning her to death but also challenging Jesus’ authority.
What Jesus is compassionately announcing in both of these accounts with his instruction to “sin no more,” is that he is the way, the truth, and life. He is letting all who were listening know that a life of freedom involves wanting to choose Him. And he is protecting those brought before him, from the condemnation of others.
Sin will happen, in all of our lives. It’s important to note that Jesus is not harsh and scolding. He levels the tension by shining light: That following him will lead us to turn and repent from sin.
Revealing Context Around John 8:11
In John 8, a woman is threatened with murder for a sin that also involved a man who, according to the Law, should have been punished as well. Jesus knows that these “pious pretenders” are using her for their own sinful agenda.
Author Julie Barrier explores the context of this event as it relates to Hebrew history. She explains that when laws were violated “the priest was required to then stoop down and write the law that had been broken, along with the names of the accused, in the dust of the floor of the Temple (which Jesus did).
Actually, the priest could write the law and the names anywhere, as long as the marks were not permanent — and the dust of the floor of the Temple was the most commonplace. By doing this, Jesus showed these accusers that they were not keeping the law, but He would anyway.”
What Jesus is saying to the woman by “go and sin no more,” is: These men are dangerous, and I’m sorry they are trying to hurt you. Consider leaving the ways that made you end up here. It may get you killed, and I want to give you life.
He’s lovingly warning her about the danger of her lifestyle. He knows that she, like all of us, will sin again in some new way. But his words here say: I don’t condemn you, I redirect you. Come, experience life with me.
If I Can’t ‘Go and Sin No More’ Will God Give Up on Me?
Scripture is clear, God is faithful to never leave us or forsake us. Let’s read in one of his letters that:
No temptation has overtaken you except what is common to mankind. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can endure it (1 Corinthians 10:13).
From the beginning, he knew that sin desires to trick and hold us. But he gives us access to the self-discipline to “rule over” our temptations.
...But if you do not do what is right, sin is crouching at your door; it desires to have you, but you must rule over it (Genesis 4:7).
This is a loving reminder that Jesus is present in our sinning, asking us to choose his way out of the damage that sin can cause.
God doesn’t abandon or hate us for sinning. He grieves for our lives. He is a loving Father and doesn’t want us to fall away and hurt ourselves.
How Do We Respond to ‘Sin No More?’
We’re offered rescue from sin through prayer and petition with thanksgiving (Philippians 4:6). With a heart of praise, we can seek as the Psalmist does:
Keep me from deceitful ways; be gracious to me and teach me your law (Psalm 119:29).
In every situation of temptation, we can ask God to help us choose. Sin is with us as a constant in the world, but God’s voice is within us.
And because he is love, this daily quest to turn and repent of sin is a lifelong renewing. It’s an ongoing relationship, offered by the One who reconciles, with our heavenly Father.
We won’t conquer sin with sheer willpower within our own strength. We open all our secrets to God to pull us out. Asking God to search us and shine a light on our sin is our continual lifeline through the storm.
We return again and again to God, letting his love cast sin out.
Let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts; let him return to the Lord, that he may have compassion on him, and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon (Isaiah 55:7).
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Photo Credit: ©iStock/Getty Images Plus/Dilok Klaisataporn
Lia Martin loves to inspire others to lean into the Lord daily. She's a writer, editor, marketer, former Crosswalk.com Faith Editor, and author of Wisdom at Wit's End: Abandoning Supermom Myths in Search of Supernatural Peace. When she's not cultivating words, she loves walking in nature, reading, exploring the latest health trends, and laughing with her two wonderful kids. She blogs at liamartinwriting.com.