In John 8:11b Jesus says, “Go your way, and from now on do not sin again.” This is a passage that was spoken to the woman who was caught in adultery and brought before Jesus. So, what does this passage exactly mean? Is this a call from Jesus to holiness or a warning? Is this phrase of Jesus Law or Gospel?
I decided to pose this question to the Confessional Lutheran Fellowship Group on Facebook as well as to some good friends to see what they thought. Here are some of their comments:
“What’s He supposed to say? ‘Go your way and sin some more?’ It’s a call to be who she is. Holy, because Jesus said so. The sinner hears prescriptively, the saint hears it descriptively. It kills the sinner and delights the saint.”
“Given that in the same book, John 5:14, Jesus tells the man He healed at the pool of Bethesda to ‘Sin no more, that nothing worse may happen to you.’ I would say it could be a warning. She was almost stoned to death. If she keeps living that way, they may try to stone her again or other bad things may happen to her.”
William cautions us,
“The one thing you DON’T want to conclude is that Jesus put her on probation!”
“I have not given any in-depth time to this, but I think we need to see this verse in its larger context. The woman’s sin is exposed (literally) and it is forgiven by Jesus. There’s no condition placed on the Gospel here. She is forgiven (not “forgiven IF she then goes and does not sin any more”). The ‘charge,’ if you will, to ‘go and sin no more’ is given to point her to God’s intention for her, not as a condition of her being forgiven. Her living (apart from the sins she has known up to that point) is meant to be in response to her forgiven state. Perhaps I didn’t say this very clearly. But that’s a quick answer.”
My good friends offer up some great insights on this text. I especially appreciate Tom’s thoughts of looking at this passage in the whole of its context. Think about the context for a moment with me if you will. The woman has been caught committing adultery. Not only has her sin been made public by the religious leaders making her stand in front of the crowd, there was a tremendous social stigma that she now would bear. Furthermore, adultery historically brought about stoning. Even though it was illegal for the people of Israel to bring about the death penalty without going through the Roman system, the gal had to be fearful of losing her life. Furthermore, she was alone. She was surrounded by the Scribes and Pharisees. It is intimidating enough for a woman to be surrounded by a group of men, however, these are not just ordinary men, they were a part of the religious elite and yielded a lot of influence and power. Needless to say, from her perspective things did not look good. The woman was powerless, helpless and at the end of her rope. It was pretty clear to everyone that she was a sinner.
Things changed though when Jesus enters the story. John 8:1-11 does not only speak to us about the adulterous woman but it also shows us how the Pharisees and Scribes were attempting to test Jesus. Long story short, Jesus turns the table and exposes the hypocrisy of the Pharisees and the Scribes thus rescuing the woman from the predicament saying, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?” She responded, “No one, sir.” And Jesus Said, “Neither do I condemn you.”
Now think about this from the perspective of the woman. She went from being powerless, condemned, shamed and the fear of death to, “Neither do I condemn you.” Wow! Martin Luther comments on this saying,
“The kingdom of Christ is not one of condemnation. I am not here to condemn you, but to remit the sins of those who, like you, are where death, the devil, evil consciences, accusers, and judges have come to plague them. The slogan in My kingdom is: I forgive you your sin; for in My kingdom no one is without forgiveness of sins. Therefore you, too, must have forgiveness. My kingdom must not be in disorder. All who enter it and dwell in it must be sinners. But as sinners they cannot live without the forgiveness of sins.” If I am a sinner, the matter is not ended there; the sins must be forgiven. Thus none but sinners come into this kingdom. But do not let this prompt you to say: “Well, we will remain in sin.” No, you must learn to feel and recognize your sin. These Pharisees did not have to become sinners; they were sinners already, and they became even greater sinners when Christ uncovered their sins with the words: “Let him who is without sin among you be the first to throw a stone at her.” A sinner is a person who feels his sin. The Pharisees, these rogues, were no sinners; but they became sinners when Christ said: “Let him who is without sin, etc.” Now they became sinners. But they despaired and slunk away. In their arrogance they hid their sin and would not await Christ’s second statement: “Neither do I condemn you.”
Thus only those sinners belong in the kingdom of Christ who recognize their sin, feel it, and then catch hold of the Word of Christ spoken here: “I do not condemn you.” These people constitute the membership of Christ’s kingdom. He admits no saint; He blows them all away; He expels from the church all who lay claim to holiness. If sinners enter, they do not remain sinners. He spreads His cloak over their sins and says: “If you have sinned, I remit your sins and cover them.” To be sure, sin is there. But the Lord in this kingdom closes His eyes to it, covers it, forgives it, and does not impute it to the sinner. So a living saint and member of Christ stands here, made out of an adulteress who had been infested with sin but whose sin is now forgiven and covered. Even if sinners are knaves and criminals, their sins will be forgiven, as long as they feel them, repent of them, and ask God for forgiveness. If you have tasted the Law and sin, and if you know the ache of sin, then look here, and see how sweet, in comparison, the grace of God is, the grace which is offered to us in the Gospel. This is the absolution which the adulteress receives here from the Lord Christ.”
Luther brings forth an amazing point. When Jesus spoke the words, “Let anyone among you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her,” He was essentially leveling the playing field that no one was righteous, not even one. (See Romans 3:10) Thus they left not acknowledging their sin and the woman who was a condemned sinner remained to hear the wonderful absolution of Christ that there is no condemnation.
But what about the second part of verse 11? How are we to take, “Go your way, and from now on do not sin again”? Several things to note:
- She was not told that she is forgiven IF she then goes and does not sin any more. She is forgiven period.
- She is not told that she has been put on probation.
- She is not told to somehow do something to become more holy or do something to add to what Jesus has already done for her. It isn’t as if Jesus rescued her from condemnation, but now it is up to her to be all that she can be.
- She is told simply to not sin; that is to not break God’s moral law. Not to commit adultery, not to covet another woman’s husband, not to steal and not to commit idolatry.
Think about this for a moment from the perspective of the woman. She was just redeemed from her sin and condemnation. How would’ve you responded to Jesus’ redemption and words of “go and sin no more” if you were in her shoes? I can imagine her reflecting on this profound moment of deliverance saying to herself, “Right on! I, a poor miserable sinner, have been redeemed by the Messiah. I get to walk in newness in His name. May this awful adulterous sin and situation never happen again! However, when I do sin, I now know that I can confess my sins and He is faithful and just to forgive me and cleanse me!”
My friends this is no different from what Paul says in Romans 6. We have been baptized into Christ Jesus. We have been united with Christ in His death and resurrection. We are completely acceptable to God because of Christ; we can’t and do not have to add anything to Jesus, for He is all sufficient. We are not under law but under grace. What this means is that lawlessness and sin shall not be endorsed, celebrated or tolerated in our lives. We are not slaves to sin but children of God through Christ. We have been redeemed just like the Adulterous Woman.
But what happens when we do sin? When we do sin, because we always will in this life, we don’t try to do all sorts of good with the intent that the good will atone for the bad. No! This goes the way of works righteousness. Think about it this way, the future good works of the Adulterous Woman cannot reach back and add to what Jesus did for her. In other words, we surely can make amends for our errors, but the amends that we make for our errors are not a cause of forgiveness but a result of forgiveness. Simply put, when we do sin we get to confess our sins freely to God. The sinful nature and its deeds get to be continually crucified into Christ, (See Romans 8:13 & Galatians 5:24) for it is no longer I that lives but it is Christ who lives in me. We live this life in this body trusting and faithing in the Son of God who loves us and continually gives Himself to us.