What Does It Mean To, “Go And Sin No More?”

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:

William says,

“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.”

Jeremy states,

“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!”

Tom says,

“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.


About Pastor Matt Richard

Rev. Dr. Matthew Richard is the pastor at Zion Lutheran Church of Gwinner, ND. He was previously a Senior Pastor in Sidney, Montana, an Associate Pastor of Spiritual Care and Youth Ministries in Williston, North Dakota, and an Associate Pastor of Children and Youth in Rancho Cucamonga, California. He received his undergraduate degree from Minot State University, ND and his M.Div. from Lutheran Brethren Seminary, MN. His doctor of ministry thesis, from Concordia Seminary, St. Louis, MO, was on exploring the journey of American Evangelicals into Confessional Lutheran thought. Pastor Richard is married to Serenity and they have two children. He enjoys fishing, pheasant hunting, watching movies, blogging, golfing, spending time with his family and a good book with a warm latte! To check out more articles by Pastor Matt you can visit his personal blog at: www.pastormattrichard.com.


What Does It Mean To, “Go And Sin No More?” — 9 Comments

  1. This is a bit tangential, but I often use this passage to explain the difficulty understanding what it means to “judge not”. I referenced it this past week in our study of James 4-5.

    On the one hand, Scripture is clear that we are not to “judge”.

    “Do not speak evil against one another, brothers. The one who speaks against a brother or judges his brother, speaks evil against the law and judges the law. But if you judge the law, you are not a doer of the law but a judge. There is only one lawgiver and judge, he who is able to save and to destroy. But who are you to judge your neighbor?”

    On the other hand, we are not to tolerate sin, but call the thing what it is and lovingly lead those in error unto repentance and faith.

    “My brothers, if anyone among you wanders from the truth and someone brings him back, let him know that whoever brings back a sinner from his wandering will save his soul from death and will cover a multitude of sins.”

    Judge, in the “bad” sense, means to condemn and desire harm to the other person. Judge, in the “good” sense, means to recognize the physical and/or spiritual danger a sinner has placed themself in by their sin and lovingly lead them toward repentance and faith because you desire their good.

    Jesus did not equivocate or pussyfoot around the fact that this woman was an adulterer. She was a sinner caught in the middle of sinner. He “judged” that rightly, as we are also called to do, but he did not “judge” her. He released her from the guilt of her sin.

  2. The “John” whether he went away, or stood there in the crowd, went away guilty because he was not brought along to be put before Jesus and receive His forgiveness.

    By the Law, he would have been stoned with her.

  3. Oo, that is a sticky wicket. “Where are your accusers? Neither do I condemn you, go & sin no more.” There are a few, aspects to this, that no longer, do we seem to value or discuss. Was she the only guilty party to this sin? No, she was not. This was a trap, laid for Christ, to Judge. He did & will & does. But not at the hands of the faithless. Her sin was publically, laid bare, for all to see. Ours, hardly ever. Whether it be because her life, was in His hands, or she REPENTED, It, does not say. We know, the equation, of forgiveness, for the sinner & the offended.
    Sin + repentance (NOT REGRET) = forgiveness

    I love this part of the History, Jesus was “doodling” in the dirt. He knew all hearts & minds, there, that day. We do not have that luxury. We have His Word. Popular, he was not, with those who should have known who & what He was. They did not, & to an extent, they do not, still.

    Christ never withheld correction, admonishment, correction, in private, let alone in public. He had no reason to fear men, nor do we now. But…we do, look at all of us & what we fudge & fidget over. Lacking in Faith, Firm Steafastness in Him.

    He knew that woman, as he knows me. I lack the Governance, that during that time, is so taken for granted or forgotten. Some haven’t, so venture & pay the toll, the world will & has always, impressed for the doing. But some, a rare few, still do.

  4. Interestingly, I had just been working on a post that discussed this passage in light of the idea of penance (see here if interested: http://infanttheology.wordpress.com/2012/06/08/the-roman-penitential-system-and-the-emergence-of-reformation-doctrine-extra-1/)

    I think this is a fine post, but I do have one gripe. One of the persons the author quotes (William) says “Go and sin no more” is 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.” This might seem like splitting hairs but this doesn’t seem quite right to me

    It seems to me that, just like the article says, the believer certainly can be confidence he is forgiven period, is not on probation, cannot add to Jesus’ work, etc. That said, I think that insofar as a person is a saint they will hear these words not only descriptively, but prescriptively – filled with the joy of the new life they have in Christ, they are ready to huddle close to their shepherd, keeping on the straight paths that keep them from danger. Insofar as they are a sinner, they will hear these words as burdensome, excessive, and condemning.

    I don’t think this is confusing Law and Gospel.

    As I said in the recent blog post I did, going and “’sinning no more’ does not exclude taking appropriate steps to make things right between yourself and those you have sinned against you as circumstances allow – this to we are now free to do in His strength”

    After all, there are sins of commission and those of omission.

    Think here of the woman who realizes (by God’s grace) that she was wrong to divorce her husband. She is disturbed enough by this, and wanting to flee from her sin to Christ, goes to see a pastor, and he, eager to show God’s grace (and not giving in to more 4th c. ideas of penance) absolves her. She is free indeed and rightly knows it! But then, because of an attack by Satan, she succumbs to the idea that she need not return to him, even though he would readily receive her. Her Old Adam gives in. She has gone on to “sin more” by omitting to do that which the pastor – and perhaps she herself – presumed she was ready to do.

    Her soul is in mortal danger. The call to repent goes out again.

    So it seems to me. Thoughts? Goes with the post?

  5. One more thing – I won’t be able to comment again until Monday morning, if anyone wants to discuss what I’ve written here.

  6. Why restrict go and sin no more to the moral law? lets do a thought experiment. What if Jesus meant what he said? go and be perfect. Dont sin any more. Stop sinning. Isnt this what the law demands of all of us? Why is it that jesus could not have meant that? Do we interpret away this clear meaning because that would have God asking someone to do the impossible?

    jesus said ” go and stop sinning.”

    So tell me why i should not take jesus words to mean, literally what they say. And in that case, then what should we make of this story?

  7. fws,

    Grabbing some time today here. Yes, that’s right – elsewhere in the Gospel of John he says precisely that to the blind man who was healed – stop sinning (i.e. be perfect).

    Do any of us ever really totally stop sinning? No. But as we obtain more knowledge of our specific sins – and God’s corresponding provision for them – are we more accountable for those sins? Yes.

    Or no?

    Good to hear from you Frank.


  8. One clarification: as regards of our being more accountable, I do not mean to imply that we will necessarily gain “victory” over that sin, I just mean that we will more readily recognize the sin as “sin” and call it that with confidence – and then call “grace” “grace”!

    I also do believe in measured victory over sin though (the sinful desire is never far beneath the surface though). Of course, if you are able to effectively weed one area, it is very likely that Satan will hit you in other areas where you, in your Old Adam, are particularly vulnerable.

    It is a constant battle until the end. I’ve done a poem on this, which I think some of you have seen: http://infanttheology.wordpress.com/2009/12/23/transformation-failure-3/

    That said, one of my areas of struggle is the amount of time I spend commenting on sites like this! I need firewalls. That is why, starting today, I am (with a couple exceptions) no longer commenting on blogs other than my own starting today – for at least a year.

    Best to all,

  9. @Nathan #8

    There IS a measured control over sin.
    God the Holy Spirit uses the Law on all Old Adams, including those of believers, to control sin.
    And there is more! God uses the Law in all Old Adams, including those of believers to make his first article Goodness and Mercy happen. This is God’s doing. And he does it using up the Old Adam by killing him.

    If you can see any good works at all happen or any goodness and mercy
    happening in yourself or anyone else, this is the effect of the work of the HS using the Law in both the believer’s old adam and pagan old adams to make this all happen. Luke 18

    No faith or bible is required for any of this ! aristotle works just fine as we confess in our Apology.

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