It’s that time of year when many people are thinking of New Year’s resolutions. How can my life in 2006 be better than it was in 2005? The wonderful thing about following Jesus Christ is that he does give victory over the life-wrecking sins of our past. And the negative past does not need to follow us into the new year. Forgiveness, grace, peace and love are ours in Jesus Christ.
Thus Jesus gave hope and order to the woman who had been caught in adultery, when he said to her, “Go and sin no more.” (See John 8:1-11)
The lawyers and Pharisees who had trapped the adulteress and dragged her to Jesus, had in mind for her, a future of humiliation and punishment. Jesus envisioned for her a new year of freedom, forgiveness and faithfulness to her husband. The woman had the same choice we have today. Would she choose the way of the law(yers), or the way of the Lord?
I think this John 8 Scripture is ruined if we import into it the wrong view of sin. Bible words are not secret code words. Just because “sin” means something in another Bible verse doesn’t require that it has the same meaning in John 8. My Merriam-Webster Tenth Edition Collegiate Dictionary lists 5 different definitions for “sin.” The context is what tells us which way to understand the word.
So, what is the meaning of “sin no more” in John 8:1-11? I don’t think it can mean “be perfect” (as we 21st century guilt-driven Americans are inclined to think). In that case, it wouldn’t make sense what Jesus said in verse 7, “whoever is without sin, let him cast the first stone at her.” The law did call for stoning as capital punishment, but if only perfect people could throw the stones, and none of us is perfect, then the law of capital punishment would never be practiced. No, “sin no more” in John 8 does not mean “be perfect.”
I think the New International Version got it right when they translated “go and sin no more” as “go now and leave your life of sin.” The woman could be “caught” in adultery because she was consistent in committing adultery. It was her lifestyle. Jesus is telling her that he is not condemning her, but neither is he condoning immorality. She must change her life from being sexually unfaithful to being faithful.
So, “sin” in this context does not mean every conceivable fault, but rather refers to a specific wrong-doing. This works for verse 7 as well. The men who brought the woman to Jesus were acting out of malice and ill-will. They were not caring for the virtue of the community, or for the good of the woman, but were trying to trap Jesus, not caring what happened to the woman in the process. They were committing the sin of entrapment. And Jesus called them on it. He said, in effect, “if anyone is truly here to bring justice, rather than to attempt some horrible miscarriage of justice, you be the first to throw a stone.”
Is there a specific wrong-doing in your life that you don’t want to carry with you into 2006? Go to Jesus and not only will he say “Go and sin no more,” but he will also say “Follow me, and I’ll give you the victory.”