In John 8:11, Jesus tells the woman who was caught in adultery to “go and sin no more”. Why would He say this if it would be impossible to stop sinning?
People have tried to explain what they think Jesus meant with these words. Some say that Jesus said it in the hope that we would try to stop sinning but that He doesn’t expect us to really do it. Other people think that Jesus was mocking and told the woman to go and sin no more because He wanted to teach the Pharisees a lesson. Almost nobody dared to ask: What if Jesus meant what He said?
What does it mean to “sin no more”?
What if “Go and sin no more” is actually a command to stop living in sin? Is that impossible? What did Jesus mean - for John writes that we are liars if we say that we do not have sin? (1 John 1:8.)
The verses in James 1:14-15 (NCV) give a good description of this sin that we all have. “But people are tempted when their own evil desire leads them away and traps them. This desire leads to sin, and then the sin grows and brings death.”
There is sin inside all of us, we are born with it. It is our own evil desires (the sin inside us) that lead us away and tempt us. That is what John means when he writes that we have sin. But having sin does not mean that we have to give in to these temptations. It is only when we agree with the sinful thoughts and deeds we are tempted to and say Yes to it, that we have committed sin or done sin.
So when Jesus said, “Go and sin no more,” He didn’t expect that this woman was going to leave her sinful human nature right there and would never be tempted again. He was telling her to say No to the sin that lived in her, to not give in when she was tempted, and to stop the desire from growing and becoming sin; stop the temptation from becoming sin.
And isn’t this the same command that He gives to all of us?
The power of the cross
Jesus Himself says in Luke 9:23 (CEB), “All who want to come after me must say no to themselves, take up their cross daily, and follow me.” That means that we should say No to the thoughts and desires that tempt and trap us. That we should take up our cross and completely stop these thoughts before they become sin. In this way we follow Jesus’ example who was “tempted in every way that we are, but he did not sin”. Hebrews 4:15 (NCV).
Taking up our cross – that is the most important point. If we do this – if we never let these sinful desires become sin – then we are following Jesus, just as He told us to do. Then we are fulfilling the command to “go and sin no more”.
“So put to death the parts of your life that belong to the earth, such as sexual immorality, moral corruption, lust, evil desire, and greed (which is idolatry).” Colossians 3:5 (CEB).
“Those who belong to Christ Jesus have nailed the passions and desires of their sinful nature to his cross and crucified them there.” Galatians 5:24 (NLT).
It is clear that if we want to belong to Christ we need to do exactly this: “If you love Me, keep My commandments.” John 14:15.
So is it possible to go and sin no more?
When you try to live this life of overcoming sin you will quickly find that it is not so easy to do. Despite our good intentions we fall and fall and fall again.
“So I say, let the Holy Spirit guide your lives. Then you won’t be doing what your sinful nature craves." Galatians 5:16 (NLT). The key to living an overcoming life is to let the Spirit guide your life, or as it is written in another translation, to walk in the Spirit. And that means being obedient to the Spirit. If we do this, then it is written that we will not do what our sinful nature wants us to do. And if we don’t do what our sinful nature wants us to do – if we don’t give in when we are tempted – then we haven’t sinned!
It is easy to come up with lots of reasons why it is impossible to “go and sin no more”. You can think that Jesus was only speaking to this specific woman and specifically about adultery. You can say that He said it only to teach the Pharisees a lesson and didn’t even mean what He said. You can say that He meant that we should just try our hardest until we in any case after a time would fall.
But the fact is that Jesus didn’t say any of those things.
What He said was, “Go and sin no more.” And Jesus meant what He said.
The Bible isn’t meant to be cut apart and examined and explained and interpreted. It’s meant to be read and obeyed. What it says is actually what it means. The Bible is the Word of God, written by God-fearing men and inspired by God. There’s nothing there that shouldn’t be there. God knew what He was doing.
So when Jesus said, “Go and sin no more,” He meant us to go and sin no more!