John 8:1-11 1 But Jesus went to the Mount of Olives. 2 At dawn he appeared again in the temple courts, where all the people gathered around him, and he sat down to teach them. 3 The teachers of the law and the Pharisees brought in a woman caught in adultery. They made her stand before the group 4 and said to Jesus, “Teacher, this woman was caught in the act of adultery. 5 In the Law Moses commanded us to stone such women. Now what do you say?” 6 They were using this question as a trap, in order to have a basis for accusing him. But Jesus bent down and started to write on the ground with his finger. 7 When they kept on questioning him, he straightened up and said to them, “If any one of you is without sin, let him be the first to throw a stone at her.” 8 Again he stooped down and wrote on the ground. 9 At this, those who heard began to go away one at a time, the older ones first, until only Jesus was left, with the woman still standing there. 10 Jesus straightened up and asked her, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?” 11 “No one, sir,” she said. “Then neither do I condemn you,” Jesus declared. “Go now and leave your life of sin.”
John 3:17-For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.
As I begin, let me say that this room is full of God-stories, full of stories of how people left a life they had been living to pursue something greater, something more satisfying, something more exhilarating, and something more healed and whole than they had ever known. And those stories have been possible because of the transforming power of the love, grace, mercy, and forgiveness of God in their lives.
In both Scriptures for today we read that God isn’t coming to us to condemn us, but to save us. From what does He want to save us? The life that is full of accusation, the life that is tied to shame, the life that makes us have to go into hiding and come up with ways to lie and cover up what we are doing and where we are going, the life that keeps us afraid and living “on the run” from the truth, that is the life of sin from which Jesus has come to rescue us. That isn’t the picture of a harsh or angry God. That isn’t the image of a heavy-handed, overbearing God. On the contrary, it is the portrait of a loving, gracious, compassionate and merciful God who wants us to be free to live in joy and peace.
Back to the story of the woman caught in adultery. Verse 9 tells us that Jesus waited until every accuser had left the scene before He even spoke to the woman. This was going to be a one-on-one conversation between Jesus and the woman caught in adultery. He wanted her undivided attention. He wanted to remove competing voices. He was going to silence every voice in the street and remove every staring eye so that she could just look at Him, so that she could see Him. He wanted her to hear just His voice say to her, “I don’t condemn you.”
Had she been holding her breath? Had she convinced herself, “This is it. I’m going to die?” Was she crouched on the ground in the fetal position with her hands over her head anticipating the first rock that would hit her? Had she been mulling this scenario over in her mind for years wondering when she would be found out? Had she lived in fear of the day that everything would come out in the open because she knew when it did it would be catastrophic, devastating and the end of her life?
Not to get too graphic, but please picture the vulnerability of the woman. Picture the humiliation and shame she endured. Realizing what she had been caught doing and the aggressive nature of the people who were bent on accusing her I doubt they gave her time to get dressed before they dragged her into the streets. Her sin was publicly exposed and there she was in the streets, perhaps half dressed, perhaps totally naked and in terror for her life.
The fact that Jesus wrote in the dirt may not be as significant as the fact that He stooped to do it. Because when He stooped, when He got low, His body language showed the religious leaders that they were the ones standing in condemnation over the woman. His body language revealed that He wasn’t corroborating with the voices of accusation and condemnation. He was different. He was love. He was mercy. He was forgiveness. He was the God of a fresh start and a second chance.
Jesus told those who were without sin to cast the first stone. Three commentators I read said that Jesus wasn’t merely saying, “If any of you are perfect you can go ahead and stone her.” He was saying, “If any of you are without this particular sin, adultery, sexual sin, in your life, then you go ahead and stone her.” Wow. Remember, Jesus had taught in Matthew 5:27 that if a man even looked at a woman lustfully he could commit adultery with her in his heart.” Jesus had elevated sin to a whole new level when He said it was about more than behavior. It was a condition of the heart.
How hypocritical for these men to hold the law over this woman’s head and not apply it to themselves. Jesus wasn’t soft on the law or soft on sin. The Law of God, the Ten Commandments, it was given to show us there is a standard that we regularly violate. Once we recognize the condition we are in, we have a reason to look to God for help with that condition. The help He gives us forgiveness, the cleansing of our sin, and the invitation to make a new start. The law and the grace of God are complements. No-one has ever been saved by keeping the law, but no one has ever been saved by God’s grace who was not first indicted by the Law. Conviction precedes conversion and real change in our lives.
Jesus didn’t dispute what the woman had done was wrong. It just wasn’t His priority. Our past isn’t Jesus’ priority. What we have done is not what is critical. What is critical is what we do with the compassion, love, mercy, grace and forgiveness of God that is tied to the words, “Go and sin no more.” What is critical is the new life we can choose. It isn’t about what we have been caught doing, but it is about what Christ has done for us and can do for us that can free us from the trap of sin as we receive new life in Him.
The decision we have to make is “Do we want the life of sin where we have to sneak around and live in fear of condemnation or do we want the life Christ offers which is abundant life and eternal life in Heaven?” It’s not an “I forgive you of your sin and by all means keep on sinning life” Jesus offers, but it is the “I forgive you of your sin, and I will help you leave your life of sin behind” that Jesus offers.
If that is the life you want to choose, the life of Christ, then that life is distinctly different from the life of sin. Sin needs to become that which we turn from, run from and avoid at all costs. That life needs to be the life we put in our rear view mirror. Believers are supposed to be done with the deeds of darkness, done with pursuing the short-lived pleasures of sin and are supposed to be pursuing the righteousness of Christ. For believers, sin isn’t one of the options on the menu. We are to look at sin as something we are now dead to. Listen to Paul’s words in Romans 6:
Romans 6:11-14 11 In the same way, count yourselves dead to sin but alive to God in Christ Jesus. 12 Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body so that you obey its evil desires. 13 Do not offer the parts of your body to sin, as instruments of wickedness, but rather offer yourselves to God, as those who have been brought from death to life; and offer the parts of your body to him as instruments of righteousness. 14 For sin shall not be your master, because you are not under law, but under grace.
When Jesus stooped with grace to offer the woman an opportunity to go free from sin, He gave her a command to choose to live free of it forever. She was under the grace of God even though the law had a different standard to hold over her head. That is true. But the grace of God, when we don’t get what we deserve, is what is supposed to motivate us to choose God’s way. Grace doesn’t just get us off the hook, but it points us to a better way.
Paul says that we are not to allow sin to be our master. If we choose the “Go and sin no more life” we are choosing a new Master. If God is your Master and you are supposed to offer your body and your very being to God as an instrument of righteousness. That is a lifestyle that looks completely different from the lifestyle of sin.
The idea that we can embrace salvation and sin at the same time is preposterous. But again, don’t hear that this morning as God being harsh and heavy-handed. Please hear the tenderness of God. He is compassionate toward you. He knows how powerful the draw of sin is. He knows how temptation is lurking at your door. He knows how weak you are. He isn’t asking you to walk away from it without giving you the power to do it.
What Jesus offers is not just grace in the moment, but it is grace to change and power to live the right way.
If all Jesus ever said was, “Go and sin no more” where would we be? Left to ourselves we can only “Go and sin some more!” It is more than a word from Jesus we need. It is more than an encounter with Jesus that we need. It is an ongoing daily relationship with Jesus that we have to have if we are going to “Go and sin no more!”
The grace of God isn’t just that God forgives our sin, but that He helps us stop doing it!
Let me see if I can help us see how it can happen. How can we leave the life of sin? The life of sin is a series of compromises. The life of sinning no more is a series of commitments to the process of transformation. The life of “sinning no more” isn’t a life free of sin all of the sudden, but it is a life of surrender. It does involve the desire not to sin again. It isn’t the kind of life where you seek to get away with as much as possible without getting caught or without technically crossing “the line.” It means carrying the cross of Christ which involves self-sacrifice in order that you can stay as far away from “the line” as possible.
Choosing the life of “sinning no more” will involve time and tests and will result in a testimony. It will involve both successes and failures. It will involve humility and discipline. It will mean we live a confessional life, a teachable life, and a life that is willing to be altered at God’s direction. We will never have a “go and sin no more” life if we have the attitude that “Nobody can tell me what to do!”
God is patient with us. He gives us the Holy Spirit as a teacher, a guide. The Holy Spirit will convict us when we sin and lead us to repent quickly. The Holy Spirit will give us wisdom and insight about why we gave in to temptation and teach us how to avoid making those same mistakes. God doesn’t just say “Stop it!” He says, “I’ll help you quit.”
Galatians 5, the entire chapter, is really about leaving the life of sin behind. Paul talks about how it is for our freedom from sin that Christ died. But just because Christ frees us from sin doesn’t mean we are then free to live however we choose. Freedom from sin means we have left that lifestyle, and it is clear that the only way to do that is not in our power, but in God’s power, the power of the Holy Spirit.
Galatians 5:16-17 16 So I say, live by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the sinful nature. 17 For the sinful nature desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the sinful nature. They are in conflict with each other, so that you do not do what you want.
And skip to verse 25: Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit.
Just walk with Christ. Just pursue His presence. Just allow the Holy Spirit to reside in you. Seek close fellowship with the Spirit of God. Ask the Holy Spirit to empower you. Walk with Christ, every day. Don’t just take a day trip or a weekend trip with Him once in a while. Be conscious of needing Him and His power every day.
Every time you ask for help when you feel spiritually weak, you are taking a step. Every time you read His word and ask for the Holy Spirit to make it clear to you, you are taking a step. Every time you do something because you think it would glorify Christ you are taking a step. Every time you get to church or Bible study, you are taking a step. Every time you believe and stand on the promises of God, you are taking a step. Every time you lift a hand in worship or fold your hands in prayer, you are taking a step. Every time you say “no” to sin, you are taking a step. Every time you ask the Holy Spirit to review your day with you and ask if there was anything you did that was sinful, you are taking a step. Every time you confess your sin and ask for forgiveness and power to overcome that sin in your life you are taking a step. Every time you say, “God show me your will for my life today” you are taking a step. Every time you ask a brother or sister in Christ to pray for you and to hold you accountable you are taking a step. Every step with Christ we are breathing in His grace and the power to change! When we choose the “go and sin no more” life we are stepping with Jesus.
Both lifestyles, the life of sin or the life of righteousness involve desire and passion. Just what does your heart desire this morning? Sin or the way of the Savior? Either way, in order to commit to one or the other you have to cultivate a desire for it. You know I don’t really have a natural inclination to exercise. I don’t get up in the morning and think, “I can’t wait to hit the pavement and get my walk on.” No, it is something I have learned to do and have cultivated a desire to do because I know it is good and right for me. I know I want the results and the quality of life that come from exercise so I know I need to do it. And as I have cultivated a lifestyle that includes regular walking, I have gotten faster and stronger. I have found it reduces stress and a lot of times I find it enjoyable. Would it be easier not to walk? Yes. Would it produce the results in my life that I want and need? No? So, I walk.
Yes, it would be easier not to invest time in a relationship with God. It would be easier to sleep in on Sundays. It would be easier to just give in to whatever temptation in the moment sounded good. But it wouldn’t produce the results I want. I want to live free. I want to live without condemnation. I want to feel good about myself. I want to have a vibrant spiritual life. I want to know my life’s purpose. I want power to overcome the pull of the flesh. I want to follow Jesus. I don’t want the consequences of sin. Sin hurts myself and others. I don’t want that. I don’t want to have to sneak around and lie and try to cover up my behavior. I am choosing the “go and sin no more” life.
The “go and sin” no more life means you have chosen the life of Jesus. He didn’t sin. He lived a holy life. And choosing to sin no more means you are attempting to live as He did. In our story today about the woman caught in adultery let me point out that the religious leaders weren’t super concerned about the woman. She was just a pawn in their game. They were using her to try to trap Jesus. He already had the reputation for being a friend of sinners. If He said “yes” she should be stoned, every sinner who had followed Him to that point would be reconsidering how safe of a move that was. If He stood by the adulteress woman He would be winking His eye at the law. He could be arrested for that. They were hoping to discredit and trap Jesus. He didn’t fall for it. Jesus never fell for one of their traps or for any of the traps the devil set for Him.
Satan is seeking to trap us in sin. We need to be mindful of our weakness. Every one of us in this room needs to acknowledge and admit that we are one decision away from diving into a sinful pattern for life. With just one decision we can all be headed for destruction. So in addition to choosing to walk with Jesus in the power of the Spirit, try to “sin proof” your life as best you can. Perhaps ask yourself the following questions:
- With what and who do you surround yourself?
- Are the friends and other influences in your life assisting your efforts to “sin no more?”
- How is your free time spent?
- What do you think of when your mind is free to wander?
- Do you look for ways to excuse or justify parts of your life?
- What are you hiding right now from your family, friends or co-workers?
- How is anything you are doing hurting yourself, others, and the cause of Christ?
- How much time are you spending intentionally trying to walk with Jesus?
The fact that the woman was “caught” in her sin, even though it was a trap was an act of God’s grace in her life. Because she was caught, because she could hear Jesus’ words of forgiveness and freedom, she was shown that there was another life she could lead if she would choose to do so. Scripture doesn’t tell us what she did with Jesus’ words. We don’t know how her story ended.
But we do know our own stories. We do know what we have been “caught” in even as we have sat here and listened to not words of condemnation, but conviction, spoken over us because God loves us so much He wants us to know He can help us live a better way. Grace and power to change. Those are the unsaid realities tucked inside the words “Go and sin no more.” Can you choose that life today?