"Go, And Sin No More"
The passage in John 8:11 where Jesus told an adulteress “Go, and sin no more” is one that gives hope to every sinner.
In John 8:11, Jesus told an adulteress, “Go, and sin no more.” This is indeed a powerful and precious passage, one that gives hope to every sinner. It has been often misunderstood and misused to suggest that Jesus was “non-judgmental,” that he only encouraged but never condemned the sinner. If Jesus did not require the penalty for sin, it is said, we should be “more tolerant” on the subject of adultery and on a wide range of other sins today. Let us consider these beautiful and blessed words of Jesus in their original context.
The Text in Its Context
In John 8:1-6 we read,
Jesus went unto the Mount of Olives. And early in the morning he came again into the temple, and all the people came unto him; and he sat down, and taught them. And the scribes and Pharisees brought unto him a woman taken in adultery; and when they had set her in the midst, they say unto him, Master, this woman was taken in adultery, in the very act. Now Moses in the law commanded us, that such should be stoned; but what sayest thou? This they said, tempting him, that they might have to accuse him.
It has been well observed that the enemies of our Lord were hoping that he would so explain away the seventh commandment, which forbids adultery, as to encourage them to break the sixth commandment, which forbids murder. In other words, they were looking for an excuse to put him to death.
“But Jesus stooped down, and with his finger wrote on the ground, as though he heard them not. So when they continued asking him”—why did he delay answering them? Jesus, by ignoring them, was giving them plenty of rope with which to hang themselves. They thought they had him trapped, and that he could not answer them without destroying himself, and so they pressed their argument harder and harder upon him. Verse 7 says, “So when they continued asking him, he lifted up himself, and said unto them, He that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone at her.” Now what is the meaning of that statement?
Jesus is pointing out that they had not come to him out of concern for justice in this matter. This is obvious on the face of it because they brought only the woman and not the man. The Law of Moses plainly taught in Deuteronomy 22:22 that both the adulterer and adulteress were to be put to death. But they brought only the adulteress. Where is the adulterer? If the police caught two men robbing a bank, arrested only one of them, and let the other go, scot free, would we not think that the police themselves were implicated some way in the crime? In other words, we would not expect them to conduct themselves that way unless they themselves were overturning justice. These men were not interested for one moment in justice as is evident because they did not bring the man who committed adultery with this woman.
Jesus called attention to this miscarriage of justice when he said, “He that is without sin among you,” that is, he that is not implicated in this crime. He who is truly seeking justice may cast the first stone. The point of that reference is that in Deuteronomy 17:7 the Law of Moses required in a capital case that the witnesses to the crime must cast the first stones. This is the exact meaning of the statement by Jesus, “He that is without sin among you, let him cast a stone at her.”
Jesus was not saying, as is sometimes supposed, “Well, if there is any one of you who has never made a mistake and never committed a sin of any kind, then you are free to stone her.” Jesus was not advocating a tolerant, non-judgmental, broad-minded attitude which says, “Since we all make mistakes, let us not be too strict in the application of God’s law on adultery or any other sin.” That was not the point at all, but rather Jesus is referring to the teaching of Deuteronomy 17:7 which they understood very well. In fact, Jesus is insisting that the law be applied strictly and accurately, exactly as God gave it. They attempted to use God’s Word hypocritically, twisting it to serve their own sinful aims, namely the rejection of the truth taught by Jesus and of the evidence that he was the Messiah. Rather than teaching tolerance for sin, Jesus is publicly exposing and rebuking all sin.
In verse 8 we read, “And again he stooped down and wrote on the ground. And they which heard it, being convicted by their own conscience, went out one by one, beginning at the eldest, even unto the last.” In other words, they knew they were implicated in this matter; they knew they were not seeking justice; they knew they did not bring both the man and the woman who committed the sin. Therefore, none of them was truly qualified to carry out the penalty of the law because none of them was innocent in this matter themselves. Instead of convicting Jesus of sin, they ended up convicting themselves of sin!
“Go, and Sin No More”
Finally, the Bible says,
And Jesus was left alone, and the woman standing in the midst. When Jesus had lifted up himself, and saw none but the woman, he said unto her, Woman, where are those thine accusers? Hath no man condemned thee? She said, No man, Lord. And Jesus said unto her, Neither do I condemn thee; go, and sin no more.
Now, some have imagined that when Jesus said, “Neither do I condemn thee,” he was saying we should never condemn sin. But what he was teaching was that he could not carry out the penalty of the law because he was not a personal witness to the crime. Remember that Deuteronomy 17:7 said that the witnesses to the crime must cast the first stones. It would be impossible then for Jesus to cast the first stone. Therefore, he said, “Neither do I condemn thee.”
Now, what more could he say that would be helpful to this woman? The men who brought her to Jesus were not interested in this woman for one moment, but were only interested in trapping the Lord. Jesus was truly interested in the woman. She had narrowly escaped with her life. Jesus says something to her to truly bless and to truly help her, “Go, and sin no more.”
Many years ago a preacher named J.W. McGarvey, who lived in Lexington, Kentucky, received a note on a Sunday afternoon from a prostitute. She was well known for her sinful life in that community. She told brother McGarvey she would be at the service that night, and she wanted him to preach and explain whether a person like her could be saved. Brother McGarvey chose to preach from this text in John 8 and to show her that Jesus taught there was hope for the adulteress when he said, “Go, and sin no more.” Yes, that prostitute heard brother McGarvey’s sermon and obeyed the gospel, and then she became well known in the community for her deeds of benevolence to those who were in need.
The proper use of this passage is that God hates sin, and God condemns sin, and if we are going to be saved from our sins, we must turn away from sin. This passage is misused when it is twisted to teach that we should never condemn sin in any way. Jesus came to this earth not to destroy the sinner but to save him by exposing, opposing, and, yes, condemning sin of every kind (Jn. 3:18-21; 8:24,32). God expects us to respect His Word and to obey His Word. We need to realize more and more the importance of submission to the will and to the Word of God.
The Lord is telling us today, “Go, and sin no more.” The Lord does not teach this doctrine that says, “You’re OK and I’m OK, and it does not matter how we live.” He does not teach that we can “do our own thing” and be saved in defiance of the Word of God. He teaches us to repent of our sins and to turn away from our sins in genuine, godly sorrow and repentance, and to obey the gospel without delay. Jesus is telling the person who has committed a single act of adultery that he must not do so again. Jesus is telling the person who habitually practices adultery by going to the bed of adultery in an adulterous marriage that he must end such a relationship. Jesus is telling any of us who commit any sin to stop and quit the practice before it destroys us in this world or in the world to come.
If we are to be saved from our sins today, we must turn to Christ. We must believe that he is the divine Son of God. We must remember that Jesus said in Mark 16:16, “He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved; but he that believeth not shall be damned,” or condemned in hell. Yes, dear friend, Jesus taught the reality of both heaven and hell. We must make a choice between heaven and hell. We plead with men today in the very words of Christ that they might turn away from every sin: “Go, and sin no more.” Will you not submit yourself to the Son of God who died for your sins and who is coming again to receive us to a home in heaven? We urge you to obey the gospel of Christ today without delay.