After Jesus’ perfectly beautiful encounter with the woman in John 8, he tells her, “Go, and from now on sin no more.” So she starts going to church, tithes ten percent, volunteers at the animal shelter, always drives five miles under the speed limit, and lives a perfect, sinless life forever after. Easy peasy.
Okay, probably not. We don’t get any more information about the woman or what happened to her after this incident, but it’s safe to assume that her life was changed forever after that, as we see happen to so many others in scripture after a personal encounter with Jesus. We don’t know what her transformation looked like exactly, but we’ve seen it play out in our own lives, as Jesus saves us from sin and sanctifies us. It doesn’t mean we don’t struggle with sin anymore, but we make progress, step by tiny step. The Puritans called it mortification of sin, which means putting our sin to death, and if only it were so easy to make all our sin just kick the bucket once and for all!
So why would Jesus tell her to sin no more, knowing that she couldn’t possibly accomplish such a thing? To make matters worse, Jesus also says in Matthew 5, “You must therefore be perfect, as your heavenly father is perfect.” (Here’s a little tip for when you’re reading your Bible and you come across that word therefore: you’ve got to go back and see what it’s there for! The word therefore always refers to an earlier point made in the text.) Earlier in the chapter, we see Jesus telling the people they are the salt of the earth and the light of the world, that they must let their light shine so others will see their good works and glorify God. In other words, our actions should reflect the character of God.
He says that we must love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us. If we love only those who love us, or only those who are particularly loveable, what good does that do? How does that reflect the character of God, who loves everyone, when we all are so undeserving? How does that shine the light of a loving father who is so much bigger and better and brighter than anything else our world has to offer? How does that make God beautiful to those around us?
Jesus says in the same chapter that he has not come to abolish the law — that is, the law of Moses given to the people by God in Exodus — but to fulfill it. And we read in James 2:10, “For whoever keeps the whole law but fails in one point has become guilty of all of it.” There’s that whole perfection thing rearing its obnoxious head again. How are we supposed to do that? Who does Jesus think we are? Jesus?!
And that’s precisely the point. We can’t keep the whole law because we’re not Jesus, and he is the only one who ever lived who kept it perfectly. We try and try to white-knuckle our way through all the rules, living morally above-average lives, judging others who fall victim to different or “worse” sins than those we struggle with, and the whole time we’re missing the point. Just like the teachers of the law who brought the woman to Jesus in John 8. We can get so busy trying to follow the rules that we forget to love people. We can get so busy trying to follow the rules that we forget why Jesus came.
In Romans 3 we learn: “Now we know that whatever the law says it speaks to those who are under the law, so that every mouth may be stopped, and the whole world may be held accountable to God. For by works of the law no human being will be justified in his sight, since through the law comes knowledge of sin.” We are all under the law, and it condemns us because we can never keep it. It’s too big and weighty and perfect for us.
But that’s the whole point. Through the law comes knowledge of sin. The law teaches us that we cannot do it on our own, and when we try to do it on our own we screw it up, and we need a savior. The law compels us to turn to Christ. Jesus is the fulfillment of the law. He is perfect where we are not, and he is our covering when we fail. He takes on himself the condemnation of the law that we have broken. This is the meaning of that big churchy word justification: God’s righteous act of removing the guilt and penalty of sin while, at the same time, declaring the ungodly to be righteous through faith in Christ’s atoning sacrifice.
And Paul goes on: “But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it— the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction: for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God’s righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins. It was to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.”
We all have sinned, and we all, through Christ, can be justified. Praise Jesus. Now go, and from now on sin no more.
Written By: Jess Upshaw Glass