Jesus was teaching in the Temple when, as the story goes, a crowd barged onto the scene, interrupting Jesus in the middle of His lesson. They were Pharisees of all ages, their faces bearing expressions of rage and righteous indignation, and they had come to test the Teacher. They had a woman with them. Her clothes were in tatters from being dragged through the streets, and she had makeup running in streaks around her eyes and down to her cheeks. She was wailing in despair. She had been caught in adultery.
John 8 says the Pharisees tested Jesus, recalling the ordinance in the law that such women were to be stoned (interestingly they make no mention of the man she was caught with, who would be liable to death under the law too). Jesus, bending down and making signs on the ground challenged anyone among them who had not sinned to cast the first stone at her. One by one, starting with the oldest, the Pharisees dropped their stones and left. The woman opened her eyes to see her accusers gone. Then Jesus said these famous words, “Neither do I condemn you; go, and from now on sin no more.”
Sin No More
But why does Jesus say what he said, “Sin no more”? He could have said, “Have abundant life,” or “Follow me,” or simply, “Know the Father’s love. ” At first glance it can seem that Jesus’ forgiveness toward the woman only goes so far, that He’s willing to forgive adultery this time, but from now on the woman better keep on the straight path. The sword of judgment hanging over her has been diverted this once, but will fall upon her should sin enter her life again. Interpreting this way, Jesus is willing to forgive when people are willing to stop sinning. There is a condition and an end game of moral perfection. How quickly a story about grace becomes a story about law.
But I think Jesus had something different in mind. As Jesus explains later in the chapter, he does nothing that His Father does not lead Him to do. Jesus is not doing for Himself, but so that the purposes of the Father in Heaven may be accomplished through Him. In John 1 it says “As many as believed in Him, He gave the right to become children of God.” In John 3:17 it says Jesus was not sent “to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through Him.” The Father had something in mind, and it had less to do with legal judgment and more to do with family and salvation.
God’s Purpose for the Woman
So what did God want for this woman? That she would stop sinning. To what end? To fulfill God’s compulsive need for moral perfection in humans? Not at all. God wanted a daughter, not an acolyte, a friend and not a slave. Jesus spared her for relationship with the Father, because everything Jesus did was for the sake of the Father and His plan for every human. Jesus didn’t tell the woman not to sin to the end of moral perfection, Jesus told her not to sin because He was inviting her into a greater life.
The Father wanted to build a platform of relationship with the woman. The Father saw in her the daughter He so desperately desired to have in His family. But the Father wanted a friend and not a slave; the choice had to rest with the woman. Would she be a daughter or continue in her old way? Would she meet God or continue to turn inward on herself in the whirlpool of her sin and brokenness. Jesus gives her an invitation and not a command, that her choice to leave sin would be her first step in a journey into the Father’s arms. Obedience and disobedience are conscious choices we can make. Our obedience opens a platform for us to build relationship with the Father. We can see the Father when our eyes face Him, and we can’t see Him when we turn away. To turn toward the Father is to see Him, and to see Him is to be pure in heart. To see the Father is to begin to know Him and His love for us. And this is love, not that we love Him but that He loved us and sent His Son to die for us. The invitation is worded like this, “Go and sin no more.”
God is inviting us into the family. He wants to meet with us and save us into relationship with Him. The act of turning toward that with the Father is the very act of turning away from our sin. God doesn’t ask this of us for the sake of our moral perfection, but for the sake of our sonship and daughtership with Him. We shouldn’t be afraid or discouraged that Jesus calls us away from our sin; He does it so that He can show us His Father. And even in the midst of our sin, Jesus is entering in, advocating for us and turning away every accuser until it’s only me and Him left. He will ask you again and again, “Where are your accusers?” and again and again He will invite us to walk toward the Father, “Go and sin no more.”