Something has been sticking in my craw lately. Something Jesus said. “Sin no more.” It’s found twice in John 5:14 and 8:11. What’s bugging me is not that Jesus said it – everything the Lord said is right and true and should be written on our hearts. The problem I’m having is how the church is using it. Let me explain.
In John 5:1-15 Jesus healed a thirty-eight-year invalid at the pool of Bethesda. Jesus told the man “Get up! Pick up your mat and walk” (v. 8). And so the man is healed. John said “Later, Jesus found him in the temple and said to him, ‘See you are well again. Stop sinning or something worse may happen to you” (v. 14).
In John 8:1-11 Jesus is confronted by a group of religious leaders who bring before Him a woman caught in the act of adultery (BTW – where was the man???). Jesus rejected the religious folks and sided with the woman because no one is without sin (I hope that’s not a surprise to you). After all of her accusers walked away he told her “Go now and leave your life of sin” (v. 11).
Without fail, every time I hear these stories taught, preached, or written about, they invariably press the “sin no more” point. Is that really what the Scriptures are teaching us in these accounts? What about the miracle-working power of Jesus? What about grace? What about forgiveness? What about the extraordinary, wonderful, breathtaking, holy love on display? What would Jesus want us to take away from these passages? Surely not just the divine imperative to “leave your life of sin.” We forget that these are real people who encountered the real Son of God in the flesh. Yes, their lives were likely changed (we know nothing more than their encounters with the Lord) but the catalyst for change was the amazing grace and healing power of God through Jesus Christ.
What is the message of the church? It seems to most often be: “Don’t sin!” Is that what brings people to Christ? Let me ask it a different way. What drew you to Jesus Beloved? Fear and chastisement or grace and compassion and forgiveness and love? “Go and do likewise” (Luke 10:37).