When the subject of sin comes up – specifically other people’s sin – a lot of people have one go-to-verse/argument: “even Jesus told the woman caught in adultery to ‘go and sin no more’.”
These words are particularly helpful when being confronted with something else Jesus said: “do not judge lest you be judged.” Unfortunately, when Jesus spoke those words, he neglected to add all of the necessary caveats. Fortunately, we have his words to the woman caught in adultery to make it clear that Jesus didn’t really mean for us to leave sin unremarked on and unaddressed.
Since people who depend on the words “go and sin no more” clearly desire nothing more than to be faithful to Jesus’ teachings and example, I thought it might be helpful to examine their proper, biblical application. I would hate for anyone to behave in a way that didn’t meet the biblical standard, of course.
So, first we must look at the circumstances in which these words can be understood to provide biblical cover for confronting or calling out sin. Based on the story of the woman caught in adultery, I have identified the following prerequisites:
- There must be general agreement that the person has committed a sin which must be addressed. Situations in which there is argument or disagreement over whether the behavior is, in fact, sinful, do not meet the biblical standard.
- The sin in question must be brought to your attention by others. So, sin which you encounter on your own is not biblically covered by Jesus’ words to the adulterous woman.
- The person who has sinned must be facing serious consequences and condemnation for their sinful behavior.
- You must be asked directly to weigh in on the sin.
Basically, if the sin is brought to your attention by others who are upset over the sin and who have a desire to ensure that the sin is condemned and consequences given and who are seeking to have you join in or give your approval to said condemnation and consequences, this situation meets the biblical standards. On the other hand, if you just happen to run across someone’s sin yourself or the person is getting away with sinning, consequence free or if the situation involves an argument and if no one has actually asked your opinion, the situation does not meet the biblical standard. The claim that “even Jesus told the woman caught in adultery to go and sin no more” does not provide biblical cover in such circumstances.
Once you have determined that the situation you are dealing with meets the biblical standards for telling the person to “go and sin no more”, you have certain obligations which must be met. Specifically these are:
- You must first devise a way to run off the people who are condemning and calling for the punishment for the sin. Figuring out how to do this can be tough. Even Jesus had to stop and think before saying, “let he who is without sin cast the first stone.” But it is a biblical imperative that before you can address the person’s sin, you must first ensure their safety and well being. Otherwise you are just joining in with the crowd which is most certainly not biblical.
- You must have the patience to wait until the person who has sinned is no longer the target of wrath, condemnation and punishment. It is not biblical to address someone’s sin in the presence of those who want to punish and condemn them.
- Once you and the sinner are the only people involved in the controversy over their sin present, you must check to make sure that the sinner is no longer in fear of those who would condemn them. If they express fear that those who want to condemn and punish them are still seeking to punish or condemn them, now is not the time to confront their sin. You may need to go back to steps 1 and 2 before proceeding. If, like the adulterous woman, the sinner says, “there is no one left who wants to condemn me”, you can proceed to the next step.
- Assure the sinner that you do not condemn them and have no intention of punishing or otherwise holding them to account for their sin.
Once you have followed the above biblical procedures, you are free to address sin as Jesus did. Based on Jesus’ words, when you address the sin, you should:
- Make sure your words are forward and not backwards looking. This is not the time to ask for an explanation of past behavior or to run through an account of past sins committed.
- Resist the urge to lecture or give advice. Keep it really short.
- Don’t offer (or threaten) to hold the person accountable for their future behavior. Leave it up to the person to find his or her own way forward. If they need help, they will ask someone they trust for help and you may well not be that person.
- Don’t hold the fact that you just rescued the person over their head. Do not imply that they owe it to you to behave differently going forward.
Really, you can’t do much better than Jesus’ words, that we all love so much: “go and sin no more.”
After you have biblically addressed the sin, you must continue to follow the example set by Jesus. You should never speak of that person’s sins again. The sin should not become fodder for sermons or rants or blog posts. Nor should it be a topic of conversation with your friends. Also, do not seek to maintain contact with the person (unless they seek you out, of course) in order to see how they are doing. Once you have followed the biblical procedures and methods for dealing with sin the way Jesus did, your job is done.
Hopefully this explanation for how to biblically confront sin the way that Jesus did has been helpful to you. Dealing with sin like Jesus is the source of a lot of confusion. Perhaps the next time you encounter someone using the explanation “even Jesus told the woman caught in adultery to ‘go and sin no more’” in an unbiblical way, you can direct them here. Because we do want to be very biblical in our approach to such things, do we not?