Home > Opinion > Z - Archived Opinion Writers > Brown, Nathan > 2008 >
“Go and sin no more”
Submitted: Nov 28, 2008

A few  years ago, I volunteered occasionally as an on-air presenter for a community Christian radio station. As many such radio stations do, from time to time we would invite listeners to call in with their song requests.

I distinctly remember one such request we received because of the song title and the scenarios it suggested. The caller dedicated the request to a specific person, giving us her name and requesting the song "Go and Sin No More" by Christian artist Rebecca St James.

Of course, the song is inspired by the story of the woman caught in adultery and brought to Jesus (see John 8:1-11, NLT). There may have been a remarkable personal story behind this dedication or it might simply have been a favourite song about a much-loved story about Jesus. But we also imagined circumstances in which requesting such a song and "sending it out" to some wayward daughter, sister or friend could have been a means of delivering some kind of rebuke, to pass judgment or prod a conscience. As I remember it, we played the song but were careful not to over-emphasise the dedication aspect of the request.

It's a question that arises every time we talk seriously about sin: How do we as people who seek to follow a sinless God relate to those who wrestle with the reality of sin, as we all do? The common formulation of "hating the sin, but loving the sinner" rolls off the tongue so easily. But in practice it is far more complicated.

In many situations, what we do, how we act and the choices we make are not so readily divorced from who we are. To many people, "hating the sin" feels like hating the sinner or "loving the sinner" feels like loving the sin. Often, neither the lovers/haters or the loved/hated are careful or adept at managing and understanding the nuances of such relationships.

Naturally, this problem does not exist if we simply abandon the concept of sin and perhaps that is why even many Christians try to get by with a faith without all the sin "hang-ups." If nothing or no-one is really sinful, we don't have to worry about relating to sinners.

On the other hand, if we can just skip straight to the "Go and sin no more" part, we will be able to set straight the sinners around us. Then they will be either reformed or repulsed by our righteous prompting and, again, we don't have to worry about relating to sinners.

Jesus took neither approach. When the woman caught in adultery was hurled at His feet, Jesus stooped and wrote in the dust as the angry accusers waited expectantly. At their continued questions, Jesus stood up, told those without sin to start throwing their stones and then bent down again. Next to the woman-the target of the stones.

In those tense few moments, until the accusers began to quietly move away, Jesus put Himself on the line, bent over next to the crouching woman, at risk should any one of her accusers decide he was worthy to throw his stone.

Then, with the accusers gone and the rest of the crowd surrounding them, Jesus goes still further to defuse the risk to the woman. By His own definition, Jesus was entitled to lead the stoning. He had never sinned-and He was offended by the sin she had committed. But after she reported the departure of her accusers, Jesus simply says, "Neither do I condemn you" (see John 8:11).

Then, and only then-after putting Himself on the line physically, standing up for the woman in the face of her accusers and surrendering His "right" to carry out the punishment she "deserved"-does Jesus send her on her way with the command, " Go and sin no more" (see John 8:11, NLT). It is the conclusion of the conversation, not the opening demand. By risking Himself, He has earned her trust and His call to righteousness is more powerful for its foundation in His own righteous acts of self-sacrifice and embrace.

This is more demanding than a song request to a Christian radio station and much deeper than the formulaic, "Hate the sin; love the sinner." In Jesus-and supremely in His death-we see both the tragic hatefulness of sin and what it truly means to love the sinner.

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