Over the years, I’ve appreciated the sheer brilliance of Jesus’ teaching in ways I cannot begin to adequately describe. It’s easy to be so effusive if one loves Jesus, but this isn’t an empty platitude for me. He not only reveals human nature at the deepest heart level, He’s fundamentally changed me, transforming my thoughts and perceptions, how I view myself and all my relationships.
In my devotional reading this morning, I came to John 8 once again, which is the story of the woman caught in adultery. It’s been an impactful story to me over the years and I’ve written on it before (see my post: Jesus Jujutsu: a brilliant strategy for biblical self-discovery“).
But what struck me this morning was a reminder about how Jesus proposes to bring us into real freedom. I was reading the Passion Translation (TPT), which gave me a fresh perspective on this well-known story.
First, let’s look at Jesus’ response to the religious accuser’s insistence that this woman be punished according to the Law:
7 Angry, they kept insisting that he answer their question, so Jesus stood up and looked at them and said, “Let’s have the man who has never had a sinful desire throw the first stone at her.” (John 8:7 TPT*)
It says “sinful desire” here. I think this is a better translation of the Greek word, anamartetos, considering Jesus’ other teaching on this subject (see Matt. 5:28). Jesus is going right to the heart of the matter. It doesn’t matter what my outward behavior looks like—whether or not I’ve been caught in a sinful act—it’s the motives of my heart that matters. This is precisely where Jesus does His most brilliant work in us.
Jesus is addressing one of the biggest blind spots in human nature. That is, we want grace for ourselves but we think it’s okay to judge others for same things we ourselves do (see Rom.2:1-4). We all have a double-standard like this lurking in us somewhere. And if we want to follow Jesus, we must drop our rocks and learn how to show the same grace toward others that we would want for ourselves. There’s no excuse for our religious hypocritical behavior (Matt.7:1-5, 12). Our job is to restore and bear one another’s burdens, not to throw people under the bus of our legalistic accusations (Gal.6:1-5).
Here’s the second passage I want to look at, which completes what Jesus is trying to teach us here:
10 Until finally, Jesus was left alone with the woman still standing there in front of him. So he stood back up and said to her, “Dear woman, where are your accusers? Is there no one here to condemn you?”
11 Looking around, she replied, “I see no one, Lord.”
Jesus said, “Then I certainly don’t condemn you either. Go, and from now on, be free from a life of sin.” (John 8:10-11 TPT*)
I would also mention this to our pointy-headed judgmental hearts: “If God is for us, who can be against us?” (Rom.8:31) Just who do we think we are contradicting Jesus by condemning those He came to free.
Let’s focus in on the phrase, “be free from a life of sin.” Now, the original Greek simply says “sin no more,” but like with a lot of translation challenges, this doesn’t really describe what Jesus is saying to us here.
The problem is, we can infer from “sin no more” that we’re supposed to stop sinning by our own willpower. And this is how a lot of devoted but frustrated Christians have practiced it. I’ll just ask you, “How’s that working for you?” I thought so!
But the phrase, “be free from a life of sin,” has an altogether different implication. This is not about willpower but identity. We’re under new management in Christ—a New Creation (2 Cor.5:17)—and as sons and daughter of our heavenly Father, we’ve been given permission and empowered to be free, as Romans 6 also implies:
12 Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body so that you obey its lusts, 13 and do not go on presenting the members of your body to sin as instruments of unrighteousness; but present yourselves to God as those alive from the dead, and your members as instruments of righteousness to God. 14 For sin shall not be master over you, for you are not under law but under grace. (Rom.6:12-14 NASB*)
Notice the highlighted words “do not let” and “shall not.” These are the empowering bookends to God’s promise of freedom that transforms those who live according to His grace.
And if we add how Paul describes God’s grace, we see something radical and wonderful.
11 For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation to all people. 12 It trains us to reject godless ways and worldly desires and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age (Titus 2:11-12 NET*)
Here’s how I see what Jesus is saying to the accused woman…and to us. First, Jesus frees us from all condemnation and guilt by forgiving and embracing us while still in our sin. Second, He invites us into His life: to discover His truth about ourselves and our new identity. And as we open our hearts to abide in His love by faith, He empowers us by His transforming grace.
20 “My old identity has been co-crucified with Messiah and no longer lives; for the nails of his cross crucified me with him. And now the essence of this new life is no longer mine, for the Anointed One lives his life through me—we live in union as one! My new life is empowered by the faith of the Son of God who loves me so much that he gave himself for me, and dispenses his life into mine! (Gal.2:20 TPT*)
This invitation into Christ’s overcoming life can be quite the opposite of simply being told to stop sinning (as if we could!). Jesus is calling us up into a new identity, “a new and living way” (Heb.10:20), not according to our willpower but according to His power!
The startling truth is, you and I have been set free to be free!
32 and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free.” (Rom.8:32 NASB*)