We’ve all done (and still do) stuff in our lives that, if other people knew, they would condemn us for. Deep down, a lot of us are probably scared God might find out about that stuff. The good news is that Jesus does not condemn us, but neither will he let us stay trapped in patterns of sin.
The story of Jesus and the woman caught having sex with someone else’s husband is one of the most compelling in the New Testament. It isn’t actually included in the earliest manuscripts, however, it is so in sync with the rest of the Gospel story and with what we know about Jesus that it’s easy to see why it’s in the Bibles we read today.
So when a group of Jewish religious leaders caught a woman in the act of having sex with a man (though we hear nothing of him …) to whom she was not married it’s as if they can’t believe their luck. The penalty for such an act was unimaginably brutal to our modern minds – death by stoning. Literally – hurl rocks at her fragile body until the massive trauma inflicted by those stones causes massive blood loss or brain injury. It was the law – and here was a perfect opportunity to test Jesus – who claimed to be holy yet had also shown an infuriating willingness to let people’s well-being trump their interpretations of the rules.
‘Ok Jesus, this woman needs to be stoned. What you gonna do about it?’
Jesus answers by saying this:
‘you’re right – go ahead. Just make sure there’s no sin in your life before you pick up a stone.’
One by one they creep off – outwitted again, seething with a white-hot rage that eventually erupts in Jerusalem and ends with Jesus on a cross.
It’s Jesus’ tender conversation with the woman at the end that is worth focusing on:
‘Woman, where are they? Does no one condemn you?’
‘No one, Master.’
‘Neither do I,’ said Jesus. ‘Go on your way. From now on, don’t sin’
Condemnation – putting people in a corner and mercilessly crushing them with the weight of their sin – was never something Jesus was interested in. John said it himself:
‘For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him’ John 3v17
And so while Jesus will not condemn this woman, neither will he let her go in the state she is in. I think the words he leaves with her are equally uncompromising and merciful:
‘go, leave your life of sin’
It’s uncompromising because Jesus and the woman both know that something wrong has happened. Adultery – having sex with someone else’s spouse is a big deal for God. I suspect God takes it seriously because it’s a full-on assault of relationship – the intimacy of a married couple invaded by disloyalty, selfishness. Sexual hunger gets to ruin a fragile bond.
Jesus’s words are merciful for exactly the same reason.
Sin wrecks lives.
The art of temptation is to make deadly things look attractive. We are all so easily conned into believing that sin is somehow better for us than the boring ‘rules’ for being holy.
‘come on, it won’t be that bad, think of all the things you get to enjoy!’
Those words spoken by the snake to Eve in the garden have been repeated countless times to people since. And no doubt to you and I.
One of our core desires is the longing to have someone to love. God wired us to want and enjoy intimacy. God created sex as the ultimate physical expression of a deep intimate love between two people. But for some reason the great human failing is to go searching for the satisfaction of that desire all kinds of broken places. We are like the lost girl in the desert frantically digging for water in the sand while ignoring the deep and refreshing oasis right next to her.
Jesus’ words to the woman are merciful because he’s essentially saying: Oi! Stop digging there! You’re going to burn yourself out and in the end you’ll be thirstier than before.
He said exactly the same words to the woman at the well in John 4. He said it again in John 8 … God’s been saying it all along – like in Jeremiah 55. God says it to us each day. Stop trying to find what you want in broken things: in cheap hookups, or addictive gymming or watching other people have sex on your phone, or trying to get a thousand friends on Facebook.
Whatever it is you’re pursuing to feel good about who you are, or what your purpose in life is, or how to feel close to someone where you’re also hoping God won’t notice too much.
So what does it mean to ‘leave a life of sin’? I hope you’ll see by now it’s more than just saying ‘sorry!’
Here are four ideas:
1. Leaving sin behind is about recognising that the hole you’re digging is never going to give you what you’re longing for. Paul says it’s about being completely changed in the way we think. It’s an overhaul of our minds (Romans 12:1-3) It’s crazy that it takes so much to make us see the oasis but that’s how deeply we’ve been deceived.
For I recognize my shameful deeds—they haunt me day and night. Against you, and you alone, have I sinned;
I have done what is evil in your sight. You will be proved right in what you say, and your judgment against me is just.
2. Leaving sin IS also about saying sorry. Sorry to God and sorry to people you may have hurt along the way. Putting our feelings of regret into words is a good way to start making things real.
3. Leaving sin is about walking away from the sinful things we do. We leave sin by replacing our frantic digging with actions that lead us towards the real water. It may be easy to leave the hole and never look back, it may take us a while to stop creeping back into the hole. We may be tempted to try do this on our own, but the Bible urges us to do this with other people..
‘Confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The earnest prayer of a righteous person has great power and wonderful results’ James 5:16
4. Leaving sin is about inviting God to be present in your life – no matter how deep into that hole you might be. Never believe the lie that we somehow need to haul ourselves out before asking God for help. Remind yourself that you are God’s dearly loved child and that because Jesus dealt with your sin on the cross you now stand under the flow of God’s limitless blessing. Know that you can bring all of your brokenness and sinful addictions under that blessing too. As God begins to move around in those dark places you’ll discover the first glimpses of light and some fresh air to dilute the nasty smell.
In this tab you’ll find ideas and questions to help you lead your group through an interactive, story-based journey. Our leaders guide has more info on how to use our Story-based framework.
Download a PDF version of this session here
Have you ever felt judged by someone? What did that feel like?
Think back over the past few weeks of your life, is there something you’ve been doing – or not doing – that feels wrong and it’s something you feel a bit stuck in?
What might God say about it if you were in a room together?
Get the conversation started …
Get everyone to check out the WordSpace posts from this week on their phones or from a printout (you’ll find them in the next tab.)
o Is there a post that stands out for you? Why so?
o Is there something in a post that raises a question for you? What is that?
o If you had to choose one post to share with a friend, which one would it be?
Read the post in The Story tab.
Here’s Brad Fish with his final video for the series… On You Tube here
So you’ve encountered a bit of what God’s life is about – how does that fit with the way things are in your life – your story – right now?
Some questions to help you replay your story …
o How do you feel about what you encountered in this session – encouraged, discouraged, hopeful, disappointed, anything different?
o Did anything seem like particularly good news? Anything that was not so great news for you, or hard to understand?
Imagine you were able to walk away from something you know is not right in your life and restore any relationships that may have been damaged. How might your life be different?
Re – draw your picture of Jesus
Does seeing Jesus in action in John 8v1-11 and the way he deals with the people wanting to stone the woman, or the uncompromising love Jesus shows her after they’re gone change the way you think of him in any way?
Is there anything there that would inspire you to worship him
What practical action, response, thought do you want to take into the week?
Have you encountered something today that makes you want to say to God: ‘wow, I really have messed up. Help me leave this thing behind!’ ?
Some questions to help you remix your story …
o Have you been ‘digging holes in the desert’ trying to satisfy a desire you have in a broken way? What would it take to start leaving that behind this week?
o Who can you talk to this week who could help you recognise areas of sin in your life?
o Is there anything in your life that you need to say sorry to God for? Do you believe that God will forgive you if you ask?
o How could you invite God to be more present in your life this week – no matter what your ‘sin status’ is?
Here’s a great prayer from David about leaving sin:
I waited patiently for the Lord;
he turned to me and heard my cry.
He lifted me out of the slimy pit,
out of the mud and mire;
he set my feet on a rock and gave me a firm place to stand.
He put a new song in my mouth,
a hymn of praise to our God.
Many will see and fear and put their trust in the Lord.
Do not withhold your mercy from me, O Lord;
may your love and your truth always protect me.
For troubles without number surround me;
my sins have overtaken me, and I cannot see.
They are more than the hairs of my head,
and my heart fails within me.
Be pleased, O Lord, to save me;
O Lord, come quickly to help me.
Psalm 40:1-3, 11-13
From the WordSpace
Here are five posts from the WordSpace we’ve posted specially to tie in with this topic:
You might wonder what the big deal is about sin. Especially if you reckon that what’s going on in your life isn’t really hurting you or anyone else.
Thing is, that’s always a lie. Paul says, ‘A little yeast works through the whole batch of dough’ (Galatians 5v9). Which means that even just a little bit of secret sin somehow affects the community you’re in – your family, classmates, whoever.
Death – like the death of a friendship, or the death of someone’s trust, or the death of your purity – always follows on the heels of sin. I’m so grateful for Jesus who redeemed me and restored my life and put me at peace with a perfect, holy God.
Galatians 5 here: http://bit.ly/1qmTYqg
God forgets!!! Yes, you read that correctly. Jeremiah 31v34 says ‘For I will forgive their wickedness and will remember their sin no more.’
See, what I mean? God chooses not to remember (to forget) our sins. So why do you and I still hold on tightly to the bad things we have done? We are the forgiven! Let’s live with that peace and forgiveness!
When we mess up we have a way out, a way to move forward in His grace: 1 John 1v9 ‘If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.’ Jesus calls us to get rid of sin in our lives. It is possible!
And the best news is that God will see you as completely right with him.
Will you do it?
Jeremiah 31 here: http://bit.ly/1bBIwjq
David once said his sins were so thick and persistent that they blinded him (Psalm 40v12). Whoever wrote Hebrews admitted that it doesn’t take much for sin to trip us up (Hebrews 12v1).
Jesus invites us to leave our lives of sin – like he did to the woman who got caught acting out her lustful thoughts (John 8v1-11) but sometimes it feels like he might as well invite us to fly. Seems impossible… Except … he promised to be with us no matter what.
And Jesus promised to change us from the inside out as long as we keep inviting him in (no matter what). And there’s that other promise: no condemnation from him – ever.
That good news?
Read the story in John 8 here: http://bit.ly/102Or8W
‘Throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles…’ What are some things that might hinder you in your walk with God that you might not call ‘sin’?
Could it be when we get too busy or focused on anything like series or Facebook, sport or even work? The thing itself is not bad, but it is taking away time from when we could be doing better stuff.
Is there perhaps some discipline you could bring into your life that would help you manage those things that eat up your time? When you manage to get those things under control, what is a new good thing you can add into your weekly rhythm?
Read the story in Hebrews 12 here: http://bit.ly/1c5qHY2
‘Throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles’ (Hebrews 12v2) Is there anything in your life that might be sin that entangles you?
When I was younger I struggled with pornography for many years. As good as the rest of my life felt, my struggles with porn felt like a rope around my legs that kept tripping me up. There was no easy solution, but I think it came when I tried to do what this passage suggests – fix my eyes on Jesus and start running the race He called me to.
Sometimes we can get so caught up in the failure linked to the sin, that we miss out on the hope offered by a Saviour. Jesus is bigger than any sin currently tripping you up and really can bring freedom [even if it sometimes takes a while to get there]
Read the story here: Hebrews 12 http://bit.ly/1c5qHY2