“Go and Sin No More” Isn’t Working for Me

I’m a reformed cutter. But last night was a close one.

I read an article that triggered me. My heart raced. My head dizzied. My insides huddled up and chanted. And I crawled into bed early, wanting only to curl up and cope.

Thoughts of cutting came to mind. Since the rest of the house was still awake, I decided to wait until the house fell asleep. Then do it. Not deep. Just a quick slice. Enough to make the pain inside that no one else could see be real and bleeding on the outside. Enough to vent rage at long-gone attackers, rage at myself for being so ridiculously broken, and rage against the silence I still self-impose.

But I fell asleep.

I didn’t cut. But I’d wanted to.

Repent.

The word conjures images of street preachers holding cardboard signs and finger-waggers wagging at me and my besetting sin.

Repentance.

It’s the favored fruit every legalist I’ve ever met expects and inspects.

And it bothers me.

But what bothers me? The fruit-checkers or my flat inability to produce it?

Repent.

Do I even understand what it means?

I wanna know what Jesus says, so I word-search it and see that when Jesus uses it, it’s always in the context of turning from sin and turning to God for everything He has for us. Forgiveness, relationship, healing, salvation, rest. All desperately needed. All graciously given.

But what about, “Go, and sin no more?”

Jesus’ parting words to the woman saved from stoning. The scriptural-stone most lobbed my way by fruit-checking friends. The repentance-ideal I wrestle with on the daily. Sometimes I win but walk with a limp after. Sometimes I lose and walk away with new scars.

“Go, and sin no more.”

Every time I hear it, I hear Dr. Phil’s voice saying, “Yeah? How’s that workin’ for ya?”

Cuz I don’t know about you, but going and sinning no more is not working for me.

I may have avoided cutting last night, but I imagined it until I fell asleep. And because I’ve read the Sermon on the Mount, I realize God’s perfect standard includes my thought-life and raises the bar sky-high, to heart-level. So… I’m thinking it counts.

And there’s a closet-full more where that came from.

“Go, and sin no more.”

I don’t argue whether Jesus said it, but He also said calling someone a moron is murdering him in your heart, so we won’t go into how many folks I’ve murdered on my newsfeed this morning. My Wii Fit judgingly tells me I’m over-weight. Only by about 25 pounds, but when it comes to pecan-sandies, I am admittedly and unreformedly a glutton. And gluttony is one of the seven deadly.

Repent.

If Christians were perfectly repentant of all their sins there’d be a lot more skinny Christians out there, wouldn’t there?

Repentance.

God, I’m weary from playing whack-a-mole with my sin. Can’t I just come and be before you, sins and all, and rest? Does my imperfectly repentant fruit disqualify me? If I cut tomorrow, am I cut off?

When in doubt, I read further. And there it is…

In Luke 13, I see Jesus, beautiful rule-breaking moth that He was, teaching on repentance. I hear Jesus reminding suffering sinners that we’re no worse than any other sinner not currently suffering. I hear Him offering patience and 3 million, 557 thousand, 600 seconds worth of second chances and special care and attention to a little fig tree that had yet to bear fruit. I hear Him remind the rule-extolling Pharisees that they were as much Sabbath-breakers as the woman coming to Him for her healing. I hear Him prophesy that the kingdom, in time, will grow from its mustard-seed-small beginnings to house birds in its branches. And that He gives it that time. I hear Him elevate leaven for a second and explain how the Kingdom will permeate every part of us, or this world, or both, eventually. And how the way is narrow because the way is Him…

And I’m reminded I’m in.

Repent.

As Inigo Montoya said, “You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.”

Repentance.

Whether it’s remorse for sin or our sinful nature—for being very sin of very nature—or a change in direction and a turning to God, surely it’s not a fruit to be checked by any modern-day, clipboard-carrying Pharisees out there or self-abusing whack-a-molers like me.

Because whichever it is, its first step is turning to God, and the rest is a life-long, grace-filled process. One our gardener-God, Jesus, is willing to lovingly care-take in us, whether we’ve managed to produce one damn fig yet or not.

And I don’t know about you, but this is good news to me.

Laura Haines

Laura Haines

Writer at Redeeming Me
Laura loves sharing God’s message of big grace to a world that has trouble grasping just how big “limitless” really is. She’s happily married to her hubby of 25 years and blessed with two beautiful-sweet daughters, who’ve each ensured the second-half of her life is good and more than good. Laura’s writing comes out of the well of her broken childhood, her still messy present, and the redemption she sees God bring to even the deepest-darkest. She knows that some experiences shatter you, but God can redeem them anyways. Redeem you too. God is good that way.
Laura Haines

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  • Joanne Peterson

    Laura, it was grace you fell asleep to keep you yesterday from self harm. I in my heart believe God helped you to fall asleep since He also is the One Who helps us to be led in the paths of righteousness for “HIS” Namesake and His deep, deep love for you. He uses the ordinary, like falling asleep. This I know in my own journey.

    I also struggle with the “Go and sin no more” but I’m learning the same things you are that life is grace-filled and this is more about Jesus and what He does for us than what we do in ourselves. I’m infinitely grateful too. My kids and I are reading the Jesus Storybook, and it makes me cry every time I read it. Such deep, deep love, and this love attracts me and my kids, you, the woman at the well, and it IS good news.

    This love is going to be what slowly and eventually will change me, and it is always available. I learned and am still learning this truth in the deep, dark trenches, and it has stuck with me. Blessings, Joanne

    • Thank you, Joanne. I think so too. I’m also grateful to know that there is no where I can go, no where I can wander or flee, that He is not also there with me; and that His love and grace is deeper and wider and far-er (wink) reaching than I’ve ever known to give Him credit for. (Psalm 139:7-10) It is light and life-giving stuff to hold onto in those deep, dark trenches, isn’t it? Blessings to you too. 🙂

  • Mary DeMuth

    Beautifully written and honest, Laura. I’m proud of you! Thank you for loving your readers with your words.

    • Thank you, Mary. (((hugs))) Gives me all the warm fuzzies that you’re proud of me. Thank you for encouraging me in this writing thing. And to think, just a few years ago I was silent as a stone. Thanks for giving this stone a shove. Love you.

  • Ron

    Let’s not forget that when that fig tree consistently failed to bear fruit, Jesus finally returned, cursed it, and it withered and died. So there’s that.

    Yes, we all struggle with sin. That’s kinda the point. We have to keep struggling, keep repenting, keep turning our hearts, our minds, our wills, back to Jesus. Because if not for His amazing grace, none of us would run after Him.

    Psalm 53:1-3:

    1The fool says in his heart, “There is no God.”
    They are corrupt, doing abominable iniquity;
    there is none who does good.

    2God looks down from heaven
    on the children of man
    to see if there are any who understand,b
    who seek after God.

    3They have all fallen away;
    together they have become corrupt;
    there is none who does good,
    not even one.

    So yes, we do need to continue repenting (“repent” simply means “change your thinking”) daily, perhaps many times daily. That is the Christian walk, after all. Because although we’re redeemed by Christ’s finished work on the Cross the very instant we put our trust in Him as Lord and Savior, and make a conscious decision to live for Him first, others second, and ourselves last — we STILL have the sin nature with which we are born.

    Romans chapters 6-8 are basically making a lot of the same points which the author makes. Then we have Romans 7:24-25 and Romans 8:1-12:
    24Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? 25Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, I myself serve the law of God with my mind, but with my flesh I serve the law of sin.

    1There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. 2For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death. 3For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do. By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, he condemned sin in the flesh, 4in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit. 5For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit. 6For to set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace. 7For the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God’s law; indeed, it cannot. 8Those who are in the flesh cannot please God. 9You, however, are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if in fact the Spirit of God dwells in you. Anyone who does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to him. 10But if Christ is in you, although the body is dead because of sin, the Spirit is life because of righteousness. 11If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit who dwells in you.

    So we have that promise that if we have the Spirit of God within us (the Holy Spirit, which we receive when we initially repent and turn to Jesus as both Lord and Savior), we will NOT perish, even though we struggle with various sins.

    Is this a license to forget about our sin? No. Romans 6:15-16:
    What then? Are we to sin because we are not under law but under grace? By no means! 16Do you not know that if you present yourselves to anyone as obedient slaves, you are slaves of the one whom you obey, either of sin, which leads to death, or of obedience, which leads to righteousness?

    So we have that promise from Romans 8:6-11 which ensures us that, as we focus our minds on spiritual things, on Jesus and what He has done for us in spite of our wretched and sinful state, on His character, Who He is, and how perfect and flawless He is, and that He gave up EVERYTHING just to be with us — as we do that, we become spiritually-minded, and to be spiritually-minded is life and peace. To be focused on the flesh, which is where we are weak, is death. This is because, as we focus on our besetting sin, we focus on weakness and failure. But as we focus in Christs’s perfection, His righteousness which has ALREADY been imparted to us as a free gift, then we are focusing on His strength, His victory, which was won on our behalf. THAT, IMHO, is being spiritually-minded. THAT is what leads to life and peace — and eventual victory over any and all besetting sin.

    • Ron, you are free to see what you wanna see in the parable. I
      see a gardener-God in that vineyard who was willing to lovingly care-take the
      little fig tree. And in the context of the parable, I also see that it’s our
      care-taker, Jesus, that’s exerting all the effort, extra and otherwise. He’s
      the one willing to give it extra care and attention for another entire year.
      Does that mean Jesus will only care for us and protect us and encourage us to
      grow for one year? Only one season? Then hack us down? I don’t think so. If like
      the Apostle Peter said, “With the Lord, a day is like a thousand years,” then
      maybe, just maybe, this is a picture of the patience and perseverance of our
      Lord Jesus to bring all of us sucky-at-fruit-bearing trees to fruition. 🙂

      And as far as little fig-tree me, I believe in and love the Lord
      with all my heart and all my soul and all my mind. I do. And I know He knows I
      do. I’m assured I have the forgiveness thing and salvation thing. God and I
      talk all the time, so I know I have the relationship thing. It’s the healing, transforming,
      sanctifying thing that is still a work-in-progress in me. But it’s the healing,
      transforming, sanctifying thing that’s the trickiest. 😉 Like I said in the
      piece, when I engage in it as though it’s a holy grappling—like the Old
      Testament’s Jacob with the unnamed angel—sometimes I win, but I don’t get the answer
      or the blessing I was wanting and I walk with a limp after, and sometimes I
      lose and walk away with new scars. But when I take a page out of the New
      Testament and come to the Lord, weary from playing whack-a-mole with my sin,
      and simply be before Him, sins and all, I find rest for my soul, and that rest is both biblical (Matthew 10:28) and
      a blessing. Whether to wrestle or rest is something deeply personal, between the
      seeking soul and God. Whichever we’re called to do, in any given moment, any
      given season, over any given sin, I believe we’re called to do it WITH Him, in
      the presence of Him. Not as an effort to get to Him or keep Him, but in the
      context of an already loving, accepting, and ever-lasting relationship with Him.
      And that’s a truth I can rest in.

      • Ron

        Agree 100%.

        I didn’t get straight to one of my points, which was contrasting a nominal “christian” (the fig tree which never bears fruit) with a Christian such as yourself, who is in the process of crucifying the flesh (Galatians 5:24). God says Christians are to “bear fruit in keeping with repentance” (Matthew 3:8), which is exactly evident in both your hatred for sin and your willingness to repeatedly turn from it and turn to Christ. That, by definition, is the Christian walk. That is how the process of sanctification works. We stumble, Christ picks us up, puts us back on our feet, sets us back on the righteous path. It will continue until we die. Had we claimed to be “christian” but never struggled with our sin, we would be like the fig tree which never bore fruit. . As Paul says, this is not excuse to sin even more so that grace may abound, but rather it’s the nature of Christian sanctification. We WILL sin, and we WILL do it every day. We still have that nature. The point is that a true Christian will struggle with that sin, and will keep their eyes focused on Jesus, because He is the remedy for our sin — even the besetting sin that we can’t seem to overcome. Whether he removes that besetting sin from our lives, or leaves it there as a sort of “weight” to strengthen our faith in Him, is His decision.

        Compare Mark 11:12-14 with Matthew 7:15-23. I believe Jesus is making it clear that, as Christians, we are to bear good fruit. This article is evidence of that fruit. The struggle against sin is, itself, fruit, as long as it is centered on Christ, on His glory and on becoming more like Him.

        Also, I applaud your candor. We all struggle with some kind of besetting sin, I believe. It’s just that some of us are not willing to recognize those areas of our lives which need work. The more we come to know the character of Jesus, the more we want to be like Him, and the more motivated we are to crucify the fleshly desires and live a more spiritually-focused life.

        Keep up the good work!

        • Awww, thank you, Ron. Like a good friend recently told me after reading my article, “Keep on growing and let the Gardener worry ’bout the fruit.” Isn’t that perfect? I’m all for spreading that message around. Let’s let our gardener-God do His work in bringing folks to fruition. Too many are recklessly and unnecessarily wounded by self-appointed fruit-checkers, regardless of how well-meaning they may be. Cuz like another friend told me, she realized something profoundly important about Jesus. She said, “He is the only one that can say these words to me and they be a gift…a help. He’s the only one that has the power to do anything in the repentance. The power to even help me want repentance. Your words did a good job of explaining why they are not helpful coming from others.” And I thought, wow, what a great comment. Yes. It’s all about turning to Jesus. To me, that’s what repentance is really all about.

  • Laura, this is beautifully raw and vulnerable. Yes, we do all struggle with sin, and sometimes we succumb, but God is always waiting for us to turn back to Him where we can find forgiveness and peace. “…its first step is turning to God, and the rest is a life-long, grace-filled process.” I’m so thankful this is true. Blessings to you!

    • Oh, me too, Gayl. <3 Thank you, and blessings to you too. <3

  • Thank you for writing this, Laura! It is good news indeed.

  • Toni T

    The thing that frustrates me about “Go and sin no more” is that it pins the reformation on the woman. The New Testament is filled with verses exclaiming that “we all sin and fall short of the glory of God.”
    That’s why Jesus came for her in the first place. Not only to save her from an unjust execution, but to proclaim life and wholeness over her. He took her sin to the cross. He carried that burden, because it’s impossible for her (or any of us) to never stumble again.

    “Go and sin no more!”
    “But Jesus… I can’t.”
    “That’s the entire point. Only I can handle that, and it’s already happening.”

    When we place the weight of repentance and reformation on the sinner, we rob them of an encounter with the savior.