What Does Jesus Say to People about Their Sin?

In Jesus’ day, the religious leaders—the Pharisees—prided themselves in their biblical scholarship and very detailed observation of rules and ritual behavior. Most common Jewish people were unable to keep all those strict rules, so many of them grew careless as they dealt instead with day-to-day life.

The Pharisees called these people ‘sinners’ and looked down on them from their lofty heights of ritual holiness. But Jesus did not look down on these sinners; in fact, they were of special importance to him. And as he interacted with these common people, it is interesting to see how he talked to them about their sins.

Engraving by Bernhard Rode via Wikimedia Commons

Jesus Responds to Sinners

Unlike the Pharisees who condemned them, Jesus forgave them. Take for example the case of the paralyzed man of Matthew chapter 9 (Mark 2; Luke 5):

Some men brought to him a paralyzed man, lying on a mat. When Jesus saw their faith, he said to the man, “Take heart, son; your sins are forgiven.”

At this, some of the teachers of the law said to themselves, “This fellow is blaspheming!”

Knowing their thoughts, Jesus said, “Why do you entertain evil thoughts in your hearts? Which is easier: to say, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Get up and walk’? But I want you to know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins.” So he said to the paralyzed man, “Get up, take your mat and go home.” Then the man got up and went home.

What conditions does Jesus place on the man for his forgiveness? None! Jesus says ‘your sins are forgiven’ with no conditions.

Consider also the woman of the alabaster jar in Luke chapter 7. When a Pharisee invited Jesus to dinner…

A woman in that town who lived a sinful life learned that Jesus was eating at the Pharisee’s house, so she came there with an alabaster jar of perfume. As she stood behind him at his feet weeping, she began to wet his feet with her tears. Then she wiped them with her hair, kissed them and poured perfume on them.

When the Pharisee who had invited him saw this, he said to himself, “If this man were a prophet, he would know who is touching him and what kind of woman she is—that she is a sinner.”

Jesus then tells a story about two people who owed money to a money-lender. One owed much more than the other, but the money-lender canceled both debts. The one who was forgiven the greatest debt was more responsive than the one with the smaller debt.

Jesus shocks his Pharisaic host with his next words to the woman,

Then Jesus said to her, “Your sins are forgiven.

What conditions did Jesus mention in conjunction with his forgiveness? None! This seems to be a pattern.

What about ‘Go and Sin no More’?

But some might remember when Jesus followed up with “Go and sin no more.” In fact there were two such occasions.

John chapter 8 tells the familiar story of a woman, caught in the very act of adultery, who is brought to Jesus to force him on the issue of stoning her. Jesus invites the one without sin to throw the first stone.

When all the accusers had gone,

Jesus straightened up and asked her, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?”

“No one, sir,” she said.

Then neither do I condemn you,” Jesus declared. “Go now and leave your life of sin.”

Why did Jesus add this admonition? Was it a threat that if she did not leave her life of sin he would revoke his forgiveness? He did not say that. Perhaps he knew that sin leads to bad consequences.

Let’s look at one last story, from John chapter 5, about an invalid Jesus met at the pool of Bethesda. Jesus asked him if he wanted to get well, and the man replied that he was never able to reach the pool in time.

Then Jesus said to him, “Get up! Pick up your mat and walk.” At once the man was cured; he picked up his mat and walked.

Later Jesus found him at the temple and said to him, “See, you are well again. Stop sinning or something worse may happen to you.”

Here Jesus is more clear in his admonition: if the healed man continues to live a self-destructive lifestyle he might face worse consequences than his disability. This is not a threat but a wise warning. Jesus opposes sin, not because it violates some God-code of behavior, but because he wants us to avoid the natural consequences of destructive behavior.

How We Change Our Destructive Behavior?

When we begin to follow Jesus something in us changes and healthy believers replace sin with love for the Father, themselves, and others.

Engraving by Bernhard Rode via Wikimedia Commons
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18 Responses to What Does Jesus Say to People about Their Sin?

  1. A couple of thoughts. First, you say, “What conditions did Jesus mention in conjunction with his forgiveness? None!” Maybe he didn’t mention any condition because the condition had already been met, such as repentance and faith. Secondly, you say, “Jesus opposes sin, not because it violates some God-code of behavior” Are you saying that God has no standard of right and wrong? That God has never expressed any standard of living for humans? That God does not see right behavior and wrong behavior? That all senses of right and wrong are of human nature and not devine? If so, then in God;s eyes, everyone is righteous and any since of right and wrong or guilt and justice are mere inventions of men’s minds.

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    • I do not claim that God does not see right and wrong behavior. What I say is that God is interested in freeing us from wrong, which is essentially self-destructive behavior and offenses toward other people. This is a process, and the Father’s response to our offenses is to forgive them, but we are encouraged to avoid them.

      The Father does, in my opinion, have a standard of right and wrong–it is the standard of love. Apparently, you see a different standard–some sort of God-code of behavior; what is it? In your latest blog post you spoke of grace vs. law. Are we not saying the same thing?

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  2. I do agree that when we live by love we will not sin against God or man since, “love does no harm to a neighbor.” However. love is expressed in our behavior to one another. I do believe that God sees behavior such as stealing, murder, gossip, lying, covertness, etc as “wrong” behavior. To me this would qualify as a code of behavior, meaning that such behavior is not consistent with love for one another. Such behavior is wrong and, as believers, we should seek to eradicate such behavior from our lives, with the help of God. To me, the standard of love is a standard of behavior, since love is expressed through actions. It may boils down to semantics, but I do believe God has a standard of behavior that He is seeking to establish in our lives. This is what He meant when He said, “Be holy as I am holy.” The main difference that I see between law and grace is that law says we have to work to earn God’s favor while grace shows us that we are already been accepted by God and are now free to obey him, not out of duty to a law, but out of love for the one who has freed us from sin. We obey because He already loves us, not to earn His love.

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    • Thanks for the elaboration David. I think you are probably right that our issue is really semantics. When I referred to a code of behavior, I had in mind a legalistic code. I agree that God has a sense of what is wrong behavior–a much keener sense than we do. But his reaction to those offenses is to help us overcome them rather than punishing or threatening us over them.

      The problem I see among legalists is the tendency to substitute a list of rules, rather than love, to guide their behavior. Then they often judge others harshly by the rule-code they adopt. In my opinion, this is a shallow, stunted, and counter-productive approach.

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      • 100% agreed. Legalism says that, “apart from us there is no salvation.” It is an attempt to force conformity and conformity to themselves. Their sins are OK but their deeds must be duplicated by others. The issue is not does God love us but do we love God. God loves us whether we do good or evil. This was demonstrated when Jesus came to save us while we were yet His enemies. The question is, now that we have become God’s children, do we love God in return? If we love God aught we not to do the things He asks? Aught we to seek to be like Him? Aught we seek to love God and our neighbor as ourselves? If our salvation is to us merely a pass to live like we want, then haven’t we made light of the price that was paid for such a salvation? If we love God we will want to please Him, not for His approval or love in return, but as an expression of our love for who He is and all He has done. How else can we demonstrate our love for God who is unseen than by loving those He created in His image who are seen? When I read the early Christian writers who called people to piety this is what I hear. A call to express their love of God through that which please him: truthfulness, consideration of others, generosity, hospitality, respect for the person and possessions of another, etc. not a call to be “good enough” for God’s love or a call to conform to their ways. Thanks for your clarification.

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  3. michaeleeast says:

    I see this as a struggle between legalism and love.
    When the disciples asked Jesus who sinned that the man was born blind.
    Jesus said neither the man nor his parents sinned (John 9:2,3)
    This is to obviate the idea that sin leads to punishment (illness).
    While there may be consequences for bad behavior,
    I think it is important to stress that there is not punishment.
    It has been said that the first five commandment are covered by Jesus’
    commandment to love God. And the second five commandments by Jesus’
    commandment to love your neighbor.

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  4. What do you consider the difference between punishment and consequences? Could they not be one and the same?

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    • michaeleeast says:

      I do not believe hat consequences are punishments rom God.
      Consequences are responses to the natural laws which govern our world.
      These laws are not rewards and punishments from God.
      The Book of Job sets out the case against such theology.
      It was written to refute such claims.

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      • Again Michael, I agree.

        David, sometimes we think the natural consequences of our offences are punishments from God, but I don’t think so. What would be the benefit in thinking they are?

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        • I agree with you to this extent, Job’s friends were wrong when they believed that good things only happen to good people and bad things only happen to bad people. The truth is that good things sometimes happen to bad people and bad things to good. Just because something bad happens it does not automatically mean it is judgement from God. If we believe so then we too may commit the same sins as Job’s friends when the condemned Job though they could find nothing wrong with him. However, I am not ready to say that God NEVER judges sin. We still have to consider the story of Ananias and Saphfrias, and also the story of the death of Herod. I think God does judge sin but not always in the way we assume.

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          • The story of Ananias and Sapphira is a real puzzler, I admit; but the story of God’s judgment in the death of Herod in Acts seems questionable to me. How did Luke (or his source) know that Herod’s death was caused by God? In fact it seems to reflect a common opinion among the Jews, which Josephus documents in much greater detail in Antiquities 17:6:5. Herod’s death was not a sudden judgment but came after a serious, long-standing disease.

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  5. Zach Van Houten says:

    I love your perspective on this. I was thinking about John 8 today and something hit me. Jesus went against the Law of Moses here. The woman should have been stoned according to the Pentateuch. However, Jesus seems to place a heavy emphasis on opposing the “rules taught by men” that the religious leaders had set up. I believe Jesus was pretty much opposed to the entire system of religion in Israel. Hence the abolishing of the Law. He seemed to affirm however the ten commandments and also summed it up as “love the Lord your God and love your neighbor”.

    And this makes me think that Jesus had no intention of setting up a system of religion or giving us a perfect book. If He did, why didn’t He do just that? He could’ve handed Peter a perfect book of guidelines for the new church. However He didn’t. And the New Testament was not even compiled until after all of the Apostles died. Paul’s comment in 1 Corinthians 7 “I say, not the Lord” leads me to suspect that he may not have wanted us to believe he was infallible like we do today. Right there he affirms that he was speaking, not God. He seemed conscious of his humanity. He wrote letters to churches. He was a man like us. One of the greatest I may add. But I doubt he would understand how we could view his or any human’s writings as infallible today.

    I tend to think there could still be a judgment day when men will give account and certain rewards/punishments are meted out, and that would satisfy the justice of God. However, there is a lot of obscurity with regard to that. So it’s hard to know.

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    • jesuswithoutbaggage says:

      Zach, I think if Paul came to visit us today he would be absolutely horrified that every word he wrote that survived was considered the be the very word of God. In some of your writings I read today, it seemed as though you were taking an inerrant, but more enlightened, perspective on the Bible; but now I am beginning to think perhaps you do not really hold to inerrancy–which is good.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Zach Van Houten says:

        Yes, you are correct. I wrote my articles for my blog as a inerrantist but am now accepting the fact that it is a logical impossibility for these books to be flawless. I have been very much inspired by your testimony as I connect with your journey. It’s not like you and I wanted the Bible to not be perfect, we are just honest intellectuals who are committed to truth. Seems like at some point Christians are expected to be intellectually dishonest if they are not convinced in their minds. Since when did dishonesty ever become a virtue? I’d rather stand before God and say “I was as honest as I could be with the amount of information you provided.”. I believe God knows. The church needs to become honest again and stop condemning those who have legitimate doubts.

        Anyway, it’s a difficult time for me. But also a mind-opening one. My biggest uphill battle is going to be the implications since I am surrounded by staunch believers in my life who would see doubt as a serious problem. I’m studying right now and committing to truth. Whatever that is. And God will show me the way. 🙂

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        • jesuswithoutbaggage says:

          Zach, I like your statement: “I’d rather stand before God and say ‘I was as honest as I could be with the amount of information you provided.’ I believe God knows. The church needs to become honest again and stop condemning those who have legitimate doubts.”

          I know the difficulty of transitioning from a doctrinaire perspective to one that is intellectually honest–especially if you are surrounded by adamant traditionalists. I can’t tell you what to believe, but I am available as a resource and a support as you continue your journey.

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