The Sinlessness of Christ
Questions that have been raised across the centuries ask, “Could Christ have sinned?” “How could the Son of God be tempted when God cannot be tempted of evil?”
If Christ were sinless, then, of course, temptation could have no effect upon Him. If this claim be true, why does the writer of the Hebrew Epistle teach that Christ can sympathize with His tried people because He was tempted in all points as we are apart from sin? There are mysteries in the nature of Christ which no serious-minded believer will deny. These defy explanation.
A very able Bible teacher of broadcasting fame said: “Jesus did not have a weakness, bent or slant to sin. He was perfect and pure in all His motives, desires, and human needs; but He did share our infirmities (because of our sin) and was subject to all the temptations of man.” So while we emphatically reject the suggestion that Christ had a tendency to sin, we must not jump at the conclusion that He could not sin… To this question therefore, “Could Jesus have yielded to Satan?” we must answer. “Yes! If He had met him like Adam did without prayer, without the Word, and in disobedience.”
It might be asked in all sincerity, if the Lord Jesus Christ had no sinful nature, no weakness, bent or slant to sin, all to which the above preacher adheres, with what would He yield to sin, or how could He sin at all, as is maintained?
The Holy Spirit through Paul, Peter, and John, plainly declares that our Lord was faultless and without sin: “He knew no sin” (2 Cor. 5:21), “He did no sin” (1 Pet. 2:22), “In Him was no sin” (1 John 3:5). The only sinless character, the greatest character, that ever walked this earth was holy, harmless, undefiled and separate from every vile association, the Lord Jesus.
He is called God’s “Holy Servant Jesus” (Acts 4:27, R.V.), and “That Holy Thing” (Luke 1:35). Not only was He merely innocent, as Adam was when created, but He was born holy. Innocence is ignorance of sin and is not incompatible with an inherent tendency to sin. Holiness is the manifestation of a nature which loves righteousness and hates evil (Heb. 1:9). Christ’s incarnation was without sin; His conduct was without sin; His temptation was without sin; His death was without sin, although He was made sin for us; His resurrection was without sin (His resurrection is the divine affidavit of His sinlessness), and in His glorification He is without sin; He is Jesus Christ the Righteous (1 John 2:1). His present exalted station in glory is a further proof of His spotless excellence.
The Impeccability of Our Lord Jesus Christ
God’s Word declares the Saviour to be not only sinless but impeccable, or incapable of sinning. We must remember as Dr. H. C. G. Moule says, “One Person is in view throughout… Two natures are in view, the divine and the human, in equally real relation to this One Person! He is God … He became Man … The Human nature of the Son never for a moment stood or stands apart from His divine nature and person… The manhood was and is never independently personal … In the highest sense He was incapable of sin” (Quoted by C.F.H.).
Testimony is borne that the Lord did no sin, that in Him was no sin. These are statements of fact. The question whether He could have sinned is purely hypothetical and is barely removed, if at all, from mere curiosity. Moreover, there is physical impossibility and there is moral impossibility.
C. F. Hogg gives an excellent thought on Hebrews 4:15: “The writer of the Epistle to the Hebrews adds, ‘sin apart.’ This qualifying phrase seems to mean apart from any actual, or potential relation with, or participation in sin.”
While Man was God, and the God was very Man, we must not speak of Him as doing anything as Man, or as God. We must be very careful as we might fall into the ancient heresy of dividing the person. He was and He is God and Man; He holds two natures in one personality for ever.
The Temptation of Our Lord Jesus Christ
Those that in their conflict with evil have been comforted by the idea that the Lord had to struggle as they do when tempted should realize that He did overcome, blessed be His holy name, because His temptations were from without and never from within as are ours.
It is because they do not seem able to understand any other sort of temptations than those that incite to evil that certain contend that temptation has neither force nor meaning unless there is desire, or at least the liability to yield.
The verb to tempt has various shades of meaning: to try, to test, to prove; that is when it is used in a good sense. It is used thus in connection with Christ and the Christian in Hebrews 2:18. There the context shows that temptation in the sense of trying was the cause of the Lord’s suffering, and definitely not a drawing away after sin. It is because of this that believers are assured of the sympathy of Christ as their High Priest in all those sufferings occasioned by sin. In a similar passage, Hebrews 4:15, we are told that in all the temptations He endured there was nothing in Christ that responded to sin. There was no sinful infirmity in Him. While He was truly man, and His divine nature was not in any way inconsistent with His manhood, there was nothing in Him, such as there is in us because of our fallen nature, nothing that could be tempted in the evil sense of the word.
Christ was not tempted, enticed to sin, when men tried to ensnare Him in His speech (Matt. 16:1; 19:3; 22:18; and other parallel passages). He was not tempted as we might be in the restoring of an erring brother (Gal. 6:1). Temptations are mentioned as coming from the devil (Matt. 4:1. Jas. 1:13-14. 1 Cor. 7:5. 1 Thess. 3:5). Christ, the God-Man, never could try or challenge God (Acts 15:10. 1 Cor. 10:9. Heb. 3:9). See Dictionary of New Testament Words.
It is because some do not distinguish between testing and enticing to do evil that they misunderstand and assert that Christ could have sinned.
J. T. Mawson rightly says: “I impugn this popular teaching, it is a lie. It means that there was liability in the Lord to sin even though He did not yield. Such a view of Him is not found in Scripture; it is false; it is derogatory to His holy person, and damaging to the faith of saints. Our Saviour, High Priest, and Leader was and must ever be beyond the possibility of sin! “Yet without sin” (A.V.) or “Sin apart” (J.N.D.) means that He was tried by every kind of temptation except that kind, the sin kind. Never, no never, was He enticed as we are, for there was nothing in Him that answered to sin from without, although He suffered keenly because of it. It is said that before a railway wheel is passed for service it has to be severely tested. A weight of some ten thousand pounds is brought down upon it. The purpose of this test is not to break the wheel, but to prove that it cannot be broken. The glorious truth, then, is that the Lord Jesus was tested not to see if He would sin, but to prove that He could not sin.”
Samuel Ridout in his Lectures on Hebrews says, “We read of one of John Bunyan’s characters who at the close of his life said, ‘Wherever he had found the footprints of the Lord Jesus there he had coveted to put his feet.’ How beautiful! But sweeter far is the thought that our blessed Lord, when here on earth, searched wherever the feet of His weary saints would have to go and, He not only coveted to do it, He did put His feet just there. He has gone through all the circumstances of the wilderness. He knows what all the testing and the trials mean in a way infinitely beyond the experience of the ripest saint. He has passed through them, apart from the deadening, dulling, wasteful, yielding to sin. Our blessed Lord has passed through never yielding in thought for one moment to a thing that was not in accordance to His Father’s will.”
To think otherwise is to take a too low estimate of Christ. What folly! He the “True Light” shone in the darkness and the darkness overcame it not. To think adversely is blasphemy, is a satanic delusion.
There are two great doctrines we must hold fast, the doctrine of the person of Christ and the doctrine of the work of Christ. In all the temptations He endured, He was the Mighty God, the One who by the word of His mouth created the worlds, the One who upholds them by His power.
“Though our Great High Priest is Man, it is blessed indeed to have Him called in that great passage, Hebrews 4:14, Jesus the Son of God. etc. Having passed through the path of temptation, suffering therein because He was the infinitely Holy One, loving righteousness and hating iniquity. He remained throughout, of course, apart from, without, sin” (W. R. Newell on Hebrews).
“Yet spotless, undefiled and pure,
Our great Redeemed stood;
While Satan’s fiery darts He bore,
And did resist to blood.”