The Sinlessness of Our Lord Jesus Christ
Henry Palmieri resides in Mechanicville, N. Y., and has been a past contributor to Focus. We appreciate his thoughts and emphasis on Christ’s sinlessness and urge our readers to a careful consideration of this article.
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Questions have been raised across the centuries: “Could Christ have sinned?” “How could the Son of God be tempted for God cannot be tempted of evil?” ‘If He was sinless, temptation could have no effect upon Him, and where is the point in a later New Testament writer maintaining for the benefit of tried believers that the exalted Christ can sympathize with all who are tempted because ‘He was tempted in all points as we are, sin apart?’” These are mysteries that no serious minded believer will deny. They indeed are problems for poor finite minds. They defy explanation.
A very able Bible teacher of broad-casting fame has 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.”
I ask 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 as is maintained?
The Holy Spirit plainly declared that our Lord was faultless and without sin through Peter, Paul, and John. He “did no sin” (1 Peter 2:22). He “knew no sin” (2 Corinthians 5:21). John records that “in Him is no sin” (1 John 3:5). The only sinless character, the greatest character that ever walked this earth, holy, harmless, undefiled and separate from every vile association was Christ Jesus our Lord.
He is called God’s “Holy Servant Jesus” (Acts 4:27, R.V.), “that Holy Thing” (Luke 1:35). Not only was He innocent merely, as all children born into this world and even as Adam was created, but He was born Holy. Innocence is ignorance of sin and is not incompatible with inherent tendency to sin. Holiness is the manifestation of a nature which loves righteousness and hates evil (Hebrews 1:9). His incarnation was “without sin.” His conversation was “without sin.” In temptation — “without sin.” His crucifixion was “without sin,” although “made sin” for us. His resurrection was “without sin.” (His resurrection is the Divine Affidavit of His sinlessness) and in His glorification— “without sin.” “Jesus Christ the Righteous” (1 John 2:1) in “His present exalted station in glory is a further proof of His Spotless Excellence” (J.B.W.)
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 person! He is God…He becomes 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 again gives an excellent thought on Hebrews 4:15. “The writer of the Epistle to Hebrews adds ‘sin apart’. This qualifying phrase seems to mean apart from any actual, or potential, relation with, or participation in sin.”
While “the 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.” Is there not one Christ, one Lord? Then all He did was in the unity of His Person. He was, and He is, God and Man, holding two natures in one Person forever.
The Temptation of Our Lord Jesus Christ
Some dear people in their conflicts with evil have been comforted by the idea that the Lord had to struggle as they do when tempted, and because He overcame in the battle, so they hope to do the same. He did overcome, blessed be His Holy Name, but His temptations were from without and never from within as ours.
It is because they do not seem able to understand any other sort of temptations than the incitement to do evil, which is the modern meaning of the word, that they argue that temptation can have neither force nor meaning to a man unless there is within him the desire, or at least the liability, to yield.
The word “tempted” has various meanings. “To try, test, prove, in a good sense,” said of Christ and of believers, Hebrews 2:18, where the context shows, that the temptation was the cause of suffering to Him and only suffering, not a drawing away to sin, so that believers have the sympathy of Christ as their High Priest in the sufferings which sin occasions to those who are in the enjoyment of communion with God; so in the similar passage in Hebrews 4:15; in all the temptations which Christ endured, there was nothing within Him that answered 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 produced in us by the sinful nature which belongs to us … in a bad sense, to tempt (a) of attempts to ensnare Christ in His speech, e.g., Matthew 16:1, 19:3, 22:18, 35 and parallel passages; John 8:6; (b) of temptations to sin, e.g., Galatians 6:1, where one who would restore an erring brother is not to act as his judge, but as being one with him in liability to sin, with the possibility of finding himself in similar circumstances, James 1:13, 14; of temptations mentioned as coming from the devil, Matthew 4:1, and parallel passages; 1 Corinthians 7:5, 1 Thessalonians 3:5; (c) of trying or challenging God, Acts 15:10, 1 Corinthians 10:9 (second part), Hebrews 3:9” (W.E. Vine, Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words, p. 116).
It is because people do not distinguish between testing and enticement to do evil that they argue that Christ could have sinned.
J.T. Mawson rightly has said: “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 the 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 He was tried by every kind of temptation except that kind, apart from sin.” 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 pass the most searching tests. A weight of some ten thousand pounds is brought down upon it. The design of such a test is not to break the wheel, but to prove it cannot be broken. The glorious truth then is that the Lord Jesus Christ was tested not to see if He would sin, but to show He could not sin.
S. Ridout in his Lectures on Hebrews says, “We read of one of John Bunyan’s characters that at the close of his life he said, wherever he found the footprints of the Lord Jesus there he had coveted to put his feet. How beautiful that! 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 tread and He not only coveted to do it, but He did put His feet just there. He has gone through all the circumstances of the wilderness. He knows what all the testing and trials of it mean in a way infinitely beyond the experience of the ripest saint, for He has passed through it, apart from the deadening, dulling, wasteful yielding to sin. Our blessed Lord 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 too low a view of Christ. What folly to think of it! He “the True Light” shining in the darkness and the darkness “overcame it not,” yielding to sin? Why the very thought is next door to blasphemy and a Satanic delusion.
“There are two great truths you must hold fast. The truth about our Lord’s Person, and the truth about His Work. In all His temptations—and He endured them all — He was God, Who had spoken the word of creation of the worlds, and upholds them by the word of His power” (Hebrews 1:2, 3).
Though our Great High Priest is Man, it is blessed indeed to have Him called in this 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, and being of course apart from, without, sin (W.R. Newell on Hebrews).
Yet spotless, undefiled and pure
Our great Redeemer stood;
While Satan’s fiery darts He bore,
And did resist to blood.