Could Christ Have Sinned?
Although the subject of the impeccability of the Lord Jesus has been discussed in this column in two previous issues of “Focus”, it is deemed of such importance, especially in these days when the Person of our blessed Lord is under attack in many quarters, that a further and perhaps final answer is presented here. The following are abstracts from a tract written by the late F.W. Schwartz, who associated with “Food for the Flock, Inc.” from 1955 till his homecall in 1973:
“That Christ did not at any time sin is generally agreed. But some say that He could have done so. What is the truth of the matter? He is called in Scripture “Jesus Christ the righteous” (1 John 2:1), “the Holy One and the Just” (Acts 3:14), and is described as “holy, harmless, undefiled, separate from sinners …” (Hebrews 7:26). He “loved righteousness and hated iniquity” (Hebrews 1:9). He could say “I do always those things that please Him” (i.e. the Father, John 8:29). Could He have spoken so confidently if there had been a lurking possibility of sin in His life?
We are told that His victory over sin was “won by weapons available to every child of God”, and that it was only through yielding constantly to the control of the Holy Spirit that He was able to triumph over sin. That His whole life was lived in complete harmony with the Spirit we, of course, heartily agree. If, however, it is implied that His relation to sin was in all points similar to our own, we must dissent — and that emphatically. In each of us there is an evil tendency which needs counteracting by the Spirit. In our adorable Lord there was no such tendency, and consequently no inner conflict. In His character He was intrinsically, positively, abidingly HOLY, and completely without liability to sin. We cannot for a moment admit that in our Lord Jesus Christ there was any bias toward evil. ‘The prince of this world cometh,” He said, “and hath nothing in Me” (John 14:30), — “no point of appliance whereon to fasten his attack” (Alford). He was in no sense vulnerable. Surely it will not be maintained that in Him there was “His own lust”, by which He could be “drawn away and enticed!” As W.E. Vine puts it, “His was essential and unblemished purity, impossible of contracting defilement.”
He is compared in Scripture to “a lamb without blemish and without spot… FOREORDAINED before the foundation of the world…” (1 Peter 1:19-20). His coming into the world was to give effect to a sovereign purpose of God. Are we to think that that purpose was open to the possibility of defeat—that the very work for which “the Lamb of God” was foreordained could become impossible through His sinning? No!—absolute moral perfection was indispensable in One Who was to undertake the work of atonement. The remotest possibility of His sinning would have negatived that perfection, and would have rendered Him unfit to be the great Sin-Bearer.
Deity and humanity, in Christ, are never to be thought of as separate, or as acting independently of each other. His human nature was one element of His single personality. His every act and word are to be attributed to HIM, that is, to the Person and not to one of His natures. As Moule pointedly reminds us, “the manhood of Christ is to be studied, not in the abstract, but in its actual, absolute, necessary harmony with His Deity, under His divine Personality. Had the Manhood sinned, the Christ would have sinned in His Manhood; the highest moral impossibility.” In Him perfect humanity was in full consistency with full Deity. There could be no self-contradiction such as even the least possibility of sin would involve.
But it is argued that if He could not sin, His temptations were not real. “Temptation”, it is said, “implies the possibility of sin.” From the viewpoint of ordinary human experience that argument may seem to have weight. But we are not, in the case of Christ, in the presence of an ordinary human experience, or of an ordinary human being. What is true of ourselves is not necessarily true of Him. Imagine, if you can, an attack made on Fort Knox with bows and arrows. However prolonged such an attack might be, it could not hope to succeed. The attack might be ever so REAL, but its only result would be to demonstrate the strength of the Fort. The Son of God could be “attacked”, but could not be made to fall. The temptations were real. He was “in all points tempted…” Every kind of temptation was launched against Him. But the tempter was dealing with One Who was completely impeccable. He could be tested, and that most severely, but the result was not the discovery of a weakness in Him, but a new display of His perfection. The purpose of His being led into the wilderness to be tempted was, it seems to this writer, to bring about a clear demonstration of the moral excellence, the complete fitness, of the One Who was to undertake the work of redemption. God had acknowledged Him from heaven as “My beloved Son, in Whom I am well pleased.” In the wilderness it was established beyond doubt that there was good reason for the Divine pleasure. As the acid test applied to pure gold proves its purity, so the temptation served to prove His perfection.
Another argument is that if sin was impossible to Christ, He could not be expected to understand the experience of men and women who are daily exposed to temptation, and therefore could not succour them. This argument seems to require the presupposition that only one who is himself fallible can understand and succour others. Such a presupposition is groundless. George Henderson puts the matter nicely when he says: “Is it necessary that a doctor should himself have the disease before he can help the man who comes to him seeking deliverance from it? Is it only the reclaimed drunkard that can help one who is a slave to strong drink? Nay: ‘It is the love that suffers, not the weakness that fails, that is able to help.” Certainly temptation, for Christ, meant the keenest suffering. If at the grave of Lazarus He wept, deeply affected by the ravages of sin and its results in sorrow, must He not have been similarly affected when temptation brought Him face to face with fiendish wickedness?
One wonders if, for some, the whole matter might not be simplified if, instead of asking “Could Christ have sinned?” we were to ask “Can Christ sin?” — that is, NOW. Very few, if any, would be willing to admit such a possibility. And if sin is impossible to Him now, it was always impossible to Him. For what He is now, as to His essential Being, He always was. He is “the same yesterday, today, and forever.”