By Timothy S. Morton
At first glance to question whether the Lord Jesus Christ could have sinned while he was on earth seems near to blasphemy. Every Christian should know Christ, "knew no sin" (2 Cor. 5:21), was "without sin" (Heb. 4:15), and always did things that pleased His Father (Jn. 8:29). Most Christians are quick to defend their Savior from any hint of iniquity. However, in their zeal to defend Christ, many will insist not only did He not sin, but it was also impossible for Him to sin. The question of Christ's impeccability and His "ability" to sin will be the subject of this "Taboo Topic."
When God created Adam in the Garden of Eden, the Bible says he created him in His own "image" and "likeness" (Gen. 1:26), and as a result one of the characteristics of man is he has the ability to choose to do right or wrong. In fact, the great test of Adam involved what would he choose to do when confronted with two choices. Freewill is a fundamental attribute of man, and without it no "person" truly is a man. Of course, infants and those with severe mental limitations cannot exercise freewill, but neither does God hold them accountable for their actions or lack thereof. They have no knowledge of a law to break or of wrong choices and the Lord takes this lack of knowledge into consideration (Rom. 4:15, 5:13). Unlike Adam after the fall, they have know knowledge of sin. But as a rule, every true man has a freewill and is held accountable for his actions (Gen. 2:17). Apart from a freewill any creature is little more than a robot controlled by another or an animal motivated by mere instinct.
All true Christians will agree the Lord Jesus Christ came to earth as a man. He was conceived in a womb, born into the world, and died upon the earth like all other descendants of Adam. But also, Christ was more than a man. He was also the God of heaven. This throws the proverbial "monkey wrench" into the picture. Two different "natures" were manifested in one body, there was only one "person" but He had two (in many ways) opposing natures (Rom. 1:3-4).
Actually the question we must consider in this article is, we know the nature of man is susceptible to sin and the nature of God is not, thus how do the two coexist leaving Christ his freewill? For The divine nature to overrule the human nature would in essence void the human nature, thus destroying Christ's humanity. And if He was no longer truly man, then He could not redeem man because it was a man (Adam) that first sinned. But God is not stymied by such "problems." He devised a way for His Son to be both fully God and still fully man without weakening any of the attributes of either nature. Although this is a great mystery (1 Tim. 3:16) and impossible for us to fully fathom, God himself was present in Mary's womb, through the Holy Spirit, and she conceived a son (Luke 1:32). A son who was fully human by Mary and also fully God by the Holy Ghost (Luke 1:35). Christ was the seed of David after the flesh and the seed of God after the Spirit (Rom 1:3-4).
The Scriptures are clear in stating Christ was not just God come in a body, but truly a man. Hebrews 2:14-16 says, "Forasmuch then as the children are partakers of flesh and blood, he also himself likewise took part of the same; that through death he might destroy him that had the power of death, that is, the devil..."For verily he took not on him the nature of angels; but he took on him the seed of Abraham. "
Probably the most used argument claiming Christ could not have sinned is, "God cannot sin, and Christ was God manifest in the flesh; therefore, He can't sin." But this argument is shallow and doesn't consider all the facts. For instance, it's true God cannot sin but neither can He die, however, Christ did die. Does that mean Christ was less than God? Furthermore, God cannot hunger, thirst, get tired, feel physical pain, or bleed, but Christ did all these things yet He is no less God (Phil. 2:6). Christ bridged the gap between God and man having the full natures of both parties. He is called the "last Adam" because He came as a man like Adam to redeem the guilt of Adam's sin.
All of Adam's descendants (all of humanity except Christ) inherited Adam's sin, guilt, and evil nature and were incapable of redeeming themselves let alone anyone else. Christ, however, though a descendent of Adam through His MOTHER, did not carry Adam's sin, guilt, and evil nature because God is his FATHER. From the beginning God set things up so that a person inherits the actions of his father (Adam). Thus, when Adam sinned, all his "seed" sinned with him, but since Adam is not Christ's father not His paternal father), the Lord didn't inherit his guilt. In short, Jesus was born having a human nature similar to what Adam's was BEFORE the fall. With a guiltless, unbiased human nature and refusing to make a wrong choice like Adam, Christ could then redeem or undo Adam's guilty actions. "For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive." 1 Cor. 15:22. [For a more detailed examination of the subject of the "two Adams" and others aspects of salvation, see our book, "More Than Forgiven"]
Since the first Adam was given choices to make, so was the second Adam, Christ. As we shall see, our Lord had opposing choices to make from the very beginning of His ministry.
Before Jesus ever entered His ministry, He had to spend some time with the ancient "Serpent." In fact, the Bible says, the Holy Spirit deliberately "led" him into the wilderness to be tempted (Matt. 4:1; Luke 4:1). Christ spent forty days there, in fasting, subject to the Devils various temptations. But were the temptations real? If one insists it was impossible for Christ to sin then they couldn't be real. With no ability to choose or even contemplate wrong, the suggestions and "temptations" of Satan were nothing but meaningless irritations.
Hebrews 4:15 says concerning Christ's temptation, "For we have not an high priest which cannot be touched with the feeling of our infirmities; but was in all points tempted like as we are, yet without sin," proving Christ was truly tempted. The verse is not vague or unclear. It clearly states Christ was tempted in all points "LIKE WE ARE" (present tense) yet He didn't sin! How are you tempted, Christian? Are you tempted to sin? Are you tempted to do things you know are wrong and you know you are capable of doing? According to the Holy Spirit Christ was tempted just like you ARE! Unless one is determined to circumvent what the verse says by playing word games, Christ could have given in to temptation or at least debated His options.
Hebrews 2:18 even takes this farther, "For in that he himself hath suffered being tempted, he is able to succour [help] them that are tempted. " Here it is said Christ "suffered being tempted." How could Christ suffer being tempted if it was impossible for Him to yield? How could He aid or help others who are tempted when He has had no experience in dealing with temptation as a man Himself? Those who insist Christ as a man was impeccable cannot deal with these verses. They must explain them away. Our Lord can aid and comfort us in temptation because He felt the full force of it himself! Satan hit Christ with all he had yet Christ didn't waver. In fact, Christ's temptations were stronger than any we encounter because He never gave in. We often do yield and as soon as we do the temptation is gone.
From another perspective, consider this Christian, and think before you answer. Do you believe Christ was capable of turning stones into bread? Did he have the power to do it? Do you believe the angels would have caught Him if He jumped from the temple? Furthermore, do you believe Christ could have called twelve legions of angels to rescue Him from going to the cross. Christ said He COULD call the angels down ("Thinkest thou that I cannot now pray to my Father, and he shall presently give me more than twelve legions of angels? But how then shall the scriptures be fulfilled, that thus it must be?" Matt 26:53-54), but the cross would have been avoided if He did, destroying God's redemption plan! The simple fact is if Christ was capable of doing these things (and we believe he was) then He was capable of sinning. That is what true temptation is, being tempted to do something wrong and something one is capable of doing. Being "tempted" to do something that is impossible for you is a mockery.
Here is more to chew on, Christian. Has Satan ever tempted you to turn stones into bread? Has he ever suggested you jump off the temple or call down twelve legions of angels to protect yourself? Maybe the reason you haven't been tempted to do these things is because Satan knows you can't do them! Though Satan is evil, he is not stupid, and he doesn't waste time tempting people to do things impossible for them. He knew Christ could do these things and used all his persuasive powers to try to get Christ to give in. Satan's temptations did not stop in the wilderness either. Jesus was tempted all during His ministry, usually through men (Matt. 27:42).
How could Jesus really be a man without any possibility of making a wrong choice or giving in to temptation? How could he know what man suffers and endures unless he becomes fully a man and likewise suffers? There would be little point for God to come to earth appearing as a man but not actually being a man (like angels appear in human bodies but are still only angels). Putting on the appearance or flesh of something does not make one what he appears to be. To truly be a man one must carry all of man's attributes. He must have a freewill and be subject to the consequences of his decisions. He must be able to choose right or wrong, and be subject to the human needs and emotions all men share. To claim Christ was some sort of virtual man and not subject to humanity's failings and weaknesses is to deny His humanity. True, unlike other men, Christ had no taint of sin in his human nature, but neither did Adam before the fall. Christ came to earth as the "last Adam" and is no less man than the first Adam, and because of that, He can truly be the example for all men.
There is one event in Christ's life where one can see both of His natures dealing with "God's will." The account of His agony in the garden of Gethsemane in Matthew 26:36-46 details His torment in contemplating the coming cross. From thinking about His soon crucifixion, the Lord became "exceeding sorrowful, even unto death." He then fell on His face and His human nature pleading with His Father said, "If it be possible, let this cup pass from me," but then He said, "Not as I will, but as thou wilt." This passage proves that the man Christ Jesus had a "will" that was distinct from His Father's will. Notice how Christ said "Not as I will, but as thou wilt"! His "will" was to somehow avoid the cross. He was hoping there was a possible way for His Father to get His will accomplished (redemption) and Christ to also get His (avoid the cross), but Christ resigned Himself to His Father's will without insisting on His own. In Luke 22:44 the torment in Christ's mind caused Him to sweat "as it were great drops of blood...," but if He could not choose His own will as some claim, why was He in such agony and sweating such great drops? If He was God merely come in a human body, there should be no other "will" than God's.
When one examines a question such as the impeccability of Christ, naturally a hypothetical question arises asking what would happen if the hypothetical occurred. These, questions, however cannot be answered with much if any certainty. Hypothetical questions by their very nature have unprovable answers. If Christ merely debated in His mind and considered one of Satan's temptations and thus sin, one thing is for certain, history would be much different. As to what would have occurred internally in Christ and afterwards physically is pure speculation and not worthy of discussion. One certainty, though, is even if Christ's human nature choose wrong, this would in no way affect God's integrity or Christ's divine nature. No more than when a Christian sins (by following the temptation of the Devil through his old nature) it affects the integrity of the "new man" in him which is actually Christ. God would still be the eternal, immutable, holy God.
God through His all encompassing foreknowledge knows about every action or event that ever occured and ever will occur, thus nothing takes him by surprise. But foreknowledge doesn't cause things to happen. It is not predestination. God knew His Son wouldn't sin, but His knowledge of this doesn't change the fact that Christ could have and the temptations were real. God also knows what every person who ever lived will do in any given situation, but, again, this knowledge doesn't make "life" any less real or mean all men are mere puppets on a stage. People for the most part make their own decisions and God's knowledge of them doesn't affect the decisions themselves either way.
It should be a comfort to believers that our Lord "is not a high priest which cannot be touched with the feeling of our infirmities," but is a Priest and Savior who knows what it is to live on earth as a man. He knows what it means to be hungry and thirsty, He knows how it feels to be rejected and forsaken, He understands the toils and heartaches that life can bring, and He knows what it means to be tempted to sin. He was tempted in all (three) points like as we are yet without sin! He refused to succumb to the "lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life" and left this world with full victory in his hands purchased with His blood. Glory!
Instead of not being able to give in to temptation, Christ withstood it and overcame it! He showed us as Christians believers don't have to sin! He is our example and we are to follow Him. But how could we follow someone who is not susceptible to the temptations and trials we are susceptible to? Someone who doesn't know how strong temptation and self will can be? We could hardly follow him at all.