In this issue of “Theology & Culture” (T&C), we are doing the first part of two blogs (this is a topic that could be looked at over several blogs), the issue over whether Jesus, as the God-Man, could have sinned or not. There are, believe it or not, practical ramifications for us as Christ-followers in this discussion and we will explore those in part 2.
As we start, let me share with us why I believe this is an important topic to consider. The Cultural Research Center located at Arizona Christian University and under the direction of George Barna, did an “American Worldview Inventory, 2023” research project. Many of the numbers, even among those who identified as born again Christians, have changed over the last few years.
For example, in 2020 60% of those identified as Christians believed human life is sacred. In 2023, that number dropped to 48%. In 2020, 85% of folks in this category were deeply committed to practicing their religious faith. In 2023, that number was 50%.
For our discussion in this blog, here are the figures and these were concerning, to say the least. In 2020 58% of Christians (still a small number in my opinion) believed that Jesus committed no sins in His time on earth. In 2023 that figure was a stunningly low 44%. Less than half of Christians surveyed held to the belief that Jesus never sinned while He walked this dusty planet. That means 56% believe that He did sin. This issue is of great importance. Let us continue with our discussion.
Some believe that unless Jesus could have sinned, He would never have understood temptation as we do. But is that true? Can one face temptation and consciously choose to not sin and/or ignore the opportunity presented to do something that God forbids us to?
Let’s dive deeper into this. As we will see, I believe that it is important to understand what this means for us and also what it means for our understanding of Who Christ was and His life upon this earth as the Incarnated eternal Son of God (John 1:1-2; John 1:14).
We need to note what the Bible says about Christ being sinless. In John 8:46, as Jesus interacts with a somewhat hostile crowd, when referring to whether He was a sinner as they were, He asked the question, “Which one of you convicts me of sin?”
Peter, in his first letter, in 1 Peter 2:22 writes, “He (Jesus) committed no sin, neither was deceit found in his mouth.” Peter had lived and traveled with Jesus continuously for over three years. He spoke from the experience of knowing Christ and watching and listening to Him. He would have seen Jesus sin if He had done so.
James 1:13 reminds us that God will never tempt us to sin, “for God cannot be tempted with evil, and he himself tempts no one.” That Jesus was sinless is taught in Scripture. He was God, and though He took on humanity, His humanity was not the ruling factor in His life. It was that He was God and God cannot sin. That was true of Christ. He never sinned.
We also know from the Bible that Jesus faced temptations. In Matthew 4, our spiritual enemy tried three times to get Jesus to sin, and he failed on all three tries. Each time Jesus faced a temptation, He quoted from Scripture.
Consider what “The Moody Handbook Of Theology” had to say regarding this passage from the Gospel of Matthew, which I fully concur with. We read,
“The purpose of the temptation was not to see if Christ could sin, but to show that He could not sin…If Christ could have sinned, then the Holy Spirit solicited Christ to sin, but that is something God could not do. (James 1:13).”
There is a difference between being tempted and sinning. We can face a temptation and either give in to it or say “no.” That is true of us as fallible human beings. James 1:13-15 is clear that it is a choice we make when we choose to do something that Scripture clearly calls sin. Anyone can be tempted, but we can make the decision to not give in to the temptation.
Christ was tempted, but He never sinned. As Hebrews 4:15 tells us, Jesus was tempted as we are also tempted, but was without sin. This leads to another question that we noted at the start of this blog. Could Jesus have sinned or not?
There are two theological terms that are used to describe the answer to this question but we will forego defining them and instead will simply zero in on what Scripture says, or at least, in this blog, what I believe the Bible says about this question and then in the second part of this discussion speak to the practical side of this doctrine for us.
One of the arguments that Jesus could have sinned has to do with the fact that He was 100% man, thus the possibility of Him sinning had to be there because of His humanity. As one writer put it, “temptation implies the possibility of sin.”
The problem with this view is that it does not include the fact that not only was Jesus man, but He was also 100% God. Christ cannot be separated from His Deity. That is the awesomeness of the Incarnation, that Christ, the Son of God, left heaven and came to earth, leaving His glory (see John 17), not His Divinity, in heaven. He never ceased being God while He was on earth. His Deity was the guiding force in His life. As a human, He was hungry, showed emotions (never in a negative way), and had to sleep, etc. But nowhere should we imply that this means He could have sinned.
Understanding the fact that Christ was still God while on earth is vital. Also, keep in mind that Jesus never changes (Heb. 13:8) so He could not sin for He is eternally holy. He was also All-Powerful, for He said in the Great Commission that “all authority” was given to Him (Matt. 28:18). If this was not true, He could have sinned because in weakness is the possibility to sin. Jesus does not fit that category.
Remember that James 1:13-15 tells us that we yield to temptation from within. We choose to do what God wants us not to. The temptations of Christ were from without. Jesus had a sinless nature, and thus He would not yield to any outward temptations that came His way, like humanity is prone to do when facing situations to sin.
In our next blog, we will continue discussing this topic and show the practical implications for us as Christ followers in regard to whether Jesus could have sinned or not. There are things, believe it or not, that we can personally apply because of what Jesus went through while here on earth.
This doctrine is more important than we may realize as we shall see in our next article on this specific subject.