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Theology > Jesus > Baptism and Temptations > Sinlessness of Christ


He was in all points tempted as we are,
yet without sin.
Heb. 4:15

The impeccability of Christ is the sinlessness of Christ. And the focus of this abiding state is His earthly sojourn; as man He never sinned, neither in thought or in deed. Jesus Himself asked the question: “Which of you convicts Me of sin?” (Jo. 8:46); and to this question He received no answer.

By the writers of the New Testament the perfection of Christ is consistently affirmed:

For He made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us (II Cor. 5:21);

He was “in all points tempted as we are, yet without sin”  (Heb. 4:15);

For such a High Priest was fitting for us, who is holy, harmless, undefiled, separate from sinners (Heb. 7:26);

who committed no sin, nor was deceit found in His mouth (I Pet. 2:22; a quote from Isa. 53: 9 which was applied to Christ);

for Christ also suffered once for sins, the just for the unjust (I Pet. 3:18);

Jesus Christ the righteous (I Jo. 2:1);

in Him is no sin (I Jo. 3:5).

Christ’s sinlessness was even confessed by Pilate, the one who sentenced Him to death:

[Pilate] went out again to the Jews, and said to them, “I find no fault in Him at all” (Jo. 18:38);

Pilate then went out again and said to them, “. . . I find not fault in Him” (Jo. 19:4);

Pilate said to them, “You take Him and crucify Him, for I find no fault in Him” (Jo. 19:6; see: Lu. 23:4, 14, 22).

Both in the temptations and in His earthly life Jesus manifested sinlessness, even though He was persistently tempted throughout His ministry: “the devil departed from Him for a season” (Lu. 4:13). Only for a season did the devil leave Him, and the implication is that he returned with more temptations, all of which Jesus overcame.

The Scripture clearly affirms that the temptations of Christ were real temptation. He was “in all points tempted as we are, yet without sin” (Heb. 4:15), meaning that the temptations were genuine or real temptations. To think otherwise is to think contrary to the plain statement of Scriptures.

His sinlessness confirms who He is, and it also makes possible what He did. He must be sinless in order to save, and He alone is “holy, harmless, undefiled, separate from sinners” (Heb. 7:23-28). The writer of Hebrews affirms that “we have such a High Priest” (8:1). In everything Jesus affirmed that His life was the doing of God’s will: “My food is to do the will of Him who sent Me” (Jo. 4:34).

Associated with the sinlessness of Christ is the question of whether Jesus did not sin or whether He could not sin:

Potuit non peccare (able not to sin) – speaks of His identification with man

Non potuit peccare (not able to sin) – speaks of His identification with God

It would seem that Christ had no inner propensity to sin, and, additionally, He was empowered by the Holy Spirit. The Scriptures do call attention to the work of the Spirit in connection with the temptations in the wilderness (Lu. 4:1), and it is proper to think that this was true throughout His earthly life.

In connection with this problem is the fact that the Bible emphatically states that “God cannot be tempted by evil” (Jas. 1:13). Though the Scriptures do not address the specific question of whether Jesus was able not to sin or not able to sin, the fact that He is both God and man in one person mandates that it must be concluded that He was not able to sin. Is it conceivable that His ethical power resided in His divine nature, and speaks of His total and absolute submission to the Father, His own preparation for the ordeal (fasting for forty days and nights), and the empowering work of the Holy Spirit in His life?

Related to this dilemma is the issue of whether He assumed sinless humanity, or did He assume sinful humanity but did not commit any personal sin. The latter view is the view of Karl Barth and T. F. Torrence. Must He assume fallen/sinful humanity in order for Him to be fully human? Paul in Romans states that Jesus came “in the likeness of sinful flesh” (8:3). It is worthy of note to remember that Adam was fully human prior to his acquisition of a sinful nature.

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