Could Jesus Have Sinned?

That Jesus was truly a man, and not a superhuman angelic being of some kind, is evident from many passages of Scripture. “For verily He took not on Him the nature of angels; but He took on Him the seed of Abraham. Wherefore in all things it behooved Him to be made like unto His brethren, that He might be a merciful and faithful high priest in things pertaining to God, to make reconciliation for the sins of the people” (Hebrews 2:16, 17).

As a true man, He was subject to all the physical infirmities of human flesh, such as hunger, fatigue, pain, and finally death. On the other hand, He was not genetically connected by direct heredity to His parents, since He was miraculously placed in an embryonic form into Mary’s womb by the Holy Spirit, thus entering the world by virgin birth. A perfect human body was created for Him, and thus the eternal “Word was made flesh” (John 1:14). “Wherefore when He comes into the world, He saith … a body hast thou prepared me” (Hebrews 10:5).

The question now at hand is whether, in His perfect humanity, He could have yielded, not only to the physical infirmities of human flesh (as He actually did when he died on the cross) but also to the temptations of sinful flesh. There is no doubt that God sent His own Son “in the likeness of sinful flesh” (Romans 8:3), but could He actually have sinned?

We know He did not sin, of course. This was the uniform testimony of all who knew Him. Those who were His closest companions, who knew Him best of all, and who therefore would be best acquainted with His weaknesses, agree completely on this. John, the closest of the apostles to Jesus, said, “In Him is no sin” (1 John 3:5), and Peter, the spokesman for the apostles, said, “He did no sin, neither was guile found in His mouth” (1 Peter 2:22).

Not only His close friends, but even His enemies, those who hated Him and finally caused His death, agreed on His moral sinlessness. The one who betrayed Him, Judas, cried out in remorse, “I have betrayed innocent blood” (Matthew 27:4). The governor who condemned Him to be executed, Pilate, said, “I find in Him no fault at all” (John 18:38). The charge against Him by the priests that led to His condemnation was solely that of blasphemy. “The Jews answered him, We have a law, and by our law He ought to die, because He made Himself the Son of God” (John 19:7). Though blasphemy is indeed a grievous sin, Jesus was, of course, not really guilty of it, because He was truly the Son of God as He claimed.

Thus He was absolutely sinless in every respect, the only man who ever lived who never sinned: “Wherefore, as by one man (i.e., Adam) sin entered into the world, and death by sin, and so death passed upon all men, for that all have sinned” (Romans 5:12). Every man other than Jesus Christ was under God’s condemnation because of sin; Christ alone was fully righteous and thus was able to become a perfect sacrifice for sin. “For He hath made Him to be sin for us, who knew no sin; that we might be made the righteousness of God in Him” (2 Corinthians 5:21).

This would have been impossible had Jesus Himself become a sinner. If He had ever sinned, even in the least degree, He also would have fallen under the condemnation of God, and thus could never have died in substitution for the sins of others. All men would then have died with no further hope of salvation. If God Himself, incarnate in His only Son, could not measure up to the standard of His own holiness, then it is utterly futile to search elsewhere for meaning and salvation in the universe.

Since it is impossible that the omnipotent God could be fully defeated in His own purpose for the world and mankind, however, and since the consummation of that purpose required the offering of a perfect sacrifice for sins in the person of His own eternal Son, it is therefore completely impossible that Jesus could ever have sinned. He was the “Lamb without blemish and without spot, … foreordained before the foundation of the world” (1 Peter 1:19, 20).

Though He was completely man, He was also completely God. “The Word was with God, and the Word was God” (John 1:1). He is “the great God and our Saviour Jesus Christ” (Titus 2:13). By very definition, what God does is right; God therefore cannot sin, and Jesus Christ is God! “God cannot be tempted with evil” (James 1:13).
Jesus is not half God and half man, but fully God and fully man. Neither is He man part of the time and God part of the time. The divine and human natures are united in Him in perfect unity, forever.

Although He had (and has) a human nature, it must be remembered that He has a perfect human nature! He is Man as God intended man to be. The perfection of His human nature was assured by the miraculous conception, so that He did not in any wise inherit a fallen, sinful nature from Adam, as have all other men.

Because He possessed a perfect human nature from the very beginning, He did not need to be “converted,” as do other men. He told Nicodemus, the most moral and religious man of his day, “Ye must be born again,” but He did not say, “We must be born again.” He was as perfectly sinless in His human nature then as He is now. “Jesus Christ the same yesterday, and today, and for ever” (Hebrews 13:8).

What does the Scripture mean, then, when it says, He “was in all points tempted like as we are, yet without sin” (Hebrews 4:15)? How could there be real temptation, if it was impossible for Him to sin? He was, in fact, “forty days tempted of the devil” (Luke 4:2), and this temptation was undoubtedly the most severe temptation to which any man was ever subjected. But how could He really be “tempted” if it was not at all possible for Him to yield to any temptation?

The really essential aspect of a temptation, however, is that of a “testing,” and only secondarily need it involve a “solicitation to do wrong.” A test may be quite real and valuable, even though there is no possibility of failure, because it demonstrates to the skeptical observer the invulnerability of the object tested. Thus the perfect holiness of Jesus Christ was openly demonstrated to men and angels and devils, when He was tempted (that is, “tested”) in all things, yet without sin.
Furthermore, because He has personally experienced the whole gamut of Satanic testing, He perfectly understands every temptation and trial to which we may ever be subjected. Therefore He is able to provide perfect comfort and deliverance in all things. “For in that He Himself hath suffered being tempted He is able to succour them that are tempted” (Hebrews 2:18). “Let us therefore come boldly unto the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy, and find grace to help in time of need” (Hebrews 4:16).

Henry M. Morris and Martin E. Clark

Published by Intentional Faith

Devoted to a Faith that Thinks

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