By Clinton D. Hamilton
Ever since the doctrine of original sin or inherited depravity has been taught, there has been the troublesome question of whether Jesus was born with a sinful nature. One who holds to any theory of original sin faces a real problem in dealing with the issue of the nature of Christ. Because the Bible teaches that He was free of sin, and since He was born. of a woman, it is evident that according to the doctrine of original sin, He is a contradiction. How to deal with this contradiction becomes a central issue for those who hold his doctrine.
Catholic theology seeks to solve the problem by the dogma of the immaculate conception. By this is meant that when the egg and the sperm united in the womb of Mary’s mother she was preserved from original sin. Mary, therefore, was immaculately conceived and preserved from sin so as to be a fit vessel to bear the holy Jesus. Consequently, He was conceived by the Holy Spirit and was born of a woman who was free of original sin. He, therefore, was born free of original sin, according to the theory.
Did Jesus have a sinful nature? The Bible is clear in expressing the sinlessness of Jesus. Scripture is likewise clear about His having borne the nature of men. One can be enlightened about man’s nature and whether he is born a sinner by studying what God’s word says about Jesus and His nature. This study focuses on the issue of the nature of Jesus and its implication about the nature of man.
Jesus Had No Sin
That Jesus was sinless the New Testament is emphatic. Jesus was tempted in all points like as men are “yet without sin” (Heb. 4:15). No statement could be clearer. We are also told that “we have not a high priest that cannot be touched with the feeling of our infirmities; but one that hath been in all points tempted like as we are. . . ” (Heb. 4:15). But these statements also pose an issue to many about His nature. If He does not have a sinful nature, how could He be tempted like we are? This is a question some people raise. Does it follow that Jesus has a sinful nature? Let us study the matter.
Tempt (peirazo) in the New Testament has the sense of to try, to test, to prove, and to try by enticement to sin. Jesus partook of the nature to man (Heb. 2:16-17). He was “made like his brethren” and “took on him the seed of Abraham.” Being thus of the nature of man, He had the same basic desires. He was tested as to whether His will to satisfy them would be subjected to the will of God or be such as to satisfy them in violation of the word of God. His desires did not entice Him to violate the will of His Father. For had not His nature been the same as man’s, He could not have been tempted in all points such as he is. Many of these occasions when He yielded to God rather than to desire that would lead to rebellion against God brought to Him suffering (Heb. 2:18).
Informative in this context are James’ statements about temptations. God is not the origin of temptation nor is He tempted with evil. Man is tempted when he is drawn away and enticed by his own lusts (Jas. 1: 13-15). Epithumia is the word translated lust and it means desire or any synonym of it. The word itself does not indicate whether the desire is evil or good; simply it means desire. Context must provide the precise nature of the desire. Paul had a desire, epithumia, to depart and be with the Lord (Phil. 1:23). There was no evil in this wish of his. However, in James 1: 15 when desire or lust has conceived, it brings sin. Evidently, desire or lust in this passage refers to wanting to do what God prohibits. When such a desire is satisfied, sin is the result. Man is, therefore, enticed by this desire to do wrong.
It should be pointed out, however, that the occasion for the expression of lust comes to all men. If the will is subject to the will of God, there is no intention to satisfy the desire in violation of the will of God. All men do have tests that reveal what it is that their will is to do. Jesus had occasions that gave opportunity for Him to express His desires in harmony with or in violation of the will of God. He chose the latter and was as a result without sin. It is not that their natures are different; it is that their response to desire is different. The differences in response differentiate one as righteous and the other as a sinner.
Basic desires and drives belonging to the nature of man are in him by God’s creation. Every desire or drive has a satisfaction acceptable to God. For instance, hunger can be satisfied by eating within moderation. The sex drive can be satisfied in marriage in harmony with the will of God, and working for means (money or possessions) if these are used for meeting one’s own family needs and that of others whom he may have ability and opportunity to assist (1 Cor. 7:1-5; Eph. 4:28; 1 Jn. 3.17, etc.). But every desire can be satisfied in violation of the will of God. Man, as did Jesus, has the choice of obeying God or his own selfish interests and intentions. Jesus on these occasions in His life did not seek to satisfy His desires in violation of the will of God and was, therefore, sinless. Being of the same nature of men, it follows that men are not sinners by nature but by independent, intentional choices they make when the occasions arise to express how they want to satisfy their desires.
The Nature Of Man
That which is born of flesh is flesh Qn. 3:6). The body is alive when the spirit is in it (Jas. 2:26). The spirit comes from God (Eccl. 12:7). When man’s spirit and his body are united, he is a living being in the world. God formed man’s body from the dust of the earth (Gen.. 2:7). Since both flesh and spirit are the creation of God, there can be nothing inherently sinful or wicked about either. Being made in God’s image, man has a rational nature which can make choices. These choices may be either good or evil. For his choices man is held accountable and must stand before God and Christ in judgment (2 Cor. 5:10; Rom. 14:12; Eccl. 12:13-14; Acts 17:30-3 1). Since God does not tempt man with evil and since He made mart, it follows that man’s nature is not evil. This is clear from the fact of man’s accountability because God could not hold him accountable if he were inherently evil and incapable of doing good.
Sin made its entrance into the world when Adam and Eve violated the will of God (Gen. 3). It was through one man that sin entered the world and death by sin (Rom. 5:12). As men follow his example, they sin. Grace and righteousness came by one Jesus Christ (Rom. 5:15). Man’s condemnation is conditioned on his disobedience and so his righteousness is conditioned on his obedience (Rom. 5:19; 6:17). The sin of man is no more unconditional than is his righteousness. Jesus obeyed God and was sinless. Through obedience to Him, man can be righteous. Through disobedience in the likeness of Adam, man is a condemned sinner. Neither is unconditional.
As has been previously pointed out, Jesus partook of the nature of men (Heb. 2). It follows conclusively that His nature could not be sinful inherently. Since He did not sin, it follows that His nature was uncorrupt. If this is the case, it follows that neither is the nature of man corrupt.
Men must turn and become as little children to enter God’s kingdom (Matt. 18:3). Jesus said that the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as little children (Matt. 19:14). In children, there are characteristics such as are essential to please God. If they are inherently wicked and incapable of doing good, these statements are nonsense. Men become wicked by their own choices and are held accountable for these choices. Jesus chose to do right, obey the will of God, and was therefore sinless. It follows, that He had no other sin by inherent nature, even though He had a fleshly nature and partook of every part of the nature of man. From this fact, it follows that the nature of man is not inherently corrupt and incapable of doing good.
Presence Of Sin Among Men
The universal experience of men is that they sin and, in fact, all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God (Rom. 3:23). How shall one explain this universal experience if man is not inherently evil? God clearly gives the answer to this question. We need to listen to Him.
We must not be deceived (Jas. 1:16). Every good and every perfect gift comes from God above, who is the Father of lights, and with Him there is no variation, neither shadow that is cast by turning (Jas. 1:17). He is not fickle but rather is unchangeable (Mal. 3:6). That He did not cause us to yield to sin is evident because it was of His own will that He begat us and brought us forth by the word of truth (Jas. 1:18). He would not, therefore, seek to destroy what He had begotten. Otherwise, He would be fickle and variable.
If God is not the source of man’s evil, whence is it? James tells us. Men sin or do evil when they are drawn away and enticed by their own lust or desire. When that desire has led one to a decision to satisfy it in violation of the will of God, sin is the result (Jas. 1:13-15). The presence of sin among men is the result of occasions presented to them when they choose to satisfy desires in violation of the will of God. It is a deliberate choice that results in sin. It is not a nature that inevitably leads to sin because one is incapable of doing good.
The nature of man and the nature of Christ are inextricably bound together. As is man by nature, so is Jesus. As Jesus is in nature, so is man. This is the central problem to any theory of original sin or inherent depravity by nature. If one does not teach error on the inherent nature of man, he is not troubled by the implication that Jesus has a sinful nature. If one believes what God says about Jesus’ having the nature of man, there is not the problem of the sinful nature of man.
Jesus did not have a sinful nature.
Guardian of Truth XXXI: 1, pp. 12-13
January 1, 1987