By Harold Fite
Did Jesus live on this earth without sin? Was he tempted as we are tempted? Was it possible for him to sin? These questions and their answers lie at the very heart of our salvation.
If Jesus had committed one sin, he could not have been the Saviour of the world! If it were impossible for him to sin, his perfect life lacks meaning.
The apostles and the early church never questioned the sinlessness of Christ. It was the consensus of the early ecclesiastical writers that Jesus lived a sinless life, yet there was disagreement among them whether it was possible for Christ to sin. Some believed that because of his deity, it was impossible for him to sin.
Tertullian inferred the sinlessness of Christ because of his divinity. Origen regarded his sinlessness as a peculiar property of the human soul of Christ, but produced by its union with the divine Logos. Apollinaris believed human nature implies limitations, mutability, conflict, sin, etc., that no man could be a perfect man without sin. He believed that the Logos replaced the human soul in Christ and imported to him an irresistible tendency to do good. Socinianism asserted the sinlessness of Christ, but denied he was really subject to temptation because of “supernatural generation.”
On the other hand, Athanasius affirmed his sinless perfect human nature. He correctly observed that sin does not belong to human nature, that man was originally pure and sinless. He concluded that Christ could thereby assume the nature of man without being made subject to sin. He did concede man’s liability to temptation. Council of Chalcedon (A.D. 451), expressed the doctrine in these words: “Truly, man with a rational soul and body of like essence with us as to his manhood and in all things like us, sin excepted.”
Jesus was God (Deity) and man (human). Deity cannot be tempted: “for God cannot be tempted with evil . . .” (James 1:13). If he were tempted it had to occur relative to his humanity. His reaction to that temptation, whether to resist or succumb, would be a human choice.
Jesus Was Man
The Word became flesh (John 1:14). His genealogy affirms his humanity (Matt. 1:1-17; Lk. 3). After his resurrection he appeared to his disciples saying, “See my hands and my feet, that it is I myself: handle me and see; for a spirit hath not flesh and bones, as you behold me having” (Lk. 24:39). He was found in fashion as a man (Phil. 2:7,8). The apostles affirmed his human form as one whom they had seen, heard, and handled (1 Jn. 1:1-3). “Since children are sharers in flesh and blood, he also in like manner partook of the same . . .” (Heb. 2:14). As the Son of Man he was representative of all humanity.
Tempted As Man
He was led into the wilderness to be tempted of the Devil. The Devil appealed to the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eye, and the pride of life. Jesus deflected these thrusts with “it is written,” (Matt. 4:1-11). He proved himself to be the perfect Saviour. He was tempted in all like points as we are, “yet without sin” (Heb. 4:15). “Who did no sin, neither was guile found in his mouth” (1 Pet. 2:22). “And you know that he was manifested to take away sins; and in him is no sin” (1 Jn. 3:5). For one to be able to raise others from the ruin of sin, he must be holy, undefiled and separate from sinners. Jesus was these and more. “Him who knew no sin he made to be sin on our behalf; that we might become the righteousness of God in him” (2 Cor. 5:21). As a man he was tempted, lived a sinless life, suffered, and died on the cross.
The Flawless Priest
Jesus’ sinlessness has a bearing on his sacrifice and priesthood. The High Priest of the Old Testament was appointed by God for men. He served as mediator between God and Israel. One who performed sacrificial rites had to be free from bodily defects to be able to do so. He entered the most holy place on the day of atonement to offer up sacrifices for the people, priests, and his house. Christ, our great high priest is the reality of that typified by the Aaronic priesthood. His priesthood is far superior to that of Aaron’s for two reasons: (1) Christ is priest forever after the order of Melchizedek, (2) He didn’t have to offer a sacrifice for his sins as did Aaron (Heb. 5:3). Jesus “needeth not daily, like those high priests, to offer up sacrifices, first for his own sins, and then for the sins of the people: for this he did once for all, when he offered by himself ” (Heb. 7:27). We therefore conclude with the Hebrew writer: “For we have not a high priest that cannot be touched with the feeling of our infirmities; but one that hath been in all like points tempted like as we are, yet without sin” (Heb. 4:15).
The Perfect Sacrifice
The sin offering under the Levitical economy was without blemish. Jesus, the High Priest of our confession, had somewhat to offer. He offered himself as the sacrifice for sin. “Who through the eternal spirit offered himself with-out blemish unto God . . .” (Heb. 9:14). “Without blemish” refers to Jesus’ sinless conduct. And “once at the end of the ages hath he been manifested to put away sin by the sacrifice to him-self’ (Heb. 9:26). If Jesus had committed one sin (blemish) he could not have put away sin.
He redeemed us with precious blood as of a lamb without spot or blemish (1 Pet. 1:18,19). Only by being sinless could he have redeemed us by his blood.
If Jesus had not been sinless, his Priesthood would have been no better than Aaron’s; his sacrifice would have been polluted; and his blood would not be efficacious. By living the perfect sinless life, he became the perfect Saviour. cr
Guardian of Truth XXXVIII No.23, p. 5-6
December 1, 1994