By Steve Klein
One of the most ticklish of all religious controversies since the time of the apostles has been over the nature of the deity that Jesus possessed as a man. Historian Philip Schaff observed that in the years before 325 A.D., “the whole theological energy” of church leaders concentrated itself “upon the doctrine of Christ as the God-man” (History of the Christian Church., Vol. 2, p. 248). In fact, from the third to the sixth centuries after Christ lived on earth, one could scarcely find a more disputed topic.
Schaff observed that in the writings of the Christians who lived just after New Testament times, “we find for the most part only the simple Biblical statements of the deity and humanity of Christ, in the practical form needed for general edification” (p. 249). It was only when men tried to fit these simple truths into their human religious systems that perversions arose.
That section of early church history could be studied profitably by many today who are speculating about the divine prerogatives Christ exercised as a man. Much energy is being expended in a vain attempt to back up the assertion that “man has to sin” and still explain why the man Jesus did not sin. Suffice it here to say that in days long since past, many religious leaders lost their honor and their reputations in such vain and needless disputes. In those debates, one or both sides frequently lacked any biblical foundation for their beliefs. The spiritual carnage that resulted from those ancient factions stand as a monument of warning to any who would wish to follow a similar path in our own generation. Truly, let us “beware” lest we be “consumed by one another!” (Gal. 5:15)
Presently, perhaps as a result of some of the speculations that have been noised abroad, a question has been raised among sincere Christians across the country concerning how it was that Jesus was able to live a sinless life. Did he receive special help from God? Did he not need any special help because he was himself God and used his divine powers to resist temptation? Or did he live a perfectly sinless life, overcoming temptation as a man, with no extra edge whatsoever? We need not speculate. The Bible answers these questions plainly:
Jesus “was in all points tempted as we are, yet without sin” (Heb. 4:15). “In all things he had to be made like his brethren, that he might be a merciful and faithful High Priest in things pertaining to God, to make propitiation for the sins of he people. For in that he himself has suffered, being tempted, he is able to aid those who are tempted” (Heb. 2:17-18).
Jesus was made “like his brethren” and was “tempted as we are” so that he could aid us. If it were possible for him to have been tempted as God (which it was not, Jas. 1:13), what good would it have done you and me? Had Jesus not been tempted as a man, could he have become our helpful High Priest, blazing the pathway to God? Not according to the Scriptures. “He had to be made like His brethren that he might be a merciful and faithful High Priest” (Heb. 2:17).
As a man, he is our example, our Mediator, and our sacrifice for sin. “Christ also suffered for us, leaving us an example, that you should follow his steps: who committed no sin” (1 Pet. 2:21b-22a). “For there is one God and one Mediator between God and men, the Man Christ Jesus” (1 Tim. 2:5). “This Man, after he had offered one sacrifice for sins forever, sat down at the right hand of God” (Heb. 10:12).
When Jesus was led into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil, he was not proving that God cannot be tempted; rather, he was demonstrating how a man who is tempted can overcome it. After fasting for forty days and nights, Jesus “was hungry” as any man would be (Matt. 4:1-2). During that same period he was tempted “by the devil” as all men are (Lk. 4:1-2). He overcame those temptations, not by exercising divine powers or receiving special help from God, but by relying on the Scriptures. Every specific temptation recorded in Matthew 4:1-10 was met with a quotation from Scripture. Jesus demonstrated the attitude of the Psalmist who said, “Your word I have hidden in my heart, That I might not sin against You” (Psa. 119:11). He used the same means for overcoming temptation that you and I must use today – reliance upon God’s word. There was nothing directly superhuman or divine about it. It was only after the “devil left him” that he received supernatural help; I angels came and ministered to Him” (Matt. 4:11).
Henry Van Dyke said it so beautifully nearly 100 years ago:
The life which Christ lived on earth was a veritable human life. The person who lived it was the Son of God. But in order to live that human life He had to become man, not in a dramatic sense, but actually and entirely. . . He was subject to ignorance, to limitation, to weakness, to temptation, even as we are. The only point of difference between Him and us is that we sin, but He sinned not. The Godhood that was in Him was such as manhood is capable of receiving. . . His existence among men was simply the human life of God (The Gospel for an Age of Doubt, 1900, preface to the 6th edition, pp. xxi-xxii).
It is interesting that Henry Van Dyke was a noted Presbyterian scholar. As such, he was supposed to be a Calvinist, but he was able to see that Calvinism contradicted the New Testament. He rejected Calvin’s teaching on foreordination and election saying, “I do not believe that all things that happen are determined beforehand. The soul is free” (p. xxiii). Van Dyke’s writings on the nature of the divinity of Christ were “criticized as dangerous” by the Calvinistic scholars of his day who labeled them “a violent and unfair attack upon Calvinism” (p. xxii). Like some among us today, Van Dyke’s critics had probably become used to de-emphasizing Jesus’ humanity and over emphasizing His deity. Only in this way could they uphold the Calvinistic notion that man “has to sin” because of his polluted nature, and still explain how Jesus did not sin.
In the person of Jesus we have a Being who not only shows us what God is like, but also reveals what man ought to be. Surely, in Jesus dwelt “all the fullness of the Godhead in bodily form” (Col. 2:9). He was “the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being” (Heb. 1:3a, NIV). He told his disciples, “He who has seen me has seen the Father” (Jn. 14:9b). And yet Jesus lived a human life. He was “a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief” (Isa. 53:3). He “suffered, being tempted,” but he remained “without sin” (Heb. 2:18; 4:15). His accomplishment is one of the highest points of human history -that a weak and starving man could turn to the prince of darkness and say, “Away with you Satan!” “Get behind Me” (Matt. 4:10, Lk. 4:8).
No other man has lived a “perfectly sinless life,” and none ever will (Romans 3:109 23). That is not the fault of human nature, but of human choice. Man simply cannot blame his sin on his humanity, for Jesus was a sinless human.
Like the early Christians Schaff wrote of, we today need to focus on those simple biblical statements of the deity and humanity of Jesus. Let us renounce human speculation and simply believe that in Jesus “dwells all the fullness of the Godhead bodily” (Col. 2:9), and yet he is “an example” for humans who are to “follow his steps” (1 Pet. 2:21f). He is the “express image” of God (Heb. 1:3) who was “in all points tempted as we are” (Heb. 4:15), and yet “God cannot be tempted by evil” (Jas. 1:13). To believe each of these Scriptures does not promote confusion, but an understanding of the human life of God.
Guardian of Truth XXXV: 14, pp. 419-420
July 18, 1991