This is a topic that has been brought up many times over the years. There are always two sides with two totally different views. One side believes that since Jesus was a man, He could sin but chose not to. The other side believes that since Jesus was God, He could not sin at all. On which side do you stand at this very moment? Maybe you have never thought about it before now. My goal is that you will have formed your opinion by the end of this article.
First, let’s start with the basics. Jesus was fully man. Man can sin (Romans 3:23). Jesus is also fully God. God and sin are not compatible. It is impossible for God to sin (Psalm 11:7). This almost seems like a paradox. Stay with me for a minute.
Jesus was 100% man just as He is also 100% God. Scripture refers to God as being Light and says there is no darkness found in Him (1 John 1:5). This only makes sense. You turn on a light switch and the darkness flees. In much the same way, God does not dwell in sin. Where God is, sin is not. Obviously, God is omnipresent (Psalm 139:7-10) so I am not referring to His physical location as much as I am His relationship with the person being tempted to sin. We know Jesus did not sin but I believe it is just as accurate to say He could not sin either. In the Old Testament, a man was required to sacrifice his best animal to God. He would select an animal without any blemishes at all and sacrifice its flesh. In the same way, Christ was used as sinless flesh to be a sacrifice for mankind. His whole purpose for life was to destroy the works of the devil (1 John 3:8) and bring glory to the Father (John 17:1-5). The method in which He would accomplish this was by dying on the cross. He was the ultimate sacrifice. He was the flesh that beat the world. He was the flesh that Satan had no control over. Satan tried and failed miserably because he had no hold (John 14:30). This was one piece of flesh that could not sin because it also belonged to the One who is 100% God.
Despite this, some will say He could have sinned because He was fully man but that He merely did not because He was fully God. But that ends up being the same as claiming God can sin but He merely chooses not to. That would be an extremely dangerous and low view of God. It’s not that He chooses not to sin. It’s that He cannot sin because it is against the very nature of who He is. That means if God cannot sin, Jesus did not merely choose not to sin either. It means He was incapable of sinning. Most people would consider it blasphemy to claim that God could sin so why don’t they say the same about Christ? Jesus either is God or He isn’t. If Jesus had been capable of sinning and, in his capability, did sin, would He stop being God? The answer is a resounding ‘yes’ as God cannot sin. As He is God, He did not sin. Just as He could never stop being God, not only would He have never sinned, but He would have been incapable of sinning. Yes, he was a man. Man can sin. Man also is not God. Jesus was both. Sorry, but God wins out over the flesh in every instance including this one. Jesus was flesh-natured in the sense that He was a human but He was lacking sin because He was also God. When I say flesh-natured, do not confuse this with a sinful nature. Human nature and sin nature are not always glued together. Where Adam was prone to failure, Jesus was not. He was in full communion with God as the perfect man because He is also our perfect God.
To understand this doctrine, one must understand what defines a man. Is it the ability to sin which defines him? Is it a fallen nature? I would say it’s neither. It is our flesh which defines us. Can one claim a stillborn is less human than a healthy baby? Certainly not! Just because one does not sin does not make him an alien. Jesus could not sin but this did not make him any less of a man. He was flesh through and through (Luke 24:39) who experienced the same things as His fellow man (Hebrews 4:15).
One argument that always comes up is the issue of temptation. Some will ask why Satan bothered to tempt Jesus in the wilderness (Matthew 4:1-11) if He could not have sinned. Satan had to have known he could not beat God yet he (and a third of the angels) attempted anyway. I believe history was repeating itself and Satan was trying to get Jesus to fall but because sin is so far removed from God, it was an effort in futility. It is a prime example of flesh stomping Satan at his own game. He knows he can’t win but he is going to try to cause as much of a disruption as possible. While Satan is not omniscient, he was initially created by God to be an angel in heaven. As a result, it is safe to assume he knew of God’s might as he was around when the heavens and earth were created. He was a firsthand witness to God’s omnipotence.
We are to follow Jesus and strive to be like Him, but that does not mean Jesus had to have been able to sin like us. It also doesn’t mean we will ever achieve sinless perfection this side of heaven. In the Old Testament, people were to follow God’s commands and remain pure (Leviticus 11:44). They did not have Jesus to follow. They only had their faith in God. God could not sin yet they were to follow Him anyway. The same goes for Jesus. Jesus could not have sinned (because he is also fully God) but we are still to follow Him. Following Jesus is the same as following God’s commands. It just takes it a step further by allowing us a way to be reconciled to God.
Let’s go back to the story of Jesus being tempted by Satan in the wilderness. As I went over, some say if Jesus could have been tempted, He must have at least had the ability to sin. On the other hand, I have said that since Jesus is God, there was no way He could have sinned. To this some might ask how He was able to be tempted in the wilderness (Mark 1:13) if He was incapable of sinning or succumbing to the temptation. Even the Old Testament speaks of the temptation of God in the wilderness (Psalm 106:14). I think it’s important to look at the original Hebrew and Greek words that we see translated as ‘tempted’ in both verses.
Psalm 106:14 Usage
nāsâ – נָסָה
1) to test, try, prove, tempt, assay, put to the proof or test
Mark 1:13 Usage
peirazō – πειράζω
1) to try whether a thing can be done
a) to attempt, endeavor
2) to try, make trial of, test: for the purpose of ascertaining his quantity, or what he thinks, or how he will behave himself
Temptation does not affect one unless his heart is outside of God’s commands and only has a hold on one with a sinful nature. In my youth, I used to think Jesus would have had this sinful nature being born of man. What I failed to realize is that Jesus was not born with a spirit of man. He was conceived and born from the Spirit of God (Matthew 1:18-20). This would not carry with it the same sinful nature that mankind possesses but it does not make Jesus any less of a man. If temptation held no power over Jesus, while being true temptation in the sense of testing, it was not a vicious struggle in the way we think of it. This is because Christ’s desires were pure and righteous. It was more of an attempt to get Him to fall, but His heart was always in the right place so temptation could never have been any more than weak attempts to Him.
As a man, Jesus should have had the ability to sin but since He was born from the Spirit of God (and actually is God), He could not have sinned because temptation was so far removed from Him that it made it impossible. Satan put him to the test. Jesus passed with flying colors just as God did when the nation of Israel tempted Him (Number 14:22, Psalm 106:14). This does not mean either could have fallen into sin. It simply means they did not. Gee, I wonder why!
~ Travis W. Rogers