Could Jesus have sinned? (I’m not asking, Did He sin?)
Your question could be answered in one simple statement: Jesus is God; therefore, He could not have sinned. God is holy; there is no sin in Him. However, Matthew 4 raises a question concerning Christ’s temptation by the Devil in the wilderness.
Inevitably people confronted by your question must deal with whether or not the temptation of Christ had any meaning if Jesus could not have sinned. Why even have a temptation if it were impossible for Him to fall? How could such a temptation be valid?
The temptation of Christ in the wilderness was real and extremely intense, unremittingly so. For this reason we can believe that the purpose of the temptation was to show that no matter how hard Satan tried to get Jesus to fall, the King of Kings didn’t fall. As God, He couldn’t sin. Satan naturally tried to incite Jesus to fall because of what was at stake, just as he still tries to subvert God’s purposes and destroy God’s program for time and eternity. But no matter how hard Satan tries, he cannot succeed.
When we think of being tempted, we logically tend to think of how we are tempted—from within. We are sinners by nature; we are characterized by the reality of indwelling sin. Thus our flesh wants us to respond, to yield, to something or anything that will gratify it. This yielding is sin. With our own characteristics in mind, we could easily get the idea that Jesus was tempted from within (as we are) except that somehow He managed not to yield. But this scenario is not the case. Christ does not, and never did, possess a sin nature. Passages such as John 1:1, 2, and 14 and Hebrews 1:8–10; 7:24–28; 9:24; and 13:8 teach that Christ—both in His preincarnate state and in His Incarnation—was and is God, the very manifestation of righteousness. So Christ’s temptation was a testing from without.
Some have compared the temptation of Christ to the testing of pure gold. Pure gold can be tested to demonstrate and prove that ft indeed is pure gold. To say that, as God, the Lord could not be tested in the way He actually was tested is also to say that an impregnable fortress could not be attacked.
Hebrews 4:15 tells us, “For we do not have a High Priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but was in all points tempted as we are, yet without sin.” This passage has puzzled some in dealing with this question. But the verse does not tell us that Christ’s ability to understand and sympathize with us concerning our bent to sin developed because (1) He experienced the same kind of inward urge to sin as we do but that (2) He somehow got victory in keeping from sinning. He understands because of His omniscience (His infinite knowledge of everything, including what we go through). He also knows from experience the intensity of the trials and temptations we experience, even though He did not succumb because He, as God, could not.
Hebrews 4:15 also indicates that He knows the three battle areas we face: “the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life” (1 John 2:16). Eve was tempted in each of these areas in the Garden of Eden (see Genesis 3:6). Satan tried to appeal to Jesus in each of these areas. Jesus was tempted with the lust of the flesh when Satan tried to get Him to make stones into bread, with the lust of the eyes when Satan took Him up into the high mountain and showed Him all the kingdoms, and with the pride of life when Satan urged Christ to cast Himself down from the pinnacle of the temple. But Satan got nowhere.
Eve yielded; Christ didn’t. Why this difference? The answer is obvious. Eve was a human, in contrast to Christ, Who is God. Christ’s temptation in the wilderness proved beyond doubt Who Christ was and is; nothing, no matter how fierce, could make it possible for Him to give in and sin. With Christ, unlike with Adam and Eve, there was nothing from within to cause sin to occur. Satan could only throw external things at Jesus. And Jesus used His infinite power to resist Him each time.
It should be pointed out, too, that how Christ handled the temptation—using Scripture—serves the purpose of being a continual example to us believers. If the Son of God resisted Satan in the way He did, how much more should we do so as sinners saved by His grace. All of us human beings have sinned, but we believers can have victory.
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