Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Impeccability of Christ

The topic has been debated as to whether or not Jesus Christ, the Son of God and Second Person of the Trinity, could have sinned. Some have alleged that He must, since a Savior Who cannot sin could not truly be tempted. Others assert that He could not sin, since how could God sin? Let’s see what Biblical truth says about the matter.

I. The Bible Says that God cannot sin.

Titus 1:2 says “In hope of eternal life, which God, that cannot lie, promised before the world began;” (emphasis mine)

Notice that God here merely does not lie, but indeed is incapable of it. If God is not able to lie, then it stands to reason that He is truth (John 14:6). If God is truth, and truth is regarded universally as good, then God is good (Matthew 19:17). If God is necessarily good (and the source of good [James 1:17]), then He cannot sin, for no sin –act can be regarded as good.

Hebrews 6:18 “That by two immutable things, in which it was impossible for God to lie, we might have a strong consolation, who have fled for refuge to lay hold upon the hope set before us:”

The context here is the promise made to Abraham. The point is that we might have hope because it is impossible that God can lie. The only things that are impossible for God are things that go against His nature (which includes sin and logical impossibilities) (Luke 1:37).

II. The Bible Says that God is Holy.

Leviticus 11:45 “For I am the LORD that bringeth you up out of the land of Egypt, to be your God: ye shall therefore be holy, for I am holy.”

1 Peter 1:15-16 “But as he which hath called you is holy, so be ye holy in all manner of conversation; because it is written, Be ye holy; for I am holy.”

There is not much comment needed here. God is holy, and anyone who disputes this probably doesn’t need to concern himself with this issue right away. What it means for the rest of us is a reinforcement that it is in God’s nature to be morally upright, without any imperfection. He is the standard of moral goodness, and sin, by definition, is a deviation against God’s standard (Genesis 3).

III. The Bible Says that Jesus is God.

Hebrews 1:8 “But unto the Son he saith, Thy throne, O God, is for ever and ever: a sceptre of righteousness is the sceptre of thy kingdom.”

John 1:1-3 “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. The same was in the beginning with God. All things were made by him; and without him was not any thing made that was made.”

John 8:58 “Jesus said unto them, Verily, verily, I say unto you, Before Abraham was, I am.”

There are so many ways to establish Jesus’ deity, but such an exhaustive study is beyond the scope of this article. It is clear from any honest compilation of the evidence that the Bible teaches Jesus as God, and Jesus believed Himself to be God.

IV. The Bible Says that God cannot deny himself.

2 Timothy 2:13 “If we believe not, yet he abideth faithful: he cannot deny himself.”

This verse teaches us that it is impossible for God to go against His nature, and by extension His promises. God must be necessarily good (that is to say, good out of His very nature) and unable to sin, since He cannot deny Himself (we have seen that God is holy, good, and cannot lie or sin). If He did, then He could have ceased to be God.

Let’s put these four points in logical order:
1. God cannot lie.
2. God is holy by nature.
3. Jesus is God. [and…]
4. God cannot deny Himself.
It necessarily follows that:
1. Jesus cannot lie.
2. Jesus is holy by nature.
3. Jesus cannot deny Himself.

This means all of the aforementioned conclusions we came to concerning God are also true of Christ!

Some Objections:

Some will raise the point, “But doesn’t it say in Hebrews 4:15 that He was tempted like we are, yet without sin?”

It does say that, but what it does not address is whether or not it was possible for Him to sin. Notice that the writer of Hebrews is very careful in explaining that Christ experienced the “feeling” of our infirmities, but not the actual infirmities themselves. I believe it was Lightner who stated the purpose of Jesus’ temptations wasn’t to see whether or not He would sin, but to demonstrate His power over it. Remember, if one’s view is that Christ could have sinned, it also follows inescapably that Jesus could have ceased to be God. Such a view is heretical and fraught with philosophical, theological, and practical problems.

Some others will raise the objection: Christ obviously had a free will, and He freely resisted temptation. Doesn’t this mean that He could have sinned?

The answer again is no. Most people seem to view free will as “absolutely free,” but this would seem to preclude any of God’s working. Most people also seem to view free will as choosing freely between all alternatives with no restrictions. This seems to be intuitively false.

A Frankfurtian-thought experiment demonstrates this. Suppose there was a crazy liberal scientist who kidnaps a man and implants a mind control device in his brain. It is November 2008 and almost election time. The scientist can spy on the man’s thoughts. He wants the man to vote for Obama, and if the man tries to vote for McCain, he will activate the device and force him to vote for Obama. Now, as it turns out, the man actually wants to vote for Obama, does so, and thus the device is never activated. It is clear that he freely chose to vote for Obama, even though it was not possible for him to do otherwise!

As a noted scholar said concerning this idea, “What this experiment suggests is that free will is the absence of any causal constraints [paraphrased].” It also tells us that it is completely logically possible for Jesus Christ, God the Son, to resist temptation freely, even though as God He could do no other. Thank God the Father for an impeccable Lord Jesus Christ!


  1. In interests of disclosure, I'd like to point out this is a reposting of something I wrote on Facebook over a year ago.

  2. Hi Randy,

    In your post you quote Lightner as saying "the purpose of Jesus’ temptations wasn't to see whether or not He would sin, but to demonstrate His power over it." It'd seem that one reason Jesus came to earth was so that he could live a sinless life under the law - which humans failed to do - and therefore this meant that he was able to present himself as a perfect sacrifice to remove our sin since we cannot do it ourselves. But why is God proving his power over sin? Is he showing that, even with taking upon himself a human body with all its weaknesses, it's possible not to sin as a human and therefore the first human couple should never have sinned in the first place? What's the point in showing he had power over sin?

    1. Hi James,

      Directly, the point was to demonstrate that Jesus the man was worthy, and passed the test Adam did not. He, acting as our representative, then, could take on sin--provided he was also God--something no other person could do!

      I think it was possible to avoid sin for Adam and Eve, given that they had a choice. But they did, nonetheless.

      But I think the direct answer to the question was what I had stated just a moment ago: that Jesus of Nazareth was sinless, and that is what we needed for a sacrifice for sins: a sinless human. :)

  3. OK, thanks. Just one more thing that came to mind: In Mark 10:18 it is said that only God is good, and by "good" I guess it means "morally perfect". I wonder how that lines up with the fact that some of the angelic beings (2/3 of them based on Rev 12) have not and, it seems, will not in future, sin? What's the difference between them and God in that respect? It seems both are sinless but would that not contradict Mark 10:18?

    1. I have a speculation about that, but I think it is justified. I think there is a substantive difference between "morally perfect" and "morally innocent." Moral innocence is a lack of guilt, based on a lack of transgression. Adam and Eve were created morally innocent, and of course the opposite of innocence is guilt. It says nothing about the ability of the one who is innocent of sinning; it does suggest that such a person has moral obligations attached to him.

      God is morally perfect, and I take moral perfection to be that ultimate standard of good, who cannot sin. By definition, that can only be God.

      So, to answer directly: there is no conflict, if we understand angelic beings as morally innocent, and God as morally perfect. :)

  4. So, in regard to the angels, it's simply a capability issue, in that although they haven't sinned and will not do so in future they are capable of sinning (maybe if placed in certain situations) unlike God who isn't?

    1. This part is where it gets super speculative. Many theologians have speculated there was a time of decision, at Satan's rebellion; those that chose Satan were confirmed in their choice, while those who chose God were confirmed in their choice.

      However, C.S. Lewis speculated that some could still fall, and the fallen could be redeemed. He explored this a bit in his fiction work.

    2. But yes, even if they had such capability, God does not!


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