Orthodox theologians have universally agreed that Jesus Christ never committed any sin. He was sinless, blameless, and holy. The sinlessness of the Lord Jesus Christ is an absolute necessity for the efficacy of His penal, substitutionary death and is a decisive proof of His deity. Any moral failure on the part of Christ would compromise His deity and nullify His finished work on the cross. While few evangelical Bible teachers doubt His sinlessness, some have questioned whether Christ was able to sin?
Those who argue that Christ was able to sin assert that He could only have been truly human if He were able to sin. If He were unable to sin, then He was also unable to be tempted. Therefore, His humanity would not be the kind of humanity that would be able to truly sympathize with man.
What is Peccability and Impeccability?
Bible scholars use the terms “peccability” and “impeccability” when speaking of Christ’s ability or His inability to sin. But there is more to the debate than the ability to sin; there is also the question of the nature of the temptations which Christ experienced. Scripture teaches that Christ did not sin and that He did not possess a sin nature. Therefore, whatever temptations came to Him would be from without and not from within. The Bible insists that Christ can intimately sympathize with us in our trials, for Christ Himself was truly tempted. We read, “For we have not a High Priest which cannot be touched with the feeling of our infirmities, but was in all points tempted like as we are, yet without sin” (Heb. 4:15).
Although Christ was tempted in His (holy) human nature, we must never forget that it was impossible for the Lord Jesus Christ to sin as a divine Person. Since the incarnate Son of God was impeccable, every attack of the evil one would be completely turned back. Although Christ was tempted in all points as we are, His triumph over each temptation fully demonstrated and proved that He was both Lord and Christ.
Was the Temptation of Christ Genuine?
While Christ in His humanity was subject to temptations from without, His divine nature was fully sufficient to resist each of those temptations. This has led some to suggest that the temptations of Christ were not real. This notion must be completely rejected. Clearly, the temptations that Christ experienced were real! The wilderness temptations of Christ, after fasting for forty days, describe temptations which none other has ever endured. Moreover, the temptations to which Christ was subjected were of a stronger nature to Christ because He had a much greater sensitivity to sin than other men.
The final test of the reality of His temptations is found in the example of His struggle in Gethsemane and His death on the cross. The cross was undoubtedly His greatest trial, for we hear Him in prayer saying, “ ‘Father, if Thou be willing, remove this cup from Me; nevertheless, not My will, but Thine, be done’…and being in agony, He prayed more earnestly…” (Luke 22:42,44). There is a divine mystery in these things which the human mind struggles to fully understand. The Scottish expositor Alexander MacLaren (1826-1910) writes:
“His will never wavered but remained supreme over the natural recoil of His human nature from pain and death. If He had not felt the cross to be a dread, it had been no sacrifice. If He allowed the dread to penetrate His will, He would have been no Savior.”1
Though uniquely human and fully divine, the Lord Jesus Christ, without divesting Himself of any of His divine attributes, was sorely tested and “became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross” (Phil. 2:8).
The Purpose of Temptation
The Holy Spirit led the Lord Jesus Christ into the wilderness to be tested. He was not tempted so that the Father could learn anything about the Son. Christ’s temptation was for others. Jesus was tested so that every creature in heaven and on earth, whether angel or demon, might see that Jesus Christ is Lord and Victor. The temptation would expose Satan, the “god of this age,” as a defeated and dethroned foe. Christ was not tempted by Satan to see if He could sin, but to demonstrate and to prove that He was the Christ, the Son of the Living God, the Savior of the world. The Lord Jesus Christ met every test and every temptation of Satan with divine power and authority, thus declaring that He is Lord of all.
Impeccability and the Omnipotence of Christ
The hypostatic union of the divine and the human in one Person is a mystery beyond the full comprehension of the finite human mind. We bow in wonder before a God whose “ways are higher than our ways and whose thoughts higher than our thoughts” (Isa. 55:9). Although Christ is one divine Person who possessed both human and divine natures, nevertheless, in Scripture these natures are distinguished. In His earthly ministry, sometimes Christ spoke from out of His human nature, and so we hear Him say, “I thirst;” or in the Garden of Gethsemane “not My will but Thy will be done.” Yet at other times, we discern the divine aspect of Christ. We hear Him cry out in a loud voice upon the cross, “It is finished.” We must never mix nor confound the two natures of Christ. Moreover, and most importantly, in the person of Christ the human nature always yielded to the divine nature. The human nature never acted on its own. Thus, the divine and more powerful nature functioned in such a way as to make it impossible for Christ to be able to sin. Respected theologian Dr. John Walvoord writes:
“In the person of Christ, however, the human will was always subservient to the divine will and could never act independently…The omnipotence of Christ makes it impossible for Him to sin. Peccability always implies weakness on the part of the one tempted; he is weak to the extent that he can sin. On the part of Christ, this is out of the question.”2
When Christians look deeply into the person of Christ, they recognize immediately, like Moses, that they are on holy ground. We bow reverently at the grandeur and greatness of the eternal Son of God. Yet at the same time, our love for Christ compels us to seek the most biblical and Christ honoring view of these holy things. We have tried to show that any explanation of the moral character of Christ apart from His deity falls short of the truth of Scripture and opens the door to a host of unprofitable questions. May we ever uphold the sinlessness, the impeccability, and the omnipotence of Christ, for the doctrines of the Person of Christ and His finished work depend upon it.
Alexander Maclaren, Expositions Luke (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 1989), p. 249
John Walvoord, Jesus Christ Our Lord, (Chicago, IL: Moody Press,1989), p. 150,151
John Walvoord, Jesus Christ Our Lord, (Chicago, IL: Moody Press, 1969)