COULD JESUS SIN?
T. PIERCE BROWN
While meditating on and praying about Hebrews4:15and probing into a difficult philosophical or theological question raised by it, I had a flash of insight (at least I thought it was insight) that may be helpful. The verse says, “For we have not a high priest which can not be touched with the feeling of our infirmities; but was in all points tempted like as we are, yet without sin.” The problem has to do with the question, “Could Jesus sin?” If we answer “No,” the question then is, “How could it be said that He was tempted, if He could not sin? What does it mean to be tempted if yielding to the temptation was not possible, or if it were possible to yield, but the yielding would not be sin?” Also, this question might give difficulty: “If God so hedged Jesus about that it was not possible for him to sin, how can He be an example and comfort to us?” If we answer “Yes, he could sin,” then the question is, “How can one conceive of the Son of God sinning? What would be in a Divine Being that could allow Him to sin? Since His very nature was to do the will of God, and He was God in the flesh, would not that not amount to His denying His Divine nature? Could He do that any more than God could deny Himself?”
We could answer that it was His human nature that was tempted to sin, but then we get into the awkward position of trying to uphold what is a false and dangerous position of some of our religious friends who hold that once a person has become partaker of the Divine nature (been converted), his outward man may sin — get drunk, commit adultery, or any other sin in the book — but his inner man is, and must continue to be pure as driven snow.
I am aware that foolish and unlearned questions are to be avoided, knowing that they gender strife. I also know that the hidden things belong to God. But I believe there are some suggestions that may help us to grasp more completely an explanation of this intriguing and stimulating subject.
These are some of the thoughts that came to my mind as I tried to analyze the subject. First, although He was tempted in all points as we are (that is, He had every desire of the flesh that we have), He was not tempted to do a sinful act, per se! Was eating bread sinful? Was leaping off the pinnacle of the temple any more sinful, of itself, than walking on the water was? If so, why? Was it a sinful desire to want the kingdoms of the world to be His ? If so, how would one explain Rev. 11:15? No, I am persuaded that the nature of Christ was such that He was never tempted to commit a sinful act; that is, an act which was in itself, sinful. Mr. Carter or Mr. Jones may have been tempted to commit adultery, but I doubt that Christ was. Billy or Jack may have been tempted to get drunk, but I doubt that Christ was. There is desire that God placed within one. But no inherent desire of the flesh (the desire for sex, food, etc.) is a sinful desire!
Keep in mind also that the word “tempt” (peirazo) does not always mean, “incite to sin.” Its basic meaning is “trial or proving.” The following references clearly show that: Mt. 16:1; 19:3;22:18, 35; Acts 15:10; Heb. 2:18 and others. James1:13says, “God cannot be tempted.” That is, He could not be incited to sin. But He was “tempted” as Hebrews 3:9 and other passages suggest in the sense that they tried Him. So, we may properly say that Jesus was tried and tested, but that does not make it necessary to suggest that there was in his nature some sinful desire, as there may be in some of us.
But now we must raise the question, “If He had turned the stones into bread, upon the suggestion of the Devil, would it have been a sin?” Now, we shall attempt to draw a fine line, which may not make sense to some of you, but which we believe is valid. The aspect of the temptation offered by the Devil, which would have made it sinful, was only a temptation from the Devil’s standpoint. But that aspect of the temptation had no appeal whatever to Christ, and was thus not a temptation (an inciting to sin) from Christ’s standpoint. Just as God could not be tempted to sin, from God’s standpoint, neither was there anything in the Devil’s offer that had any appeal to Christ, from Christ’s standpoint. Let us illustrate that point. If you should offer me a drink of liquor, it might be called a “temptation” from your standpoint, but it is none from my standpoint, for I would not want it even if God allowed it, and even if there was no punishment connected with it!
So, put it its proper perspective, this is what the Bible teaches us: He was in the same position as we are with regard to the yearnings and hungers of the flesh (“tempted in all points like as we are, yet without sin” Heb.4:15). He knows what it means to have a burning desire for some fleshly want. Therefore He can sympathize with us when we have such — “be touched with a feeling for our infirmities.” But would anyone who reads this affirm that He yearned to do evil? He wanted bread — most certainly — and when the Devil suggested that He get it in the wrong way, that was a temptation from the Devil’s standpoint. But does that mean that when the Devil suggested that He follow the Devil’s way rather than God’s way, He yearned to do that?” Surely not! Some of us may actually want to follow the Devil’s way, but I am not ready to accuse my Lord of that.
Perhaps the point may be made clearer by the thought of having all the kingdoms of the world. Did He want them? If so, was it wrong to want them? I believe the answers are clearly revealed in God’s word. “Yes, He wanted them. No, it was not wrong to want them.” The desire to attain the goal was the testing as far as Christ was concerned, but as we have already seen, attaining the goal was no sin! So the temptation was not a temptation to sin, per se, but was a temptation or test (trial-peirazo) nevertheless. From the Devil’s standpoint, the temptation was to obtain the goal by the wrong means — by worshiping him. I am persuaded that the worship of Satan was not a temptation, from Jesus’ standpoint, for He had no desire to worship Satan!
To put it another way, a temptation may have two sides: 1. The yearning, or desire itself. The yearning may or may not be for sinful things — that is, things that are sinful in themselves. A man may have a legitimate sexual desire without wanting to commit adultery! In Christ’s case, the yearning was not for sinful things. 2. The method of satisfying the yearning is the other side of the temptation. Since the Devil could in no case, present to Christ anything sinful for which ye would yearn, the only part of the temptation the Devil could present was a method of satisfying that yearning. So I repeat, that as far as I am able to understand at this moment, although this was called a temptation of the Devil because he offered it, that part of the temptation had no appeal to Christ, and from Christ’s standpoint was no temptation. He, therefore, could not have yielded to it, given the conditions that were present at that time.
You may have noticed that in all the temptations of Jesus, there was none that had to do with an act that was sinful in and of itself. Does that have any significance to you? Do you not see that any act that was sinful of itself had no appeal to Jesus? The part of the trial (temptation) that made Him able to understand and be able to sympathize with us was the intense hunger, the longings, the needs and desires of the flesh. They were not sins. In fact, if Christ had been out on the mountain and wanted to make stones into bread, it would have been no more a sin than it was when He multiplied the loaves and fishes. The desire to eat was not a temptation to sin! When the Bible says, “Thou shalt not tempt the Lord thy God,” one who did not understand the point I am making might reply, “I can’t, for the Bible says that God cannot be tempted.” But you can understand it a little better if you read it, “Thou shalt not make trial of the Lord thy God” and realize that you can put Him to a test, though not tempt Him to do evil. Jesus was not telling the Devil not to tempt Him, but was telling the Devil that it would not be proper for him to test the Lord, for He knew he could not tempt God to sin.
My answer to the question, “Could Jesus sin?” is “Given the conditions as they actually were — the nature and will of Jesus, etc., the answer is, No.” If we then wonder how it could be a temptation if He could not have sinned, we may then find the answer in, “It could be called a temptation in the same way the word is used in Acts 15:10 and the other references given in paragraph three, above. It was a testing which He did not fail.”
To illustrate again: If I am hungry, I might feel an urge to steal to satisfy that hunger. I am thereby tempted to sin. Even the temptation is not a sin. But Jesus, though He felt the urge to eat (not a sin) did not feel an urge to satisfy that hunger in an improper way, as far as I can tell. If I am hungry and you urge me to eat, you do not necessarily tempt me to sin, though you tempt me to eat. If you urge me to steal in order to eat you tempt me to sin, from your standpoint. If I feel no urge to steal in order to eat, though I have been tempted from your standpoint to sin, I have not been tempted to sin from my standpoint!
My understanding of the case is that Jesus felt the urge to eat (which was no sin), but did not feel the urge to yield to the Devil’s suggestion, getting his food without dependence on God. So, He was tempted (tested, tried, proven) as a result of His hunger, and was tempted by the Devil (from the Devil’s standpoint) by being urged, as a result of His hunger, to use an improper occasion to make bread. But since there was nothing in His nature to which the Devil’s suggestion could appeal, He could not have yielded to the Devil and thus have sinned.
One of the greatest lessons to us is that God will hedge us about with His protection and make it impossible for us to sin in the same way He did for Jesus if we do the same things Jesus did. If we so partake of the divine nature (2 Pet. 1:4), and so let God’s will be ours that no desire for evil is present with us, then the promise of 1 Cor. 10:13 will be ours, and in those circumstances, it will not be possible for us to sin. “There hath no temptation taken you, but such as man can bear: but God is faithful, who will not suffer you to be tempted above that ye are able; but will with the temptation make also the way of escape, that ye may be able to bear it.” Note that Jesus and you and I can do what David said in Psalm 119:11, “Thy word have I laid up in my heart, that I might not sin against thee.” Is it not a wonderful thought that to the degree that you have the mind of Christ and lay God’s word up in your heart that which the Devil thinks is a temptation to you becomes no temptation, and you will not sin in that respect?