Christology Series: Christ’s Sinless Life
Christ’s Sinless Life
What’s another important aspect of Christ’s humanity? Certainly, we must consider his sinless life. He lived a perfect life without sin. Many Scriptures support this truth:
God made the one who did not know sin to be sin for us, so that in him we would become the righteousness of God.
2 Corinthians 5:21
And you know that Jesus was revealed to take away sins, and in him there is no sin.
1 John 3:5
For we do not have a high priest incapable of sympathizing with our weaknesses, but one who has been tempted in every way just as we are, yet without sin.
How can Christ be tempted in every way like us? There are two primary views on this:
1. A minority view is that Christ had a fallen nature like all humans but never sinned.
Karl Barth took this position. He said:
There must be no weakening or obscuring of the saving truth that the nature which God assumed in Christ is identical with our nature as we see it in the light of Fall. If it were otherwise, how could Christ be really like us? What concern would we have with him? We stand before God characterized by the Fall. God’s Son not only assumed our nature but he entered the concrete form of our nature, under which we stand before God as men damned and lost.[i]
Also, T.F. Torrance said this:
His taking of our flesh of sin was a sinless action, which means that Jesus does not do in the flesh of sin what we do, namely, sin, but it also means that by remaining holy and sinless in our flesh, he condemned sin in the flesh he assumed and judged it by his very sinlessness.[ii]
This would mean that Christ not only conquered temptations from Satan and the world, but also temptations from a fallen nature (an inner tendency towards sin), which he received from Mary. Certainly, this would fit with what the writer of Hebrews says, in that Christ was “tempted in every way just as we are, yet without sin” (4:15). Our temptations are not primarily from the world and Satan, but from our flesh (Jam 1:14). This would demonstrate how great Christ’s victory over temptation was and, therefore, how he can relate to us and minister to us.
Those who take this view would use Romans 8:3 and Philippians 2:7 as support.[iii] Romans 8:3 says,
For God achieved what the law could not do because it was weakened through the flesh. By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and concerning sin, he condemned sin in the flesh
They would argue that when Paul says Christ came “in the likeness of sinful flesh,” he was not simply saying Christ was “similar” to humans who have a sinful nature, but that he was just like them—a human who had a fallen nature. They would point to Philippians 2:7 (NIV) which says, Christ was “made in human likeness.” Clearly, the word “likeness” used in that context is not arguing for Christ being similar to humans but actually being one. Since the same Greek word for “likeness” is used in both texts about Christ (Rom 8:3 and Phil 2:7), proponents of this view argue that the word should be interpreted the same. Christ came in the likeness of sinful flesh in that he was like humans in every way, including having a sinful nature (though never sinning).
With that said, there are logical complications with this view, such as: Since sacrifices had to be without blemish (Dt 17:1), can Christ’s sacrifice be considered unblemished and therefore acceptable to God if he had a sin nature (Heb 9:14)? In addition, if Christ had Adam’s sin nature, he also was under Adam’s guilt, as all humans are. Romans 5:12 says, “So then, just as sin entered the world through one man and death through sin, and so death spread to all people because all sinned.” All humans “sinned” in Adam and consequently die, including babies who have never intentionally sinned. Therefore, could Christ’s death be salvific for all people if his death, at least in part, was a just consequence of Adam’s sin? Because of these complications and others, many have struggled with accepting this view.[iv]
2. The predominant view historically is that Christ had a perfect nature, like Adam, but never sinned.
According to this view, Christ was tempted by the world and Satan but never from a fallen nature. Support for this view is in how Christ is called the last Adam. First Corinthians 15:22, 45 says: “For just as in Adam all die, so also in Christ all will be made alive… So also it is written, ‘The first man, Adam, became a living person’; the last Adam became a life-giving spirit.”
Being the last Adam implies that Christ came like Adam did—without a sinful nature. Where Adam fell when tempted by Satan, Christ did not. Adam led his offspring into sin and death; while Christ led his offspring (those who come to him in faith) into righteousness and eternal life.
How did Christ avoid a sinful nature, though he was born of a woman? Traditionally, it has often been said that since Christ did not have a human father, he did not inherit a fallen nature. However, humanity’s sin nature is inherited from being in Adam’s line, which includes both mother and father. Scripture never teaches that fathers pass on the sin nature and not mothers. Christ not having a sin nature is probably best attributed to the fact that the Holy Spirit shielded him from it at conception (Matt 1:18).
How then could Christ be tempted in “every way” like us (Heb 4:15)? In “every way” would mean he was tempted by the same temptations—like lust, anger, unbelief, and fear—though not from the same avenues. He was tempted by Satan and the world but not through the flesh. Either way, Christ’s experience of human temptations makes him able to sympathize with us.
With that said, some find Christ’s ability to sympathize with us incredulous. They say, “How can he sympathize with us if he has never been tempted by the flesh or fallen to temptation—never lied or been sinfully angry? How can he relate to us without those experiences?”
Consider this illustration: Two Olympic powerlifters had to deadlift a heavy weight over their head for five seconds. One person lifted the weight but only for one second and then dropped it. The second lifted the weight and held it for the complete five seconds. If we were aspiring, competitive powerlifters, who would we ask for help? Obviously, we would ask the person who held the weight without dropping it. That is true of our Savior. Christ bore the full weight of temptation without failing, and because he never failed, he bore more temptation than any other human. Therefore, he can not only sympathize with us but help us in our time of need.
John MacArthur’s comments on this are helpful:
There is a degree of temptation that we may never experience simply because, no matter what our spirituality, we will succumb before we reach it. But Jesus Christ had no such limitation. Since He was sinless, He took the full extent of all that Satan could throw at Him. He had no shock system, no weakness limit, to turn off temptation at a certain point. Since He never succumbed, He experienced every temptation to the maximum. And He experienced it as a man, as a human being. In every way He was tempted as we are, and more. The only difference was that He never sinned. Therefore, when we come to Jesus Christ we can remember that He knows everything we know, and a great deal that we do not know, about temptation, and testing, and pain. We do not have a high priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses.
 MacArthur, J. F., Jr. (1983). Hebrews (p. 112). Chicago: Moody Press.
[i] Accessed 8/4/20 from https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/article/you-asked-did-jesus-assume-a-fallen-human-nature/
[ii] Accessed 8/4/20 from https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/article/you-asked-did-jesus-assume-a-fallen-human-nature/
[iii] Accessed 4/8/20 from https://carm.org/jesus-chist/what-does-it-mean-that-jesus-was-made-in-the-likeness-of-sinful-flesh
[iv] Consider the arguments again the Fallen Human Nature view in these articles: accessed 8/4/20 from https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/article/you-asked-did-jesus-assume-a-fallen-human-nature/ and https://carm.org/jesus-chist/what-does-it-mean-that-jesus-was-made-in-the-likeness-of-sinful-flesh