Question: Brian, my wife recently had a conversation with a minister about temptation. He said Jesus couldn’t have sinned because God’s seed “cannot” sin and Jesus is God’s seed. I told her if Jesus couldn’t have sinned then how could there be temptation? If there wasn’t the possibility of sin it wouldn’t be temptation. What do you think about this?
Reply: The point in question has come to mind a lot today. What floats to mind off and on throughout the day is the suffering that temptation is. The book of Hebrews expresses that temptation is suffering and as such was part of the suffering that Jesus went through. Until we learn better, we resist the fact of being tempted and also take guilt for it because of a faulty idea of suffering, namely that we shouldn’t suffer or that there is something wrong with it, yet Romans 8 puts suffering and glory in an inseparable union.
Temptation means wanting what cannot be; it means the pulls toward what must be swallowed up. When I was in seminary, one of the professors said that Jesus knew pain more than we have thought because he didn’t give in to temptation, which is an effort to get out of pain. He endured it.
Also, when focusing on Jesus being tempted, I think the point is to know what temptation is and to talk about that. Hebrews brings up the temptations of Jesus in order to strengthen us when we are tempted, and the point then becomes that we do not have to give into temptation, meaning that we do not have to sin.
Now oddly, I used to think that Jesus could not have really sinned, probably for the same reason that the minister asserted. If I had to guess, I’d say first of all that the idea of Jesus sinning is just too scary; that would have doomed us, not to mention the deity going over to darkness. I knew that theoretically Jesus had to have been able to sin, because logic tells us that—if temptation is to be more than wanting to sin.
However, I also wanted to minimize the temptation on Jesus’ end since it was too scary to deal with his humanity—precisely because it was too scary to deal with mine. I wanted Jesus to be human like the Bible says, but not too human, else if Jesus could be that human, then that meant I would not have an excuse for giving into temptation.
This brings me to the real point I’m interested in about the minister. In my experience, most Christians are quick to say that we do sin, will keep sinning, have a sin nature, and can’t help but sin every day. I don’t meet ministers, or many believers for that matter, who believe that they are kept by faith and do not have to sin at all. Notice I didn’t say “can’t commit a sin.” But it’s rare to find a person who thinks that he or she can go indefinitely, maybe eternally, starting now, without committing a sin.
So here’s what I’m getting at: it would be odd to believe that Jesus could not have sinned yet believe that we as Christians are without the ability to be kept every moment and every time we’re tempted. Here’s the big inconsistency in my view. Hebrews tells us that Jesus suffered when he was tempted, just like we suffer. To not give into temptation is to suffer even more. The point is to encourage us that we do not have to give in.
Therefore, for the minister to be consistent, he would have to equally believe that we cannot sin since we have Christ in us, and Galatians says that Christ is the seed. In fact, the Apostle John says that those born of God cannot sin, and we know that he means born again not just saved. He means one who has come forth as a son and knows it.
If the minister agrees that the young men and fathers that John talks about live free from sin, then we might have an interesting conversation. Of course, we know that John also wrote of delusional, so called believers, who do not think that they have sinned or that one can sin, and those in delusion hold onto this delusion despite doing the deeds of darkness that refute their words. But here, we are dealing with those who do have the Spirit and can therefore move into the steady walk of the Spirit.
Here is one last point about Jesus. To say that he couldn’t sin could not mean some quality of deity apart from the faith of Jesus in being kept as a man, namely the son of man. Jesus could not sin as long as he walked in the keeping, being kept by His Father, who cannot be tempted with evil as James says. However, had Jesus decided that he did not want to be kept, then he would have left is “cannot sin” state and fallen.
To parallel things to us again, heaven is and will be a matter of living in the keeping. That is why this life is so brutal; it is intended to drive us to a final knowing of what we want forever; and what a man wants is what he finally gets.