By Paul Smalley (guest blogger)
People sometimes ask, “When Jesus was tempted, was it possible for him to sin?” All Christians believe that Christ was tempted, and that he did not sin. But could he have sinned? This can be a vexing question.
Some truths are clear in Scripture. God cannot be tempted to sin. James 1:13 says, “Let no man say when he is tempted, I am tempted of God: for God cannot be tempted with evil, neither tempteth he any man.” God cannot sin. First John 1:5 says, “This then is the message which we have heard of him, and declare unto you, that God is light, and in him is no darkness at all.” He does not change (Mal. 3:6).
Men can be tempted to sin, and are capable of sin (Gen. 3:1-6). God the Son became a man, and was tempted to sin. Hebrews 2:17-18 says, “Wherefore in all things it behoved him to be made like unto his brethren, that he might be a merciful and faithful high priest in things pertaining to God, to make reconciliation for the sins of the people. For in that he himself hath suffered being tempted, he is able to succour them that are tempted.”
Christ is God and man (John 1:1, 14). I believe that we can therefore say that in his divine nature it was impossible for him to sin, but in his human nature it was possible for him to sin. I am not speaking here of possibilities with respect to God’s decree, but with respect to the inherent characteristics of his humanity.
Where does that leave us on the question of his impeccability? I would make the following tentative conclusions.
First, Christ was not capable of sinning, because he is God. If his human nature sinned, it would act independently from his divine nature, and become alienated from his divine nature, and this is impossible because the two natures are united as one person. How could he be alienated from himself? The unity of the two natures in one person makes Christ impeccable. I believe this statement guards us against the danger of Nestorianism.
Second, Christ did experience temptation in his human nature as a man capable of sin. In other words, since his human nature was subject to temptation and capable of sin (though he never sinned), his experience of temptation was not essentially different than that of other men. He did not “automatically” reject temptation, but suffered and fought against it by the power of the Spirit. This, I believe, guards us against the danger of Docetism. It also offers us a Christ who is fully sympathetic to our temptations.
Paul Smalley is a member of Grace Immanuel Reformed Baptist Church. He served as a pastor for twelve years, and presently works as a teaching assistant to Dr. Joel Beeke at Puritan Reformed Theological Seminary, with whom he has written two books, Feasting with Christ and Prepared by Grace, for Grace.