By: Rev. Dr. David Galletta, MT3, Minister in Northeast Presbytery
It is a core Christian belief that Jesus never sinned. We understand that it was absolutely necessary that Jesus remained sinless in order to fulfill his role as the spotless lamb, the atoning sacrifice for sinners, dying on their behalf, paying the awful wages of sin for others vicariously. But have you ever wondered if, hypothetically, Jesus could have sinned?
Had Jesus sinned, he could then not be the Savior of sinners, for he could not even save himself. This is the very point of the Gospel accounts of Jesus’ temptation in the wilderness. It is not a story to show us how to fight temptation (Do like Jesus did—quote Scripture at the devil!), but instead a proclamation that Jesus is uniquely qualified to be the Savior of sinners. Jesus, the second Adam, was victorious over temptation, whereas the first Adam failed. Jesus is our champion and our Savior.
But in fact, Jesus could not have fallen into temptation. He could not have sinned. Not once. Not because of the consequences, but because of his nature. Yes, he is fully human. But he is also fully God. And God can never sin. This doctrine is called the impeccability of Christ.
Such a doctrine might raise a few questions.
You might wonder how human Jesus could be if he could never sin. After all, “to err is human,” right? Well, first of all, that’s Alexander Pope, not Scripture. But Scripture does say that no one is without sin (Rom. 3:10-12). There is no question that human nature is sinful—after the fall, that is. Adam and Eve were created without sin. It was possible for them never to have sinned. Once they did sin, all future humankind is not only guilty of original sin from conception, but has the natural bent toward sin as well.
But Jesus was born without sin. Were Jesus only human, he could sin. But he is also God, and it is impossible for God to sin. God cannot be unloving, cannot be not good, and cannot be unholy. God cannot be who or what he is not.
You might then ask how genuine a temptation can be for Jesus if he could never yield to it. Why did Satan bother to tempt Jesus if he could not fall? The three suggestions Satan made were real temptations to Jesus. Unlike Adam who had plenty to eat in a beautiful garden, Jesus was literally starving in a wasteland. Of course he wanted food immediately, and could certainly turn stones into bread with only a word. Having angels miraculously rescue him from a temple pinnacle leap would save a lot of trouble in establishing his messianic identity. And bending his knee to Satan would make him King of kings and Lord of lords immediately. Each offer was desirable, but none of the methods were the Father’s will, and Jesus knew it. Indeed, Satan overplayed his hand by suggesting that Jesus worship him!
It is admittedly quite difficult for us to put ourselves in Jesus’ place when faced with temptation. What does it look like to fight temptations sinlessly? We likely have never experienced this. Adam and Eve could have done so. Having no experience with sin and no evil desires already rooted in their hearts, Satan’s suggestions to them should have seemed foreign, impossible, and repulsive to them. Why did they even consider the possibility that God had lied to them and had held back something good from them? Somehow they allowed these ideas even to be considered. From there the desire grew (James 1:14-15). They had already sinned before they ate of the fruit.
But Jesus has never done that. The possibility may have been presented, but it would never be entertained. He could not lust or hate in his heart. He could never doubt his Father. Jesus was severely tested, and he suffered greatly. We read that he was made perfect (Heb. 2:10; 5:9; 7:28) through his sufferings. So although Jesus was battered and bruised emotionally, spiritually and physically in his human nature, his godly nature kept him from ever yielding to temptation and sin. He was tested like gold and prevailed.
And because of this, Jesus can help us. In his human nature, Jesus well understands temptation (Heb. 4:15). Even more than us, Satan assailed Jesus with every weapon he had to thwart his mission. And Jesus fought him off every time. Jesus gives us a way out when we are tempted (1 Cor. 10:13). And he also has given us his Spirit who transforms us into his image. So as believers, more and more we can learn to reject temptation before we even entertain it seriously, because the sin no longer has appeal, but is even repulsive, as it is to Jesus.