Understanding the humaity of Christ – Part 2

Was Jesus truly tempted as we were?

The supporting scripture(s) on this are: Hebrews 4:15

“For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are?yet he did not sin.” TNIV

Luke 4:1-2 Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, left the Jordan and was led by the Spirit into the wilderness, 2 where for forty days he was tempted by the devil. He ate nothing during those days, and at the end of them he was hungry. TNIV (ESV, NLT, HCSB all use “tempted”)

James 1:13 When tempted, no one should say, “God is tempting me.” For God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does he tempt anyone;

In Hebrews 4:15 the ESV also uses the word “tempted”, HCSB uses the word “tested”, and the NLT uses “testing”.  According the ESV Study Bible (ESVSB) “The Greek (peiraz?) can refer either to temptation intended to bring one down or to testing designed to build one up; both connotations probably apply here”.  The NLT Study Bible (NLTSB) says “Our High Priest understands our weaknesses, our human pull toward sin, because he faced all of the same testings we do. He was tempted with all the essential aspects of sin, such as lust, greed, unforgiveness, and dishonesty.”

From these two notes it would be fair to say that Jesus was not only tested, but also tempted as we are. However, is it accurate to say as the NLTSB states that “He was tempted with all the essential aspects of sin…”?  Is that a correct understanding?

“This meant that he had to obey in his human strength alone. If he had called upon his divine powers to make the temptation easier for himself, then he would not have obeyed God fully as a man.”, [Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology]

This in my opinion is a correct statement, but later Grudem states that Christ was fully tempted, yet he could not sin.

“But if Jesus as a person had sinned, involving both his human and divine natures in sin, then God himself would have sinned, and he would have ceased to be God. Yet that is clearly impossible because of the infinite holiness of God’s nature. (5) Therefore, if we are asking if it was actually possible for Jesus to have sinned, it seems that we must conclude that it was not possible. The union of his human and divine natures in one person prevented it.”, [Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology]

This is where we part ways in our understanding.  Now in a way it is a moot point for it is clear from Hebrews that Jesus never sinned.  However, I think that if we follow the logic that I have laid out that Jesus did not take advantage of his divinity, which Grudem supports if I understand him correctly.  Christ is no longer relying on or taking advantage of his divinity making him subject to these temptations.  Grudem holds to what is referred to as the “impeccability of Christ,” which means that Christ was not able to sin.

But it would appear to me that a temptation is not a temptation if there is never the real ability to fail (i.e. sin).  How can there be a temptation if there is no capacity to fulfill it?  I think that it was possible for Jesus to have sinned, but would not sin (notice I did not say could not), because he was God, and because his humanity was completely in submission to the Spirit, and was totally obedient to the Father. He lived a truly obedient life, led by the Holy Spirit, and thus fulfilled all of the requirements of the law. He is our perfect (human) example.

To deny his humanity is as equally wrong to deny his deity. If it was not possible for him to sin then he was not human, and we are missing the whole point of what Phil 2 – is trying to teach us. It’s kind of like saying Jesus cheated because he was not truly capable of sinning, so none of the temptations or testing really matter. Jesus could have sinned but He did not. Why? Not just because he was God, but because he was obedient.

This is why:

And being found in appearance as a human being, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death?even death on a cross! God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. Phil. 2:8-11 TNIV

How did He humble himself? By becoming obedient!  I fear that somehow that by acknowledging that Jesus was truly human we somehow think that we are denying that He was God. And that is just not the case.


Understanding the humanity of Christ – Introduction

Understanding the humanity of Christ Part 1

Gordon Fee Pauline Christology – Philippians 2

Gordon Fee “Pauline Christology” 2007 Hendrickson

Donald Macleod “The Person of Christ” IVP 1998


15 thoughts on “Understanding the humaity of Christ – Part 2

  1. Excellent observations. I’ve always liked how the HCSB renders Philippians 2:6 “who, existing in the form of God, did not consider equality with God as something to be used for His own advantage.”

  2. Great topic, and some interesting thoughts!

    A while back, my Christian Ed. Class was in such a heated discussion about this that we set two teams for the next week to debate the issue before the class.
    “Was Jesus able to sin”
    I argued for, and for all the reasons you mention. The debate was not judged, but I felt like we won (no doubt my opponent felt like he did!) but I have come to believe that I was wrong.

    As a person, say, an axe murderer moves from a compulsion to kill with his axe, towards health and liberty from bondage, he may reach a place where he is no longer under compulsion. “Kill my mother? I may, but then I may not…I am free, and may decide either way.” I think we would all believe there was still some healing to do before he gets to the place of true health, where the idea of axe-murdering one’s mother becomes impossible because it is unthinkable.

    There is a righteousness that comes not from bondage to law, but from the fact that the decision has been made. Obviously in the eternal kingdom we will no longer face the continual “freedom (and tendency) to fall” There may be temptation, after all, there was a prohibition even in the unspoiled garden, but the issue will no longer in doubt. The continual victory over temptation will be a source of fresh rejoicing in how great is our salvation.

    Even now, we sometimes get to a point where temptation exists, but falling for it is unthinkable. Adultery in a good marriage can be a good example. I notice other women, but could no more enter a sexual relationship with them than I could fly. I am of course free to do as I will, but I have moved in that one place, beyond freedom into an inability to sin that flows from freedom, and does not restrict it.

    I think this is more where Jesus was in the time between his nativity and resurrection.
    In our fallen nature, we are doing well if we rise to the point where axe-murdering is only an option, not a compulsion. In his un-fallen human nature, Jesus experienced the temptation, but the issue was decided. This does not make him less human; on the contrary, He was more fully human than I am. I am a flawed copy of that which He exemplified, and was only the second human to exhibit. As I think Athanasius argued in “On the Incarnation” it was this aspect of the Second Adam that enabled Him to succeed.
    Remember, we aren’t sinners because we sin, we commit sin because we are sinners.
    He wasn’t, and so He didn’t.

    -R. Eric Sawyer

  3. Joe, I am working on doing some lectures on this topic so I have been blogging on it to sort out my thoughts and build an outline as well.

    Eric, great thoughts. For now I am comfortable with stating that “Jesus would not sin because he was God, and because his humanity was completely in submission to the Spirit, and was totally obedient to the Father.”

  4. Joe, exactly what I had in mind. I figured if I went to far or made some radical conclusion I would get some feedback. So silence is a nice way to know that I didn’t leap to far in any heretical way. 🙂

    Or it was too long and no one read it 😉

  5. I’m thinking about doing a post on this but I’m not sure since I have medical stuff going on.

    A couple incoherent thoughts.

    I think the main point is that He suffered the effects of being tempted and going through trials as we do and that’s the most important part. In not exploiting (NRSV) the fact that He was in the form of God, He didn’t avoid the trials/testing, He was obedient in going through them. He could have not gone through the whole crucifixion, or could have saved Himself from the cross or could have denied His human nature when things got difficult. But I don’t think He could have sinned. Although I still could be convinced otherwise.

    Also, in not giving in to temptation, Jesus went through the most difficult part. When we give in, we are stopping short of where it’s the most difficult–denying what our fleshly desires want. Not sure if that’s relevant to the post though.

    I think knowing to what extent Jesus was fully human would be helpful.

    This was a great post of yours. It got me thinking and I wasn’t turned off by anything in it.

  6. Jeff,

    I think you should post on this, I would like to hear more of your perspective. I am thinking about what you said “He could have not gone through the whole crucifixion, or could have saved Himself from the cross…” Why? Is it because he refused to use His divinity to assist him through this process?

    In some ways it’s like the question did God died when Jesus died? Well we know that God is eternal, so how is this possible? Well God did die in the sense that he experienced death, just as any other human has. In the sense that death can be experienced, God experienced it. So in once sense we can say that God died, but not in the full sense of it’s meaning, but only in the sense as human’s experience death. Which is not ultimate, at least not from a Christian perspective.

    It is possible that I am asking the wrong question — which I am rethinking what would be the right question to ask?

  7. Is it because he refused to use His divinity to assist him through this process?

    I was thinking Jesus could have used his divinity to avoid things altogether or to cut short the process like “saving” himself from dying on the cross.

    I don’t think God could have died when Jesus died because then how would God bring Jesus back to life? But that’s just my own logic.

    One thing I do wonder how God “felt” when it happened, even though God is outside of time.

    Good questions.

  8. I was thinking about this some more, and wanted to toss it out. Here is a simple statement, I hope it is not just a play on words but the order seems important, at least to me.

    Christ could not sin, because he would not.
    Christ would not sin, because he could not.

    I prefer the first statement. I think how we define why Christ could not sin is of some importance. In my mind Christ would not sin for the reasons I stated in my post.

  9. Christ could not sin, because he would not.

    instead of

    Christ would not sin, because he could not.

    very nice phrase, I think that captures it well.
    He was not under the “bondage of sin” and thus his ‘would not’ was completely effectual.

  10. As to “did God die?”
    I think we sometimes miss the enormity of what our enemy contemplated. In the spiritual war, I rather think Satan knew exactly who Jesus was, and perhaps contemplated nothing less than the destruction of the Holy Trinity.

    Also, to “suffer death” perhaps means something more than the stopping of biological life. We talk about spiritual death as seperation from God. Jesus cry of “My God! My God! Why have you forsaken me!” seems to demonstrate that He experienced this death for us.
    Was the Trinity momentarily broken by this? That is a mystery far too deep for me to comprehend, but it goes to the rending of the basis of all existance.

    -R Eric Sawyer

  11. Jeff,

    I think I will leave the question “Did God die when Jesus died?” for another post. I recently read a book that discussed this very well, I’ll try and post some of his conclusions later this week/weekend.

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