Vol. 2 - No. 2

February, 1983


by Robert A. Bolton

In affirming the exalted priesthood of Christ, the inspired apostle says: "For we have not a high priest that cannot be touched with the feeling of our infirmities; but one that hath been in all points tempted like as we are, yet without sin" (Hebrews 4:15). Involved in this affirmation of scripture, as well as other related passages, is the answer to the question: "Was Jesus actually tempted in all points like as we are?" That is, "Was he really enticed to sin? Was it possible for him to have sinned?" We continue to hear negative answers given to these questions, which, if Biblically correct, I am more than ready to accept. But, I believe such answers stem from a complete misunderstanding of what the Bible teaches, and reveal an acceptance of Calvinistic dogma in place of scriptural truth, relating to such matters as "the nature of man," "the nature of Jesus as a man," and "the nature of temptation and sin." Therefore, let us briefly consider some fundamentals and basic principles as related to the "peccability or impeccability" of Christ.

To begin with, consider the "nature" of man. The Bible affirms that "God created man in his own image" (Genesis 1:27), which certainly, among other things, involves the "free moral agency" of man, or his ability to choose between right and wrong, truth and error. Assuming that none among us believes the Calvinistic doctrine of "total depravity" or "inherited sin," how is it that "all have sinned" (Romans 3:23), except it be that all have exercised their free moral agency and chosen to succumb to temptation? I see no other possibility for man's sin. But, someone asks, "What about the expression 'sinful flesh' as used by Paul in Romans 8:3? Does this not mean that the flesh of all men is sinful and therefore, all men sin because they are men?"

Such reasoning conveys a misunderstanding of the expression "sinful flesh." W. E. Vine says that "In Romans 8:3, 'sinful flesh' is, lit., 'flesh of sin' (R.V. marg.)." But, such definition, it seems to me, is not satisfactory as it may lead to wrong conclusions. Students of the Bible know that human flesh is not sinful in and of itself. Sin is not an inherent part of "human nature." If so, then Adam and Eve were sinful before they ate of the forbidden tree, for when first created, they possessed all that belongs to "human nature." Yet, they were not sinners until they "transgressed" the law of God (1 John 3:4). And this transgression was by deliberate choice on their part. Sin was no more a part of their "nature" than a cinder in the eye is a part of the nature of the eye. But, living in human bodies, even before the fall, they lived in "sinful flesh," that is, in bodies of flesh which could be used as instruments of sin, according to their own purpose of heart and mind, in the exercise of their "free moral agency." Although living in "sinful flesh," until they opted to violate law, they were not guilty of sin. Thus, "sinful flesh" does not mean that flesh is sin or sinful within and of itself. The idea so oft expressed by such statements as: "To sin is human!" or "Sin is a part of man's nature!" or "Man, because he is man, sins!" is just not so. If true, then Christ would have sinned, for he was "man" in every sense of the word.

In order to evade the force of such obvious facts, we are told that Christ did not come "in sinful flesh" but "in the 'likeness' of sinful flesh" (Romans 8:3). Thus, the word "likeness" is stressed as implying a definite difference between "the Son of man" and all other men. But, surely we can see that if "in the likeness of sinful flesh" implies that Jesus did not come in sinful flesh but simply in its "likeness," whatever that would mean, then would it not follow that "being made in the likeness of men" (Philippians 2:7) implies that Jesus was not made a "man" but simply in man's "likeness," whatever that would mean? Such conclusion must necessarily follow and borders dangerously on Gnosticism. The Docetic Gnostics believed that it was inevitable that their bodies should sin (fallen nature?) and regarded evil as an ever present characteristic of matter. They were, therefore, unable to accept the incarnation of Jesus and denied the actual humanity of Christ. It was because of such teaching that the apostle wrote: "every spirit that confesseth that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh is of God: and every spirit that confesseth not Jesus is not of God: and this is the spirit of the antichrist, whereof ye have heard that it corneth; and now it is in the world already" (1 John 4:23). Even more emphatically, the apostle declared: "For many deceivers are gone forth into the world, even they that confess not that Jesus Christ cometh in the flesh. This is the deceiver and the antichrist" (2 John 7).

Apparently such advocates today, while not guilty of classic Gnosticism, overlook some rather obvious inspired statements concerning the "nature" of Christ. Regardless of the lofty conceptions we may have of his deity as "the Son of God," we must not lose sight of the fact that he was "the Son of man," a perfect specimen of "humanity." The Bible affirms of Jesus that he was "himself man" (1 Timothy 2:5). Thus, the inspired writer informs us that "Since then the children are sharers in flesh and blood, he also himself in like manner partook of the same Wherefore it behooved him in all things to be made like unto his brethren" (Hebrews2:14,17). Again, Paul affirms that Christ Jesus, "existing in the form of God, counted not the being on an equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, taking the form of a servant, being made in the likeness of men; and being found in fashion as a man, he humbled himself " (Philippians 2:68). Now, since Jesus was "man," a sharer "in flesh and blood," "in all things made like unto his brethren," "made in the likeness of men; and being found in fashion as a man," if "sinful flesh" means that the flesh is sinful within or of itself, then either Jesus was born "sinful" or he was not like his brethren in all things, in which case he was not really "human" at all, but just "appeared" to be, or at best was the original "superman!" But, since he was made in all things like unto his brethren, yet without sin, it should be obvious that sin is not a part of "human nature."

Again, since God sent "his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin," the human body of Jesus was identical with all other human bodies. Thus, it was sinful in the same sense in which the flesh of all other men is sinful, and if he was "merely" a man he would have been led to sin as other "mere" mortals. As Moses E. Lard says: "In Christ, however, the flesh did not lead to sin, not because it was better than, or different from common human flesh; but because it was kept in perfect subjection. He controlled it absolutely, and thus kept it from leading to sin. The flesh of Christ was sinful, solely because it possessed the same tendency to sin as other flesh and in the same degree" (Commentary on Romans 8:3, pg. 249).

It is the contention of some among us that Jesus was absolutely impeccable  that is, without the possibility of wrong doing; not only sinless himself, but even without the possibility of sinning at all. Such is pure speculation, unwarranted and dangerous, based as it is upon the idea of an inherent fallen nature of man. To state it in the words of a Calvinist, may I quote from a book entitled, "THE IMPECCABLE CHRIST," by W. E. Best, where on page 11 we read: "Although no human being is beyond the possibility of temptation, he may, by sovereign grace, be beyond the possibility of yielding. But this could never be said of our Savior, for he never had a fallen nature with which to struggle the capability of sinning was eliminated." If this position be true, which I emphatically deny, then there is absolutely no lesson or encouragement for us in the temptation of Christ. As Isaac Erret says: "If he did not feel to the full the force of temptation, and was not called to decide on the question of yielding to or resisting the temptations presented to him, his temptation was not on the level of our temptations, does not touch our experiences, and gives us no help. It is merely an unapproachable wonder" (EVENINGS WITH THE BIBLE, Vol. 3, pg. 100).

But what tremendous encouragement and help we receive from a knowledge of the fact that "we have a high priest that can be touched with the feeling of our infirmities one that hath been in all points tempted like as we are, yet without sin" (Hebrews 4:15). "For in that he himself hath suffered being tempted, he is able to succor them that are tempted" (Hebrews 2:18). Thus, we have the wonderful assurance of the sympathy and understanding of Jesus with and for us in our warfare with sin.

In closing, another thought occurs to me as I write these words. If "the Son of man" was impeccable  that is, without even the possibility of sinning, then it follows that he could do nothing but keep the law of God perfectly. Thus, he obeyed, not by the exercise of "free will" at all, but rather as a "puppet," and I submit that such is really not "obedience" at all. As someone has said, "A forced obedience is no obedience at all." I fail to see how such "forced submission" could possibly satisfy the grand assumption that "the demands of law must be fulfilled in the perfect obedience of Christ," which perfect obedience or "righteousness of Christ" is somehow "imputed" to sinful men! Brethren, think!