THE IMPECCABILITY OF JESUS CHRIST
The word “impeccability” means, ‘not liable to error or to sin, perfect.’ The question is NOT whether Christ ever sinned, For all are agreed that He did not. The question is whether Christ was incapable of sinning, that He could not sin, that He was not liable to error and was perfect in His whole Being.
Let us establish certain facts about our Saviour before dealing with the objections.
1. The Eternal Son of God as God, the Eternal Word, was not peccable. This is simply saying that God cannot sin, cannot be liable to error and is perfectly holy. This is clearly demanded by His revealed nature in Scripture. He is holy and hates sin. James declares (1.13), “God cannot be tempted with evil neither tempteth He any man. “Notice that this temptation is to be distinguished from a trial or test and is a direct solicitation to evil.
2. Temptation is defined as ‘a suggestion presented to a person by men or devils in which there is the proposing of some evil thought, word, or deed, with a powerful attempt to persuade or entice to evil.’
3. Before the sin of doing the evil thing suggested, there is the secret sin of the mind and will in receiving the suggestion. This is the sin of concupiscence, as the temptation is received and at least partly agreed with, and some sense of pleasure is experienced in the thought. This is what James goes on to define, “But every man is tempted when he is drawn away of his own lust and enticed.” The power of temptation to fallen men is because of their condition. They have an inner disposition towards sin and a readiness to receive the temptation, or at least a nature which is stirred up and enflamed by sinful temptations. Satan can find that weak spot, even in believers, and suggest evil in such a way that initially the believer finds part of himself agreeing with the temptation.
4. Clearly the Lord Jesus could not be guilty of the sin of concupiscence.
5. It is the unanimous testimony of the Apostles and it is the creed of the Church, that the human nature of Christ never had its separate personality. It never existed, and never will exist, except in personal union with the divine nature of the Son of God. Hence, since only a person can sin, the question of Christ’s impeccability is settled. Since the humanity of Jesus was never alone, the question as to what it would have done if
alone, is an idle question. The question whether the human nature of Christ apart from His divine nature would have been like that of Adam before the fall, simply cannot be asked.
6. It is impossible that the nature constituted in indissoluble union with the Eternal Word can sin, for “in Him dwelleth all the fulness of the Godhead bodily.” (Col. 2,9)
7. The human nature of Christ, though “made in the likeness of sinful flesh” “condemned sin in the flesh” and was “holy, harmless, undefiled, separate from sinners.” (Heb. 7,26). He was a “holy thing” in the womb of Mary and conceived by the Holy Ghost He was naturally, intrinsically and unalterably Holy.
8. His human nature, from its conception, was filled with and overshadowed by the full influences of the Holy Spirit for “God giveth not the Spirit by measure unto Him.” (John 3,34).
9. Christ asserts His own impeccability. John 14,30. See also in II Cor. 5,21; Heb. 13,8; John 10,36. Other relevant verses, Heb. 4,15; 7,26. John 8,46; I Peter 2,22; I John 3,9.
10. If there was any possibility of Christ sinning then there was the possibility of the failure of the whole redeeming purpose of Christ. So we see that the eternal decree of redemption demands an impeccable Saviour. A sinning sacrifice and redeemer would save no-one, so that it was necessary that Christ should be infallibly holy.
11. In what ways could the Son of Man be said to be different from Adam before the fall?
a. He was Emmanuel, God with us.
b. He was the federal Head of the elect alone-Adam of the
whole human race.
c. Adam was initially sinless and had a perfectly free will
but he did not have a nature which always rejected
temptation, as we see in the fall. The holy nature of
Christ always did.
d. It was the purpose of Christ to give us eternal life from
which we could never fall away, a life we could never
lose by any act of our own wills. A mere sinless but
peccable Adam could not do that.
We come now to consider the problem raised by the temptation of Christ. It is argued that a being must be peccable in order to experience temptation, to be meritorious for resisting it and to be the example and encouragement to us who are tempted. Consider then the following points:-
1. Jesus Christ certainly had evil thoughts and actions suggested to Him and He was powerfully encouraged to do things which were evil. (Matt. 4.1-11).
2. He was fully aware of the suggestions and comprehended them with His human mind and could fully understand the natural consequences of following the suggestions, e.g. to change stones into bread would have solved the problem of His intense hunger.
3. It is argued that if, in the hitherto sinless will of Jesus, there had been no liability to, or possibility of, self determination to evil, when He came to be tempted. He could have had no realisation of spiritual assaults and no victory. But does this not amount to teaching that a trace, at least, of concupiscence in Him was necessary in order for Him to gain a victory over temptation?
4. The problem is partly resolved if we make the obvious distinction between comprehending the natural desirableness of a suggestion and a spontaneous willingness or desire to act upon a suggestion now recognised to be sinful. The latter is the sin of concupiscence, and to say that God feels the sin of concupiscence is blasphemy.
5. Whilst the human intellect and will of Jesus could represent to Himself the naturally desirable consequences of a sinful suggestion, e.g. hunger allayed by changing stones into bread, and could imagine the way in which His fallen sinful children would be affected by similar suggestions, yet His human will was rendered incapable of concupiscence by the indwelling Godhead, the overshadowing of the Holy Spirit and by His own holy and sinless human perfection.
6. Is the victory of Christ over sin less meritorious because it is complete? Imagine an ordinary Christian being tempted. The suggestion comes; he immediately finds an inner conflict between wanting to sin and the opposition of his enlightened conscience and, by the grace of God, he ultimately rejects the suggestion, but not before it has enflamed his sinful nature. Now imagine a second Christian who is presented with the same temptation, but who is in a much more spiritually lively state and under a special influence of the Holy Spirit. He immediately rejects the suggestion before it has had time to enflame his sinful nature. Dare we say there was no temptation in the second case? Would we not also say that we approve of the second more than the first? Surely we would not say that in
the second case there was no battle because the victory was quick and complete and the victor unscathed?
7. A further problem has to be considered because some have suggested that an entirely free will is inconsistent with an entire certainty of will. They argue rightly that, unless Jesus were free in His rejection of temptation. He would have wrought no moral victory, but they argue wrongly that, in order to be free, the will of Jesus must be mutable. A holy will may be perfectly free and yet determined with absolute certainty to do right. Such is God’s will. “He cannot lie,” yet He speaks the truth freely. Jesus Christ had every natural faculty which Adam had, and which he abused in agreeing to the temptation, but Jesus also had a certain, yet most free, determination to do holiness alone, which Adam did not have.
8. It is useless to argue whether Jesus could have sinned if He had chosen; it was infallibly certain that He would not choose to sin.
9.. If we are to be made “Like Him” (1 John 3,2) in the glorious nature beyond the resurrection, it is no small part of our comfort to know that we shall then be “incapable of sinning.” impeccability is the prospect for the saints for Jesus has
“Fixed our standing more secure
Than ’twas before we fell.”
This, then, is the impeccability which has been taught amongst orthodox believers as long as the question has been considered. It is part of that most precious faith which glorifies Christ and which I firmly believe.
Jesus Christ, as a tempted Man, can and does sympathise with tempted believers, but He does not have to have a sinful nature or a nature in any way prone to sin in order to feel true sympathy with His tempted followers. To argue that “He was tempted in all points like as we are” therefore He must have a human nature which is identical with our fallen nature is plainly unscriptural and blasphemous.
Many of these points are made by R. L. Dabney, “Lectures in Systematic Theology.” pp.470-473.
Other comments in B.O.T. Magazine March 1970, “The Human Nature of Christ”, by Donald MacLeod.