Sunday, October 21, 2007

Your Weekly Dose of Gospel
...the impeccability of Christ; He could not haved sinned

...a quote, a statement, and a conversation

A Quote
Here is a very helpful quote on Jonathan Edwards's view on this important issue of the impeccability of Christ.

It is in Jonathan Edwards's Freedom of the Will (1754) that he reconciles impeccability and freedom of the will in the human soul of Jesus Christ, even when Jesus is in a state of trial. But how does he shape a synthesis between these two attributes without duplicity, and at the same time avoid theological and Christological barbs, whether Arminian or Hobbist, Nestorian or Apollinist? For Edwards, the Son of God did not surrender impeccability when he undertook to fulfill – in human nature, and in a state of trial – intra-Trinitarian promises, promises made not only by the Father to the Son, but by the Son to the Father. Edwards views the habits of the heart of Jesus Christ progressing in holiness from the moment of his incarnation. He understands the excellencies that the Son of God brought to the human nature in the incarnation in no way to have added to nor to have diminished the impeccable holy disposition of his person. A key to interpreting the holy habits of Jesus’ heart is, according to Edwards, to view the source of the impeccability of the soul of Jesus as lying in its essence, not in a cause outside his person; it lies in the very disposition of his heart.

SOURCE: Jonathan Edwards's Freedom of the Will and his defense of the impeccability of Jesus Christ, by Philip J Fisk. Scottish Journal of Theology, Vol. 60, Is. 3 (article is not online).

A Statement
"For we do not have a high priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses,
but One who has been tempted in all things as we are, yet without sin."

-Hebrews 4:15

Puritan theologian, Charles Hodge, holds to a different position where he affirms the peccability of Christ. He says:
"This sinlessness of our Lord, however, does not amount to absolute impeccability. It was not a non potest peccare. If He was a true man, He must have been capable of sinning. That He did not sin under the greatest provocations; that when He was reviled He blessed; when He suffered He threatened not; that He was dumb as a sheep before its shearers, is held up to us as an example. Temptation implies the possibility of sin. If from the constitution of his person it was impossible for Christ to sin, then his temptation was unreal and without effect and He cannot sympathize with his people.”
While Hodge is one of my favorite authors and theologians, I respectfully disagree with his assertions.

I believe that the identification the writer of Hebrews is making between Christ and His people was not in “the possibility of the sinning” but in “the commonality of being tempted.” Jesus was tempted (cf, Luke 4:1-12); but there was nothing in Him that was temptable--that could ever succumb to sin; nothing in Him that could ever be seduced or swayed in respect to temptation. He was not temptable — possessing the possibility of sinning. “He knew no sin...” nor was there any “sin in Him.” He was “holy, innocent, undefiled, separate from sinners...” (Heb. 7:26)

I do rejoice in the comfort of Heb. 4:15: that though tempted, He, as the God-Man – could not sin. He took on flesh, but not my sin nature. He is fully God and fully man. The First Adam could not help but sin. We are conceived in sin, born with a nature to sin and are sinful (Psalm 51:5; Eph. 2:1-3; Roms. 3:10-18). We cannot do and be otherwise. We are sinners; not because we commit acts of sin but because we are sinful by nature. And our sinful nature will always fulfill its desires in that which strays from the perfection of His holiness and the standard of His Law (1 John 3:4; Roms. 3:19-20).

But the Last Adam (Roms. 5:12-17), Christ Jesus the Righteous, could not help but not to sin. He could do no other. It was His nature not to sin.He was not only "able not to sin" (sinless), but he was also “not able to sin” — impeccable. Thus was His perfect estate, even in incarnation (John 1:14-18). He moved among unholy people, but remained perfectly holy, righteous, and undefiled. There was nothing in Him that was susceptible to sin, prone to sin, possessing the capacity to sin, or venerable to sin. I do agree with Charles Hodge in this respect, that when temptation is applied and spoken of in regards to fallen man, it always implies "the possibility of sin." It is a moral and spiritual certainty. Why? Because that is what sinful people by nature will do... We will sin. And this will manifest itself in various ways, in varying degrees, and in differing situations—but sin we must and sin we will.

But Christ was not like us in that regard. No matter what situation He was in; no matter what degree the devil tried to tempt Him; no matter what way sin presented itself before Him – He could not sin; it was not in Him nor part of Him to do so. It was consistent with His nature (both human and divine) not to sin.

To suggest that Jesus Christ in the flesh could have sinned but chose not to, must also imply that in incarnation He willfully resisted the impulse of or even the thought to sin. IOW, He wrestled continually with the possibilty of sinning until His bodily resurrection from the grave. To asset that there was this battled dualism raging within Him – a conflict between His too natures in regards to transgressing the Law and giving Himself to acts of iniquity and lasciviousness is inconceivable to me. But I do want to remain teachable: so can anyone show me biblically where Jesus wrestled with this possibility of sinning? Where Scripture, either prophetically, in the gospel narratives, or in any of the epistles where this is a clear certainty and not one of biblical speculation? Was it ever contained in holy writ that there was to be a “testing of the Son of Man” to see if He could withstand "the world, the flesh and the devil" and thus prove that He was sinless? I can find none. He is in the flesh none less than the Lord (God and Sovereign)... Jesus (Savior and Redeemer)... Christ (Messiah and Lamb).

A Conversation
A reformed forum friend and minister named Tim and I have been emailing "offline" about this important discussion on the peccability or impeccability of Jesus Christ the Lord. The issue being discussed comes down to this: does the possibility exist that Jesus could have sinned while in the flesh on earth or couldn't He have sinned? It's an important question as to the nature and character of our Lord.

Here is part of this conversation of faith that Tim and I have had which originated on a private reformed baptist forum. We both thought this might be helpful to others who are asking these same questions and acording to forum rules, mutually gave permission to post this here at COT. I appreciate this brother greatly and the spirit in which we interacted. Though it only represents a part of the greater convesation we had, it is our prayer that it can encourage you to further search the Word of God on this theme.

Tim's comments are in blue (which include some initial comments of my own marked by the >); and then my follow up responses.

> He was tempted in all things as we are—yet without sin. IOW, He was not >temptable—having the ability to sin.

This makes no sense to me. Jesus was not temptable, yet he was
tempted? That seems to set the meaning of the words on their heads.

Being tempted is not a sin in and of itself. “And Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan and was led about by the Spirit in the wilderness for forty days, being tempted by the devil.” (Luke 4:10-2a). But being temptable means that there is something in that individual that could succumb to sin and surrender to its influence. Such did not exist with Christ. He was tempted to be sure; but He was not temptable—He was holy, sinless, separate from sinners and there was no sin in Him. He had no sin nature to make Him venerable to sin.

> We are in a very limited and temporal sense "peccable" - "able not to sin."

Assuming that Steve meant "impeccable" here, again it represents a playing with words to make them fit. To be impeccable is not "able to not sin", it is "not able to sin." This side of glory we are in no way impeccable. We are able not to sin and that is it.

I actually did mean peccable. As I explained in the post, we don’t give ourselves to every kind of vice and sin out there. We are, in a limited and temporal sense, able not to sin—peccable. You are right on how you defined impeccability; impeccability only applies to the Lord Jesus Christ – not to us.

> But not our Lord... In incarnation He was tempted and never temptable;He even declared >about Satan in the gospel of John that "he has nothing on me."

This has been assumed and short of redefining words it is yet to be proven. This really is just a restatement of the question, not a proof of the answer.

I would humbly submit that the burden is on those who claim that the Lord Jesus Christ, as the God-Man, had the capacity, venerability, and nature to sin, but chose not to. To me that makes the Lord out to be “spiritually schizophrenic.” “Able” but “not able.” Conflicted between two natures. That dualism doesn’t seem to be consistent with Scripture.

> So we could say the basis of the Impeccability of the Divine Christ was his perfect holiness >and the inability to change.

While this is absolutely of his divine nature, but his human nature most certainly changed, see Luke 2:52 for example. It seems that Steve's presentation in this post rests upon a confusion of the two natures of Christ.

This goes to immutability. “Jesus Christ the same yesterday, today and forevermore.” There is no confusion of the two natures: he was Son of Man AND God the Son. He was in all points tempted as we are, but He is not completely as we are in person or nature. You cannot separate the two natures of Christ and apply the human nature that existed in Him as a one to one corollary with us. We were not virgin born, He was. He was not born with a sin nature, we were. He was not conceived in sin, we were, etc.

> We must also consider James who states that sin first begins in the mind before it manifests >in our actions, so that in order for Christ to be temptable He would have had to have already >given his mind over to thoughts of sin.

This is an interesting observation! However, I think it may be being (unintentionally) misused. In it, James is speaking of how one gives in to sin and he explains it beginning with temptation. James is admonishing us to stand and not sin and then he traces the path from temptation to sin. If he is not, it would seem that just being tempted is sinful and that isn't right.

Again, as stated above, being tempted does not equate committing sin. But the point being made here is that sin both begins in the mind and spirit—it is cognitive and desired. For our Lord to have even been tempted to the point where He was venerable to sin, but chose not to, it seems that some here might be implying that in thought and desire He had the capacity to sin. But again, Scripture nowhere speaks of Him wrestling with the temptation of sin as to be tempted to sin. He was not temptable for there was nothing in Him that could sin. He was the sinless Son of God from all eternity come in the flesh; and who remained sinless and without ability to sin by virtue of who He was.

> This is why the Lord equates lust in the mind with adultery, because no one commits >adultery who did not first consider doing it.

There is a difference between temptation and lust.

Exactly. But what you are suggesting, IMHO, is that Jesus had the capacity and predisposition to lust but chose not to. Help me further understand your position here: what would the Scripture be for that claim?

> To even consider sin as an option which is the basis of temptation (as we are tempted: note >to Hebrews) is to consider rebellion against God an option.

I am concerned here that Steve is equating temptation with sin and that is wrong.

No I am not; and my apology if my words didn’t communicate that more effectively. The basis or goal of temptation is to cause another to sin... AND, would you not affirm that all sin is rebellion against God... Christ had not the capacity for either. For He, being God, could not rebel against His Father’s will for they were one in essence, will and purpose. It was the very fact that Christ could not sin that He became sin for us that we might become the righteousness of God in Him. It wasn’t that He conquered some earthly test where He wrestled with sin, but did not choose to and ultimately was victorious over sin.

What is your response to this quote, this statement, and to this conversation and topic?

His Unworthy Servant in His Unfailing Love,
2 Cor. 5:21


dec said...

"I and the Father are one."


AbrahamKonda said...

Deut 6:16 - Ye shall not tempt the LORD your God, as ye tempted him in Massah. Also Matthew 4:7.

'Temptation implies the possibility of sin' - Charles Hodge

Just because we can and do tempt God doesnt mean God is capable of being tempted to sin.

Isnt the predisposition to sin sin? And if Christ had the predisposition to sin then he would have been a sinner, not God.

In him dwells the fullness of the Godhead bodily. Christ - God-Man - impeccable.