Tuesday, October 16, 2007

The Peccability and Impeccability of Christ
...able not to sin; not able to sin

Heb. 7:26 ¶ For it was fitting for us to have such a high priest,
holy, innocent, undefiled, separated from sinners
and exalted above the heavens;

Heb. 2:17 Therefore, He had to be made like His brethren in all things,
so that He might become a merciful and faithful high priest in things
pertaining to God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people.

There are two Latin phrases that help us understand the nature of Christ in incarnation, and thus in temptation, regarding the great doctrine of the impeccability of Christ and the sinlessness of Christ. They are: posse non peccare and non posse peccare. It is important for us to understand the difference between the sinlessness and the impeccability of Jesus Christ - for a right understanding of these things goes to the very nature of our Lord and ultimately why the gospel, God's saving plan for man, is unique to Jesus.

Sinlessness refers to the fact that the Lord Jesus Christ was without sin in deed, in word, and in being. Theologically it is represented by the first of these Latin phrases means posse non peccare; meaning "able not to sin." Through His experiences of life, He never once fell into sin--He was "able not to sin." He was, by virtue of His own holy character, sinless. There are a few passages that speak to this fact:
1 John 3:5 You know that He appeared in order to take away sins; and in Him there is no sin.


2 Cor. 5:21 He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.
Notice the words I have bolded: in Him there is no sin; He committed no sin; and He knew no sin. He was sinless. So when we speak of the Lord Jesus Christ, we can rightly say that He was "able not to sin." He was sinless.

But the impeccability of Christ is a bit different.

Man is tempted and sins and very rarely resists temptation; though on occasion, we resist. We sin and do so with great enthusiasm, enjoyment, reckless abandon, and surety. And though none of us succumb to every kind of sin all the time. In that sense we are "able not to sin" to certain vices (peccable), but we are never "not able to sin" (impeccable). IOW, though we are totally depraved, our depravity is never realized to its fullest extent by fulfilling all the fathomless depths of all iniquities, continually in our flesh. By various sins we are tempted, but we do not "give in" nor do we submit to every manifestation of sin. But, rest assured, we will surrender to some sins, in varying degrees, because we are sinful by nature, conceived in sin; and therefore we are in no way "not able to sin."

Not so with Christ.

Our Lord Jesus Christ was fully man; and therefore in His human nature He was temptable--though He remained sinless in deed, in word, and being. But the last Adam is not like the first in all respects. He, Jesus, was at the same time sinless in regards to all sin; but also it was impossible for Him to sin. He was sinless - "able not to sin"; but at the same time, He was also impeccable - "not able to sin." Why? Because He was not only fully man in incarnation, He was fully God as well. He has a human nature, but also a divine nature. The human nature could be tempted, and He was (heb. 4:15), and He remained sinless in deed, in word, and in being. BUT the strength of the divine personality IS "not able to sin" and so it was in the perfection of His life, death and resurrection. Fully God, fully man; Son of God and Son of Man; having a human nature (sinless) and a divine nature (impeccable). IOW, the divine nature cannot desert the human nature when it comes to matters of sin. Such is the mystery of the God incarnate, Jesus Christ the Righteous.

This great truth is summed up in the second of our Latin phrases speaks: non posse peccare - meaning "not able to sin." He was not only sinless (the absence of sin); but He was also, "not able to sin" (the inability to sin). It was impossible for our Lord Jesus Christ to ever commit sin and nor did he ever sin.
We read in Hebrews 6:18. "so that by two unchangeable things in which it is impossible for God to lie,..." God is impeccable--He is unable to lie; not just He hasn't lied, but He is absolutely incapable of any lie at anytime. (He has not and He could not).

The writer of Hebrews speaks again to this reality when saying: Heb. 4:15 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.
As the Scriptures clearly teach that at no time did our Lord commit any sin, nor was He ever able to sin. This is very important, for the impeccability of Christ means that He alone could be the sin-bearer for our sin. If He were not impeccable, He could not be our divine substitute for our sin, for it would mean He was not God.

The following article by A.W. Pink will help to understand this great truth and I commend to you to highly. May the end result cause you to glory in Him afresh and do what in time what we will do in all eternity: worship Him forever.

Grace and peace,
John 1:1, 14, 18

by Arthur W. Pink

We are living in a world of sin, and the fearful havoc it has wrought is evident on every side. How refreshing, then, to fix our gaze upon One who is immaculately holy, and who passed through this scene unspoilt by its evil. Such was the Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God incarnate. For thirty-three years He was in immediate contact with sin, yet He was never, to the slightest degree, contaminated. He touched the leper, yet was not defiled, even ceremonially. Just as the rays of the sun shine upon a stagnant pool without being sullied thereby, so Christ was unaffected by the iniquity which surrounded Him. He 'did no sin' (1 Pet. 2:22), 'in Him is no sin' (1 John 3:5 and contrast 1:8), He 'knew no sin' (2 Cor. 5:21), He was 'without sin' (Heb. 4:15). He was 'holy, harmless, undefiled, separate from sinners' (Heb. 7:26).

But not only was Christ sinless, He was impeccable, that is, incapable of sinning.
No attempt to set forth the doctrine of His wondrous and peerless person would be complete, without considering this blessed perfection. Sad indeed is it to behold the widespread ignorance thereon today, and sadder still to hear and read this precious truth denied. The last Adam differed from the first Adam in His impeccability. Christ was not only able to overcome temptation, but He was unable to be overcome by it. Necessarily so, for He was 'the Almighty' (Rev. 1:8). True, Christ was man, but He was the God-man, and as such, absolute Master and Lord of all things. Being Master of all things—as His dominion over the winds and waves, diseases and death, clearly demonstrated—it was impossible that anything should master Him.

The immutability of Christ proves His impeccability, or incapability of sinning:
'Jesus Christ the same yesterday, and today, and forever' (Heb. 13:8). Because He was not susceptible to any change, it was impossible for the incarnate Son of God to sin. Herein we behold again His uniqueness. Sinless angels fell, sinless Adam fell: they were but creatures, and creaturehood and mutability are, really, correlative terms. But was not the manhood of Christ created? Yes, but it was never placed on probation, it never had a separate existence. From the very first moment of its conception in the virgin's womb, the humanity of Christ was taken into union with His Deity; and therefore could not sin.

The omnipotence of Christ proves His impeccability.
That the Lord Jesus, even during the days of His humiliation, was possessed of omnipotence, is clear from many passages of Scripture. 'What things so ever He (the Father) doeth, these also doeth the Son likewise....For as the Father raiseth up the dead, and quickeneth, even so the Son quickeneth whom He will' (John 5:19, 21). When we say that Christ possessed omnipotence during His earthly sojourn, we do not mean that He was so endowed by the Holy Spirit, but that He was essentially, inherently, personally, omnipotent. Now to speak of an omnipotent person yielding to sin, is a contradiction in terms. All temptation to sin must proceed from a created being, and hence it is a finite power; but impossible is it for a finite power to overcome omnipotency.

The constitution of Christ's person proves His impeccability.
In Him were united (in a manner altogether incomprehensible to created intelligence) the Divine and the human natures. Now 'God cannot be tempted with evil' (James 1:13); 'it is impossible for God to lie' (Heb. 6:18). And Christ was 'God manifest in flesh' (1 Tim. 3:16); 'Immanuel'—God with us (Matt. 1:23). Personality centered not in His humanity. Christ was a Divine person, who had been 'made in the likeness of men' (Phil. 2:7). Utterly impossible was it, then, for the God-man to sin. To affirm the contrary, is to be guilty of the most awful blasphemy. It is irreverent speculation to discuss what the human nature of Christ might have done if it had been alone. It never was alone; it never had a separate existence; from the first moment of its being it was united to a Divine person.

It is objected to the truth of Christ's impeccability that it is inconsistent with His temptability.
A person who cannot sin, it is argued, cannot be tempted to sin. As well might one reason that because an army cannot be defeated, it cannot be attacked.
'Temptability depends upon the constitutional susceptibility, while impeccability depends upon the will. So far as His natural susceptibility, both physical and mental, was concerned, Jesus Christ was open to all forms of human temptation, excepting those that spring out of lust, or corruption of nature. But His peccability, or the possibility of being overcome by these temptations, would depend upon the amount of voluntary resistance which He was able to bring to bear against them. Those temptations were very strong, but if the self-determination of His holy will was stronger than they, then they could not induce Him to sin, and He would be impeccable. And yet plainly He would be temptable' (W.G. Shedd, 1889).
Probably there were many reasons why God ordained that His incarnate Son should be tempted by men, by the Devil, by circumstances. One of these was to demonstrate His impeccability. Throw a lighted match into a barrel of gunpowder, and there will be an explosion; throw it into a barrel of water, and the match will be quenched. This, in a very crude way, may be taken to illustrate the difference between Satan's tempting us and his tempting of the God-man. In us, there is that which is susceptible to his 'fiery darts'; but the Holy One could say, 'The prince of this world cometh and hath nothing in Me' (John 14:30). The Lord Jesus was exposed to a far more severe testing and trying than the first Adam was, in order to make manifest His mighty power of resistance.

'We have not an high priest which cannot be touched with the feeling of our infirmities; but was in all points tempted like as we are, without sin' (Heb. 4:15). 'This text teaches that the temptations of Christ were 'without sin' in their source and nature, and not merely, as the passage is sometimes explained, that they were 'without sin' in their result. The meaning is not, that our Lord was tempted in every respect exactly as fallen man is-by inward lust, as well as by other temptations—only He did not outwardly yield to any temptation; but that He was tempted in every way that man is, excepting by that class of temptations that are sinful, because originating in evil and forbidden desire.
'The fact that Christ was almighty and victorious in His resistance does not unfit Him to be an example for imitation to a weak and sorely-tempted believer. Because our Lord overcame His temptations, it does not follow that His conflict and success was an easy one for Him. His victory cost Him tears and blood. 'His visage was so marred more than any man' (Isa. 52:14). There was the 'travail of His soul' (Isa. 52:14). In the struggle He cried, 'O My Father, if it be possible let this cup pass from Me' (Matt. 26:39). Because an army is victorious, it by no means follows that the victory was a cheap one' (W.G.T. Shedd).
One other objection may, perhaps, be noted, though we hesitate to defile these pages by even transcribing the filthy exhalations of the carnal mind.
If the humanity of Christ was, because of its union to His Divine person, incapable of sinning, then in view of its being Divinely sustained how could it hunger and thirst, suffer and die? and seeing it did, then why was it incapable of yielding to temptation? It is sufficient answer to this impious question to point out that, while the Mediator was commissioned to die (John 10:18), He was not commissioned to sin. The human nature of Christ was permitted to function freely and normally: hence it wearied and wept; but to sin is not a normal act of human nature.

To be the Redeemer of His people, Christ must be 'mighty to save, travelling in the greatness of His strength' (Isa. 63:1). He must have power to overcome all temptation when it assails His person, in order that He may be able to 'succour them that are tempted' (Heb. 2:18). Here then is one of the solid planks in that platform on which the faith of the Christian rests: because the Lord Jesus is Almighty, having absolute power over sin, the feeble and sorely-tried saint may turn to Him in implicit confidence, seeking His efficacious aid. Only He who triumphed over sin, both in life and in death, can save me from my sins.

Taken from "Studies in the Scriptures", Sept. 1932.


Earl M. Blackburn said...

Thanks for the great work on the impeccability of Christ. It is a vital and important issue that most have not thought about or have neglected. The question that those who hold to absolute peccability must answer is "If Christ have sinned in the days of HIs humilitiation, why hinders Him from sinning today?" Shedd deals with this excellently and is a good read. Keep up the good work.


cyd said...

I so appreciate these studies that glorify and exalt the Lord Jesus.

It is good for us to get our eyes off of men and fasten our gaze and hope on Him alone! Amen?

"Worthy is the Lamb who was slain, to receive power and wealth and wisdom and might and honor and glory and blessing!" Rev.5:12


Rich Barcellos said...

Steve said: "Our Lord Jesus Christ was fully man; and therefore in His human nature He was temptable and peccable... He was sinless - "able not to sin"; but at the same time, He was also impeccable - "not able to sin.""

Both peccable and impeccable? I wonder if one might say:

1. Essentially, the human nature was peccable.
2. Accidentally, as assumed by the Divine nature in the Person of Christ, it was and is impeccable.

Don't quote me. :-)

I also wonder if Rom. 1:4 comes into play when wondering about His state of exaltation and the peccability of His human nature, "who was declared the Son of God with power by the resurrection from the dead, according to the Spirit of holiness, Jesus Christ our Lord"

Rich B.

PS: Hi Earl ("DR")!

donsands said...

Very good study. The Church is divided on this, and I have to agree with you and Pink.

Though people like RC Sproul, make the statement that in His humanity Christ could have sinned, and in His divinity He was incapable to sin.

"Christ was not only able to overcome temptation, but He was unable to be overcome by it." -Pink

And no one was ever tempted as our Lord.
For the Lord to sweat blood as He prayed to His Father is temptation that none will ever know.
So it was real, and excrucuiatingly painful, and yet Jesus would never, and could never, give into this holiest of all trials of all time.

Brett Royal said...

Think of a particular temptation that you struggle with. The easiest way to ease the temptation (temporarily, of course) is to give in. Think of Christ continually being tempted and never being able to have relief that comes from giving in.
I'm not saying we are lucky that we can give in, I'm saying that Christ had to have felt the weight of temptation in a far greater manner than we do because it was constant, yet He did not give in.

elf_asura said...
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