Intro: Was He or wasn’t He? Was Jesus of Nazareth a perfect man, completely flawless both spiritually and morally? One thing is obvious, there is no middle ground. Either Jesus was completely guiltless, having never committed a single transgression, or He was just like the rest of us. There have been a lot of good men and women, but only one Sinless One.
Implications: Let first state what is at stake in our answer to this question. We will come back to this again later, after we look at the evidence.
- If Jesus committed a single sin, he could not have been the Savior of the world.
- In addition, if it were not morally possible for Him to commit sin, then His perfect life has no meaning or efficacy for us.
I. The Various Positions and the Different Conclusions: It is noteworthy that the early church from the apostolic times never questioned the sinless life of Jesus. We will notice the biblical claims that led them to this conclusion. But there were some disagreements among the early church fathers as whether it was possible for Jesus to sin. Over the centuries there have been several positions:
- Tertullian took the position that Jesus was sinless because of His divinity.
- Origen regarded his sinlessness as a peculiar property of the human soul of Christ, but produced by its union with the divine Logos.
- Apollinaris believed human nature implies limitations, mutability, and sin, so that no human could be a perfect man without sin. He believed that the Logos replaced the human soul in Christ and imported to him an irresistible tendency to do good.
- On the other hand, Athanasius affirmed his sinless perfect human nature. He correctly observed that sin does not belong to human nature, that man was originally pure and sinless. He concluded that Christ could thereby assume the nature of man without being made subject to sin. He did concede man’s liability to temptation. Council of Chalcedon (A.D. 451) expressed the doctrine in these words: “Truly, man with a rational soul and body of like essence with us as to his manhood and in all things like us, sin excepted.”
- The most prevalent consensus: Jesus was God (Deity) and man (human) at the same time. Deity cannot be tempted: “for God cannot be tempted with evil . . .” (James 1:13). If Jesus was tempted it had to occur relative to His humanity. His reaction to that temptation, whether to resist or succumb, was a human choice.
II. The Testimony of Scripture: We want to take to closer look at what the Bible says about Jesus’ sinlessness. Isaiah 28:16 – 16 Therefore thus says the Lord God: “Behold, I lay in Zion a stone for a foundation, A tried stone, a precious cornerstone, a sure foundation; Whoever believes will not act hastily. Does Jesus fit this Messianic prediction? Was He the tried (tested) Stone?
A. Jesus’ Personal Claim: John 8 is the account of Jesus controversy with His enemies and critics. In the context of this great debate (He said, They said), Christ declared, “And he who sent me is with me; he has not left me alone; for I do always the things that are pleasing unto him” (John 8:29). That is a profound claim. Who could say this about themselves? Especially in the presence of His enemies? Again we emphasize that there is no middle ground. If Jesus was an ordinary person with sin, He told a pretty huge lie. Wayne Jackson states… His statement either was a grand delusion, an unconscionable lie, or else it was expression of fact—there are no other options!
1. One would think that His enemies would have taken the opportunity to bring forth the evidence of known transgressions. But they did not. Later in the discussion Jesus claimed that they were of their father, the devil (v. 44) because they chose to follow his lead in seeking to destroy Jesus. Then Jesus challenged them directly, “Is there anyone here who can convict me of sin?” (John 8:46). Here was their chance. Who would step forward with a charge? No one! William Barclay once noted that this narrative is as important for its implied silences as for the verbal exchanges. The Savior’s claim of perfection was never refuted. They could not indict him with any sin; they could only seek to kill Him. (v. 59).
2. Later, in addressing the apostles at the Passover supper, Jesus said, (John 14:30). This statement points to Satan inability to accuse Jesus or defeat His mission.
B. The Testimony of His Friends: How was Jesus assessed by the people closest to Him. Our friends know our weaknesses and know about our mistakes.
1. John the Baptizer preached repentance and water baptism for the remission of sins. (Mk. 1:4) But when Jesus approached John for baptism, John dramatically resisted: “I have need to be baptized by you; and yet you come to me?” (Matthew 3:14). John knew that the perfect Jesus did not need to be baptized as a sinner. Notice also that Jesus did not correct John’s assessment.
2. In Luke 5, after Jesus preached from Peter’s boat, Jesus urged them to put down their net in deeper water. Although they had fished all night they followed Jesus’ command and let down their nets. The catch of fish was so large they needed help to get it to shore. When Peter saw this great miracle, he fell down before Jesus, exclaiming, “Depart from me; for I am a sinful man, O Lord” (Luke 5:8). This was the cry of Isaiah as he viewed the Perfect glory of God in Isa. 6. It was sinful man in the presence of sinlessness.
C. The Testimony of His Foes: We have already noticed that Jesus’ enemies failed to successfully point out His sin. But one could never anticipate that they would also positively, although inadvertently, affirm his innocence.
1. We all know about Judas Iscariot, the traitor. He ultimately brought the money back the blood money he received to the chief priests and elders, confessing, “I have sinned in that I betrayed innocent blood” (Matthew 27:4). The expression, “innocent blood,” is a figure of speech that affirms Jesus’ sinlessness. The miscarriage of justice was acknowledged by the person least likely to have done so. This is powerful testimony—that of a hostile witness.
2. Pilate also came to the conclusion that Jesus had done nothing wrong. “I find no crime in him” (John 18:38; 19:4, 6). Note Luke’s use of “fault” or “evil” (Luke 23:4, 14, 22). His focus was upon legalities, of course, but Jesus was being accused of blasphemy for claiming perfect deity. Incidentally, note the appeal of Mrs. Pilate to her husband: “Have nothing to do with this just man” (Matthew 27:19).
D. The Theology of the New Testament: The salvation of the sinner is proclaimed in the gospel on the basis of the sacrifice of a sinless victim. The lamb of Isaiah 53 was not suffering for His own transgressions, but “He was wounded for our transgressions, He was bruised for our iniquities; The chastisement for our peace was upon Him, And by His stripes we are healed. 6 All we like sheep have gone astray; We have turned, every one, to his own way; And the Lord has laid on Him the iniquity of us all.( Isa 53:5-6) Consider this point in view of its occurrence in the New Testament scriptures:
1. In Acts 3, in Peter’s second gospel sermon, he proclaimed Jesus to be the “Holy and Righteous One,” even before hostile authorities (Acts 3:14). The expression doubly underscores the sinless nature of God’s Son.
2. In 2 Corinthians 5:21, Paul urged the sinner to reconciliation because, “For He made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.” The idea of Jesus being made sin for us is more properly understood as be made a sin-offering for us (“For God made Christ, who never sinned, to be the offering for our sin, so that we could be made right with God through Christ.” New Living Translation) To say that Jesus “knew” no sin, is to say that he never was intimate with such; he did not ever commit a sin.
3. Hebrews: The sinlessness of Jesus was a crucial element to the message of Hebrews. Jesus’ sinlessness has a bearing on both his sacrifice and priesthood. The High Priest was appointed by God for men as a mediator. He who performed sacrificial rites had to be free from bodily defects to be able to do so. He entered the most holy place on the day of atonement to offer up sacrifices for the people, priests, and his house.
a. Christ, our great high priest is the reality of that typified by the OT priesthood. His priesthood is far superior to that of Aaron’s for two reasons:
- Christ is priest forever after the order of Melchizedek,
- He didn’t have to offer a sacrifice for his sins as did Aaron: Heb 7:26-27 – For such a High Priest was fitting for us, who is holy, harmless, undefiled, separate from sinners, and has become higher than the heavens; 27 who does not need daily, as those high priests, to offer up sacrifices, first for His own sins and then for the people’s, for this He did once for all when He offered up Himself.
- We therefore conclude with the Hebrew writer: “For we have not a high priest that cannot be touched with the feeling of our infirmities; but one that hath been in all like points tempted like as we are, yet without sin” (Heb. 4:15).
b. Christ as our sacrifice: The proper sin offering under the Levitical system was without blemish. Jesus, the High Priest of our confession, had somewhat to offer. He offered himself as the sacrifice for sin. “Who through the eternal spirit offered himself with-out blemish unto God . . .” (Heb. 9:14). “Without blemish” refers to Jesus’ sinless conduct. And “once at the end of the ages hath he been manifested to put away sin by the sacrifice to him-self’ (Heb. 9:26). If Jesus had committed one sin (blemish) he could not have put away sin.
4. 1 Peter 1:18-19 – knowing that you were not redeemed with corruptible things, like silver or gold, from your aimless conduct received by tradition from your fathers, 19 but with the precious blood of Christ, as of a lamb without blemish and without spot. The apostle points to Jesus as the fulfillment of Passover Lamb. That lamb was required to be “without blemish and without spot” – Exodus 12:5).
a. The apostle went on to state that Christ “did no sin, neither was guile found in his mouth” (2:22). The verb “did” is in the aorist tense, indicating that Jesus did not commit a single sin, not even one time! Thus the apostle argues that he was qualified to “[bear] our sins [i.e., the punishment of our sins] in his body on the tree” (v. 24).
b. 1 Peter 3:18 – For Christ died for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God. Note how the sinless life of Jesus is connected with Heaven’s plan for human salvation. Without Jesus’ perfection, the world would have no hope.
5. Near the end of the New Testament, the apostle John wrote: “You know that he was manifested to take away sins; and in him is no sin” (1 John 3:5).
Conclusion: Was He or wasn’t He? Yes, He was! Praise God that Jesus was tempted, but without sin. He is the tried Stone that has been made the head of the corner. You have a perfect priest; a perfect sacrifice.
O to be like Thee! blessed Redeemer; This is my constant longing and prayer; Gladly I’ll forfeit all of earth’s treasures, Jesus, Thy perfect likeness to wear. O to be like Thee! O to be like Thee! Blessed Redeemer, pure as Thou art; Come in Thy sweetness, come in Thy fullness; Stamp Thine own image deep on my heart.