Jesus and Sin

sinRead the series so far.

We’ve talked about sin. We’ve learned it is:

  1. an action which violates God’s law,
  2. an internal thought or desire which is contrary to God’s law, and
  3. it is also a status, a condition, a state of being.

If you think of “sin” as merely an outward action, then you’re terribly wrong. We’re all born in the status, condition and state of rebellion against God. We’re born as sinners, the fruit of the poisonous tree which was ruined by Adam so long ago, and has been passed down from generation to generation ever since. Because that is true, the result is that we think evil and wicked thoughts all the time. And, sometimes, we act on those sinful thoughts and intents of our hearts.

What is at the bottom of all this? What is at the heart of this status and condition of lawlessness, which results in wicked thoughts and actions? It is a desire for autonomy, for independence from God. When you get right down to it, sin is about a desire to overthrow God (who is your Creator and sustainer) and govern yourself.

Now we come to the really interesting question. We all know Jesus has never sinned, and we certainly know He didn’t sin in the incarnation. But what, exactly, does that even mean?

Here is a key text

Since then we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. For we have not a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need (Heb 4:14-16).

He Was Tested Just Like We Are

We can’t understand what on earth the writer is saying here unless we first understand the context. In this passage, the writer of Hebrews is picking up his previous train of thought, which ended in Hebrews 3:6:

  • Jesus, God’s son, created all things, sustains all things, came here to make purification for sins, then returned to the Father’s side in heaven above (Heb 1:1-4)
  • Jesus is far superior to any of the angels (Heb 1:5-14), therefore everybody “must pay the closer attention to what we have heard, lest we drift away from it,” (Heb 2:1).
  • The world to come will be subject to Christ, so we must obey His message. The world now is not subject to Him, but instead we see Jesus, “who for a little while was made lower than the angels, crowned with glory and honor because of the suffering of death, so that by the grace of God he might taste death for every man,” (Heb 2:9).
  • The children Christ came to save partook of flesh and blood, therefore “he himself likewise partook of the same nature, that through death he might destroy him who has the power of death, that is, the devil, and deliver all those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong bondage,” (Heb 2:14-15).
  • Because Jesus was made like us in every single way, He is a merciful and faithful high priest. “For because he himself has suffered and been tempted, he is able to help those who are tempted,” (Heb 2:18).
  • The writer then called these Jewish Christian to “consider Jesus, the apostle and high priest of our confession,” (Heb 3:1). Jesus was faithful to God, just like Moses, but Jesus is far better than Moses, and has been counted worthy of far more glory (Heb 3:2-4)! You are part of God’s household, if you hold fast to your confidence and pride in the hope of eternal life (Heb 3:6).

At this point, the writer went on a brief excursus about rebellious Israelites after the exodus, and warned his readers to not make that same mistake (Heb 3:7 – 4:13).

Now, we come to our text:

Since then we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. For we have not a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need (Heb 4:14-16).

Because all these things about Jesus are true (Heb 1:1 – 3:6):

  • because Jesus was made a little lower than the angels to be just like we are,
  • because He tasted death for every man,
  • because He has been crowned with glory and honor because of His suffering and death,
  • because He has made purification for sins,
  • because He has returned to the Father and “has passed through the heavens,”
  • because He is the co-eternal and co-equal Son of God

the author commands Christians to “hold fast,” or seize “the confession.” Some English translations add “our confession.” That is not in the Greek text. It is “the confession.”

What is that confession? What I just outlined, above! But, what are the grounds for this confidence? Why does the writer exhort them to “seize” the confession and cling to it for spiritual life? It is because Jesus understands your struggles, and, because He understands, He can save you from them.

Jesus is a high priest who sympathizes with your weaknesses. He is not a cold, aloof and ivory-tower Savior who dispenses God’s mercy, grace, love and kindness from an antiseptic, pure abode in heaven. In every respect, Jesus has been tempted and tested just like we are. Yet, Jesus did not sin.[1]

Jesus Christ deliberately and voluntarily set His divine status and privileges aside during the entire course of His earthly ministry. As a real flesh and blood man who didn’t use any of those divine powers as a crutch, He took on everything Satan threw at Him – and He succeeded where Adam, Eve, you and I will always fail. He’s been touched with the real weight and feeling of the same weaknesses you’re suffering through – He’s been there!

All this makes Jesus qualified to be a perfect, merciful and faithful High Priest:

  • because He knows first-hand how powerful Satan is
  • because He knows how powerful temptation is
  • because He knows what it’s like to be poor
  • because He knows what it’s like to be tired and exhausted
  • because He knows what’s like to know what God wants you to do, and at the same time to be too exhausted and frightened to go forward without divine help
  • because He knows what it’s like to rely completely and totally on the Lord
  • because He knows what it’s like to feel alone and abandoned by friends
  • because He knows what it’s like to be persecuted by the authorities

Most of all, though – Christ knows what it’s like to be handicapped by all these difficulties, and yet He still perfectly overcame them and defeated Satan anyway. And yet, Jesus can sympathize, be merciful and show such a depth of compassion precisely because He’s been in our shoes! His compassion is a real one, not an intellectual one. He knows everything you’re going through now, or will ever go through – because He’s been there and defeated your problems firsthand.

Making Application

Let’s return to our definition of sin:

  1. an action which violates God’s law,
  2. an internal thought or desire which is contrary to God’s law,
  3. it is also a status, a condition, a state of being
  4. at the heart of it, sin is rejection of God’s jurisdiction and authority over your life – it is a lust for autonomy and independence from His rule

This is what Jesus did in the incarnation:

  1. Jesus did not violate God’s law
  2. Jesus did not have an internal thought or desire contrary to God’s law
  3. Jesus was never touched by sin, and the virgin conception ensured He was born untainted by that curse
  4. at the heart of it, in His incarnate state, Jesus never rejected His Father’s jurisdiction and authority over His life – He never lusted for autonomy and independence from His rule.

The First and Last Adam

The contrast is seen most clearly in Jesus’ temptation and testing by Satan in the wilderness (Lk 4:1-13); specifically, the temptation of autonomy. Satan promised Jesus all the kingdoms of the world, in exchange for overthrowing God and in favor of Satan. This goes right to the heart of the matter. Will Jesus violate the Father’s will? Will Jesus short-circuit the Cross, and spare Himself the pain and agony of death? Here, Jesus proved His superiority to Adam:

  • Satan tested Adam, who failed.
  • Satan tested Jesus, who triumphed.

Yet, the question remains – did Jesus feel temptation in the same way we do? Did he feel an internal tug, pull and urge to commit a sinful action? The answer is an emphatic, “No!” Sin, as we’ve seen, encompasses the thoughts and intents of the heart. Jesus never experienced any thought or intent which was contrary to God’s law, because He was not born with a sin-nature. Jesus was not conceived by sinful human beings; He was conceived by a miracle of the Holy Spirit.

We must always remember that Jesus did not defeat Satan as a sinful, fallen human being.[2] He defeated Satan as a sinless, holy, morally innocent man. His human nature was identical to Adam’s – He was Adam 2.0. As one Baptist confession reads:

We believe that man was created in holiness, under the law of his Maker; but by voluntary transgression fell from that holy and happy state . . .”[3]

Jesus, too, was “created in holiness” in the sense that He took on an innocent, morally pure human nature – just like the one Adam had. Jesus was not tempted from within; there was no sin nature to tempt! Just like Adam, He was tempted from without. As a morally innocent, sinless and holy man, he was tested and tempted just like Adam was, and triumphed.

So What?

  • We always commit sinful actions which violate God’s law. Jesus did not.
  • We always think wicked, evil thoughts which violate God’s law. Jesus did not.
  • We were born into a state of sin, with the status as sinful criminals. Jesus was not.
  • We exercise this status, and prove our desire for independence and autonomy from God every single day. Jesus never did.

What are the implications for the Christian today, looking back to Jesus’ perfect life, sacrificial death, and miraculous resurrection? We’ll look at that next time . . .

Notes

[1] There is an exegetical debate over how to translate the last bit of the sentence (χωρὶς ἁμαρτίας). Does it mean (1) Jesus was tempted in every single way we are, and yet He did not commit sin? Or, does it mean (2) Jesus was tempted in every single way we are, apart from the temptation to sin? I don’t have the time to delve into this particular issue. It is very interesting.

[2] Lewis S. Chafer is usually pigeon-holed as a dispensational theologian, and dismissed. That is very, very unfair. It is true that he represents classical dispensationalism, a type of dispensationism which is not as popular as it once was.  Yet, his entire systematic is outstanding. I am routinely moved and challenged by his insights. His comments on Christ’s temptation is the best of the usual bunch, more helpful than Berkhof and Strong. He wrote, “. . . in all the discussion respecting His impeccability the truth is often ignored that Christ was wholly free from a sin nature and all that the sin nature generates,” (Systematic Theology, 8 vols. [reprint; Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel, 1976), 5:76.

[3] 1833 New Hampshire Confession of Faith, Article 3. See my own comments on this article here.

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