Could Jesus Have Sinned?

April 25, 1999

The question in the title has been warmly debated over the years. Everyone agrees that Jesus did not sin. Hebrews 4:15 says so explicitly. He was free from sin in every form: thought, word and deed. But that same verse raises a problem when it declares that Christ was tempted in every way “just as we are.” In what sense was Christ “tempted” to sin? And if he could not give in to the temptation, how could he have been tempted in the first place? From a human point of view, temptation always carries with it the possibility of yielding. We all have experienced the shame that comes when we promise ourselves not to do something only to find out that under pressure we gave in and did it anyway.

It helps to remember that just as Jesus is very much like us (fully human), he is also fundamentally different (fully divine). In his divine nature he could not be tempted at all because God cannot be tempted to do evil. As a man he struggled mightily in the wilderness and again in the Garden of Gethsemane. Did he want to give in to sin? No, but he felt the pressure of the Evil One attempting to lure him from the path of God’s will.

Recently I heard a noted theologian suggest that only a sinless person can ever truly be tempted. That sounds like a strange statement but as I thought about it, it makes perfect sense. Let’s suppose all temptation can be graded on a scale of 1-100. Most people are so weak that the devil doesn’t have to go beyond 6 or 8 on the scale to get them. A strong person might go to 10 and a great saint to, say, 18 on the Temptation Scale. But in the end the devil always gets his prey, and let’s say he never has to go beyond 20 to do it.

When he tempted Jesus, he had to turn the scale up, up, up, up, until finally it hit 100. Still Jesus would not yield because as the Son of God, he could not yield. He and he alone has felt the full force of the devil’s power. We were tempted but gave in at the bottom of the scale. Jesus alone knows what temptation is because he took it all and still said “No.”

An invincible fortress can still be attacked. Jesus didn’t sin because he couldn’t sin. He proved it by taking the devil’s best punch and standing firm to the end.

Do you have any thoughts or questions about this post?