y post on 17 July ended with these words: "At least three vital perspectives of Christ are given to us in this text, and beginning tomorrow, we'll take some time to look at each of them individually."
"Tomorrow" has now surpassed 10 days and the long gap between posts reminds me of James 4:13-15. Circumstances took me out of town for a few days this past weekend, and despite my best efforts, I am still not caught up with the stack of stuff that has been accumulating in my "to do" file since January. So I want to offer a hearty thanks to Daniel and Frank, who have kept the blog busy in my absence by posting brilliant artwork and picking fights with charismatics.
As much as I hate to interrupt Daniel's posts on the charismatic movement (that series will still resume tomorrow, Lord willing), we need to keep going with a different series that has been lingering for a long time2 Corinthians 5:21 and the doctrine of justification by faith.
As I was saying. . .
This entry in the 2 Corinthians 5:21 series should be the least controversial of the entries to come. It features the first of three perspectives of Christ we're going to consider from that verse:
Christ as Sinless
hrist "knew no sin." Those words appear in the middle of the verse in most English versions, but the Greek text begins with that phrase. The utter sinlessness of Christ is the foundation for everything else Paul has to say in this verse. It is also the logical starting point for understanding the meaning of the whole text.
First Peter 1:19 echoes this truth. That verse speaks of "Christ, as of a lamb without blemish and without spot." As Hebrews 9:14 says, He "offered himself without spot to God."
Now, of course, as God, Christ was perfectly righteous, absolutely holy, and eternally immutable in all His perfections long before the incarnation. All the virtues of deity were His, and everything Scripture says about the perfect holiness of God applies to Christ. He is, according to Habakkuk 1:13, "of purer eyes than to behold evil, and [unable to] look [approvingly] on iniquity" of any kind.
But here in 2 Corinthians 5, Paul is speaking about Christ's utter sinlessness as a man. Christ was not only God, but He became a man. His humanity was not an illusion; He was a true manGod incarnate in human flesh. And when Paul says here that Christ "knew no sin," he is speaking, in this context, of Christ as our substitute, as a manthe perfect man, who lived His whole life spotlessly, in flawless obedience to the law of God, without ever once succumbing to temptation or defiling Himself with sin in any way.
The final Adam
Christ as a man did what Adam failed to do. He withstood temptation and rendered perfect obedience to every commandment of God. Scripture makes that very comparison of Christ to Adam in several places. First Corinthians 15:45, Paul writes, "The first man Adam was made a living soul; the last Adam was made a quickening spirit." In that verse, Paul is quoting from Genesis 2:7, where it says, "the LORD God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man [the first man, Adam,] became a living soul." "The last Adam [Christ] became a life-giving spirit."
In what sense was Christ like Adam? Just as Adam stood in relationship to the human race as our head and representative, Christ stands in relationship to the redeemed race as our head and representative. Again, by withstanding temptation, Christ did for us what Adam failed to do. That's why Paul says in Romans 5:19: "As by one man's disobedience many were made sinners, so by the obedience of one shall many be made righteous."
Adam was put to a simple test. He had only one command to obey, and that was the command not to eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. He failed. By contrast, Christ's obedience was much more complex. He was "born under the law," according to Galatians 4:4, so the obedience required of Him included more than 600 distinct commandmentsmoral, civil, and ceremonial. But He fulfilled them all to the letter, from the beginning to the end of His life.
Hebrews 4:15 says "[He] was in all points tempted like as we are, yet without sin." In other words, He was put to the test and proven to be perfectly sinless, without any spot or blemish.
The fact of His sinlessness was testified to by multiple witnesses in His trials, just before His crucifixion. His enemies were desperately seeking a way to accuse Him. They looked diligently for anyone who could testify of any wrong that He had done. In the end they had to rely on the testimony of false witnesses who twisted His Words in order to justify false and trumped-up charges against Him. Even Pilate refused to render any verdict of guilt against Jesus, but after hearing all the charges and cross-examining Christ, Pilate said repeatedly, "I find no fault in this man" (Luke 23:4; John 19:4, 6).
Could Jesus have sinned?
A couple of hard questions always come up whenever the human sinlessness of Christ is under discussion. First of all, there's been a running debate among theologians for centuries over the question of whether Christ, as a man, could have sinned. Did He even have the potential to sin? Was there any possibility that he would succumb to temptationand fall, as Adam did?
Some have argued that unless there was a real possibility that He might sin, His temptations were somehow unreal, a pretense, only a simulation of the temptation Adam faced, and unlike the temptations we face. (Every true Christian, of course, acknowledges that Christ did not sin, but some say that in order for His temptation to be meaningful, He must have had a real potential to sin.) Those who hold this position say he differed from you and me in that He had the ability not to sin. So He was subjected to temptation with an ability to say either yes or no, and He simply exercised His ability not to sin.
The other viewwhich I'm convinced is the correct viewis that there was never any real possibility that He might sin. But His moral perfection was such that sin had no appeal to Him whatsoever, and therefore no matter what Satan might have done, he could never, under any circumstances, have enticed Jesus to sin.
This debate has raged since medieval times. There are even Latin terms for the two different views. The first group believes Christ was posse non peccare posse meaning "able," and peccare, meaning "to sin"posse non peccare, "able not to sin."
The second group says Christ was non posse peccare"not able to sin."
By the way, you and me (and everyone born as Adam's offspring, inheriting both his guilt and his sinful nature) are non posse non peccare, "not able not to sin."
So there are these three possible moral states: posse non peccare, "able not to sin"; non posse peccare, "not able to sin; and non posse non peccare, "not able not to sin.
I believe strongly that Scripture teaches Christ was non posse peccare, "not able to sin." He is not able to sin for the same reason Adam's offspring is not able not to sin: our nature determines what we choose.
Christ's inherent righteousness is one of the attributes of His deity. His absolute hatred for sin is part of His eternal nature. He did not divest Himself of the attributes of deity in order to become man. Therefore He could no more sin than God could lie, and Scripture says plainly and repeatedly that God cannot lie (Titus 1:2, Numbers 23:19, and 1 Samuel 15:29).
Furthermore, Christ is immutableunchanged and unchanging in His character, and the New Testament expressly declares this. Hebrews 13:8: "Jesus Christ [is] the same yesterday, and to day, and for ever."
There was nothing in Him that held any attraction whatsoever for sin. He hated sin as God hates it. He had none of the evil desires we have inherited as part of our fallen nature. Jesus could not be deceived, as Eve was. He would not yield to sin, as Adam did. In fact, although He was temptedmeaning that he was assaulted with enticements and inducements and arguments by Satan, Jesus said this about Satan in John 14:30: "The prince of this world . . . hath nothing in me."
Yeah, but . . .
What about this argument that Jesus' temptations weren't real unless He had the possibility to sin?
Look: you can put pure gold in a crucible and heat it to a white-hot temperature, and there is no possibility that it will be burned up, or that it will produce any dross. But the purity of the gold doesn't make the heat of the flame any less hot.
If anything, Christ's temptations were more intense, not less intense than ours, because He never sought relief from any temptation by giving into it.
He felt all the normal, non-sinful human weaknesses that you and I struggle with. Scripture says He suffered hunger, and thirst, and bodily fatigue, just like you and me. And He surely knew what it was under the pressure of temptation for the pains of those infirmities to be intensified.
In fact, that is precisely what Hebrews 4:15 says: "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, yet without sin." He bore all the natural infirmities of human flesh and endured the pressure of temptation on the night of His betrayal to the point that His capillaries burst and His sweat was mixed with blood. But never, ever, did he have any attraction to sin or any desire for that which is sinful.
To say that there was ever any possibility of sin in Christ is to misunderstand the utter moral perfection of His character. I think it's a fairly serious error to imagine that Christ could have sinned, because it tends to diminish the truth of His deity. Christ was non posse peccarenot able to sin, and that is true because He was God incarnate, unchanging, perfectly righteous in and of Himself, with an eternal, immutable, and holy hatred of all that is unholy.
Does Jesus' life count for me, or just His death?
There's a second important debate about Christ's perfect earthly obedience. And it has to do with the question of whether His life, as well as His death, has redemptive significance.
Now we know that "Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures" (1 Corinthians 15:3). "We were reconciled to God by the death of his Son" (Romans 5:10). In other words, his death bought our atonement. His blood was the redemption-price. That's what 1 Peter 1:18-19 means: "Ye know that ye were not redeemed with corruptible things . . . But with the precious blood of Christ". Again and again, Scripture says Jesus' death is what made atonement for our sins.
But is there any sense in which His life also had redemptive significance? I believe there is. Throughout His earthly life, Christ was acting as our substitute, so that everything He did as a man, He did on our behalf. And everything He did ultimately contributed to our redemption.
There's a reason why Christ did not simply take on the body of a human adult and visit earth for a weekend in that full-grown incarnate form, die, and then ascend to heaven. Would simply dying in human form, apart from living a complete human life, have provided the same kind of sufficient atonement for us? Apparently not.
Hebrews 2:14 says Jesus "took [partook of flesh and blood] so that through death he might destroy him that had the power of death, that is, the devil." So the ultimate purpose of the incarnation was redemptive. He became a manpartook of flesh and bloodfor us, in order to "deliver them who through fear of death were all their lifetime subject to bondage" (v. 15). Notice (v. 16), He did not do this for angels. The angels who fell were condemned and sentenced without any possibility of atonement. But He became a man.
In fact, verse 16 says "he took on him the seed of Abraham." That's a reference to the Abrahamic covenant, which promised (Genesis 22:18) that "in [Abraham's] seed . . . all the nations of the earth would be blessed." Christ was that promised seed, bringing the blessings of divine grace and eternal salvation to people from every tongue and tribe and nation.
OK, you say, but that's still about His death, not His life. Verse 14 expressly says, "that through death he might destroy . . . the devil"
But look at verse 17-18: "Therefore, in all things He had to be made like His brethren, that He might be a merciful and faithful High Priest in things pertaining to God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people. For in that He Himself has suffered, being tempted, He is able to aid those who are tempted."
That is a sweeping statement that makes it clear that Christ had to live a full life as a man. His lifenot only His deathclearly had redemptive significance. A full life of perfect faithfulness was essential to His role as a mediator between God and men. It was the essential proof that He qualified to be the spotless lamb of God to take away sin.
But it was more than that. Christ's whole life was a fulfillment of the principle of substitution we find in 2 Corinthians 5:21. Before we are done with this series, I hope to take up the issue of Christ's so-called "active obedience." Meanwhile, keep this principle in mind: Christ's life, and not His death only, contributes something vital to our redemption.
Scripture is clear (Hebrews 2:17) that Christ, in order to be the High Priest who offers atonement, "had to be made like His brethren [in all things]." So those who limit His atoning work to His death alone have an incomplete work of the atonement. Lord willing, we'll come back to that point in a future post and treat it in depth.
Whatever view you may take in the current debates over "active obedience," you must acknowledge that the perfect obedience Christ rendered to the law was essential to demonstrate and maintain His utter sinlessness. So His whole life, and not only His death, was redemptive.
That's the first perspective of Christ we see from this passage: Christ as sinless. Not only sinless God, but sinless God incarnate, so that He is a sinless man as well.