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Did Jesus Have a Sinful or Sinless Nature

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 Through the years, I have received several letters and phone calls asking about the nature of Jesus.  Basically, the question is “Did Jesus have a sinful or sinless nature?”

Usually, my response is “Why does this matter to you/?” I ask this in an attempt to get beneath the surface to discover the real underlying concerns. When discussing historical matters, I have observed that some questions are rhetorical icebergs that have a large mass hidden below the waterline.

This topic, like many others in the Bible, contains apparent contradictions. An apparent contradiction occurs when Bible texts appear to say things that conflict with other texts. The Bible does not have internal conflict; however, it does contain a number of apparent conflicts (or paradoxes).  For example, the topic of hell contains an apparent conflict. Some Bible texts give the indication that hell burns forever and other texts indicate that hell will not burn forever. God put apparent conflicts in Scripture to motivate sincere Bible students into a deeper study of His Word.  When a sincere student finds an apparent conflict, he is motivated to resolve its wonderful mystery.  Less motivated students typically fall for the temptation of shortcutting their investigation with “proof texts” that favor whatever position they wish to defend while ignoring, distorting, or discrediting other texts that militate against their bias. The strongest evidence of poor scholarship is the failure to resolve the mystery of an apparent conflict.

Even though questions on the nature of Jesus date back to early Christianity, it is not discussed very widely today.  I suppose this silence is largely due to the fact that once a denomination takes a position, all discussion and inquiry typically ends. (After all, what is the point of questioning and researching something that has already been accepted as truth unless the Bible student happens to find an apparent conflict?)  For those who have not given the question of Jesus’ nature much thought, a little background information on the paradigm that gives this question importance may be helpful.  Since the fourth century A.D., some Christians have believed that Jesus had a sinful nature.  Please consider a short description of their beliefs:

1. Because of sin’s curse, Jesus was born like one of us, that is, having a sinful nature of the natural propensity to do wrong and commit sin.

2. Before Jesus could die on the cross and pay the penalty for our sins, Jesus had to be tempted in all points as we are without sinning.

3. Through the indwelling power of the Holy Spirit, Jesus resisted every temptation to do wrong.  He lived a perfect, sinless life, overcoming every temptation to sin and became a perfect/sinless substitute for sinners.

4. The gospel requires believers to emulate or copy the life of Christ.  Christians can and must overcome sin as Christ overcame sin through the indwelling power of the Holy Spirit.  If a person is not overcoming temptation or sin, the Holy Spirit is not at fault.

5. Jesus demonstrated that anyone having a sinful nature can be perfect (e.g., live without sinning) through the indwelling power of the Holy Spirit.

Advocates for this logic need the sinless life and sinful nature of Jesus to prove perfection (sinless living for all mankind) is possible and necessary.  For them, the bottom line is this: If Jesus had a nature that is unlike our nature, His victory over sin cannot be used as a model for sinners.  Therefore, given the parameters within this paradigm, they conclude that Jesus had a sinful nature.

A Different Paradigm

My understanding of the gospel produces a different paradigm and a different position on Jesus’ nature.

1. I believe the Bible teaches that salvation requires righteousness from God which no sinner can produce. (Romans 1:17) Jesus created this righteousness by His perfect conformity to the Father’s will when Jesus was on Earth.

2. The Father rewards my faith in Christ (faith in Jesus is defined as a daily surrender to His teachings and gospel) by “covering” the record of my life with Christ’s righteousness (His perfect life). This amazing gift is called justification. It enables me to stand before God as though I have never sinned.

3. It is the Father’s desire that I “grow up” in Christ. This phrase means the Father wants me to become more and more like Jesus.  Until my carnal nature is removed, the Father knows that the law off sin is at work in my body and I cannot live without sinning. (1 John 5:17; Romans 7: 14-25) As a disciple of Jesus, I deeply regret that I sin. I do not want to defame the wonderful name of Jesus with offensive conduct.  Therefore, I show sorrow and repentance for my sins by acknowledging and confessing them and making restitution as needed.

4. I know that victory over sin (sanctification) is possible through faith.  I know that (a) I can resist the devil to some extent, (b) I can ask Jesus to change the desires of my heart so that particular sins are no longer attractive, and (c) I can ask Jesus for strength to overcome spiritual laziness.  I want to become all that Jesus wants of me, but I also know that any victory over sin is temporal.  If I am careless, it can return at any moment.  I also know that victory over sin is a joyful experience.  It gives me encouragement to keep on working on my other sins.

5. The curse of sin is like a greasy flag pole:  The moment I stop climbing, I start slipping.  Sanctification, climbing the greasy flag pole in an attempt to overcome sin, cannot end unless/until my carnal nature is removed.  According to the Bible, the carnal nature is either terminated at death or it will be removed during the Great Tribulation from all who pass the test of faith.

Given my understanding of the gospel of Jesus, you can see that I do not believe that perfection 9sinless living) is possible unless a person is sealed during the Great Tribulation when the carnal nature is removed from those who pass the test of faith.  I see no need for Jesus to be born with a sinful nature.  In fact, I believe He was born with a sinless nature, like Adam before the fall.  Please consider the following:

1. Jesus was conceived by the Holy Spirit. (Matthew 1:20)  This makes Jesus unlike me and the rest of mankind.

2. Before He was born, the angel called Jesus “the holy one” and “the Son of God.” (Luke 1:35, 36)   This makes Jesus unlike me and the rest of mankind.

3. As a child, teen, adult, Jesus never sinned.  This makes Jesus unlike me and the rest of mankind.

4. There is no evidence in the Bible that Jesus needed or experienced rebirth.  He did not need to be “born again.”  This makes Jesus unlike me and the rest of mankind.

5. The Bible declares that all have sinned. (Romans 3:23)  This makes Jesus unlike me and the rest of mankind.

6. The Bible does not give one example of anyone, other than Jesus, who lived without sinning.  Even Paul, one of the most ardent disciples of Jesus, did not attain perfection.  (Philippians 3: 12-16)

7. The Bible says that Jesus was tempted in every point as we are tempted. (Hebrews 4:15)  This does not mean that Jesus was tempted in every way that we are tempted. Temptations can occur under very different circumstances even though they may challenge the same point.  For example, Jesus was tempted to deliberately sin, just like we are, to do something wrong.  The test may be different, but the point is the same.

The Meeting

I believe Job’s experience is recorded in the Bible because it portrays a similar parallel to Christ’s experience. I believe Lucifer presented an argument against Jesus in Heaven.  The argument may have gone like this:  Lucifer said to the Father, “Jesus has gone to Earth to redeem mankind, but this is a silly charade.  Jesus does not have a sinful nature, He is naturally offended by sin, and His victory over sin will be a mockery because He has no propensity or attraction for sin in the first place!”

The Father could have responded, “Lucifer, in the beginning, millions of angels had sinless natures, but you managed to lead them into sin.  Adam and Eve were created with sinless natures, but you managed to lead them into sin.  Jesus went to Earth as a second Adam to recover all that Adam lost.  He has the same nature Adam had before he fell.  You may do whatever you want to lead Jesus into sin, but you cannot take His life.  To put your allegations beyond controversy or doubt, I will send Jesus into solitude of the wilderness for forty days when He begins His ministry.  When He gets there, He will not eat for forty days and He will have no companionship.  I will do this to Jesus so that at the end of the forty days, when He is physically near death and He has the greatest doubts (if any) about His mission, you will have the best opportunity to lead Him into sin.  Everyone in the universe will see that Jesus is the second Adam, Jesus had no advantage over Adam, I will grant you three chances to lead him into temptation.  If you win, Jesus will suffer the penalty for sin.  If He wins, you will suffer the penalty for sin twice over, once for being a sinner and once for being a predator.”  With these words ringing in his ears, the devil soberly left Heaven to prepare for a vigorous assault on Jesus.

After Jesus’ baptism, the Spirit led Him into the wilderness, just as the Father had promised Lucifer.  I am sure this development puzzled Jesus, who knew nothing of Lucifer’s discussion with the Father.  However, just as everyone else in the universe is required to live by faith, the Father also required Jesus to live by faith (daily surrender to His will) and He meekly went to the desert. 

The Faith of Jesus

The bible reveals very little about the childhood of Jesus.  “And Jesus grew in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and men.” (Luke 2:52)  As Jesus grew up, His understanding of who He was unfolded because He studied the Scriptures.  Evidently, the Holy Spirit spoke to Him by the age of twelve, and He was convinced that He was “The Son of God.”  (Luke 2:42-50)  The Bible does not indicate when Jesus discovered that He was “the Lamb of God,” but that must have been a very sobering day for the young man.

The Father spoke to Jesus at His baptism and the Holy Spirit descended in the form of a dove.  (Matthew 3: 16, 17)  These two witnesses and the testimony of His other were the strongest evidences (reported in the Bible) confirming that Jesus was indeed “the Son of God.”  This indicates that Jesus was “the Son of God” by faith, and the Father and the Holy Spirit confirmed His faith at the beginning of His ministry.

The faith of Jesus is often overlooked feature in Christ’s life, but it explains why Lucifer’s first temptation in the desert was a poisoned pill, a temptation created for doubt and appetite.  After forty fasting days, Jesus was emaciated physically and very weak.  A wily Lucifer appeared before Jesus, studiously prepared to win this all important encounter.  Lucifer knew that his existence rested on this wilderness rendezvous.  The Father permitted Lucifer to tempt Jesus three different ways so that no one could ever say that the Father “protected” Jesus, who did not have a sinful nature, from temptation.  The devil came to Jesus with three designer temptations.  Lucifer carefully planned and masterfully presented these temptations because they would be his only chance to present himself physically to Jesus.



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