Whether Christ Could Have Been Tempted As We Are Without Being Able to Sin

Whether Christ Could Have Been Tempted As We Are Without Being Able to Sin The Garrett Ashley Mullet Show

Home prices may soon plunge by 15-20%, and the number of Americans making a habit of concealed carrying handguns doubled between 2015-2019.

That is to say, to my way of reading current events, that we are fast entering a circumstance and condition here in the U.S. which will see more temptation to sin, as economic trouble combines with social strife to produce conflict and consternation.

For instance, we may be tempted to brag about how much better at self improvement we are. Or we might call ourselves and our friends “10’s.” Or we might dress up as the opposite gender for a year, and then kill ourselves when the reality is too awful and disturbing.

We know that there is a great deal of wickedness and pain in the world, because of sin, and because of our fallen humanity. Yet, as Christians, we know, and are comforted by the fact, that Jesus Christ was tempted with sin during his incarnation, in every respect as we are, yet without sin. And we further know that Christ resisted that temptation, and remained sinless, just as it is written. But the fact of his being tempted means that he is able to sympathize with us in our weakness. 

But could our Lord have ever even possibly sinned? Or did he entirely lack the capability to sin by nature of his being God? The answer to this question would seem to have quite a lot of bearing on how much, and where, we derive comfort from our Savior being tempted as we are.

Back in 2012, R.C. Sproul and Sinclair Ferguson discussed the impeccability or peccability of Christ. That is what the two positions on this question are called, with those who hold to Christ’s impeccability asserting that he was incapable of sinning, and those who hold to the peccability of Christ insisting that he could have.

But Sproul and Ferguson, in answering a question from the congregation on this point, explained that their conclusion is that, in order to actually have been tempted in every respect as we are, as Hebrews says, Christ had to have been able to give into the temptation to sin, even though he did not give in. He must have been capable of actually sinning to have been tempted as we are in every respect.

To deny this, by emphasizing the divinity of Christ, is, Ferguson fears, to verge on the ancient heresy of Docetism. In that case, we say it only appeared as though Christ was fully man, but his being able to sin, or be tempted to sin in every respect as we are would be wholly incompatible with his deity.

On the other hand, Christ the Center, a podcast venture of Reformed Forum, put out a lengthy discussion on this topic back in 2018. They came to just the opposite conclusion. Christ could not possibly have sinned, and did not even have the ability to sin, but was only tempted externally in all ways as we are; he was never, and could not have been, tempted internally in the ways we are. That is, his heart and mind were never really tempted, since that would depend on, and indicate, a sinful nature.

Whereas Sproul and Ferguson perceive a risk of Docetism in holding to impeccability, Christ the Center expresses concern that our belief in the hypostatic union is in jeopardy. If we can envision a scenario in which the second person of the trinitarian God could have sinned, then we can suppose that God could have been well and truly separated from the other two persons of the trinity. That is highly problematic.

So who is right, and who is mistaken? And which of these two views is most correct?

Though I favor Sproul and Ferguson’s, my fallback once again is that God is ultimately incomprehensible. We cannot know and understand him as fully as we ourselves are knowable, even though we can know Him in what He has revealed clearly about Himself. 

This is also a factor of His holiness, that He is set apart and other than us. His ways are not our ways. But what is not up for debate is that Christ was sinless. That much is quite clear. And so, in some sense, the crucially important piece is already known here.

Our Savior was and is and always will be perfect, and without blemish, in a way we could not have been, but also in a way that makes it actually possible for us to become so as well. Still, was it possible that he could have been tempted in every respect as we are without being able to actually sin?

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