The only class I was privileged to take from Dr. John Walvoord (now with the Lord) was a doctoral class called Advanced Christology. It was a small class with only about ten students.
This article is an outgrowth of one of the things that we discussed in that class. It is something that really stands out in my mind since we never discussed these issues in the course I took on Christology in the Master’s program.
I’ve found that many Free Grace people have not given this much thought. But since it is not only important theologically, but also practically, I thought it would be worth our consideration.
The doctrine of Christ’s impeccability means not only that He never sinned, but also that He was unable to sin.
Some theologians and many lay people think that Jesus had to be capable of sinning, that is, peccable, or else His temptations would not have been real. Thus in the minds of many people, we are lucky that Jesus didn’t sin. If He had, then His death on the cross would have been ineffective.
I personally believe and teach that Jesus not only never sinned, He was incapable of sinning. The Lord Jesus was, and is, incapable of sinning just as God the Father and God the Holy Spirit were, and are, incapable of sinning. God cannot sin.
Something can be genuinely tempting even if one is unwilling and unable to do it. The Lord Jesus could see the desirability of turning stones into bread, for instance, when Satan tempted Him. Yet He not did not do so because He was unwilling and unable to go against the will of the Father for Him in His time of testing.
All Conservatives Believe
He Was Impeccable in His Deity
And in His Total Person
Among conservatives it is universally held that God cannot sin and thus Jesus was unable to sin as an expression of His deity. Since conservatives believe in what is called the hypostatic union, that is, that Jesus Christ is both God and man in one person, thus they also say that Jesus Christ was unable to sin in His total person.
Many would say that Jesus in His humanity was tempted to sin, and indeed would have sinned if His humanity were not joined to His deity. However, because of the union of His deity and humanity, He could not sin and did not sin.
Some Believe He Was Impeccable in His Humanity
Is there such a thing as perfect humanity? Is it possible for a human being to be incapable of sinning?
If you stop and think about it, the answer is obvious. How much do you think you will sin in eternity future? If you are a believer in Jesus Christ and you know basic Bible teaching, you know that once you die or are raptured, you will never sin again. You will remain human. But you will be incapable of sinning.
The ability to sin is not part of what it means to be human. Jesus was and is a perfect human being. He was and is incapable of sinning even in His humanity. It is, of course, a bit silly to say that.1 He is a single person and it is impossible to separate His deity and His humanity. But, hypothetically speaking, if He could have lived for a time simply as a human and not as the God-man, He still would not have sinned because He was a perfect man. He not only had no sin nature since He had no human father (biologically), but in addition, He was impeccable in His humanity even apart from His deity. 2
Proofs of His Impeccability
First, Jesus is immutable, which means He never changes (cf. Heb 13:8). If He was able to sin during His earthly ministry, then He is able to sin today. That idea, of course, is absurd. How could it be that saints now in heaven are impeccable, yet the Second Member of the Trinity is not?
Second, the omnipotence of Jesus shows He could not sin. Sin is an expression of weakness, not strength, and certainly not omnipotence.
Third, the fact that His divine nature coexists with His humanity would mean that for Him to sin would require that His divine nature would have to sin. But that is absurd.
Fourth, perfect humanity is impeccable. If the Lord Jesus was not impeccable, then then no human will ever be impeccable. If that were true, then He would never have a kingdom in which righteousness dwelled.
Fifth, Jesus was repeatedly called “the Holy One” during His earthly ministry (cf. Ps 45:6-8; Mark 1:24: Luke 4:34; Acts 3:14). The Holy One is sinless; He is One who did not and could not sin.
Why His Impeccability Matters
Even before I went to seminary, I knew that Jesus Christ had never sinned. I knew that He had to be without sin in order to be our Savior (2 Cor 5:21). Sacrificial lambs had to be spotless. So too did the ultimate sacrificial lamb, the Lamb of God (John 1:29). Only a sinless sacrifice would atone for our sins.
But I don’t think I knew before seminary that He was incapable of sinning. I probably learned that during my Master’s work.
When I learned that He was unable to sin, it changed my view of Him somewhat. It made me worship Him more. It put me more in awe of Him.
But when during the doctoral program I came to believe that even in His humanity He was unable to sin, another profound change occurred in me. It wasn’t that He became less human to me. It was that He became more human to me.
I realized that the ability to sin is not part of human nature. I came to meditate on the fact that one day I will be unable to sin too. Now I long for that day to come.
Please do not misunderstand me. I know I will never be divine. I will never be exactly like Jesus in every way. I will never be God or have the attributes of God. But, I will one day be in my daily experience what He is in His daily experience in the sense that I too will never sin and will be incapable of sinning. The Apostle John put it this way: “Beloved, now we are children of God; and it has not yet been revealed what we shall be, but we know that when He is revealed, we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is” (1 John 3:2). Note he says, “we shall be like Him.” Not in every way, of course. But we shall be like Him in the sense that we too will then be without sin.
That verse, 1 John 3:2, follows almost immediately the theme verse in 1 John: “And now, little children, abide in Him, that when He appears, we may have confidence and not be ashamed before Him at His coming” (1 John 2:28). And it is followed a few verses later with the words, “In Him there is no sin” (1 John 3:5). The impeccability of Christ should motivate us to abide in Him so that one day we will hear Him say, “Well done, good servant” (Luke 19:17), and so that we will not be ashamed before Him.
Don’t you want to be sinless? Don’t you long for the day when you will be all that you can be?
Reflecting on the impeccability of the Lord Jesus Christ causes us to be excited about the life to come and helps us live this life. We want to be like Him. And one day we will.3 Thank God for that.
1. Dr. Walvoord goes so far to say, “It is foolish speculation to attempt to decide what the human nature of Christ would have done if not joined to the divine nature,” (“The Impeccability of Christ,” available here. Accessed August 16, 2010.
2. Adam and Eve before their sin were innocent, but not perfect. Though they were not created with sin natures, they were created capable of sinning—that is, peccable, as their response to the serpent clearly shows. The second Adam was not, as His responses to the serpent clearly show.
3. In the meantime, our aim is to be more like Him each day. Even though we are not sinless yet, we do seek to sin less (and manifest His righteousness more).