The Impeccability of Christ Harmonized with the Reality of His Temptations

Discussion in 'The Gospels & Acts' started by Ed Walsh, May 3, 2018.

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  1. Ed Walsh

    Ed Walsh Puritan Board Junior

    Greetings all,

    I know this topic was discussed previously on the PB, but I am still struggling in my heart over the nature of Christ's temptations.

    I have been teaching from Luke for the past six months and finally have arrived at chapter 4—the three final temptations of Christ. In the two previous weeks, we looked at the Incarnation in some depth, stressing that Jesus was a real man who lived his life in dependence upon the Holy Spirit like other men, with one major difference—that he was not given the Spirit by measure. (John 3:34)

    I am utterly convinced that the doctrine of Christ's impeccability is the only correct position. The very thought that the Second Person of the Trinity could even possibly (theoretically) sin is horrendous to me. The idea almost makes me ill. For Christ to sin would turn the reality of God on its head. It would prove him to be less than God and our faith futile. But at the same time, I believe we must accept that Christ's temptations were real and severe to the nth degree. I do not think I need help with the simple fact that both things are true, but I want to "feel" his temptations as deeply as a flawed man can. I need your help.

    Below is the text of an email I sent to the class members in preparation for next weeks lesson:


    Dear Group,

    Some food for thought as we look forward to our next meeting:

    What do you think of this?

    I think it is wrong to believe that Christ’s divine nature made it impossible for his human nature to sin. —R.C. Sproul​

    To me, it is interesting that RC attributes sin to a human nature. Natures do not sin—persons sin. And Jesus' person was that of the Son of God.

    Here's a definition that I hope you will consider over the next two weeks:


    The doctrine that the Lord Jesus Christ not only was able not to sin, but that He was not able to sin. Thus, not only did He not sin, He could not sin. “He was not only able to overcome temptation, but He was unable to be overcome by it” (Shedd, Dogmatic Theology, 2:330).

    Christ had a human nature, and human nature is, considered in itself, capable of falling. But the human nature of Christ was personally united to the eternal Word, or Son of God, who was incapable of falling. It never had any existence apart from this union with the Word. Thus, when speaking of the theanthropic person,* it is both inconceivable and unscriptural to say that the God-man could have sinned. It is vain to say what the human nature of Christ could have done if left to itself. The fact is, it was not and could not be left to itself. The complex person of Christ could do nothing that was detrimental to the glory of the infinitely holy Son of God. The divine nature could never be a party to sin.

    It is frequently urged that if Christ could not sin, His temptations were meaningless. But this does not follow. As Shedd points out, “Temptability and peccability may be in inverse proportion to each other, and this proves that the two things are entirely distinct and diverse.” It takes a stronger temptation to assail a virtuous person than a debauched person. The principle is clear: the less peccability, the greater the temptation’s force. Thus in the case of the most virtuous person of all, the God-man, temptation would have reached its highest degree.

    The Scripture teaches the impeccability of Christ. Hebrews 13:8 says He is immutable. That could not be, if He had been capable of falling. Hebrews 4:15 says, “Christ was tempted in all points like as we are choris hamartias.” Choris hamartias means “apart from sin,” or “sinlessly” (compare the use of choris in Heb. 7:21; 9:18; 9:22). Christ’s temptations were unlike ours in that while He was assailed from the outside, there was nothing in Him to desire to embrace that outward temptation. He said, “The prince of this world cometh, and hath nothing in me” (John 14:30).

    Shedd and Berkhof defend the truth of Christ’s impeccability, though, sadly, no less a theologian than Charles Hodge repudiated it.

    Cairns, A. (2002). In Dictionary of Theological Terms (pp. 224–225). Belfast; Greenville, SC: Ambassador Emerald International.

    What do you think?
    Last edited: May 3, 2018
  2. earl40

    earl40 Puritan Board Post-Graduate

    I enjoyed this and agree with what you wrote. :) May I ask why you are teaching this class, and not your pastor?
  3. Ed Walsh

    Ed Walsh Puritan Board Junior

    My pastor attends the group, sits next to me, and advises me privately. Also, I was an elder and Bible teacher in the OPC for many years.
  4. Dachaser

    Dachaser Puritan Board Doctor

    Jesus had/has perfect and sinless humanity nature though, so unlike us, when we are tempted to sin, our sin natures actually relish the chance to do some sinning, but there was nothing within Him to latch on and actually bring that temptation to a sin state.
  5. Jack K

    Jack K Puritan Board Professor

    My main thought is that you can have a great class on this topic, and encourage everyone to prepare, without taking at shot at R.C. Sproul. It simply is not necessary to bring him into it, especially in a criticizing way, and is more likely to distract from your teaching than add to it.

    By the way... I can't recall where, but I once read or heard something from Sproul that agrees with your main point. It was a comment about how a person who never gives in to temptation must endure the most temptation of all. Once we give in, temptation has done its job and doesn't need to increase; but when we resist, temptation must keep coming and increase in severity. So Christ experienced a level of temptation we probably will never know.

    If you do decide to bring up Sproul's position, at least recognize that he taught this point.
  6. Dachaser

    Dachaser Puritan Board Doctor

    We also can not know what the experience was for Jesus, as He was morally perfect and Holy, neither things any of us can claim to being.
  7. BGF

    BGF Puritan Board Sophomore

    I did not read it that way. I took Ed's meaning to be, "here's what well-known reformed theologian RC Sproul says. Here is where I disagree". To disagree with someone is not necessarily taking a shot at them.
  8. Ed Walsh

    Ed Walsh Puritan Board Junior

    I mentioned RC once in the email but do not plan to bring him up again. I meant no disrespect. My post also mentioned Charles Hodge as someone of a different opinion than mine (and Cairns.) I respect both men highly.

    Thanks for the advice.
    Last edited: May 3, 2018
  9. timfost

    timfost Puritan Board Junior

    I've been struggling with this question as well, and lean towards Him being peccable, although the union of natures in many ways makes Him impeccable.

    Here's one thing that gives me pause. I'd love to hear your thoughts.


    1. Jesus is a Person, not a nature by itself.
    2. Jesus died on the cross.


    Did His nature alone die for our sins?

    The argument that says "since Jesus is a Person, not a nature necessitates impeccability" seems to be unable to account for the truth that Jesus died on the cross.

    Does this make sense? I'm not sure if I'm communicating the problem clearly. I'd love your feedback.
  10. Ed Walsh

    Ed Walsh Puritan Board Junior

    Hi Tim,

    That's a really good question. But, I don't know how to respond. I posted what I did because I need help on this subject.
    It does seem to me that only persons die. A 'nature' can be rendered powerless, but not die per se.

    I am still hopping for some real help on this question.

    Last edited: May 4, 2018
  11. Ed Walsh

    Ed Walsh Puritan Board Junior

    Here's the rest of Shedd's introduction to the doctrine I espouse.

    William G. T. Shedd

    Christ’s Impeccability

    The doctrine of Christ’s person is not complete without considering the subject of his impeccability. That he was sinless is generally acknowledged. But the holiness of the God-man is more than sinlessness. The last Adam differs from the first Adam by reason of his impeccability. He was characterized not only by the posse non peccare, but by the non posse peccare. He was not only able to overcome temptation, but he was unable to be overcome by it.

    An impeccable will is one that is so mighty in its self-determination to good that it cannot be conquered by any temptation to evil, however great. A will may be positively holy and able to overcome temptation, and yet not be so omnipotent in its holy energy that it cannot be overcome. The angels who fell could have repelled temptation with that degree of power given them by creation, and so might Adam. But in neither case was it infallibly certain that they would repel it. Though they were holy, they were not impeccable. Their will could be overcome because it was not omnipotent, and their perseverance was left to themselves and not made sure by extraordinary grace. The case of Jesus Christ, the second Adam, was different, in that he was not only able to resist temptation, but it was infallibly certain that he would resist it. The holy energy of his will was not only sufficiently strong to overcome, but was so additionally strong that it could not be overcome.

    Shedd, W. G. T. (2003). Dogmatic theology. (A. W. Gomes, Ed.) (3rd ed., p. 659). Phillipsburg, NJ: P & R Pub.

    Shedd's chapter on Impeccability is attached as a PDF. If you haven't read this chapter, I highly recommend that you download it and read it.
    Very good.

    Attached Files:

    Last edited: May 4, 2018
  12. earl40

    earl40 Puritan Board Post-Graduate

    This comes down to that we are allowed to predicate either the divinity or humanity to the person of Jesus. So we can say Jesus is both omnipresent and not omnipresent. So Jesus did die, and it was the human nature which died, but His divine nature did not.
  13. timfost

    timfost Puritan Board Junior

    So if we can attribute both omnipotence and limits to Jesus, why not both peccable and impeccable?
  14. timfost

    timfost Puritan Board Junior

    "16. Why must He be a true and righteous man?

    Because the justice of God requires that the same human nature which has sinned should make satisfaction for sin; but one who is himself a sinner cannot satisfy for others."

    This is where I get hung up...
  15. Ed Walsh

    Ed Walsh Puritan Board Junior

    Jesus Christ, the second person of the Trinity, is and always has been omnipotent. But, the man Christ Jesus, although God, lived his entire life as a man—a fully human man like us in every way except for sin. He lived his whole life in dependence upon the Holy Spirit's revealing to Him the will of his Father. He was a lot more like us than is often understood.

    Several quotes from commentator Kent Hughes that I found very interesting:

    We must keep several things in mind if we are to understand this and the epic combat that follows. Most essential is the realness or completeness of the incarnation of Jesus. Many Christians do not understand this though they affirm that they believe it, because nestled in their understanding of the Incarnation is the thought that though Christ had a human body, his mind was not completely that of a human. “How could God have a human mind and be God? Surely, the divine had to intrude.” Such thinking is an unwitting version of the ancient heresy of docetism—that Christ only seemed to be a man.

    But the Scriptures affirm otherwise. In the words of the writer of Hebrews, Christ “had to be made like his brothers in every way” (2:17). Jesus did not merely resemble humankind in some qualities of humanity. Rather, in “every way”— “in all things” (NASB)—“in all respects” (Zerwick) he was made like us. Christ’s likeness was not simulated but absolute (cf. Philippians 2:7)—except that he had no sin (cf. Hebrews 4:15).
    In actuality, when he became human he placed the exercise of his divine knowledge and power under the discretion of God the Father (cf. Philippians 2:5–11). So, we understand that his human mind progressively acquired a divine awareness as his Father willed it. Jesus implicitly expressed this when he said, “I tell you the truth, the Son can do nothing by himself; he can do only what he sees his Father doing, because whatever the Father does the Son also does” (John 5:19), and again, “I do nothing on my own” (John 8:28).

    At his temptation Jesus fully knew he was the Son of God, but he withstood the onslaughts of Satan as a real man, deriving his power to resist by depending upon God for strength. The temptations were real, and Jesus withstood them as a real man who was like us “in every way.” Significantly, the author of Hebrews concludes, “Because he himself suffered when he was tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted” (2:18). His help to us comes from the reality of the Incarnation.​
  16. BayouHuguenot

    BayouHuguenot Puritan Board Doctor

    Oliver Crisp gives two observations on this debate:

    1. Christ can be tempted to do certain things, but not all sorts of things (some temptations require the person to be in a prior state of sin). Shedd’s main argument is Hebrew 13:8. This applies to the whole character of Christ (116).

    2. If I can fall prey to sin, this means I am deceived into thinking that the sin is a perceived good, yet we wouldn’t apply this to Christ.
  17. earl40

    earl40 Puritan Board Post-Graduate

    Because the divinity of Jesus is impeccable, as all should assert. The subject of impeccability pertains to the human nature of Jesus specifically.
  18. Ed Walsh

    Ed Walsh Puritan Board Junior

    But I should add that from Jesus' conception to all eternity the human nature subsisted in the person of Christ. We can as much think of separating our nature from us as we can consider Christ's nature apart from him. Even in eternity, we will have the same human nature as we do now only with the superadded aspect of sin removed.
  19. Dachaser

    Dachaser Puritan Board Doctor

    What would be there in the person of jests though that would be enticed to sin, to have the temptation become a real sin act? he is God, so God cannot be tempted, could be as a man, but He had no sin nature residing within Him to complete the going to sin act once tempted.
  20. Dachaser

    Dachaser Puritan Board Doctor

    What died was His physical Body, as the spiritual aspects of Him, His deity and humanity, still were living.
  21. Dachaser

    Dachaser Puritan Board Doctor

    His humanity was the same as Adam had when first created, as being Virgin Born, He was not affected by the fall as all of us are, so His humanity was same as us, but he had no sin nature residing in Him.
  22. Dachaser

    Dachaser Puritan Board Doctor

    Which would not be able to sin, due to Him having no sin nature residing in Him, but sinless perfect humanity.
  23. gjensen

    gjensen Puritan Board Freshman

    I am not certain what the source of your Sproul quote is.

    Here is Sproul and Ferguson briefly discussing the topic. It starts at 57:30.

  24. timfost

    timfost Puritan Board Junior

    How was His humanity living when it was dead?
  25. earl40

    earl40 Puritan Board Post-Graduate

    His human soul was not only alive, but in communion with The Father and Spirit much like those who died in faith who await the resurrection of their bodies on the last day.
  26. BayouHuguenot

    BayouHuguenot Puritan Board Doctor

    and strictly speaking, human souls survive the death of the body.
  27. Dachaser

    Dachaser Puritan Board Doctor

    He was still alive in His soul/spirit though.
  28. BayouHuguenot

    BayouHuguenot Puritan Board Doctor

    Souls continue to exist when the body dies. That's how we get the doctrine of the intermediate state, Rich man and Lazarus, etc.
  29. timfost

    timfost Puritan Board Junior

    I see what you mean. It just seems to be a funny distinction to make since none of us believe that the whole person ceases to exist after death.
  30. Dachaser

    Dachaser Puritan Board Doctor

    My question would be just how was his soul then when released from the physical body? a single soul, with 2 natures or what?
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