The Impeccability of our Lord
Ian Rees, Bath, England [SEE PROFILE BELOW]
Preaching in Tenby a little while ago, I was alarmed to hear somebody say, ‘I like to think that the Lord Jesus was just like me. I like to think that He could have sinned and, therefore, understands the pressure I am under when I am tempted to sin’. My inward reaction was, ‘I’m glad to think our Lord is nothing like me’, and my mind turned to His wonderful statement, ‘The prince of this world cometh, and hath nothing in me’, John 14. 30. Now what did our Lord mean by that?
The point of His departure
There were many times before this point in His life when, despite men’s plans to do our Lord harm, we read, ‘His hour had not yet come’. Yet, as He drew closer to the final Passover feast He would celebrate with His disciples, our Lord knew the time of His suffering was drawing near. ‘Now is my soul troubled; and what shall I say? Father, save me from this hour: but for this cause came I unto this hour’, 12. 27; ‘Now is the judgment of this world: now shall the prince of this world be cast out. And I, if I be lifted up from the earth, will draw all men unto me’, vv. 31-32. Even as He entered the upper room, ‘Jesus knew that his hour was come that He should depart out of this world unto the Father’, 13. 1. The hour of His suffering was upon Him.
The pressure of the Devil
But who is the prince of this world whom He said was coming to Him? Why, it is Satan, surely. We refer, again, to what our Lord had said with reference to His death on the cross, ‘Now is the judgment of this world: now shall the prince of this world be cast out’. Speaking of the coming of the Holy Spirit, our Lord said He would convict the world of sin, of righteousness, and of judgement, ‘because the prince of this world is [has been] judged’, 16. 11. The prince of this world is also called ‘the god of this world’, who has ‘blinded the minds of them which believe not, lest the light of the glorious gospel of Christ, who is the image of God, should shine unto them’, 2 Cor. 4. 4. He is also called a ruler of this dark world, Eph. 6. 12, and ‘the prince of the power of the air’, 2. 2. This is the one whom our Lord said was now coming to Him.
Satan had, of course, been against Him before. He had tried, through Herod, to kill our Lord when He was just a baby; he had tried to trip Him up by tempting Him after His days of fasting in the desert; he had encouraged men to throw Him over a cliff, or to stone Him to death; he had attempted, through our Lord’s own disciple Peter, to deflect Him from going to the cross. There is little doubt that he had been to Him time and time again, in addition to these instances, for we read, after the temptations in the desert, that Satan left Him for a season. But now, to the chief priests and others, our Lord said, ‘When I was daily with you in the temple, ye stretched forth no hands against me: but this is your hour, and the power of darkness’, Luke 22. 53. The prince of this world put it into the heart of Judas to betray our Lord, and then, when he found Judas such a willing tool, he entered his heart; he ensured that the High Priest would call for crucifixion as the sentence of death, and who can say that he did not increase greatly our Lord’s torment in the garden of Gethsemane? Yes, the prince of this world was coming to Him again.
The perfection of the divine
Yet what a wonderful claim our Lord was able to make! Although the prince of this world was coming, He ‘hath nothing in me’. It is true that our Lord could be referring to the fact that He was innocent of any crime worthy of the death sentence. Though the High Priest would try to pin blasphemy on Him as an accusation worthy of execution, this charge would not stand, for Pilate would have nothing to do with Jewish religious squabbles. When they changed the accusation against our Lord to one of stirring up trouble, Pilate discerned that it was for envy they had delivered Him, not on a political charge. He tried Him and came back with straightforward verdicts: ‘I find no fault in this man’; ‘This man hath done nothing worthy of death’. It is also true that our Lord could have meant that, when it came to sin in general, Satan had no hold over Him, for He was innocent of any sin at all. Our Lord was ‘holy, harmless, undefiled, separate from sinners’, Heb. 7. 26. And though it is true that the wages of sin is death, ‘he did no sin’, ‘he knew no sin’, and ‘in him is no sin’. 1 He could say to His enemies, ‘Which of you convinceth me of sin?’ John 8. 46, and the One whom our Lord addressed as ‘Holy Father’, in His holy heaven, could say of Him, ‘my beloved Son, in whom I am well-pleased’, Matt. 17. 5. So, when it came to exerting a rightful claim of death upon a sinner, Satan found nothing in our Lord to claim.
Yet though some may say this is all our Lord had in mind when He said Satan ‘hath nothing in me’, I am persuaded He meant more than just that Satan had no charge to lay against Him, nothing in Him to insist on His death. Other versions render ‘hath nothing in me’ as: ‘he has no claim on me’, ESV; ‘he has no hold over me’, NIV. Jameson, Faussett and Brown say Satan had ‘nothing to fasten on’. We should note here the double negative, which makes our Lord say, ‘he has absolutely nothing in Me’. To the famous list of things said of our Lord in His innocence, (He did no sin, He knew no sin, in Him is no sin), we add this, He could not sin. ‘God cannot be tempted with evil’, Jas. 1. 13. There was no sinful nature inside our Lord that could respond to Satan’s temptations. There was nothing within Him that could respond to the temptations, to lust, lie, deceive, or to manifest hypocrisy, pride, arrogance, etc., that ensnare all sinners. The chain of sin given to us so clearly by the Holy Spirit through James is this, ‘Every man is tempted, when he is drawn away of his own lust, and enticed. Then when lust hath conceived, it bringeth forth sin: and sin, when it is finished, bringeth forth death’, Jas 1. 13. It is surely inconceivable to us that our Lord would have had any root that could bring forth lust within Him.
‘Could not’ or ‘would not’?
Though it used to be a test of orthodoxy that one believed in the impeccability of our Lord, there are increasing numbers of preachers of the word of God who are inclining to the position that our Lord could have sinned. It is one thing for your average Christian to think so; it is surely alarming when men in the pulpit think and teach so. Note that we are not here discussing the sinlessness of Christ. That is not the issue, for no born-again believer could possibly believe that our Lord ever sinned. The word ‘impeccability’ means not that He did not sin, but that He could not sin. The question of the impeccability of Christ was considered a matter of important Christian doctrine centuries ago. Latin phrases, discussed by the church, give us these expressions, non posse peccare and posse non peccare. The word non means ‘not’, the word posse means ‘able to’ and the word peccare means ‘sin’. Non posse peccare therefore means ‘not able to sin’; posse non peccare means ‘able not to sin’. All believers believe our Lord was ‘able not to sin’ but was He also ‘not able to sin’.
Believing that our Lord had a divine nature is essential to Christian faith, as it is equally essential to believe that He had a human nature. The question is, were those two natures, the divine and the human, combined into one nature, or did both exist separately at the same time in His human body? And was that human nature a fallen one, inherited from Adam and capable of sin? Some would remind us that Adam and Eve had innocent natures in Eden, yet still those innocent natures were able to sin, because they did sin. Their human natures in Eden were posse non peccare, able not to sin, but also posse peccare, able to sin. They suggest our Lord possessed, and, therefore, still possesses this innocent, as-yet-unfallen, human nature, able not to sin but also able to sin. Christian orthodoxy says, No! In His divine nature our Lord could not be tempted to do evil and could not sin, Jas. 1. 13, neither can He today. And in His human nature? Is it the case that our Lord did not sin because He could not sin, or because He would not? All who have been born to Adam through the natural process since the fall have natures that are able to sin. Conception by the Holy Spirit in the womb of the virgin meant that our Lord was conceived with a human body received from His mother and a human nature, too. This human nature He could have received either from a human father (but Joseph had no part to play in this), or from a human mother. Yet the intervention of the Holy Spirit ensured that the Seed of the woman was impeccable. Our Lord was, and is, not only able not to sin, but He was, and is, not able to sin.
We sin as a matter of nature, as a matter of course. Our Lord never had that fallen human nature. He is not like us. And, surely, this is what our Lord meant when He said, ‘The prince of this world cometh and hath nothing in me’. When Satan came to tempt our Lord, there was nothing within our Lord that could even respond to His temptations. There was no ‘fifth column’ within Him, able to open from within the gates to the enemy. He had no ‘Trojan horse’. We should all be thrilled to think that in this, as in many other things, He is nothing like us! How majestic, then, that expression, ‘The prince of this world cometh and hath nothing in me', John 14. 30!
1 1 Pet. 2. 22; 2 Cor. 5. 21; 1 John 3. 5.
AUTHOR PROFILE: IAN REES saw an assembly planted in Francistown, Botswana, having served the Lord there for 13 years. Now based in the UK, he was in fellowship in Manvers Hall, Bath, one of his commending assemblies. He has now moved to establish a new assembly in Tenby, West Wales. He is married and has seven children.