Could Christ Have Sinned?
Could Christ have sinned when He was tempted?
This question usually centers around the temptation of Christ as found in Matthew 4 and Luke 4. One side says that He must have been able to sin, for if He could not sin, the temptation would not be a real temptation. The other side is repulsed by the thought that Christ could have sinned. Certainly, He could not have sinned. Therefore, one side seems to deny the reality of the temptation while the other side seems to deny the inner integrity of Christ.
The more I have been asked this question and pondered it, the more I am convinced it is the wrong question. I know we tell people that there are no bad questions. That is all right for encouraging people to ask questions but it is not strictly true. Consider the question, Have you stopped beating your wife? If you say, no, you have admitted that you still beat her. If you say, yes, you are admitting that you used to beat her.
In like manner consider the question, Could Christ have sinned? If you say, yes, you are denying Christ's deity--for how could God sin. If you say, no, you are denying Christ's humanity--for how could He really understand temptation as scripture claims (Hebrews 2:18; 4:15) if there was no possibility of Him sinning. Would that I could be tempted in the same way. Really...how genuine would temptation be to you if you could not possibly give in to the temptation and sin? Does Christ really understand our temptations if He could not have sinned when He was tempted?
I believe that the only way to understand this dilemma is to break down the basic components of the problem. My answer is in two parts. First, as to capacity or potentiality, the temptation was real and Jesus Christ could have sinned. He had no external barrier keeping Him from committing the sins Satan presented to Him (Matthew 4). If He did not have this potential, then His temptation was different from ours and He really does not understand the temptations we face. He had to say no to the temptation just as we do.
However, as to His character and being, He could not have sinned. Who He was internally kept Him from being able to sin against His Father. For example, what if you really did not like your mother-in-law. And what if, at a low point, you expressed to a friend that you had about had it with her. And what if this friend had much lower character than you thought and told you of a surefire way to do away with your mother-in-law without anyone ever finding out. Would you do it? Probably not. You might even say, I just couldn't do that.
Why could you not do it? Not because the means were not available. Not because it was physically impossible to you. Not because of fear of being caught--remember, this is a surefire way and you are convinced of it. Not even because you might not like to do it. You could not do it because your character would not allow you to do it. You could not be true to your own character and do such a dastardly deed. In the same way, Jesus could not sin because His internal purity and holiness would not allow Him to do it.
Therefore, potentially, Christ had the capability to sin when He was tempted. However, as to His internal character, He could not have been so untrue to Himself. He could not have given in to the temptation of the devil.