Pipe & Pencil (4): Could Jesus have sinned when he was tempted?

Never once, as we observe [Jesus] struggle with temptation, do we see him deriving comfort from the fact of his own impeccability.

Theology is at its best when it takes weighty concepts and makes the connection to Christian life. Consider the debate over Christ’s impeccability. If you’re an eminently practical Christian, jostling over abstractions (Was Jesus not able to sin? -OR- Was Jesus able not to sin?) seems like a huge waste of time. Who cares how you explain it?!? The bottom line is Jesus didn’t sin.

More often than not the problem isn’t that the heavy discussions don’t matter but that we don’t know why they matter. The following passage on Christ’s impeccability is a good example of why seemingly esoteric discussions matter in the day-to-day [emphasis added]:

We may link the subject ‘God’ with many predicates. The Son of God may suffer, may be tempted, may be ignorant and may even die. But we cannot link God with the predicate ‘sin’. God cannot in any situation or for any purpose commit a transgression of his own will. He absolutely cannot be guilty of lawlessness.

It does not follow, however, that when Christ was tempted he was always aware, at the human level, that the Tempter could never conquer him. We know that the devil could, on occasion, put a big if against his consciousness of sonship (Mt 4:3). He would have found it equally easy to question his sinlessness. It would certainly be unwise to conclude that at every single point Jesus was in full possession of the whole truth about himself.

It is helpful to recall here Dr. John A. Mackay’s distinction between the view from the balcony and the view from the road. To the angels on the balcony (as to theologians in their armchairs) it may have been perfectly clear that Jesus could never sin. To himself, engaging the devil on the road, the outcome may have been far from clear. Never once, as we observe him struggle with temptation, do we see him deriving comfort from the fact of his own impeccability. All that we see is his having recourse to the very same weapons as are available to ourselves: the company of fellow-believers (Mk 14:33), the word of God (Mt 4:4) and prayer (Mk 14:35).

-Donald Macleod, The Person of Christ, 230.

10 Special Helps & Rules Against Satan’s Devices

I’ve been revisiting the nature of temptation and sin over the last couple of weeks. A helpful resource in this area is Thomas Brooks’ work Precious Remedies Against Satan’s Devices. At just under two hundred pages and with chapters neatly broken down into “Devices” and corresponding “Remedies”, it’s easy to work through the book in small doses even if you’re mildly allergic to old English.

After dealing with specific devices and remedies, Brooks concludes with ten special “rules and helps against all [Satan’s] devices.” [emphasis added] Read through and see if you don’t find any of his (lightly edited) counsel particularly meaningful in light of your past and/or present battles with sin:

1) Walk by the rule of the Word of God. He who thinks himself too good to be ruled by the Word, will be found too bad to be owned by God; and if God does not, or will not own him–Satan will by his stratagems overthrow him.

2) Don’t grieve the Holy Spirit. If you cause that sweet and blessed Spirit to mourn, who alone can secure you from Satan’s depths–by whom will you be preserved? Man is a weak creature, and no way able to discover Satan’s snares, nor to avoid them–unless the Spirit of the Lord gives skill and power.

3) Labor for more heavenly wisdom. It is not the most knowing Christian–but the most wise Christian, who sees, avoids, and escapes Satan’s snares.

4) Make immediate resistance against Satan’s first motions. It is safe to resist, it is dangerous to dispute. . . The promise of conquest is given to resisting, not to disputing: ‘Resist the devil and he will flee from you’ (James 4:7).

5) Labor to be filled with the Spirit. Satan has his snares to take you in prosperity and adversity, in health and sickness, in strength and weakness, when you are alone and when you are in company, when you come on to spiritual duties and when you come off from spiritual duties, and if you are not filled with the Spirit, Satan will be too hard and too crafty for you . . .

6) Stay humble. A humble heart will rather lie in the dust than rise by wickedness, and sooner part with all than the peace of a good conscience.

7) Keep a strong, close, and constant watch. A sleepy soul is already an ensnared soul. . . Satan works most strongly on the imagination, when the soul is drowsy.

8) Keep communion with God. A soul high in communion with God may be tempted–but will not easily be conquered. Such a soul will fight it out to the death. . . Communion with God is a shield upon land, as well as an anchor at sea; it is a sword to defend you, as well as a staff to support you; therefore keep up your communion.

9) Daily draw new virtue and strength from the Lord Jesus. You must lean more upon Christ than upon your duties; you must lean more upon Christ than upon your spiritual tastes and discoveries; you must lean more upon Christ than upon your graces, or else Satan will lead you into captivity.

10) Pray. Tell God that Satan has spread his snares in all places and in all companies! Tell God that he digs deep, and that he has plot upon plot, and device upon device–and all to undo you!Tell God that you have neither skill nor power to escape his snares! . . .Tell God how His honor is engaged to stand by you, and to bring you off a victor, that you be not ruined by Satan’s plots! . . . Tell God of the love of Christ, of the blood of Christ, and of the intercession of Christ for you, that a way may be found for your escape! Tell God that if he will make it his honor to save you from falling into Satan’s snares, you will make it your glory to speak of his goodness and to live out his kindness.

Suitable temptations abound

Satan will come on with new temptations when old ones are too weak. In a calm prepare for a storm. The tempter is restless, impudent, and subtle; he will suit his temptations to your constitutions and inclinations. . . If your knowledge is weak–he will tempt you to error. If your conscience is tender–he will tempt you to scrupulosity and too much preciseness, as to do nothing but hear, pray, and read. If your consciences be wide and large–he will tempt you to carnal security. If you are bold-spirited–he will tempt you to presumption; if timorous, to desperation; if flexible, to inconstancy; if proud and stiff, to gross folly. Therefore still fit for fresh assaults, make one victory a step to another. When you have overcome a temptation, take heed of unbending your bow, and look well to it, that your bow is always bent, and that it remains in strength. When you have overcome one temptation, you must be ready to enter the battle with another.

-Thomas Brooks, Precious Remedies Against Satan’s Devices