The following is a repost of an article originally published at The Christian Post in 2009.
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In their trials and temptations many Christians have drawn strength from Hebrews 4:15: “For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are-yet he did not sin.” (TNIV; cf. Heb. 2:18) Unfortunately, the significance of this passage is widely misunderstood, and thus its true force is often lost.
The problems are rooted in the erroneous belief that to be tempted means that Jesus could have sinned and that he was somehow enticed by sin (that is, he found it appealing but still resisted it). Both assumptions are deeply mistaken.
First let’s evaluate the assumption that Jesus could have sinned. This is false for two reasons. First, it is false because Jesus was God and God cannot sin. It really is that simple.
“But what about his humanity? Couldn’t Jesus sin because he was a man?” Ironically, I argue that the opposite is the case: it is also because Jesus is human that he could not have sinned.
The key is to recognize that Jesus was not simply a man, but the perfect man. First ask what is it that makes human beings uniquely human? According to scripture, the answer is the image of God (Gen. 1:26-27). But while we are made in the image of God, Jesus is the image of God (Col. 1:15). That means that he is not just another man, but the standard and essence of human perfection.
Consequently, our destiny as believers is to be conformed fully to the image of God in Christ (Rom. 8:29). To be fully human is to be fully changed to be like Christ.To put it another way, what we will be at the resurrection when we are perfected is what Christ was as he walked on the earth two thousand years ago. Christ provides a glimpse of our future.
Now ask yourself: if we do not think that as perfected human beings we will be able to sin, why then would we think that Christ the perfect man could sin?
But if Christ could not have sinned then what does it mean to say Jesus was tempted? Is there a contradiction between the statement that God cannot be tempted (James 1:13) and the statements in Hebrews that Christ was tempted?
Not at all. To resolve the tension we need to understand that the Greek word for temptation (peirazo) has two meanings: temptation and testing. God cannot be tempted in the sense of finding sin enticing. But he can be tested (1 Cor. 10:9).
The same is true of Christ. He was not tempted at all in the sense of finding sin enticing. On the contrary, he was utterly repulsed by it. Let me give you an illustration. Some dogs engage in coprophagic behavior. That is, they eat poo. In the same way that you or I are tempted by an Oh Henry chocolate bar, many dogs are tempted by feces. Subjectively, sin is to us like a chocolate bar: very tempting. But to Jesus it looks just like poo. Jesus could be no more enticed by sin than you could be enticed by a steaming pile of doggy doo-doo.
I apologize for the rather graphic visuals here, but it is really important to grasp the depth of the repulsiveness of sin from God’s perspective. With that in mind, it is wholly incomprehensible that Christ could have found sin in any way enticing. He was not tempted as we are: he was tested to show that he could not be tempted!
This brings us back to the practical implications of Hebrews 4:15. Our confidence, our model, our hope in day-to-day Christian living is not found in a savior who struggled with his own impulse to find sin enticing, tempting, or desirous, but who just managed to hold those impulses at bay. On the contrary, our hope and destiny is found in the savior who desired only to do one thing: the will of the Father. By his grace such will one day become true of us as well.