Was Christ Tempted in His Flesh?

For we have not an high priest which cannot be touched with the feeling of our infirmities; but was in all points {tempted} like as [we are, yet] without sin.–Hebrews 4:15

It at times seems to me that the Catholic Church focuses more on sin than on the Gospel of Christ. Look at Catholic art, Catholic prayers, and Catholic doctrine. What I see is a preoccupation with man's sinful ways. And Catholic teaching looks to suffering, in this world and in the next, as a means to purify sinful man so that he might enter into what Catholicism calls the 'Beatific Vision.' Of course, Catholic priests play a significant part in easing the temporal punishment due for sin, as does the penitent sinner. The priest hears the lurid details of the faithful's sins and grants absolution, contingent upon the now-forgiven—according to Catholicism—sinner's making a perfect act of contrition. The forgiven Catholic sinner is then free to choose to sin again, knowing that he might go to Confession again next week. Of course, this would mean that his act of contrition was not perfect, and that neither his sins nor the temporal punishment for them have been forgiven or absolved. Does this mean that Catholics, even those who have been baptized, confirmed and, dare I suggest it?, ordained and who continue to sin have a 'sin nature?' Could be.

In evangelical circles, it is not unheard of for preachers to wax lyrical concerned fallen man's evil ways, often charging them to what they call a 'sin nature.'

I have no trouble accepting that those who look to the Catholic Church for their salvation are cursed with what some call a sin nature; a natural tendency to yield to temptations of the flesh and to go through life offending God. I cannot, however, accept that regenerated believers can have such an irresistible proclivity to give in to temptation and to sin.

A correspondent raised these issues with me. What follows are her questions and my response.

The Question: Please read Hebrews 4:15. I would like to know what it means. Was Jesus tempted in his flesh in every aspect. Did Jesus feel the same emotions and the same feelings as we do. Did his body contain the same sin nature that we have in our body.

My Response: In order to properly grasp the meaning of Hebrews 4:15, it is necessary first to understand three fundamental points: 1) the meaning of the Greek word peirazo, which usually is translated to tempt; 2) The sense in which God may be tempted; and 3) that it was the humanity of Christ that was tempted, not His Deity.

Before getting into the word study, I think it may be well to examine the nature of God. We read in Scripture that God is spirit (John 4:14); that He is All-powerful (Jer 32:17, 27); that He is All-knowing(I John 3:20); and that He is wise (Acts 15:18). We know He is gracious, long-suffering and merciful; that He is good. (Psalms 145:8,9) He can be angered, and His wrath is terrible to contemplate (Deut 32:22). These are but a few of the things He has revealed to us of His being and nature.

We never see Him as being sneaky, malevolent, capricious or perverse. On the contrary, "The LORD is righteous in all his ways, and holy in all his works." (Psalms 145:17).

If we accept the nature of God as revealed in Scripture, we need to look at the concept of a "sin nature." I am fundamentalist in my theology. I seek to receive God's word as He intended it to be received. I reject modern efforts to secularize religious practice and am solidly against adding to, or "enhancing the meaning of," what our Lord caused to be written down so many years ago. I do not believe modern scholarship can find "new" meanings that have lain hidden in Scripture until discovered by "special insights" or "revelation knowledge."

It has been my experience that all these "new" understandings actually are nothing more than resurrections of the Gnostic heresies of the earliest days of the Church. These heresies were dealt with when they first surfaced, but they continue to be raised up by members of each new generation of "specially anointed" teachers, preachers and evangelists.

About this "sin nature" thing: are Christians by nature corrupt and unable not to sin? I say that is not true. Before he is saved, when he is dead in sin, I daresay no man can avoid sinning. We are born in sin and, without Christ, the willingness to engage in sinful behavior or thoughts seems ever present. In that sense, it may be rightfully said that it is man's nature to sin. Paul made that clear in Romans 3:10; "As it is written, There is none righteous, no, not one."

I do not, however, believe it accurate to say that is the case with those who have been redeemed by God's grace through faith in Christ. Certainly, it is difficult to live a righteous life. Though we are reborn and eternally forgiven, and the righteousness of Christ has been imputed to us, the 'Old Man,' our sinful flesh, lives on. It is this flesh that is home to what remains of our sinful nature, and there is continual striving in each of us between the old ways of the flesh and the eternal ways of our new life. Paul described the ongoing battle between his will and his spirit in his letter to the church at Rome:

For we know that the law is spiritual: but I am carnal, sold under sin. For that which I do I allow not: for what I would, that do I not; but what I hate, that do I. If then I do that which I would not, I consent unto the law that [it is] good. Now then it is no more I that do it, but sin that dwelleth in me. For I know that in me (that is, in my flesh,) dwelleth no good thing: for to will is present with me; but [how] to perform that which is good I find not. For the good that I would I do not: but the evil which I would not, that I do. Now if I do that I would not, it is no more I that do it, but sin that dwelleth in me. I find then a law, that, when I would do good, evil is present with me. For I delight in the law of God after the inward man: But I see another law in my members, warring against the law of my mind, and bringing me into captivity to the law of sin which is in my members. O wretched man that I am! who shall deliver me from the body of this death? I thank God through Jesus Christ our Lord. So then with the mind I myself serve the law of God; but with the flesh the law of sin.–Romans 7:14-25

We are made in God's image (Gen 9:16), by our Lord God, who is wise, all-knowing, all-powerful, righteous and good. We must accept that our God is not perverse, capricious, wicked or corrupt, for the revealed attributes of His nature make such impossible. Did God make a mistake when He created man? Or did He create us for torment and perverse pleasure, to be dumped in a burning lake of fire when He tires of playing with us?

To argue that the Christian has a sin nature is to argue that God either is imperfect in His ability to create, or that He is a wicked and evil being Who derives perverse pleasure from tormenting the little creatures He whipped up for His entertaiment. I do not believe this is how God is, for what we know of Him from His word paints an entirely different picture.

If Christians have a sin nature, it therefore must not be possible for us to avoid sin, yet Scripture tells us we will never be tempted beyond our ability to resist.

There hath no temptation taken you but such as is common to man: but God [is] faithful, who will not suffer you to be {tempted} above that ye are able; but will with the temptation also make a way to escape, that ye may be able to bear [it].–1 Corinthians 10:13

This being so, why is it that the issue of “our sin nature” is so often raised from Christian pulpits? Perhaps the idea that the sinful nature of the flesh somehow may be transmitted to the regenerated believer is considered useful by many who profess the Christian faith. One reason that springs to mind is that, by claiming we have a sin nature, we are able to rationalize our sinful ways. After all, if it is our nature to sin, then why try to avoid it? Since we are naturally sinful, then there is no need to feel remorse for doing "what comes naturally." I submit the concept of a sin nature is nothing more than a cop out to help Christians avoid taking responsibility for the sinful things we do.

I do not believe that spiritual man has a sin nature, though natural man surely does. In that Jesus of Nazareth, our God become Man, was not born of the seed of a man, born without the stain of original sin, He could not have had a sin nature.

Was Jesus tempted? Did He feel the same stirrings and urges as us? Scripture clearly tells us He was fully and completely man, tempted in all the ways men are tempted.

But we see Jesus, who was made a little lower than the angels for the suffering of death, crowned with glory and honour; that he by the grace of God should taste death for every man. For it became him, for whom are all things, and by whom are all things, in bringing many sons unto glory, to make the captain of their salvation perfect through sufferings. For both he that sanctifieth and they who are sanctified are all of one: for which cause he is not ashamed to call them brethren, Saying, I will declare thy name unto my brethren, in the midst of the church will I sing praise unto thee. And again, I will put my trust in him. And again, Behold I and the children which God hath given me. Forasmuch then as the children are partakers of flesh and blood, he also himself likewise took part of the same; that through death he might destroy him that had the power of death, that is, the devil; And deliver them who through fear of death were all their lifetime subject to bondage. For verily he took not on him the nature of angels; but he took on him the seed of Abraham. Wherefore in all things it behoved him to be made like unto his brethren, that he might be a merciful and faithful high priest in things pertaining to God, to make reconciliation for the sins of the people. For in that he himself hath suffered being tempted, he is able to succour them that are tempted.--Hebrews 2:9-18

In Word Pictures in the New Testament, Volume V, A. T. Robertson explains how Hebrews 2:17 is to be understood in these words:

(4:15:) ...."One that hath been tempted" (pepeirasmenon). Perfect passive participle of (peirazo), as already shown in 2:17f. "Without sin" (choris hamartias). This is the outstanding difference that must never be overlooked in considering the actual humanity of Jesus. He did not yield to sin. But more than this is true. There was no latent sin in Jesus to be stirred by temptation and no habits of sin to be overcome. But he did have "weaknesses" (astheneiai) common to our human nature (hunger, thirst, weariness, etc.). Satan used his strongest weapons against Jesus, did it repeatedly, and failed. Jesus remained "undefiled" (amiantos) in a world of sin (John 8:46). This is our ground of hope, the sinlessness of Jesus and his real sympathy.

Vine's Expository Dictionary defines Peirazo, the Greek word translated "tempted" in the Hebrews passage above with these additional comments:

PEIRAZO signifies (1) to try, attempt, assay, (2) to test, try, prove, in a good sense, said of Christ and of believers, Heb. 2:18, where the context shows that the temptation was the cause of suffering to Him, and only suffering, not a drawing away to sin, so that believers have the sympathy of Christ as their High Priest in the suffering which sin occasions to those who are in the enjoyment of communion with God; so in the similar passage in 4:15; in all the temptations which Christ endured, there was nothing within Him that answered to sin. There was no sinful infirmity in Him. While He was truly man, and His Divine nature was not in any way inconsistent with His Manhood, there was nothing in Him such as is produced in us by the sinful nature which belongs to us; in Heb. 11:37, of the testing of O.T. saints; in 1 Cor. 10:13, where the meaning has a wide scope, the verb is used of testing as permitted by God, and of the believer as one who should be in the realization of his own helplessness and his dependence upon God... -- W. E. Vine, Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words, "Tempt", Vol. 4, p. 116, (C) 1981, Fleming H. Revell Company

Why don't we live as we should? After all, we do have the guide book for righteous living, God's holy Word. The answer is, I believe, a simple one: Because we are disobedient. The true believer has free moral agency (the ability to choose), and has full control over those choices. God made that clear to Cain in Genesis 4:7: "If thou doest well, shalt thou not be accepted? and if thou doest not well, sin lieth at the door. And unto thee shall be his desire, and thou shalt rule over him."

It is tough to live a righteous life, but not impossible. Paul points this out in 1 Corinthians 10:13:

There hath no temptation taken you but such as is common to man: but God is faithful, who will not suffer you to be tempted above that ye are able; but will with the temptation also make a way to escape, that ye may be able to bear it.

To sum it all up: I believe man bears the stain of Adam's sin and is weak when it comes to avoiding sin. I do not believe that Christians have a sin nature, but that we have free agency, which we too often exercise to make sinful choices. I believe we are not doomed to fall into sin, because God has promised never to allow us to be tempted beyond our ability to resist.

I believe Jesus was fully man and that, as such, He was exposed to the same temptations as are all men. However, I do not believe He carried the sin of Adam. and I do not believe He ever yielded to temptation. He was tested, tempted and likely felt hormonal stirrings ...but He never gave in. Because He experienced the same temptations, in His flesh, as we do, He can sympathize with our anguish and go before our Father in our behalf.

My little children, these things write I unto you, that ye sin not. And if any man sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous:--1 John 2:1

These are the results of my hurried study. I hope they are of some use to you. Even if my words seem correct to you, I do urge you to do as the Bereans and search the Scriptures to see that what I write is truth. Better yet, take your questions before our Lord, and ask Him to guide your studies.

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