“And the angel answered and said unto her, ‘The Holy Ghost shall come upon thee, and the power of the Highest shall overshadow thee; therefore also that Holy Thing which shall be born of thee shall be called the Son of God’”
— Luke 1:35
Jesus Christ the Savior, born of the Virgin Mary for our redemption, was sinless, did not sin, and could not sin! In this article we shall study the testimony of Holy Scripture regarding the fact of Christ’s sinlessness, how Christ was conceived and born without sin, how Christ could be sinless and yet a true human being, why His sinlessness was necessary for the redemption of sinful mankind, why Christ could not sin, and one of the chief consequences of Christ’s sinlessness: His immortality.
Consider the testimony of Holy Scripture regarding the sinlessness of Jesus Christ. The Bible teaches that Christ is the single miraculous exception to the fact established by Holy Writ that all human beings are conceived and born in sin. David confesses this truth concerning himself when he states in Psalm 51: “Behold, I was shapen in iniquity; and in sin did my mother conceive me” (v. 5). The Savior Himself explains to Nicodemus: “That which is born of the flesh is flesh” (John 3:5a); and the Apostle Paul expounds on the sinful state of man in these words: “The carnal mind is enmity against God; for it is not subject to the Law of God, neither indeed can be. So then they that are in the flesh cannot please God” (Romans 8:7-8). The reason that all human beings, except Christ, are sinners is given in Romans 5: “Wherefore, as by one man sin entered into the world, and death by sin; and so death passed upon all men, for that all have sinned” (v. 12). “Therefore as by the offence of one judgment came upon all men to condemnation…” (v. 18a), “by one man’s disobedience many were made sinners…” (v. 19a). As a direct consequence of Adam’s fall, human beings are conceived and born in sin with hereditary guilt and corruption. All human beings are sinful and live sinful lives, Christ being the only exception (Cf. I Peter 2:22)!
Scripture defines sin as “the transgression of the Law” (I John 3:4b). The Law of God teaches us how we are to be (holy, sinless, and hating sin): “Ye shall be holy: for I the Lord your God am holy” (Leviticus 19:2b). The Law of God teaches us what we are to do and not to do, condemning us for any failure in thoughts, desires, words and deeds: “Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect” (Matthew 5:48); “Whosoever shall keep the whole Law and yet offend in one point, he is guilty of all” (James 2:10). Scripture teaches that, with the exception of Christ, “There is not a just man upon earth that doeth good and sinneth not” (Ecclesiastes 7:20).
Jesus Christ is the exception to the fact that all human beings are sinners. Although He was sent by His Father “in the likeness of sinful flesh” (Romans 8:3c), He did not have sinful flesh, but was in fact sinless. Scripture describes Christ as “holy, harmless, undefiled, separate from sinners” (Hebrews 7:26b), “tempted like as we are, yet without sin” (Hebrews 4:15b). The Bible states that Christ “knew no sin” (II Corinthians 5:21a) and “did no sin” (I Peter 2:22a). The testimony of Scripture is clear. God’s holy Word tells us that Christ “is pure” (I John 3:3b) and that He “is righteous” (I John 3:7b), for “in Him is no sin” (I John 3:5b). God the Father declared Him to be the one “in whom [He is] well pleased” (Matthew 3:17). Christ Himself confessed: “I do always those things that please Him” (John 8:29b). Because He is without sin He could challenge His enemies, “Which of you convinceth [i.e. convicteth (Greek)] Me of sin?” (John 8:46a). All other human beings must acknowledge their sinful nature and sinful actions (I John 1:8, 10); but Christ could neither admit to sin nor have a guilty conscience concerning sin, for He had no sin! Christ “went about doing good” (Acts 10:38b) and never did any evil. Therefore, the false accusations of His enemies could neither affect His conscience nor convict Him of any moral fault! The Old Testament foretells His innocence in Isaiah 53 where we read: “He had done no violence, neither was any deceit in His mouth” (v. 9); and the Apostle Peter declares the historical fulfillment of this prophecy, describing Christ’s sinless, perfect obedience under the greatest duress: “[He] did no sin, neither was guile found in His mouth; who, when He was reviled, reviled not again; when He suffered, He threatened not but committed Himself to Him that judgeth righteously” (I Peter 2:22-23).
In addition to all the previously mentioned statements regarding Christ’s sinlessness, we also have the following acknowledgements, based upon their mere observation, that He was a righteous man who manifested a righteous life here in this world: Pontius Pilate stated he found “no fault in Him” (John 19:4). Pilate’s wife called Him “that just man” (Matthew 27:19). Judas Iscariot called His blood “innocent” (Matthew 27:4). The penitent malefactor confessed: “This man hath done nothing amiss” (Luke 23:41); and the Roman centurion at the cross stated “Certainly this was a righteous man” (Luke 23:47b). Even the demons, speaking out of the mouth of their possessed victim, said: “I know Thee who Thou art, the Holy One of God” (Mark 1:24c; cf. James 2:19).
How was Christ conceived and born without sin? Our title verse tells us that His human nature was conceived supernaturally by the power of the Holy Ghost. The angel Gabriel told Mary, “The Holy Ghost shall come upon thee, and the power of the Highest shall overshadow thee; therefore also that Holy Thing which shall be born of thee shall be called the Son of God” (Luke 1:35). Sin does not belong to the essence of man; Adam and Eve were true human beings before they fell into sin; but after the Fall, those sinful human beings passed sin, depravity and death unto all of their descendants. All other human beings are sinful because they are begotten in the normal course of nature and inherit sin from their parents (John 3:6; Romans 5:12-21), as did David (Psalm 51:5). Jesus is a true human being because He was conceived in and born of a human mother. He was called “holy” because He was conceived without original sin by the miraculous working of God the Holy Ghost! (Matthew 1:18).
The fact of Christ’s sinlessness is clearly established on the basis of all the proof passages cited previously. Why was Christ’s sinlessness necessary for the redemption of the entire sinful human race, for the justification of all mankind, and for their ultimate salvation? In order to redeem us, Jesus Christ took our place under God’s Law to fulfill it perfectly (active obedience), to bear our full guilt and punishment (passive obedience), and thereby ransom us to God — “the Just for the unjust” (I Peter 3:18). Only a perfect, sinless man could fulfill the Law perfectly. As a holy person, Christ lived a holy life and so fulfilled the Law in the place of all mankind (Galatians 4:4-5). He came to “fulfill all righteousness” (Matthew 3:15), and His righteous fulfillment of the Law brings justification to mankind: “By the righteousness of One [Christ] the free gift came upon all men unto justification of life…by the obedience of One [Christ] shall many be made righteous” (Romans 5:18b-19b). This is why the Lord through the Prophet Jeremiah gives Christ the title: “The Lord Our Righteousness” (Jeremiah 23:6). In order to give a perfect, righteous ransom to pay for all sins, our High Priest had to be sinless. The writer to the Hebrews states: “For such an High Priest became us [was necessary for us], who is holy, harmless, undefiled, separate from sinners, and made higher than the heavens; who needeth not daily, as those high priests, to offer up sacrifice, first for His own sins, and then for the people’s; for this He did once, when He offered up Himself. For the Law maketh men high priests which have infirmity; but the word of the oath, which was since the Law, maketh the Son, who is consecrated for evermore” (Hebrews 7:26-28). Peter also stresses the sinlessness of Christ in His ransom sacrifice: “Forasmuch as ye know that ye were not redeemed with corruptible things as silver and gold from your vain conversation received by tradition from your fathers, but with the precious blood of Christ, as of a lamb without blemish and without spot” (I Peter 1:18-19). Scripture denies that any sinner could save even one other sinner: “None of them can by any means redeem his brother, nor give to God a ransom for him; (for the redemption of their soul is precious, and it ceaseth for ever)” (Psalm 49:7-8). Christ could, and did, redeem all men because He was sinless. The fact that He was also God Incarnate made both His active and passive obedience sufficient for all mankind (Romans 5:19; I John 1:7). If Christ had been a sinner, He could not have been a Savior.
But Christ could not sin. This fact is clear when we consider that the human nature of Christ was assumed by the Son of God at the very moment of conception. As one undivided and indivisible person, the God-Man could not sin; for God cannot sin! James tells us, “Let no man say when he is tempted, ‘I am tempted of God;’ for God cannot be tempted with evil, neither tempteth He any man” (James 1:13). Christ is God, and therefore this statement applies to Him also according to His human nature. We have this testimony of Christ from God the Father recorded in the Epistle to the Hebrews: “Unto the Son He saith, ‘Thy throne, O God, is forever and ever; a scepter of righteousness is the scepter of Thy kingdom. Thou hast loved righteousness and hated iniquity; therefore God, even Thy God, hath anointed Thee with the Oil of Gladness above Thy fellows’” (Hebrews 1:8-9). Since the human nature of Christ never existed apart from the Son of God, Christ could not sin! (Luke 1:35; John 1:14; Colossians 2:9).
As the sinless one, Christ was charged with the sins of every other human being and, under that imputed guilt, bore the full punishment necessary to make Himself the object of God’s wrath instead of us: “He is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world” (I John 2:2). Christ was a sinner by imputation only as Scripture clearly states: “He [God the Father] hath made Him [Christ] to be sin for us, who knew no sin [Better according to the Greek: “He hath made Him, who knew no sin, to be sin for us”]; that we might be made the righteousness of God in Him” (II Corinthians 5:21).
Finally, it is important to note one of the chief consequences of the sinlessness of Christ’s human nature: His immortality. Since death is sin’s wages (Genesis 2:17, 3:17-19; Romans 5:12, 6:23a), and Christ is without sin, His human nature is not subject to death; it is immortal. Christ died for us to fulfill the Scriptures (I Corinthians 15:3); Christ died because He willed to die, laying down His life as God’s lamb to redeem us. In His own words He affirms: “No man taketh it from Me, but I lay it down of Myself. I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it again. This commandment have I received of My Father” (John 10:18). In his Christian Dogmatics, J. T. Mueller says, “The death of the Sinless One, who Himself was immortal, was the ransom (Matthew 20:28; I Timothy 2:6) by which He purchased life for sinful mankind” (J. T. Mueller, Christian Dogmatics, p. 260). And, in his First Epistle to Timothy, the Apostle Paul testifies: “There is one God and one Mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, who gave Himself a ransom for all to be testified in due time” (2:5-6).
Our sinless Savior was conceived and born for our eternal salvation. As our sinless substitute, He did all that was required to redeem us to God. He is “the end of the Law for righteousness” (Romans 10:4a) and the “one sacrifice for sins forever” (Hebrews 10:12). “For Christ also hath once suffered for sins, the Just for the unjust, that He might bring us to God.” (I Peter 3:18).
May our gracious God ever move us by the means of His precious Gospel to put all our trust in our sinless Redeemer and His perfect merits for our salvation! Amen.
—E. J. W.