Tuesday, September 22, 2015
The Holiness of Jesus
In a Bible study this week the question of the sinlessness of Jesus came up.
How could he be sinless, if he were indeed a true man? Men are, by definition and universal experience, sinful. Being a sinless man is like being a round square... or a yucky piece of bacon. It's unthinkable.
This is a great question, and there are a few different ways to come at it. And all of them are edifying.
First of all, remember that man as he was originally created was actually not sinful. Not at all. Man was originally created in knowledge, righteousness, and holiness.
The corruption and shame and guilt—with which we are now sadly well acquainted—came later, when man "fell" into sin. This story is told in Genesis 3. That's when our very nature ("human" nature) was corrupted.
But originally Adam and Eve were pure and innocent, walking with God (and with one another) in the garden, naked and not ashamed.
This sense of intimacy and freedom and natural dignity and instinctive obedience are some of the many important things that were lost in the Fall. When we turned away from God, it was all shattered. It all fell into ruins. And we've been longing for a return to that state ever since.
But back to Jesus... how was he born into the history of humanity unscathed by the Fall?
That takes us to Luke 1.35: "And the angel answered her, 'The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be called holy—the Son of God.'"
It is the virgin birth that makes it possible for Jesus to be truly human, but without Adam's inherited sin.
I inherited Adam's sin. So did you. And that sin has two parts: legal guilt and a corrupted nature.
(To think about the difference between legal guilt and a corrupted nature, consider this: oak trees do not have legal guilt... but they do now have a corrupted nature—because of creation's bondage to the curse of sin. That is to say, all oak trees will die. See Romans 8.20-22. They will die because of Adam's sin. But we, Adam's unruly descendants, not only have that corrupted nature; we have also inherited his legal guilt.)
But the fact that Jesus was virgin born—without a human father—means that that line of descent from Adam was partially broken. Jesus did not descend from Adam in the same way I did or you did.
This is why the legal guilt and corrupted nature that belong to us did not belong to Jesus.
As the angel said to Mary, "therefore the child to be born will be called holy." It was the Holy Spirit that brought about the conception of Jesus in the womb of Mary, not a descendant of Adam.
By the way, I'm not saying that the transmission of sin only comes through the father. Scripture does not make that claim, and neither will I. But in the case of Jesus, the line of descent from Adam was broken. It was interrupted. Jesus was conceived by the Holy Spirit.
In Luke 1.35 that is the event that's bound up with the holiness of Jesus. He inherited no legal guilt. He inherited no corrupted nature.
And yet, he was fully human. As Adam and Eve were fully human, before the death and decay of sin. He assumed the "true" human nature; not the false and guilty and corrupted one.
And by the way... because he assumed a human nature... he could now redeem it. He could redeem it from both the legal guilt and the corrupted nature.
And he did.
Praise be to Jesus, "the Sovereign Lord, holy and true" (Revelation 6.10).