During the Christmas season, as we consider the birth of Jesus, we are reminded how God became like us. But, it is also important to remember how Jesus is also unlike us.
Because Jesus’ life is the sinless human life—the life that we are supposed to live by empowering grace through the Holy Spirit—it is important that we carefully examine the human life of Jesus. Unlike us, Jesus alone is without sin (2 Cor. 5:21; Heb. 9:14; 1 Pet. 2:22, 1 John 3:5). While the Bible is clear that Jesus never sinned, the question of whether he had a sin nature as we do has been a point of historical division between various Christian traditions, and leads us to an important aspect of the Incarnation.
The Eastern church says that Jesus did have a sin nature. They focus on Romans 8:3 (that the Father sent his own Son “in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin”) and Hebrews 4:15 (which says he was one “who in every respect has been tempted as we are”). They then argue that this could not be if Jesus did not have any of the sinful thoughts or desires like the ones we wrestle with all the time. It is then argued that although Jesus had a sin nature, he overcame it and showed us the perfect obedience that we can follow to live holy lives.
On the other hand, the Western church says Jesus did not have a sin nature. They focus on Hebrews 7:26–27: We “have such a high priest, holy, innocent, unstained, separated from sinners, and exalted above the heavens. He has no need, like those high priests, to offer sacrifices daily, first for his own sins.” It is argued that if Jesus had a sin nature, he could not fit this description. Furthermore, if he had sinful character, then he would be a sinner.
I am inclined to agree with the Western church and see the “likeness of sinful flesh” in Romans as a point of similarity rather than a point of character whereby Jesus had a sin nature. Subsequently, as the “last Adam” (1 Cor. 15:45), Jesus was like the first Adam prior to the fall—without a sin nature—and therefore had a completely free will to choose obedience out of love for God the Father.
Because Jesus is like us in that he was tempted, yet unlike us in that he never did sin, he can help us when we are tempted and show us how to escape sinful situations. Hebrews 2:17–18 says:
Therefore he had to be made like his brothers in every respect, so that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in the service of God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people. For because he himself has suffered when tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted.
Jesus alone can mediate between God and us because he alone is fully God and fully man and thereby able to perfectly represent both God and man. This is precisely what the Bible teaches: “For there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus” (1 Tim. 2:5). Regarding the vital importance of both Jesus’ humanity and divinity, theologian Jonathan Edwards says:
First, I would consider Christ’s taking upon him our nature to put himself in a capacity to purchase redemption for us. This was absolutely necessary, for though Christ, as God, was infinitely sufficient for the work, yet to his being in an immediate capacity for it, it was needful that he should not only be God, but man. If Christ had remained only in the divine nature, he could not have purchased our salvation; not from any imperfection of the divine nature, but by reason of its absolute and infinite perfection; for Christ, merely as God, was not capable either of obedience or suffering.
In other words, to redeem man, Christ, who is eternally fully God, first had to become fully man in order to fully reconcile men to God. As you consider Jesus during this holiday season, why do you appreciate the ways he is both like and unlike you? Why?