The orthodox teaching of the church has always been that Christ is fully God and fully man. Christ was tempted at every point like as we are, but with one exception—unlike us he had no sin nature, and, in fact, did not sin (Heb 4:15): Christ as God could not have sinned. But apart from not having a sin nature, Jesus was “made like his brothers in every way”; indeed, the author of Hebrews can countenance nothing less (2:17).
Surely, we exclaim, there must be some additional exception to this statement! But as we look at the proposed exceptions, none seems to meet the test of Scripture:
- Some suggest that Christ never got sick. But the author of Hebrews says that Christ was acquainted with our weaknesses (Heb 4:15). His earthly body was not glorified until after the Resurrection, and his vital connection with Mary would suggest that his body broke down just as ours from the effects of hunger, thirst, disease, and injury. There is no reason to think that he had any sort of “super-immunity” to shield him from these things. And when his body was subjected to the torture of the Passion, his horribly battered body ultimately stopped working: he died. We must insist, of course, that he had no personal sin or imputed guilt, but this does not mean that he escaped the inherited effects of sin on the human race in general.
- Some suggest that Christ never suffered the effects of clumsiness and was always perfectly efficient in all that he did. But this does not follow either. Like the rest of us he tripped and stumbled as he learned to walk. In the carpenter’s shop, he did not at first hit all his nails squarely, and perhaps even struck his thumb or forefinger on occasion. That’s an ordinary part of learning, and there is no reason to think that he escaped this process of maturation (Luke 2:52). Surely he developed a healthy work ethic, but there is no reason to believe that he was anything more than an ordinary, hard-working carpenter’s apprentice (Isa 53:3–4).
- Others have suggested that his body and blood were constitutively different from ours and even “divine” in nature—that there was something in their physical properties that made them intrinsically more capable of atoning for sin. But Hebrews 2:17 tells us that the palpable reason why Christ was able to make atonement for sin is his absolute identification with his brothers. His blood atoned not because of its constitutive superiority, but because of the sinlessness of the person who spilled it. In fact, if his body and blood are constitutively different from ours, his death does not help us at all. Our very redemption is jeopardized if we confound the divine and human natures of Christ.
One might look at the points above with consternation and conclude that I am denigrating the greatness of our Lord Christ by humanizing him overly much. On the contrary, Paul teaches us that the degree of Christ’s exaltation is coordinate with and dependent on the degree of his humiliation:
[Christ Jesus], being in very nature God,
did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage;
rather, he made himself nothing
by taking the very nature of a servant,
being made in human likeness.
And being found in appearance as a man,
he humbled himself
by becoming obedient to death—
even death on a cross!
Therefore God exalted him to the highest place
and gave him the name that is above every name,
that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow,
in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord,
to the glory of God the Father (Phil 2:6–11).