Able To Be Tempted: Part One

From time to time I comment on the fundamental beliefs of the Church which I attend [1].  The first and most fundamental of those beliefs (#1 of 20) reads as follow:  “We believe in one God, the Father, eternally existing, who is a Spirit, a personal Being of supreme intelligence, knowledge, love, justice, power and authority. He, through Jesus Christ, is the Creator of the heavens and the earth and all that is in them. He is the Source of life and the One for whom human life exists. We believe in one Lord, Jesus Christ of Nazareth, who is the Word and who has eternally existed. We believe that He is the Messiah, the Christ, the divine Son of the living God, conceived of the Holy Spirit, born in human flesh of the virgin Mary. We believe that it is by Him that God created all things, and that without Him was not anything made that was made. We believe in the Holy Spirit as the Spirit of God and of Christ. The Holy Spirit is the power of God and the Spirit of life eternal (2 Timothy 1:7; Ephesians 4:6; 1 Corinthians 8:6; John 1:1-4; Colossians 1:16).”

It may be unnecessary to note this, but I do not disagree with a word of this statement.  To be sure, there are aspects of this fundamental belief that can be unpacked and discussed in much greater detail, this is a very excellent and concise statement of belief that meets my full approval.  I would like to draw some attention to a statement made in the explanation of that same statement of belief that relates to our present discussion:  “Jesus Christ is called the “Word,” who “was with God” in the beginning and is also identified as “God” (John 1:1-2). All things were created through Him (John 1:3: John 1:10; Ephesians 3:9; Colossians 1:16; Hebrews 1:1-3), and He later became flesh and dwelled among human beings (John 1:14).  While in the flesh, the divine Word was emptied of divine glory and might, being human in the fullest sense—able to be tempted to sin (i.e., disobey God) but never sinning (Philippians 2:5-8; Hebrews 2:14, Hebrews 2:17; Hebrews 4:15). As a man, Jesus said that His miracle-working power came not from Himself but from God the Father (John 5:30; John 14:10).”

What I would like to do is tease out what this statement means in referring to the ability of Jesus Christ to be tempted.  We can see from the statement above–“While in the flesh, the divine Word was emptied of divine glory and might, being human in the fullest sense—able to be tempted to sin (i.e., disobey God) but never sinning (Philippians 2:5-8; Hebrews 2:14, Hebrews 2:17; Hebrews 4:15)”–that there are four verses or passages used to comment on this succinct statement about Jesus Christ being able to be tempted and being human in the fullest sense.  It is worthwhile to comment what these verses say about this so that we may understand the implications of Jesus’ humanity and what this entailed.  Since I will discuss these passages (as well as the temptations of Christ) and how they relate to the human limitations of Jesus Christ during his time on earth and how they relate to the issue of temptation. What I would like to do in the meantime is to tease apart some of the questions and implications of what it means to be able to be tempted.  This relates, as one might imagine, to the question of what difference exists between the ability to be tempted and the source of that temptation, a question that does not seem to be often asked.  Depending on where Jesus was able to be tempted, there is a distinct difference in the level and sort of understanding that Jesus would have via his experience as a human being.

We may easily note that there are two sources of temptation, broadly speaking.  One sort of temptation comes externally and the other comes internally.  It is perhaps unsurprisingly that the Bible speaks eloquently of both forms of temptation.  Concerning external temptation, Paul says in 1 Corinthians 10:12-13:  “Therefore let him who thinks he stands take heed lest he fall.  No temptation has overtaken you except such as is common to man; but God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will also make the way of escape, that you may be able to bear it.”  With regards to external temptation, we see that it is common (indeed universal) to man.  There is not a single human being in existence from Adam through Christ to any of us that has not faced external temptations to sin.  Which among us has not been invited to do something by someone we may have wanted to impress to say or do something amiss?  This sort of external temptation may come, as it did with Adam and Eve and Jesus Christ, from the direct blandishment of Satan or one of his demons.  It may come through peer pressure from other fallen and corrupt human beings or through flirtation and being in inappropriate and compromising situations.  It may come through societal pressures or the crushing weight of circumstances that make it far easier for us to view wrongdoing as a feasible option than might be the case in a more relaxed environment.  

But as much as we may focus on external sources of temptation, the Bible also speaks eloquently and forcefully on internal sources of temptation.  Witness, for example, the pointed comments in James 1:13-15:  “Let no one say when he is tempted, “I am tempted by God”; for God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does He Himself tempt anyone.  But each one is tempted when he is drawn away by his own desires and enticed.  Then, when desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin when it is full-grown, brings forth death.”  At face value, this would seem to suggest a strong tension with the statement that Jesus Christ was able to be tempted as a human being.  Yet if we view James’ comments as relating to internal temptation, than it is clear that regardless of whether we are looking at Jesus Christ as the preexistent Son of Man or Word or during His life as a human being in the form of a servant, then Jesus Christ never suffered this internal temptation.  Jesus Christ didn’t have desires and longings contrary to God’s ways.  He was free from the lust and envy and violence that mar our own lives.  All of the anger He had was righteous anger.  All of his love for others was unmixed with concupiscence.  He had no desire for what was forbidden, but only the desire to live (and die) according to the will of the Father, and that singleness of focus bears out that James is speaking here of a total absence on the part of God and Jesus Christ (or, implicitly, of anyone who becomes part of the Family of God and raised from death to eternal life) to transgress the boundaries of God’s ways.  As human beings, to be sure, we have that desire that gives birth to sin and grows into death, but that fallen aspect of our nature was entirely absent to Jesus Christ.  The implications of that are worth exploring, and that we will shortly do.

[1] See, for example:

About nathanalbright

I'm a person with diverse interests who loves to read. If you want to know something about me, just ask.
This entry was posted in Bible, Christianity, Church of God, Musings and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

5 Responses to Able To Be Tempted: Part One

  1. Pingback: An Introduction To The Una Natura Project | Edge Induced Cohesion

  2. Pingback: Book Review: Able To Be Tempted: Part Two | Edge Induced Cohesion

  3. Pingback: Able To Be Tempted: Part Three | Edge Induced Cohesion

  4. Pingback: The Nature Of Jesus Christ As High Priest | Edge Induced Cohesion

  5. Pingback: Book Review: The Temptation Of Christ (Heathen Edition) | Edge Induced Cohesion

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