Archive for the 'Temptation' Category


discipline… an initiative of grace (3)

In two previous posts we considered God’s discipline and church discipline in the life of a believer.  It is time to reflect a little on self-discipline.   In reality, God’s discipline and church discipline are only necessary because we fail, as Christians, to discipline ourselves.

Paul comments, in a context where some were sick and had died because of God’s discipline among them,

1Cor 11:31-32 (ESV)
But if we judged ourselves truly, we would not be judged. But when we are judged by the Lord, we are disciplined so that we may not be condemned along with the world.

Self-discipline is at the heart of godly gospel living.  It is an integral part of the purpose and product of the gospel.  Paul writing to Titus says,

Titus 2:11-14 (ESV)
For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people, training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age, waiting for our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify for himself a people for his own possession who are zealous for good works.

The gospel ‘redeems’ from the indiscipline of ‘lawlessness’ and trains us to live a life of self-discipline.  This discipline is firstly a putting to death of all that is self-willed (renouncing ungodliness and worldly passions) and secondly an embracing of all that is God’s will ( and living  self-controlled, upright, and godly lives).  God’s grace teaches us to discipline ourselves.

Thus we discover that a prerequisite for an elder is that he be self-disciplined.

Titus 1:8 (ESV)
‘… a lover of good, self-controlled, upright, holy, and disciplined’

Those who lead in the church must have grown in grace and learned how to discipline their natural impulses and passions.  They must have learned how to live with these in the place of death.  Only when this discipline is obvious may they be leaders among God’s people.  It is this self-discipline that Jesus speaks of in the Sermon on the Mount (and repeats in Matt 18).

Matt 5:29-30 (ESV)
If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body be thrown into hell. And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body go into hell.

The language is as dramatic as its advice is drastic.  Of course he does not mean that we ought literally to gouge out our eye or guillotine our hand.  He is calling for us to execute, put to death, all temptations to sin as soon as they arise, however emotionally painful.  It is a call, proleptically, to  participation in his own death and resurrection.  The dominant NT paradigm for Christian living is the death and resurrection of Christ.

We are called to live as those who have died to our old pre-conversion life.  We have, in our death with Christ, renounced ‘all ungodliness and worldly passions’.  We have died to sin and its reign and so we must not ‘present our members to sin as instruments for unrighteousness’ instead, living as we now do to God in Christ, we must ‘present our members to God as instruments of righteousness’ (Roms 6:13).  Such living is but the logic, the inevitable corollary, of grace in our lives; it is the reality of living in the reign and realm of grace (Roms 6:14).  Grace properly grasped will lead us to holy living for grace removes not only sin’s guilt but its grip.  Where holy aspirations are absent and where grace is treated merely as a sedative for a guilty conscience we have neither grasped grace nor been grasped by grace. Grace is not freedom to sin but freedom from sin.  Let me repeat Paul’s words yet again, for they bear repeating,

Titus 2:11-14 (ESV)
For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people, training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age, waiting for our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify for himself a people for his own possession who are zealous for good works.

Grace produces godliness: where there is no godliness there is no grace.  Where there is no Christ-likeness there is no Christ.  Where there is no sanctification there is no justification; the grace that declares us righteous also disciples us in righteousness.   Sin is not merely a debt it is also a dominion and grace both pays the debt and breaks the dominion.  Deliverance and discipline go hand in hand; apart from discipline there is only sin’s dominion and death.   Proverbs reminds us,

Prov 5:22-23 (ESV)
​​​​​​​​The iniquities of the wicked ensnare him, ​​​​​​​and he is held fast in the cords of his sin. ​​​ ​​​​​​​​He dies for lack of discipline, ​​​​​​​and because of his great folly he is led astray. ​​​

Paul knows only too well how critical this discipline of grace is.

1Cor 9:24-27 (ESV)
Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one receives the prize? So run that you may obtain it. Every athlete exercises self-control in all things. They do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable. So I do not run aimlessly; I do not box as one beating the air. But I discipline my body and keep it under control, lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified.

Now it is difficult to be certain whether ‘disqualified’ means a loss of reward or a loss of soul.  I suspect the latter.  Certainly that is the consistent reason in Scripture why discipline is presented as critical.  We saw this in the previous two posts.  God disciplines his children that they ‘may not be condemned with the world’ (1 Cor 11:31,32).  Church discipline is so that ‘the spirit may be saved on the day of the Lord’ (1 Cor 5:5).  Proverbs makes clear that a man ‘dies for a want of discipline‘ (Prov 5:22,23).  And most important of all, Jesus makes clear that the person who does not discipline his wayward eyes will be in danger of being ‘thrown into hell‘ (Matt 5:29, 18:9).

And so, Paul refuses to simply play at being a believer.  He isn’t aimlessly shadow-boxing.  He is in deadly earnest as he fights those inward passions that war against the soul.  He will tolerate nothing that may draw his heart away from Christ for he knows it is not those who praise and profess faith who are safe but those who practise it, those who fight, faith’s fight.  He disciplines himself for he knows what happens to those who do not,

1Cor 10:1-5 (ESV)
For I want you to know, brothers, that our fathers were all under the cloud, and all passed through the sea, and all were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea, and all ate the same spiritual food, and all drank the same spiritual drink. For they drank from the spiritual Rock that followed them, and the Rock was Christ. Nevertheless, with most of them God was not pleased, for they were overthrown in the wilderness. 

It’s possible to pass through the Red sea (be baptized) and eat the same spiritual food (the bread of communion) and drink the same spiritual drink (the cup of communion) and not enter the promised land.  Thus Paul guards his heart and mind.  He gives no quarter to ‘the flesh’.  He sets his affections on things above and not on things on the earth.  He walks in the Spirit, putting on the Lord Jesus and making no provision for the flesh and its desires.  He says ‘No’ to ungodliness and worldly passions. He rigorously disciplines himself.

The grace of God trains us to discipline ourselves and so we grow in grace.  Grace and discipline are not incongruent.  The expression ‘the discipline of grace’  is not an oxymoron.  God’s grace and godly grit fit hand-in-glove.  Grace is that unmerited, unbounded provision of God for all our needs through Jesus Christ our Lord… including the need to self-discipline.  Discipline is an initiative of grace.

Grace! ‘tis a charming sound,
Harmonious to the ear;
Heaven with the echo shall resound,
And all the earth shall hear.

‘Twas grace that wrote my name
In life’s eternal book;
‘Twas grace that gave me to the Lamb,
Who all my sorrows took.

Grace taught my wandering feet
To tread the heavenly road;
And new supplies each hour I meet,
While pressing on to God.

Grace taught my soul to pray,
And made mine eyes o’erflow;
‘Twas grace which kept me to this day,
And will not let me go.

O let Thy grace inspire
My soul with strength divine:
May all my powers to Thee aspire,
And all my days be Thine.

Philip Doddridge, 1702–1751 (Stanzas 1, 3.)

Augustus M. Toplady, 1740–1778 (Stanzas 2, 4, 5.)


the psalms – experiences of ot faith realized and resolved in christ

The Psalms are the expression of faith in Israel.  They reveal the complexity of thoughts and feelings that were the response of faith to the experience of life  in the old covenant.  Moreover, they gave individual Israelites the language and thought-forms to express and interpret their own experience according to faith.  If they express the faith of the godly in Israel then it goes without saying that they express too in many ways the faith experience of the true Israel, the Messiah; the Psalms are in large measure the words of Christ, his prayers and petitions.

In fact, I would argue, it is only in Christ that the anxieties, perplexities and apparent enigmas of faith voiced in the Psalms find their resolution.  Without their fulfilment in Christ the Psalms remain a kaleidoscope of confused and apparently contradictory faith.  Thus, in the words of the theologians, the Psalms are ultimately Christotelic – they find their goal and resolution in Christ.  Christ not only experiences the Psalms but he explains them; the disconnects of faith in the Psalms are integrated in him.  Little wonder the NT again and again cites or alludes to the Psalms as it tells and explains the story of Jesus; the Psalms expound Christ and Christ expounds the Psalms.

The Psalter opens with the ‘blessed man’ who meditates day and night in the law of the Lord and prospers in all he does.  But such a man did not exist – until Messiah.  He is the ‘blessed man’.  He is the fully obedient man, the submissive one, who ‘delights to do your will O God’ (Ps 40); the man who has God’s law within his heart (Ps 40:7).  He is the true man of Ps 8, the ‘son of man’  made for a little lower than angels for the suffering of death now crowned with glory and honour, the man to whom God has subjected the world to come (Hebs 2).  (Adam was never a ‘son of man’ though Israel was (Ps 80:7).  And so ‘son of man’ is Christ’s chosen title for himself, the true man and true Israel – a title of humility with overtones of glory. Dan 7:13)

And he is a ‘true man’ who truly suffers for he lives in a fallen world opposed to God.  The Psalter is full of the cries of innocent sufferers, the righteous who suffer unjustly for their covenant faithfulness and bring their complaint to God in belief, yet dismay, for, if the covenant is true, why should the righteous suffer (Ps 73) rather ‘in all they do they should prosper (Ps 1).  Yet, mystery of mysteries, even Messiah suffers.  He is hated and despised  because of his loyalty and zeal for the Lord – the reproaches of those who reproached the Lord fell on him (Ps 69).  Shame, burned deeply in his soul (Ps 44:15) and isolating loneliness was his lot in obedience withering his soul (Ps 102).  Some who are so tried find deliverance in life but many do not.  Such is the experience of the godly sufferer in Psalm 22.  Others trusted and were delivered but he was not; he lay in the dust of death.  He knows what it is to make unrequited pleas for deliverance.  He knows, as no other, the forsakenness and forlornness of soul of one whose loud existential  ‘why’ echoes around the empty and pitiless heavens.   The language of this Psalm and many others that express the suffering of the godly is the language of the Christ. In Messiah, this suffering will be fully experienced and ultimately explained. It is the language on his lips on the cross (Mk 15:34).  Yet in all this harrowing there is no failure of faith.  He knows that when tested no fault will be found (Ps 17).  Even in death, in faith he will cry ‘it is finished’ and commit his spirit to the one who judges righteously.  His faith in death awaits and anticipates resolution.  If we wish to see the interior of the one whose self-given title was ‘son of man’ and who was made in all points like his brothers and tested as they (apart from sin) then we must bathe our minds in the cries of those who suffer unjustly in the Psalms.

Even the weight of sin and its consequences expressed in many psalms find their echo in Messiah.  We must be very careful here.  He had no sin to confess but as the sin-bearer, the one who was ‘made-sin’ (2 Cor 5) he knew only to well what the crushing weight of sin entailed.  The sins that overwhelm him seem more than the hairs of his head (Ps 40; 38:4).  He knows what it is to have the wrath of God sweep over him and lie heavily upon him (Ps 88) and what it is to be cast off and rejected and know God’s full wrath against him (Ps 89).  Note well the wrath-bearing!  The green tree enters into the same judgement (burning) as the tree that is dry (Ps 52:8; Lk 23:31).  Indeed this Psalm explores another theme.  It is not simply the enigma of wrath against a righteous sufferer, it is wrath against God’s ‘anointed’ (Ps 89:38), wrath against the Messiah, the appointed King.

Christ is the Davidic King of the Psalms.  He is the one anointed to bring God’s salvation (and judgement) to the nations (Ps 110:6; 22:27; 45:17).  The ‘blessed man’ of Ps 1 is the anointed King of Ps 2.  Against him the nations plot and rage in vain (Cf Acts 4:25).  In vain, because God has set his King upon his holy hill of Zion and he will rule the nations.  Yet, in Ps 89, this same Davidic King with whom the Lord had promised a father son relationship, whom he declared would be his firstborn over all the kings of the earth, and whom he had covenanted to protect and whose foes to crush, finds the covenant apparently renounced, his crown lying in the dust, and his enemies triumphant (Ps 89).  Is God unfaithful?  This is the besetting fearful doubt with which Satan attacks the godly in Israel seeking to rob them of joy and faith; it is the test of faith.

Only in Christ is the resolution.  The innocent sufferer of Psalm 22 may lie in the dust of death, his pleas for deliverance apparently unheard.  The messianic King may seem to have been abandoned to his enemies, his crown lying in the dust.  But God’s promises will not fail.  God is faithful to his covenant.  He is righteous and will deliver his righteous servant (Ps 18:43).  His fulfilled promise will eclipse all expectation for he will prevail over death itself.  And the innocent sufferer of Ps 22 affirms this.  In the dust of death he declares in faith, ‘ I will declare your name to my brothers and in the midst of the great congregation I will praise you’.   In the words of another Psalm, God will not suffer his holy one to see corruption but bring him into the light of life (Ps 16); deliverance from death would in Messiah take on a new meaning and hope (Acts 2:27).

It would be in resurrection triumph the righteous sufferer, Messiah would ascend the throne and hear the divine vindication and recognition, ‘You are my son , whom today I have begotten’ (Ps 2).  In resurrection he would receive the call to enthronement,  ‘sit at my right hand until I make all your enemies your footstool’ (Ps 110:1).  He would be the King-Priest exalted above all his enemies (Ps 18) , entering after victory in battle into the holy place in glory (Ps 24) commencing a reign that would have no end (Ps 110) and whose dominion will stretch from sea to sea, and from the River to the ends of the earth (Ps 72).   Indeed, it is then, in ascension, the greatest mystery of all would be fully revealed, when, ‘I shall be to him a father and he shall be to me a son’ would be understood as more, so much more, than merely Yahweh’s adoption of a Davidic King, rather it would reveal a truly Divine relationship – that he who was the Davidic ”son of David’ (Ps 132) and the Adamic ‘son of man’ (Ps 8 ) was in the fullest sense possible the Divine ‘Son’; he was in truth the ‘Son of God’. Here is the full resolution of the enigma of the Psalms.  This makes sense of the words of Ps 110,  ‘the Lord said to my lord, ‘Sit at my right hand…’ (Ps 110) and Psalm 45, addressed to the Davidic King on ascension to the throne:

Ps 45:6-7 (ESV)
​​​​​​​​Your throne, O God, is forever and ever. ​​​​​​​The scepter of your kingdom is a scepter of uprightness; ​​​ ​​​​​​​​you have loved righteousness and hated wickedness. ​​​​​​​Therefore God, your God, has anointed you ​​​​​​​with the oil of gladness beyond your companions.

Thus, upon the resurrection of the Christ Paul writes:

Rom 1:1-6 (ESV)
Paul, a servant of Christ Jesus, called to be an apostle, set apart for the gospel of God, which he promised beforehand through his prophets in the holy Scriptures, concerning his Son, who was descended from David according to the flesh and was declared to be the Son of God in power according to the Spirit of holiness by his resurrection from the dead, Jesus Christ our Lord, through whom we have received grace and apostleship to bring about the obedience of faith for the sake of his name among all the nations, including you who are called to belong to Jesus Christ.

Total resolution awaits a future day – we too see not yet all things under the feet of man – we await the day of final and complete vindication, but like all who lived by faith in the Psalms, though with a clearer eye from a higher vantage-point, we see Jesus (his very human name) made a little lower than the angels because of the suffering of death crowned with glory and honour, and with him we await the day when all his enemies become the footstool of his feet.  This is the Lord’s doing and it is glorious in our eyes (Ps 118:23).

This is a simple outline of the Christotelic nature of the Psalms.  In these weeks that precede advent I hope to reflect on one or two of these Psalms that reveal to us the human thoughts and feelings of the word who became flesh.


how would you persuade christians to turn away from adultery?

I have regularly argued that the way to holiness is not through teaching that the Mosaic law is binding on the Christian conscience and that it must be obeyed.  A mentality of ‘law-keeping’ is not the way to grow in grace.  This does not mean that we cannot learn from the OT  law.  We can.  Christians living in the Spirit mine the Scriptures, for they know that among other things  they are profitable ‘for training in righteousness’ ‘(2 Tim 3:16).  Yet they frame all they discover about righteous living within gospel realities.

Let me illustrate what I mean.  How should a preacher persuade believers to turn away from adultery?  Below is an example of how such an exhortation may be made.  Note it uses the OT but does so recognising its redemptive-historical setting.  And note too that the gospel provides the main framework and rationale for rejecting adultery.

My brothers and sisters, we ought to loathe adultery.  David’s adultery, although forgiven, brought ramifications that devastated his family.  God is opposed to adultery and adulterers.  Don’t you know that in the OT the very heart of the law of Moses condemned adultery in its Ten Words.  So great was God’s hatred of adultery among his OT people that the law demanded the sentence of death for adulterers.  Does this not tell us how seriously God views it?   Indeed the law was only codifying and formally forbidding what men universally know in their hearts.  All cultures oppose adultery.  All codes of behaviour condemn it.

But brothers and sisters, unconverted folks may need to be reminded adultery is a sin and will bring judgement for they harden their hearts against God, but we should not. We have the life of God in our souls. This life finds adultery unthinkable. Every instinct of your renewed nature is repelled by adultery. God’s Spirit within lusts for purity not impurity. 

It is to this end of purity that we have been justified in Christ.  Why did we seek justification? We did so because we wanted to be cleared of sin. We wanted to be done with it. We saw how sinful and offensive it was and how deserving of judgement. We wished to be finished with it.  That is what we were saying when we came to God in repentance seeking his forgiveness.  How then can we allow ourselves to be attracted again to that same sin that we died to in the death of Jesus that we may be freed from it?  We wished to cease being slaves of sin and become instead slaves of righteousness (Rom 6).  That is what we have been freed from accusation and sin to become.  Our calling is to yield our bodies as instruments of righteousness and not impurity.

How can you abuse your body in this way? Your body is not yours to do with what you will. It is bought with a price and belongs to the Lord. Glorify God with your body do not use it to bring disgrace on his name. Christ’s death was precisely because of the horror and ugliness of adultery. He died that we may be cleansed from sins like this and lives that he may enable us flee them.  The grace of God renews us and recreates us in the image of Christ.  Don’t you want to be like Christ?  Of course you do, this is the desire of every renewed heart.  It is the longing of every son of the Kingdom.  The Kingdom of God and Christ is a kingdom of righteousness, loyalty, truth and faithfulness. Adultery is the very opposite of this. Don’t you know that no adulterer will inherit the Kingdom of God.  The Eternal City of God in which the righteous dwell has no adulterers.  Nothing impure enters there.  We read in Revelation that ‘outside are adulterers’

Brothers and sisters, we are people who have been delivered from sin, we have a nature that is altogether new, we are a new creation in Christ living for a new heavens and new earth in which righteousness dwells let’s put off these impurities of the old life because of which the wrath of God is coming and let us live as the people of God with pure hearts that hate every suggestion of sin and unrighteousness…’

Much more of course could be said but I think this sample-sermonette illustrates how the gospel creates a godly people and how turning away from adultery can be considered an imperative of the gospel.


in the likeness of sinful flesh… (3)

The argument of previous posts (here and here) is that Christ in his person and mission was invincible.  However, we understand the vulnerability of Christ in incarnation we must not construe it as moral vulnerability or missional vulnerability.  Jesus was never going to fail.  He was God’s servant who would not falter or be discouraged (Isa 42).

So what of his temptation?  Was it real?  Surely temptation is only real if there is the possibility of failure?  Surely he is even more worthy of our worship if he was morally vulnerable?  Surely, only by being morally vulnerable could he properly identify with us and be sympathetic?

We will consider shortly these pressing questions but once again the main point to stress is that our understanding of Christ must be informed by Scripture.  We must allow Scripture, and only Scripture,  to shape our theology of the person of Christ.  Where Scripture goes we follow and where it stops so must we.  The Son in his being is a mystery apart from what is revealed.  Only the Father knows the Son and only what he has revealed can be known (Matt 11:27).

What do we find when we read the temptation narrative?  Well, we find that although it is narrative, its theological grain is exactly the same as we have elicited from Scripture thus far – Jesus was the Son who would not fail.

Luke 4:1-13 (ESV)
And Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan and was led by the Spirit in the wilderness for forty days, being tempted by the devil. And he ate nothing during those days. And when they were ended, he was hungry. The devil said to him, “If you are the Son of God, command this stone to become bread.” And Jesus answered him, “It is written, ‘Man shall not live by bread alone.’” And the devil took him up and showed him all the kingdoms of the world in a moment of time, and said to him, “To you I will give all this authority and their glory, for it has been delivered to me, and I give it to whom I will. If you, then, will worship me, it will all be yours.” And Jesus answered him, “It is written, ​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​“‘You shall worship the Lord your God, ​​​​​​​and him only shall you serve.’” ​​​ And he took him to Jerusalem and set him on the pinnacle of the temple and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down from here, for it is written, ​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​“‘He will command his angels concerning you, ​​​​​​​to guard you,’ ​​​ and ​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​“‘On their hands they will bear you up, ​​​​​​​lest you strike your foot against a stone.’” ​​​ And Jesus answered him, “It is said, ‘You shall not put the Lord your God to the test.’” And when the devil had ended every temptation, he departed from him until an opportune time.

The temptation narrative in all three gospels is immediately preceded by Jesus’ baptism.  In his baptism he receives the Father’s imprimatur, his formal seal of eschatological (age of salvation) sonship (Cf Jn 6:27).  God publicly declares Christ as his ‘Son… in whom is all his delight‘ and seals his declaration with  the empowering Holy Spirit (Matt 2:16); the Spirit is always the seal of eschatological sonship (Roms 8; Gals 4:6; Ephs 1 ).

A few points should be noted.

  • the prelude… Jesus baptism

The declaration ‘You are my son in whom is all my delight‘ is a composite of two OT texts (Ps 2; Isa 42).  The first speaks of God’s eschatological Son (this is my son); it is a celebration of his invincibility.  The nations (evil) conspire against the Lord and his anointed King (son) but their attempts to defeat are futile and risible.  The Son will, we read,

Ps 2:8-9 (ESV)
…break them with a rod of iron ​​​​​​​and dash them in pieces like a potter’s vessel.”

The second text (in whom is all my delight) draws from the OT eschatological servant songs (Isa 42) which again celebrates invincibility.  God says of Jesus,

Isa 42:1-4 (ESV)
Behold my servant, whom I uphold, ​​​​​​​my chosen, in whom my soul delights; ​​​​​​​I have put my Spirit upon him; ​​​​​​​he will bring forth justice to the nations. ​​​ ​​​​​​​​He will not cry aloud or lift up his voice, ​​​​​​​or make it heard in the street; ​​​ ​​​​​​​​a bruised reed he will not break, ​​​​​​​and a faintly burning wick he will not quench; ​​​​​​​he will faithfully bring forth justice. ​​​ ​​​​​​​​He will not grow faint or be discouraged ​​​​​​​till he has established justice in the earth; ​​​​​​​and the coastlands wait for his law.

The servant will resolutely accomplish God’s purpose.  He will not grow faint or be discouraged.

Thus, both OT texts affirm assured victory.  In the former, he is enabled by the Lord, and in the latter, by the Lord and his Spirit.  And so, as we approach the temptation that immediately follows, narratively we are not anticipating failure but expecting success.  Jesus, it has already been signalled, is the invincible Servant-King through whom God’s purposes are assured.

  • the event… Jesus’ temptation

Luke takes care to tell us that ‘Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit‘ is ‘led by the Spirit’ into the wilderness.  Here as ‘Son’ he will be tested.

The intended background to Jesus’ temptation is the previous testing of both Israel and Adam.  Both were God’s ‘son’.  Israel’s sonship led to her being brought into the wilderness (a place of testing, see here).  Jesus’ forty days parallel’s Israel’s forty years.  Significantly too all Jesus’ answers come from Deuteronomy and the period of Israel’s testing.  In Luke (whose target audience is not merely Jewish but international), the temptation is linked also with Adam.  Luke signals this by informing us immediately before the temptation that Adam was ‘the son of God’ (Lk 3:38).

Both Adam and Israel were ‘sons’ tested by God.  Adam was tested as sinless humanity in an idyllic setting and Israel as sinful humanity in the wilderness yet cared for there by God (Isa 5).  Both singularly failed.  The message was clear, humanity, by its own resources,  unfallen or fallen, could not resist sin and could not bring glory to God.   God could say of neither Adam nor Israel, ‘this is my son with whom I am well pleased‘.

Jesus was different.  He was not tested in the idyll of a garden.  Nor was tested in a wilderness where every need was being met and he was secure in the company of others.  He was tested in a wilderness where he was alone, ate and drank nothing for forty days, and was surrounded by wild beasts.  Yet he triumphed and his triumph is never in doubt.  Immediately the invidious suggestion comes from Satan, he responds with a rebuff from Scripture.  The narrative has no trace of prevarication or indecision.  There is not the slightest hint that he dallies with the temptation.  In each case his response is as immediate as it is unequivocal; it is written… it is written… it is written.

We must allow the narrative to drive our theology.  Jesus is the Son who will not fail and the reason is he  is a ‘Son’ of a different order.  Luke has made it clear this Son is of a different order; he is anointed with the Spirit of God and thus his conquest is sure (not to mention the other aspects of his invincibility we have considered in earlier posts).  The point narratively of the testing  is not to hold the reader on tenterhooks wondering if he may fail but to demonstrate Christ’s moral strength.  Satan cannot defeat him.  The temptation is to prove the invincibility of Christ not to probe for possible weaknesses in his armour. Satan is the strong man but Christ is the stronger man who overcomes him.  It is not a contest of equals.   The narrative ends with Satan, for a time at least, obliged to give up the fight; Jesus’ might is established.

  • and more temptation… a man of sorrows

Of course this was not the end of Satan’s attacks.  Jesus anticipates a concentrated attack at the cross.  It is an ‘hour’ he contemplates with great anguish of soul.  He longs that it need not be (let this cup pass… )  but if no other way is possible then so be it (nevertheless not my will…  the cup that my father has given me to drink shall I not drink it).  Anguish of soul and longing for ‘another way’ is completely understandable (especially as it involves the Holy One being made sin and the  One who lived ‘in the bosom of the father’ being forsaken) and is not to be confused with indecision, cowardice, or a fear of failure.  Anticipating the cross just hours away, he says to his disciples

John 14:30 (Darby)
I will no longer speak much with you, for the ruler of the world comes, and in me he has nothing


John 14:30 (RSV)
I will no longer talk much with you, for the ruler of this world is coming. He has no power over me

Satan held the world in his grip but Jesus’ knew Satan had no traction on him.  Certain that Satan’s attack and that of the hostile nations (Ps 2) was imminent ( it is your hour and the power of darkness, Lk 22:51) he is nonetheless completely confident of victory.  Indeed, if his faith is firm, how could he be otherwise?  Even on the cross, his soul may be poured out like water, his bones may stick out, and his heart melt like wax but his faith will remain strong; God will, he is sure, deliver him from the horns of the wild oxen (Ps 22:21).  Catch the confidence in his voice some time before the cross.

John 8:28-30 (ESV)
So Jesus said to them, “When you have lifted up the Son of Man, then you will know that I am he, and that I do nothing on my own authority, but speak just as the Father taught me. And he who sent me is with me. He has not left me alone, for I always do the things that are pleasing to him.” As he was saying these things, many believed in him.

Jesus fully expects in death as in life to do only what the Father has authorised and commanded.  The Father will be with him as always and he (the Son) will, on the cross, as ever before, do only what pleases the Father, however demanding it may be.

And it is demanding.  Jesus is even weaker physically on the cross than in the wilderness and Satan’s wrath is roused to the utmost.  He sends blasts of temptation that in many ways echo those of the wilderness, attacking his claim to be the Son of  God and calling for proof (Matt 27:32-44; Lk 23:32-44).  This time Jesus remains silent… only to ultimately cry with a loud voice, ‘It is finished’.  The narrative is instructing us again.  It was a cry of strength and victory in the midst of extreme weakness.  He then bows his head and dismisses his Spirit; the obedient Son was not conquered by death, he relinquished his life.  Even his death is in his own hands; he controls his destiny.

As I say, once again the narrative has driven the theology.  There is not a hint in Pilate’s Judgement Hall, in Herod’s Palace, before the Sanhedrin, on the Via Dolorosa, or at Golgotha, that Jesus is about to apostasise.  He has set his face as a flint.  He will not be rebellious or turn away.  He will give his back to those who strike, and his cheeks to those who pull out the beard; he will not hide his face from disgrace and spitting. And will do so in the full confidence of faith that the Lord helps him (Isa 50).  He will not, even on the brink of death, falter or be discouraged.  

In weakness and defeat
He won the meed and crown
Trod all his foes beneath his feet
By being trodden down

Such then is the biblical account of the trials of Jesus.  The paradox of the incarnation and of the Christ  is invincibility in vulnerability.


  • Surely a test or trial implies the possibility of failure?

Why?  A test or trial is not to see if I fail but to demonstrate that I am up to the job.    The test shows proficiency to the level tested.  Some who sit a test have no possibility of failure so far are their skills above the level being tested.  In Christ, the Spirit who drove Jesus into the wilderness (Mk 1:12) was more than able to sustain him. The trial merely tests the ability of the person; it has no knowledge of what that ability is.  When God calls upon his people in the OT to test him is failure a possibility (Isa 7:10; Mal 3:10)?

  • Surely we admire Jesus more if he is vulnerable?

It depends what we mean by vulnerability.  Vulnerability is different from moral susceptibility.  Christ was vulnerable to suffering but not to sin.  He knew human weakness without being morally susceptible.  What makes an admirable hero is not the possibility that he may fail (which film hero do we really expect to fail) but that succeeding costs him dearly. Success cost Jesus the deepest psychological, emotional and physical trauma – unto death.  Suffering not susceptibility makes a true hero.

In films we do not expect our heroes to fail but we expect them to be vulnerable.  That is why Superman as a hero is hard to identify with or be sympathetic to – he is mainly immune to suffering (physically at least).  Other superheroes like Batman will not fail but will suffer physically and in every other way in the process of succeeding.  Jesus, we read, ‘suffered being tempted’ (Hebs 2:18).  The cost of choosing God’s way, the narrow and hard way, made him ‘a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief’.  It led to disfigurement that made him unrecognisable as human.  He was brutalised and bruised, yet without sin.  An iron will did not mean an iron body.  Yet such was his determined purpose that he endured the cross and despised the shame (Hebs 12).  For all of this we admire him.

At every stage accepting the Father’s will involved accepting hardship, rejection, misunderstanding, hostility, betrayal and abandonment by those he loved and chose, and eventually forsakenness by God himself. as he was ‘made sin’.   The cumulative effect of this must have been utterly crushing.  Naturally his body would cry out against hunger and just as naturally he would be deeply troubled by rejection, hatred, hostility etc. None of these he relished. All of these he would gladly have foregone.  His spiritual instincts like ours were ‘lead me not into trial and deliver me from evil’, or in the words of the garden, if possible let this cup pass from me ‘  but alongside this is the resolutely indomitable ‘not my will but yours be done‘.

The ability to fail but not doing so is not the heroic; the heroic is knowingly undertaking a task that will cost everything but undertaking it anyway. The heroic is knowing yet dismissing and scorning every cost (the shame, the suffering, the crying out of frayed nerves, emotional exhaustion, the deep hurt of unrequited love, the engulfing screams of torn flesh and muscle, the blackness of a soul abandoned) because of the joy that lay ahead (Hebs 12).

  • Surely if he is invincible then he had no need to trust.

Invincibility we are told obviates the need for faith.  But not so.  Jesus’ invincibility has faith as its core.  He is invincible precisely because he is invincible in faith.  His faith is tested and tested to the extreme.  At times he finds himself disoriented and without comprehension (read Ps 22) but his faith never wavers.  His faith is mocked (he trusted in God let him deliver him… ) but it remains resolute.  There is never the slightest suggestion in the gospel narratives that it may (or almost did) weaken or collapse.

Indeed it was this unyielding faith that led him to experience faith at levels beyond any other.  When our faith is tested most of us cave as soon as the first glimmer of real cost or suffering  appears on the horizon.  Not so Jesus.  Faith set his face resolutely to go to Jerusalem knowing full well the cost of that journey (Isa 50:7; Lk 9:51; Matt 20:18).  Faith that worked itself out in love for the Father constrained him  ( Jn 14:31; Gals 5:6).  He will not ‘shrink back’ (Hebs 10:38, 39).  We may in suffering become bruised reeds and smoking flaxes (images of extreme fragility, ready to break) but he will not be a bruised read or smoking flax (falter or be discouraged), rather, he will sustain the weary and give them strength (Isa 42:4; Matt 11:28).  And his faith will stand firm for it depends upon the Spirit and is constantly refreshed and sustained by the Spirit (Isa 11:2, 42: 1,2; Ps 110:7).  Faith, though invincibly strong, may be severely tried in suffering (read the Psalms 22, 69 etc).

  • Surely to be truly human he must be able to sin?

Why?   Why is moral vulnerability necessary for true humanity?   We will, none of us, be morally vulnerable, in the consummated Kingdom but we will be human.   Christ is ‘not able to sin’ in heaven today and if he were our salvation would be eternally uncertain.  New creation humanity does not require ontological peccability.  The confusion here is between humanity as such and the ‘state’ of humanity.  Adam before and after the fall was human but at each point was in a different state.  Humanity in Christ (a new nature, a divine one,  sustained by the Spirit) is different in state from unfallen or fallen humanity but it is still humanity.  Likewise glorified humanity will be different in state from new creation humanity in weakness but it will no less be humanity.

  • Surely Jesus must be able to sin and feel its draw to truly identify with us and sympathise?

This argument falls down at the first hurdle.  If Jesus is to truly identify with us in the way the question wishes he must not merely be able to sin but must have actually sinned.  After all, to really empathize with us he must know what it is to have sinned.  How else could he know the shame of sin and the disintegration of moral failure?  Yet  thankfully no evangelical is audacious enough to go as far as this (thus far).  Irving and Barth (not an evangelical) may have Christ with a fallen nature but even they insist he did not sin (a contradiction).   And so there already is discontinuity from the word go.

In any case, we should be aware that Jesus, although tempted in every way that we as human’s are tempted, did not experience every human temptation.  He did not know for example the trials of old age.  He did not know the trials of being married.  Was he ever ill?  We are not told.  What we are told is that when he came into contact with the sick their illness did not pass to him (in the sense of him becoming ill) but his healing virtue passed to them.  He ‘bore our infirmities and carried our diseases’ not by experienceing them but by healing them (Matt 8:17).  Let what we know inform what we are not told.

We are told by some who claim to know that he must have been tempted sexually.  How this is known, I don’t know.  Of course, we are tempted sexually, but then, we are fallen.  Yet, even we, fallen people though we are, are not tempted in every way sexually.  For example, not everyone is tempted to homosexual sin.  Few are tempted to paedophilia or bestiality.  There are sexual sins that we are only likely to be tempted by if we are well-travelled down a road of sexual promiscuity or because of some background experience or disposition.

What is more, as we grow as Christians, we find that some temptations that once would have been really powerful become less so. Growth in holiness lessens the grip and temptation of sin at least in certain areas. If this is so with us, then we can grasp that Christ, who had no fallen nature pulling him down and was holy in every part of his being, AT THE VERY LEAST was unlikely to be tempted by gross sin. There is normally a sliding scale in degenerate temptations. When we yield as it were to one level of sin we are then tempted by the next level down and so on.

And so it is no surprise that Satan’s recorded attacks on Christ in the wilderness (and elsewhere) were not by temptation to gross sins, nor, it would appear, even sexual sins. His temptations were largely temptations to doubt his identity as ‘the Son of God’ and to feel the need to assert it and prove it. Satan attacks him at what he deems to be the area of Jesus’ vulnerability, namely, his identity and mission.  Indeed, the one trial that Jesus’ is most reluctant to undertake and asks the Father if there is another way is that of the cross.  Why?  Because there the Holy One would be made sin.  There he would know separation from his God.  From this his holy soul rightly and properly shrank.  His temptation was not to turn away from God’s will to pursue un-holiness but to maintain the fellowship of holiness.  Again, and I cannot say this often enough, we need to allow our theology of Jesus’ temptation to be framed by what Scripture reveals and not by (potentially irreverent) speculations based on our notion of what it means to be human.


The question (surely Jesus must be able to sin to truly identify with us and sympathize) is predicated on wrong ideas about Christ’s priesthood.   Christ sympathises (enters into and supports us) in our sufferings and our steadfastness but not our sin.  This is a big topic and I intend to explore it, God willing, in a post that reflects specifically on Christ’s priesthood, however, for the moment I wish simply to note that neither Christ, nor our heavenly Father, has any sympathy with our sin.  In his life on earth, Christ neither taught sympathy with sin nor exhibited sympathy with sin, why should we think he is any different now? He clearly taught,

Matt 5:29-30 (ESV)
If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body be thrown into hell. And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body go into hell.

When Peter tried to persuade him away from the cross his response was as sharp as it was forthright

Matt 16:21-23 (ESV)
From that time Jesus began to show his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things from the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised. And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him, saying, “Far be it from you, Lord! This shall never happen to you.” But he turned and said to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan! You are a hindrance to me. For you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man.”

There is no sympathy here.  Sin requires radical surgery.  It requires ruthless treatment.  What is needed for sin is not a sympathetic priest but a sharp two-edged sword (Cf. Hebs 4).  Christ’s sympathy (support and encouragement) is for the Christian as he struggles to live by faith and resist sin.  He restores the fallen and sustains the fighter but has no truck with yielding, he never sides with capitulation.  He never excuses sin or supports it.  The very idea is ridiculous.

Christ’s High Priestly strength is that he has faced our trials and knows how to overcome them.  It is this ‘knowledge’ that I want a High Priest to have. I don’t want a Priest who sympathises with my moral failure. I don’t need a priest who knows how to fail, I need a priest who knows how not to fail. I want a priest who has faced trials and resisted to the point of shedding his blood; a priest who has won every battle (Hebs 12).  Such a priest (personal trainer!) can aid me in my fight of faith for at every stage he has been there and knows my needs. And so my priest is not  Adam who was of the earth and earthy (frail) but the second man who is the Lord from heaven… Christ is the head of a new humanity (1 Cor 15:45-49).

In conclusion…

I neither need nor want a morally weak champion. I want and need one who is invincibly strong. One on whom I can depend whatever happens. One who can say to me, ‘follow me… believe in me… trust in me…’ , and I can with utter confidence do so. I want one who when he says to his Father,

Heb 10:5-7 (ESV)
Consequently, when Christ came into the world, he said, ​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​“Sacrifices and offerings you have not desired, ​​​​​​​but a body have you prepared for me; ​​​ ​​​​​​​​in burnt offerings and sin offerings ​​​​​​​you have taken no pleasure. ​​​ ​​​​​​​​Then I said, ‘Behold, I have come to do your will, O God, ​​​​​​​as it is written of me in the scroll of the book.’”

I can be utterly sure will do as he promises, for his word is his bond and what he promises he is able to fulfil. I want One, who though crushed, will never waver in his determination to fulfil his commission. I want the Christ of Scripture not theological speculation.  For this Christ  I can trust,  love, worship, and adore.

(For further reflections on our Lord’s temptation see here.)


in the likeness of sinful flesh… (2)

Matt 11:27 (ESV)
All things have been handed over to me by my Father, and no one knows the Son except the Father…

‘The problem with much modern theologizing about the humanity of Christ is that it is all too human, too fallen.’

So began and ended my last post reflecting on the person of Christ, particularly his humanity.  The biblical text makes plain we are completely closed to revelation if we are to have any appropriate understanding at all of the Son.   The final comment charges much theologizing about the person of Christ with ignoring this reality and canvassing views arising more from speculation and unfounded presuppositions than revealed truth.  When considering the imponderables of the person of Christ,  here above anywhere else, we must avoid ‘going beyond what is written’ (1 Cor 4:6).

Two common views – that Christ’s humanity was fallen like ours (a heinous view) or unfallen like Adam’s (only marginally more acceptable) – dominate Christological reflection; both views are inadequate to describe the humanity of Christ.  In a moment, we shall consider the biblical revelation but let me state the core point of what is, I have no doubt,  the biblical position; Christ’s humanity was not innocent (like Adam’s)  nor sinful (like ours), but holy.  Continuity with Adam is affirmed by Jesus being ‘the seed of the woman’.  He is Mary’s son.  Discontinuity is signalled by a virgin birth which carries with it the revelation,

Luke 1:35 (ESV)
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.

Christ’s humanity, in state (not in essence), is, I repeat, not like Adam’s, innocent (an absence of sin), nor like ours, corrupt (an attraction to sin), but holy (an abhorrence of sin).  He loved righteousness and hated lawlessness.  His was not Adam, a man of earth, child-like and without a knowledge of good and evil, but Christ, the man of heaven (1 Cor 15) , the  Spirit-filled Holy One  of God (Jn 6:69) ; holiness implies a knowledge of good and evil with an invincible preference for good and an inexhaustible hostility to evil.  Christ, in a word, is humanity in a new state, a state we call new creation.

Let’s look at some of the evidence for invincibility.

  • The OT foretells a servant of God who would not fail.

Isa 42:1-7 (ESV)
Behold my servant, whom I uphold, ​​​​​​​my chosen, in whom my soul delights; ​​​​​​​I have put my Spirit upon him; ​​​​​​​he will bring forth justice to the nations. ​​​ ​​​​​​​​He will not cry aloud or lift up his voice, ​​​​​​​or make it heard in the street; ​​​ ​​​​​​​​a bruised reed he will not break, ​​​​​​​and a faintly burning wick he will not quench; ​​​​​​​he will faithfully bring forth justice. ​​​ ​​​​​​​​He will not grow faint or be discouraged ​​​​​​​till he has established justice in the earth; ​​​​​​​and the coastlands wait for his law. ​​​ ​​​​​​​​Thus says God, the Lord, ​​​​​​​who created the heavens and stretched them out, ​​​​​​​who spread out the earth and what comes from it, ​​​​​​​who gives breath to the people on it ​​​​​​​and spirit to those who walk in it: ​​​ ​​​​​​​​“I am the Lord; I have called you in righteousness; ​​​​​​​I will take you by the hand and keep you; ​​​​​​​I will give you as a covenant for the people, ​​​​​​​a light for the nations, ​​​ ​​​​​​​​to open the eyes that are blind, ​​​​​​​to bring out the prisoners from the dungeon, ​​​​​​​from the prison those who sit in darkness.

I have already commented on this text and others and how they relate to an invincible Christ in a previous post.  The points here are very similar.

Isaiah speaks of a servant of the Lord who will ‘neither falter (grow faint) nor be discouraged‘.  He is a servant in whom the success of God’s plans is certain.  The will of the Lord will prosper in his hands (Isa 53:10).  These are just a couple out of many OT texts that anticipate a coming ruler, God’s Warrior-King, who will conquer and destroy all God’s enemies and reign in righteousness and justice (Isa 11:1-9).

There are a number of reasons for the invincibility of this ruler.

  • God providentially works on his behalf to protect and enable him.

To him, God says in Isa 42 ‘I will take you by the hand and keep you’.  In the NT, we see this ‘keeping’ right at the beginning of his life when Joseph is warned in a dream to take the child to Egypt; Jesus is providentially preserved from death at Herod’s hand.   It is simply pointless to ask speculative questions like ‘would Christ have died had a tower fallen on him’ or ‘could he have caught a fatal disease’ for the simple fact is God ensured his humanity never faced these situations.  Angels themselves are sent to minister to him when needed (Matt 4:11; Lk 22:43).

Every step of his life and circumstance from cradle to cross was ordered by God.  Pilate will not crucify him without God-given authority (Jn 19:10).  If he is taken by wicked men and crucified it is only because this is the determined counsel and foreknowledge of God (Acts 2).  The people’s of the earth plot in vain against the Lord and his anointed (Ps 2).  The Lord will sovereignly protect the woman’s child (Rev 12: 4,5).

Ps 91:7-16 (ESV)
A thousand may fall at your side, ​​​​​​​ten thousand at your right hand, ​​​​​​​but it will not come near you. ​​​ ​​​​​​​​You will only look with your eyes ​​​​​​​and see the recompense of the wicked. ​​​ ​​​​​​​​Because you have made the Lord your dwelling place- ​​​​​​​the Most High, who is my refuge- ​​​ ​​​​​​​​no evil shall be allowed to befall you, ​​​​​​​no plague come near your tent. ​​​ ​​​​​​​​For he will command his angels concerning you ​​​​​​​to guard you in all your ways. ​​​ ​​​​​​​​On their hands they will bear you up, ​​​​​​​lest you strike your foot against a stone. ​​​ ​​​​​​​​You will tread on the lion and the adder; ​​​​​​​the young lion and the serpent you will trample underfoot. ​​​ ​​​​​​​​“Because he holds fast to me in love, I will deliver him; ​​​​​​​I will protect him, because he knows my name. ​​​ ​​​​​​​​When he calls to me, I will answer him; ​​​​​​​I will be with him in trouble; ​​​​​​​I will rescue him and honor him.

But, of course, God’s ‘keeping’  must go much further merely providences, for if the servant is to conquer, he must conquer sin.  He cannot ever submit to sin for such submission is abject failure.  At the very least, if the servant is not to fail, God must keep his servant from sin.  He must keep his feet from any possibility of slipping.    In this way, even if no other, invincibility is assured.

However, invincibility is assured in other ways too.

  • He is sustained by the Spirit of God.

It is impossible to read OT or NT and fail to see that Christ is One who lives in and is anointed by the Spirit beyond all others.  He is born by the Spirit (Matt 1:20), led by the Spirit (Matt 4:1), does miracles by the Spirit (Matt 12:31) and so on.  The Spirit of the Lord rests upon him (Isa 11:1,2; Cf. Jn 1:33).  He is given the Spirit without measure (Jn 3:34).  To live and walk in the Spirit is to live and walk in invincible moral power and spiritual authority.  Those that walk in the Spirit always fulfil the just requirement of the Law (Roms 8:4).  Indeed he not only lives by the Spirit, so closely related is he too the Spirit of God  he gives the Spirit to his followers; he baptizes in the Spirit (Matt 3:11).  Indeed he sees the Holy Spirit as functionally his equivalent in the life of God’s people (Jn 14:16).   The biblical witness of the person of Christ in Scripture is of a life indivisibly united to the Holy Spirit lived constantly through the Spirit’s power and guidance.  Life in the Spirit is one of invincible power, holiness and wisdom..

  • He is a divine person

The biblical record regularly distinguishes between Christ in humiliation and exaltation.  However, the deity and humanity of Christ, while distinct, are viewed indivisibly.  It is invidious to say ‘here we have Jesus in deity… and here we have him in humanity).   The truth is his deity and humanity always work together in perfect unity; they are never in conflict.  When we look at an aspect of his humanity (his physical sufferings, for example) we must remember we are looking at a feature of one who is fully God.  When we look at a strong marker of his deity (his ability to forgive sins, for example) we must remember it is found in a person who is truly man.

John’s gospel, which stresses his deity, is careful to maintain the unity of his being.  His distinctively human title Son of Man (that most adopted by Christ) is used by John to describe his divine origins.  Thus when Jesus the Son from heaven is revealing ‘heavenly’ things (as opposed to earthly) and thus revealing his own ‘heavenly’ origin and divine identity, he is careful to call himself by his essentially human title ‘Son of Man’.

John 3:13 (ESV)
No one has ascended into heaven except he who descended from heaven, the Son of Man.

and again

John 6:62 (ESV)
Then what if you were to see the Son of Man ascending to where he was before?

Christ is the Word made flesh.  He is God’s omnipotent Word, the Word that will not return to him void (empty and ineffective)  but will accomplish what he has sent it to accomplish.  This Word  is life and light.  He is light, the true light who was coming into the world (Jn 1).  The light who would shine in the darkness and would not be overcome by it (Jn 1:5).  The light must conquer the darkness.  He was the human tabernacle that contained the glory of God.  Likewise, he was the temple, the dwelling place of God.  In the OT, tabernacle and temple both had to be purified by blood.  The Church in the NT, which is also the temple of God, can only be God’s temple on the basis of blood.  Not so Christ.  He needs no blood shed to be God’s dwelling place.  He is utterly and absolutely holy, a temple in which the fullness of the Godhead was pleased to dwell.  Such is the glory of his person that angels are constantly serving him in his needs (ascending and descending on the Son of Man (Jn 1:51).  Notice they serve him as ‘Son of man’.

Images of  word, light, tabernacle, or temple all stress the utter and invincible holiness of Christ.  It is not that he simply speaks God’s Word, he is the Word.  He does not simply have life, he is life.  He is not a light-bearer but the light itself.  He is all of these in character and essence.  He cannot be other.  He cannot be darkness.  He is light and in him is no darkness at all.  He may enter the darkness but he remains the light.  He may submit to death but he is always the life.  He may be made sin but he is ever the Holy One who cannot see corruption (Acts 2:27).    He is what he is in all his being, intrinsically and absolutely.  We lose sight of the glory of Christ if we fail to see the indomitability of his being.

Christ is the stronger man who will bind the strong man (Matt 12:29).  He is the seed of the woman who will crush the head of the serpent (Gen 3;15).  He is the lamb of God who is also the lion of the tribe of Judah (Gen 49).  He has complete power over his destiny.  He knows when his time has come and when it has not come (Jn 7: 6,8).  Although he lived in a world ruled by sin, Satan and death they had no rights over him.  Those who sin, Jesus says, are slaves of sin.  Yet he is confident enough to assert that he is without sin  (Jn 8:46).  Sin had found no footing in him.  The devil has no hold (not merely no accusation he can bring but no traction for tempting ) over him (Jn 14:30).  He has the authority to lay down his life and take it up again (Jn 10:17,18).     Failure for him is never contemplated, least of all by himself.  He will build his church and the gates of hell will not prevail against it (Matt 16:18). When they come to take him in the garden they all fall back.  Again, he is the Holy One of God (Mk 1:24).

The idea that the divine Son was united to a corrupt human nature is as barmy as it is blasphemous.  What fellowship has light with darkness, righteousness with lawlessness, the temple of God with idols (2 Cor 6).  Can a house divided against itself stand (Lk 11:17)?  The idea that he was morally vulnerable, or vulnerable to failure of any kind is completely foreign to the Christ who is revealed; the son who can do nothing by himself but only the things he sees his father doing (Jn 5:19).

Let me say again that a proper biblical Christology of Christ’s humanity never forgets Christ’s deity. The ruler of Bethlehem is one whose goings forth have been from everlasting (Mic 5:2).  The virgin’s son is Immanuel, ‘God with us’ (Matt 1).  He is conceived of the Spirit, overshadowed by the power of the highest, and the child born shall be called holy – the Son of God.  He is the Word made flesh (Jn 1).  Hebrews presents his deity (Ch 1) before his humanity (Ch2).  Right thinking about Christ’s deity prevents wrong thinking about his humanity.

  • He has humanity that is new creation

Sovereign protection and arranging, Spirit empowering, and personal Sonship (deity) all affirm and guarantee an invincible Christ.  Yet the Biblical revelation goes further.  Christ has an impeccable human nature.  He is not morally vulnerable.  He cannot sin.  That is what it means to be ‘born of God’ (1 Jn 3:9).   We Christians are ‘born of God’.  That is, we have God’s ‘seed’ implanted (1 Jn 3:9),  a life and nature that comes from God and belongs to God.   We are made ‘partakers of the divine nature’ and so have escaped the corruption that is in the world because of evil desires (2 Pet 1:4).  We have ‘put on the new man, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness (Eph 4:24) and are God’s workmanship created in Christ Jesus for good works that God has prepared beforehand (Eph 2:10).  In addition we have been baptized in the Spirit, the Spirit of Christ who empowers our new nature and life (Roms 8:9,10).  This is what it means to be ‘new creation’ (2 Cor 5;17).

What is this new life we have received?  It is the life of Christ.  We have ‘put on’ Christ.  Our new humanity is simply what it means to partake of Christ.  The new life is simply growing up in the knowledge of him. (Eph 4).  It is a life we can only share because he has died and risen yet nevertheless it is his.  The life we have is that life displayed in Christ in incarnation.  We are ‘light in the Lord, children of light (Eph 5:8) and ‘letters of Christ read by all men’.  Our ‘light’ and ‘words’ are derived from Christ.  We live, yet not us, but Christ lives in us (Gal 2:20).

Of course, we Christians sin and fail, but it is not the new nature or new life or new man that sins and fails.  It is the power of indwelling sin (the flesh within) in our still fallen condition that sins which indeed, if fed, will do nothing but sin (Roms 7).  But which of us would dream of saying that when we sin it is or may be Christ dwelling within us that sins?  Who among us would dare to say that our new nature can fail?  It is not that which is ‘born of God’ that sins (1 Jn 3:9).  That which is ‘born of God’ loves (1 Jn 4:7) and overcomes the world by faith (1 Jn 5:14), Equally it is not the Holy Spirit within who sins and fails.  It is our remaining fallen flesh that incites sin for in  fallen flesh there dwells no good thing (Roms 7).  The Spirit wars against the flesh (Gals 5).  In the full realization of new creation our bodies too will be renewed, fallen flesh will be gone and then we will never sin again.  Indeed we will be unable to sin for that is the nature of the new life from God.  This is why heaven is so sure.

We need only take this back to Christ who was ‘born of God’ to grasp the invincible holiness of his humanity.  He was created ‘born of God’.  He is the One, ‘born of God’, who keeps his own who are ‘born of God from the evil one (1 Jn 5:18).  The life that was planted in us at conversion is his life.  The nature we receive by spiritual new birth is his.   The light that shines in us is sourced in him.  If the fulness of deity dwells in Christ then the fulness of the incarnate Christ in resurrection dwells in us (Jn 1:16; Col 2:9).

The biblical profile is inescapable.  Christ is invincible in his person and any attempt to make him less than such is not engaging with the biblical composite.

I hope in the next blog to consider more directly the issue of temptation.


in the likeness of sinful flesh… (1)

Matt 11:27 (ESV)
All things have been handed over to me by my Father, and no one knows the Son except the Father…

For some reason, blogs I’ve been dropping into recently often seem to be discussing the humanity of Christ.  Unfortunately, most conversations are unsatisfactory.  There are a couple of reasons for this.

  • A lack of basic reverence

The first thing that needs to be remembered by all of us when considering the person of Christ is we are reflecting on what is most holy.  Yes, it is possible to be unduly unctuous, however, this is not our modern failing.  Some comments I read by evangelicals are less than respectful.  Many are quite gung-ho in speculating about our Lord’s person in a way that the NT writers’ clearly would have considered presumptuous, if not prurient or profane.

The modesty of   Jesus was stripped from him at the cross to his great shame, it is a tragedy if  out of sassy speculation or in the interests of a provocative one-liner we are  just as happy to expose him.   And so, I repeat, let’s make sure we treat Christ with reverence and respect; he is not our mate but our Lord.  He is not a specimen to examine but a divine person to worship and fear.   Let’s be chary in discussing personal and private aspects about him we would be slow to discuss about ourselves.  Let’s remember Moses was commanded to take off his sandals at the burning bush; he was on holy ground.  In the OT, casual attitudes to holy things (non-levites touching the ark even for a supposed good reason) led to instant death.    And if, as Jude informs us, false teachers face trouble for speaking out of turn about Satan (Jude 8,9) we can be sure indelicacy about Christ will not pass unjudged.

Regrettably, all too often online reflections about the humanity of Christ by evangelicals are not only inappropriate they are also inaccurate.

  • starting from a wrong base

When reflecting on Christ’s humanity commonly commentators start from one of two assumptions; Christ had either a fallen humanity, like us, or an unfallen humanity, like Adam, before he sinned.  To be fair, among evangelicals, fewer voices declare that Christ had a fallen humanity like us even though, as Donald McLeod observes, ‘It has become a virtual truism of recent scholarship that ‘Christ’s human nature was indeed the same fallen human nature as ours’.  Some evangelical scholars of course do, especially those influenced by Karl Barth.  Barth (and Edward Irving a century before him) believed that although Christ remained sinless (and Barth with Irving is emphatic on this) his humanity was nevertheless fallen.   It must be so, they reasoned, if he is to be ‘like us in every respect apart from sin’.

More commonly, among evangelicals, the assumption is that Christ’s humanity was like Adam’s before the fall, unflawed but fallible.   Of course, those who so assume also assume they understand what unfallen fallible humanity was really like, a rather presumptuous assumption.   However, it is quite wrong to assume Christ’ humanity was either fallen or unfallen (or fallible).  Scripture certainly never so describes it.

Now I hear the sirens alerting us to the danger of docetism, not a  ‘hard docetism’ (that Christ’s humanity was merely phantom), but ‘soft docetism’ , a kind of evangelical docetism, where Christ’s divinity, as one blogger puts it, ‘eclipses his humanity’.  This is definitely a warning to heed, nevertheless I suspect there is also a bit of a bogey-man at work here that is in danger of allowing all sorts of edgy and erring notions about Christ’s humanity to invade evangelical thinking out of fear that objecting may brand us as docetic.  Docetism, in my view, is hardly the danger for educated evangelicalism today, quite the opposite.

I don’t intend at this point to delve greatly into these assumptions about Christ’s humanity.  Only to repeat that in my view both are mistaken.  Paul takes great care to point out that  Christ did not come in sinful flesh (fallen humanity) but in the ‘likeness’ of sinful flesh (Roms 8:3).   His humanity was similar to ours but not identical to ours.  Paul tells us the natural man  (the fallen man)  cares nothing for the things of God.  They are foolishness to him (1 Cor 2:14).  His mind is hostile to God’s God and will not submit to God’s law , indeed it cannot (Roms 8:7,8).  The fact is, a fallen nature by biblical definition means a corrupt nature, a nature inherently sinful.  The suggestion that such was/is the core humanity of Christ is blasphemy and the exact opposite of the clear statement of Scripture which tells us Christ’s delight was to do the will of the one who sent him (Ps 40:9, Hebs 10:5-8).  Christ we must affirm was not merely free of actual sin, he was free of inherent sin, of original sin.

But what of an ‘unfallen’ human nature, Adam’s before he sinned?

On the face of it, it seems much more plausible to identify the humanity of Christ as that of Adam before he sinned.  After all Christ is a son of Adam (Lk 3:28).  There is and must be real continuity between Adam and Christ.  He is ‘the seed of the woman’ (Gen 3:15) who at the time God ordained was  ‘born of a woman’ (Gals 4:4).  To accomplish salvation he had to be ‘made like his brothers in every respect’ and so  ‘as the children share in flesh and blood he took part in the same’ (Hebs 2:14).  If Christ’s humanity is not the same as Adam’s after the fall  then surely it must be Adam’s before he sinned?

But unfallen humanity will not measure up either.  Laying aside for a moment the whole question of our Lord’s deity (if this is even possible) we are still confronted with a humanity that is not merely Adam’s in the garden.  Adam, for example, had no ‘knowledge of good and evil’, but Jesus did.  Adam was not indwelt by the Holy Spirit, but Jesus was.  He was conceived of the Spirit (Matt 1:18); baptized in the Spirit (Matt 3:11); led by the Spirit (Matt 4:1); anointed by the Spirit (Matt 12:18); empowered by the Spirit (Matt 12:28); his words were words of the Spirit (Jn 6:63); he offered himself to God as a sacrifice by the eternal Spirit (Hebs 9:14).   He had the Spirit without measure (Jn 3:34).  Indeed he ‘sends’ the Spirit to others (Jn 15:26; 20:22).  And as I say, this is to say nothing of the fact that he is a divine person, the Word made flesh.  The NT invites us to distinguish between Christ’s incarnation and exaltation but it never tries to distinguish  his humanity and his deity (while distinct they are indivisible).  In Scripture these are a seamless robe.  Quite simply, to categorise Christ’s human nature as merely unfallen humanity is grossly inadequate.  Jesus’ humanity is connected to Adam but is not a mere copy of Adam.

There are about Christ’s humanity distinctions that imply discontinuity as well as continuity.  As Paul says,

1Cor 15:47-48 (ESV)
The first man was from the earth, a man of dust; the second man is from heaven. As was the man of dust, so also are those who are of the dust, and as is the man of heaven, so also are those who are of heaven.

I do not hesitate to say that any ‘theory’ about the humanity of Christ that does not take into account along with continuity this Pauline discontinuity has not sufficiently grappled with what the Bible reveals about the identity of the Christ.  The correlation between Adam and Christ is not precise.  Their correlation is that continuity/discontinuity story that dominates Scripture, the story of promise and fulfilment.   Christ is not a mere Adam, he is the ‘last Adam’ that is the final Adam.  Adam is the ‘type’ of which Christ is the ‘antitype’.  Adam is the anticipation of a humanity of which Christ is the realization.  Adam is the first creation and Christ is new creation. Christ is the new beginning.  He is from ‘outside’ from ‘heaven’.  It’s fair to say that the problem with much modern theology is it does not give sufficient weight to the issue of discontinuity, continuity has virtually eclipsed discontinuity, and the person of Christ is no exception.   Yet right at the outset, the virgin birth profoundly signals continuity and discontinuity must both be held in proper proportion and regard if we are to honour Christ.

But how can we find this proportion?

I entitled this section ‘starting from a wrong base‘ for a couple of reasons.  Firstly, to indicate that defining Christ’s humanity as merely Adamic humanity, either unfallen or fallen, is wrong, but secondly, and importantly, to signal  a ‘false base’ hermeneutically.  Mistakes are made about the person of Christ because theologians start with man-made assumptions, speculations and philosophies about the nature of Christ’s humanity rather than starting from what the Bible actually reveals.  Our task as Christians, in all areas of theology is to listen to revelation and nowhere is this more important than when considering the unfathomable enigma of he that ‘no-one knows but the Father‘ (Matt 11:27); if we are to know anything about Christ at all then we must listen carefully to what the Father says.  We must resist idle speculation, specious rationalization and submit humbly to revelation.

The problem with much modern theologizing about the humanity of Christ is that it is all too human, too fallen.

In a future blog we will consider the human Christ Scripture presents to us.

the cavekeeper

The Cave promotes the Christian Gospel by interacting with Christian faith and practice from a conservative evangelical perspective.


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