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Was Christ “tempted”–or “tested”?

Here is an article I posted at my own blog a while back. With the back-and-forth still going on here concerning Mark Driscoll’s assertions that Jesus wanted to have sexual relations with a woman, I decided it was high time to post it here, for easier reference. Here is Mark Driscoll’s comment that Jesus had desires to “know” a woman:

“If you’re tempted to these sorts of things — including sexual sin — some of you say, ‘Now Mark, Jesus wasn’t sexually tempted.’ Well, of course he was — 30 something year old single man who had women who adored him. You don’t think he ever wanted the comfort of a woman? You don’t think he ever got tired of going to bed by himself? You don’t think that he didn’t once want to have intimate relations with a woman? He was tempted.”
(Mark Driscoll – “How Human was Jesus?”, October 15th 2006, emphases mine.)

I have formulated a biblical defense of not only the sinlessness of Christ, but the fact that He did not have even the desire to sin. The Scriptures we will focus on are:

Hebrews 2:18For in that He Himself has suffered (lit., experienced) being tempted, He is able to aid those who are tempted.
Hebrews 4:15For we do not have a High Priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but was in all points tempted as we are, yet without sin.
James 1:13-15Let 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.
Galatians 1:17For the flesh lusts against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; and these are contrary to one another, so that you do not do the things that you wish.
Genesis 3:15“And I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your seed and her Seed; He shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise His heel.”

Some other verses we will look at later: Luke 22:31; 1st Corinthians 5:5; 1st Timothy 1:20; Job 2:6.

Since we know that Scripture does not contradict Scripture, and that Christ was without sin, how do we reconcile the fact that James said God cannot be tested with evil, yet the writer of Hebrews tells us that Christ was tested in all things like we are? The answer is not simple, but here is (briefly) what I have learned from studying this subject. And I do not claim to have perfect knowledge of it, but I have read what some great men of God have had to say about it, and I think I’m getting close.

Let us begin with James 1:14, which tells us that a man is tempted (tested) when he is drawn away by his own desires and enticed. Go back to the Garden (Genesis 3). Man had not fallen yet. So who had to test the first people? Satan, because man had not yet been stained by sin. Satan enticed our parents with their desire, which was what? To be like God. Since then, every man (and woman) who has ever lived has sought to live their own way, and to put their own desires above those of God. Our desires lead us to rebel against God and His commands. Always have, always will.

That is why James said in 1:13 that we cannot say we have been tested by God—because we are not in fact tested by God, but by our own lusts. (Coram, I think that’s what you were getting at in your email, which led me to do some more digging.). Christ, however, did not have those desires and lusts because He did not have the sinful nature that we inherited from Adam. That’s why the writer of Hebrews said that although Christ was tested in all points like we are, He was without sin. He was tested in all the same areas we are—but not in the same fashion that we are. He was the seed of woman, and not man. So Satan himself had to come after Christ because Christ did not have sin dwelling within Him. Therefore, (a) Satan had nothing to use to lead Christ to sin, and (b) Christ would never lead Himself to rebel against the Father. So while Christ may have been tested to see if He would sin, He could not be led to harbor a desire to commit sin.

We, however, are tested by our own lusts. James 1:14But every man is tempted, when he is drawn away of his own lust, and enticed. Christ had no such lusts. We are tested from within, Christ HAD TO BE tested from without. God allows us to be tempted and tested by our own desires to see whether we will follow our flesh or whether we will follow the Spirit. That’s why He doesn’t make us perfect when He saves us. (That is, He does take away our sins, but He does not take away our humanity). Because Jesus did not have that struggle within, He had to be tempted by Satan himself. Christ is able to sympathize with us in our temptations—not because He had the same sinful feelings we have, but because He came face-to-face with THE tempter. Christ was in all points tempted as we are, yet without sin.

So now we come back to James. When we are tested by our flesh, the temptation gives birth to lust. And lust when it is fully grown brings death (1:15). Christ experienced temptation (Hebrews 2:18) but only because it was brought to Him, not because it was within Him. He did not have the internal struggle against sin that a born-again believer has. There was no place inside of Him for the “seed” of sin to grow and bring forth lust (and by extension death). When we are being tested by our desires, a war begins inside of us because the Holy Spirit dwells within (1st Corinthians 6:19), yet we are still trapped in these bodies of flesh (Romans 7:24). So what happens? The flesh lusts against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; and these are contrary to one another (Galatians 5:17). The Spirit is leading us to follow God, while the flesh is leading us be our own God.

Again, Christ faced no such struggle because His one and only desire was to do the will of the Father. He could not be led to stray even when He was at the point of death. Matthew 27:34, Mark 15:23Then they gave Him wine mingled with myrrh to drink, but He did not take it. He would not so much as take anything to dull the pain of the torture He was enduring.

Consider some others who were handed over to Satan:

Some were so faithful to God that nothing this world has to offer could entice them to sin.

  • Luke 22:31-32And the Lord said, “Simon, Simon! Indeed, Satan has asked for you, that he may sift you as wheat. But I have prayed for you, that your faith should not fail; and when you have returned to Me, strengthen your brethren.”
  • Job 2:6And YHVH said to Satan, “Behold, he is in your hand, but spare his life.”

Others had fallen away, and the only way to bring them back was to let them see for themselves the master they were serving with their sins.

  • 1st Corinthians 5:1, 5It is actually reported that there is sexual immorality among you, and such sexual immorality as is not even named among the Gentiles—that a man has his father’s wife!…Deliver such a one to Satan for the destruction of the flesh, that his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus.
  • 1st Timothy 1:18-20…wage the good warfare, having faith and a good conscience, which some, having rejected, concerning the faith have suffered shipwreck, of whom are Hymenaeus and Alexander, whom I delivered to Satan that they may learn not to blaspheme.

So to conclude, I would sum up this issue like this: While Satan may have tested Jesus, to see if He would sin, and while Satan tried every way he could to lead Jesus to sin, there was no way that Jesus would have ever even considered sinning against the Father—because He did not have our sinful nature. We, however, are tested by our own fleshly lusts and desires that bring forth nothing but death.

Here are what some others have had to say about the verses from Hebrews and James:

Hebrews 2:18:

  • Albert Barnes says of the biblical meaning of “tempt”—“It means to ‘put to the proof;’ to try the nature or character of; and this may be done either:
    (1) by subjecting a person to ‘afflictions’ or ‘sufferings’ that his true character may be tried – that it may be seen whether he has sincere piety and love to God; or.
    (2) by allowing one to fall into ‘temptation,’ properly so called – where some strong inducement to evil is presented to the mind, and where it becomes thus a “trial” of virtue.”
  • John Gill—“For in that he himself hath suffered being tempted… By Satan, at his entrance on his public ministry, and a little before his death; which was done, not by stirring up sin in him, for he had none, nor by putting any into him, which could not be done, nor could Satan get any advantage over him.”

Hebrews 4:15:

  • Adam Clarke—“His mind, or human soul, being free from all sin, being every way perfect, could feel no irregular temper, nothing that was inconsistent with infinite purity.”
  • AT Robertson (Robertson’s Word Pictures)—“This is the outstanding difference that must never be overlooked in considering the actual humanity of Jesus. He did not yield to sin. But more than this is true. There was no latent sin in Jesus to be stirred by temptation and no habits of sin to be overcome. But he did have ‘weaknesses’ (astheneiai) common to our human nature (hunger, thirst, weariness, etc.). Satan used his strongest weapons against Jesus, did it repeatedly, and failed.”

James 1:13:

  • John Gill—“he may be tempted by evil men, and with evil things, but he cannot be tempted ‘to evil,’ (as the Ethiopic version renders it)…”
  • Robertson on the use of the Greek word apierastos, (“cannot be tempted”)—“Verbal compound adjective ([negating beginning alpha] and peirazw), probably with the ablative case…Only here in the New Testament. Hort notes apeiratos kakon as a proverb (Diodorus, Plutarch, Josephus) ‘free from evils.’ That is possible here, but the context calls for ‘untemptable’ rather than ‘untempted.’”

3 comments on “Was Christ “tempted”–or “tested”?

  1. Well said, FP.

    I’d also add that not only was Jesus Christ as our sympathetic High Priest tempted in all ways as we are – yet without sin – He also experienced temptation to a degree that no other human being has ever faced.

    I say this because being perfect and without sin it necessarily follows that Christ must have experienced a fulness and degree of temptation that only the God-man could have endured, in that He never gave in and relented to temptation leading unto sin.

    At some point along the spectrum of temptation fallen humanity succumbs to the pressure and surrenders to temptation and enters into sin, whereas Christ never did.

    Behold the God-man, in Gethsemane pitched in mortal combat as He’s mercilessly buffeted by the very legions of hell!

    Behold Him as He sweats great drops of precious, holy, sinless blood, costlier and of more value than all the gold that’s ever been mined from the depths of the earth!

    Behold the Great and High Priest as He wields His weapon of choice, the Everlasting Word of God!

    Behold the Conquering King as He gains the the victory and masters the accuser of the brethren as His holy prayers ascend upwards as incense, being a sweet savor to His Father in heaven!

    Ye have not yet resisted unto blood, striving against sin. – Hebrews 12:4

    …but He has!

    Soli Deo Gloria!

    In Him,
    CD

  2. Both ya;ll make most excellent points. Seems Driscoll is more interested in grabbing the attention of people than being accurate on an important aspect of theology.

    We have a high priest who was tempted in all ways but WITHOUT SIN. (Heb 4:15). As He taught us, to lust for a woman who is not your wife is adultery – His high standard of holiness which was far beyond what any mortal man could achieve, laid out to show how absurd it is for one to think he can please God in the flesh.

    Driscoll certainly – if he thought about it – knows that the kind of desire he imagines the Lord God of Heaven had while He lived as a man is sinful lust. It’s as clear as the type on this page. He likes to shock people – no doubt he sometimes gets caught up in that pursuit and ventures off the narrow path he is commanded to follow. Shame on him. Glory and honor to the Lord Jesus.

  3. Wow, very nicely done FP. It would have taken some time to search out God’s word and heart on this subject. I thank God for you and the rest of DefCon, for your obedience and willingness to speak the truth no matter the cost. Thank you.

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