In 2 Corinthians 5:21, the apostle Paul refers to Jesus as “Him who knew no sin.” The apostle John concurs, saying “in Him there is no sin” (1 John 3:5). Jesus lived thirty-some years on this earth, and did so without sin. He is the only responsible individual to have done so. Paul says of everyone else, “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23). How is it that Jesus was able to keep Himself free from sin, but all others have succumbed to temptation and transgressed God’s law?
Some will point to the fact that Jesus was “God with us” (Matthew 1:23), “God manifest in the flesh” (1 Timothy 3:16), and thus He could not sin, for He is deity. Indeed, Jesus is God, but I submit to you that He did not overcome temptation and sin because He is God. He could not. James 1:13 says,
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.
Since God cannot be tempted by evil, Jesus could not have faced temptation as God. If He did, then His temptation really was not a temptation, for God cannot be tempted. But even if it were possible for God to be tempted, if He kept Himself from sin because He is God, then He is disqualified as my example. I cannot imitate that! If Jesus overcame temptation and sin by divine prowess, there is not a being on this earth who is able to follow His example.
Hebrews 4:15 reads,
For 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.
Jesus knows what it means to have desires, and to be enticed to misuse them. Some will get their backs up at the idea that Jesus could have sinned and will declare it a moot point, since He did not. Friends, if sin was not possible, then His temptation was not temptation. If He could not have chosen to do wrong, then He was not really tempted. And yet the Scriptures plainly say that He, as our High Priest, is able to sympathize with us, for He shared in our weaknesses—He was in the flesh as we are. He faced temptation as we face temptation, as a human. The difference is He overcame 100% of the time—we have not.
A few chapters earlier, the Hebrew writer is clear that Jesus was as we are, and that having overcome temptation as a man, He is able to supply help to us (Hebrews 2:14, 17-18)
So, how can Jesus help us overcome temptation? In Luke 4, we find Jesus being tempted in the wilderness. Jesus’ answer to temptation each time began with three words, “It is written” (Luke 4:4, 8, 10). His knowledge of Scripture was key to overcoming temptation. If we are not diligent students of the word, then we are defeating ourselves in the battle against temptation. If we don’t know what God’s word says, we cannot answer, “It is written” to the devil when we are tempted to do wrong. Peter tells us that God’s word gives us “all things pertaining to life and godliness” (2 Peter 1:3), so let’s get busy and find out what it says. It is called “the word of life” (Philippians 2:16) for a reason.
In addition to His knowledge of God’s will, Jesus also had an exceptionally clear understanding of who He was and what He was called to do. Recall at the age of 12, Jesus remained behind in Jerusalem following the Passover, where He listened to and asked questions of the teachers, but also demonstrated His own understanding of the Law. When Mary finally found Him, He said to her, “Did you not know that I must be about My Father’s business?” (Luke 2:49). Verse 50 says she and Joseph didn’t understand what He meant by this. Friends, Jesus was focused. He was intent on pleasing His heavenly Father. From such an early age, He knew who He was and what He was here to do. Do we know who we are and why we are here? We are created in the image of God (Genesis 1:26-27), called to obey Him (Ecclesiastes 12:13) and live in holiness (1 Peter 1:13-16).
Another key to Jesus successfully enduring temptation is that He was “filled with the Holy Spirit” (Luke 4:1). I suggest to you it doesn’t mean that Jesus was performing miracles while He was in the wilderness. Being filled with the Spirit is used in the New Testament at times when one speaks on behalf of God (Luke 1:41, 67; Acts 2:4; 4:8; 13:9), but also in a more general sense of one’s relationship to God and the Spirit’s presence in our life (Acts 6:3, 5; 11:24; 13:52; Ephesians 5:18). Jesus did not face the devil alone; the Spirit of God was with him. Likewise, you and I do not need to face temptation alone. We have access to the same Spirit. The problem is, if we are quenching or resisting the Spirit, then we are not going to be equipped to adequately deal with temptation.
Something else to notice from the beginning of Luke 4—Jesus was not given three token temptations and that was all. Luke tells us He was “tempted for forty days by the devil.” What we have in Luke 4 (and Matthew 4) is a brief summary of what happened. Having failed to cause the Son of God to sin, verse 13 says the devil “departed from Him until an opportune time.” Satan would seek to entice Jesus again, some other place, some other time. The same is true for you and I. If we have successfully overcome temptation, good. The devil may leave us alone for a time, but know that temptation will come again. And so we must always be ready, always be focused, always be walking securely in God’s way.
John 8 speaks of a woman caught in adultery who was brought before Jesus. After He defused the fiery contingent of Pharisees who dragged her to the temple, Jesus spoke to the woman. The last words He said to her were “Go and sin no more.” Sadly, it seems that some would rather portray this as “go and sin less.” Jesus wants us to be sinless, not to sin less. But wait, that’s not possible! Everybody sins! Yes, Romans 3:23 tells us “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” Friend, that was our past. It does not have to be our future.
In 1 John 2:1, we’re told that Jesus is our Advocate if we sin. May I emphasize, IF we sin. In the same verse, the apostle identifies part of his purpose in writing in these words, “these things I write to you, so that you may not sin.” That is the goal. Paul wrote the same to Corinth, “Awake to righteousness, and do not sin” (1 Corinthians 15:34). We do not have to sin. God’s word tells us time and again to refrain from sin. When we do so, it is a failure on our part. God does not want us to fail.
1 Corinthians 10:13 tells us we can overcome temptation, that God has given the way of escape. The way of escape is found in Christ, who was tempted as we are, yet without sin. So, let us be imitators of Christ.