The Bible clearly states that Jesus Christ did not sin. But during His physical life as a man on earth, could He have sinned?
Some infer that Jesus could have sinned from Hebrews:4:15: "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." However, the English word "tempted" can be misleading, as it might give the impression that a desire, to some degree, to sin was resisted. The Greek for "tempted," peirazo, can be defined as "to try whether a thing can be done" (Enhanced Strong's Lexicon). The Literal Translation of the Holy Bible renders the following, "...One having been tried in all respects according to our likeness, apart from sin."
Jesus Christ had freedom of choice, therefore He could have chosen to sin, as Satan tried to get Him to do. But "tempted" might give the impression of Satan having a measure of success, though the action didn't occur. This is explained in The Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament: Based on Semantic Domains:
"'…he stayed for forty days in the desert and Satan tried to make him sin' Mk 1.13. In translating expressions involving tempting or trying, it is necessary in a number of languages to indicate clearly whether or not the temptations succeeded. Therefore, it may not be sufficient in Mk 1.13 to simply say 'Satan tempted him'; in fact, in some instances it may be necessary to make the failure of the temptation quite specific, for example, 'Satan tried to make Jesus sin, but was not successful'" (J.P. Louw, 1989).
"God cannot be tempted [peirazo] by evil" (James:1:13). Jesus was tested but lustful desires were never stirred in His mind and heart, since "each one is tempted [peirazo] when he is drawn away by his own desires and enticed." Satan is the "tempter" in that his motive is to cause us to sin. But God's motive is for us to make the right choice: "…the hour of trial which shall come upon the whole world, to test [peirazo] those who dwell on the earth" (Revelation:3:10).
Being human, theoretically Jesus could have chosen to sin. However, He was never tempted to sin, because He had the mind of God that cannot be tempted by sin. However, He did face the trials and tests common to mankind. Paul writes that Christ was tested "as we are" as an encouraging model for Christians facing trials and tests.
Romans:8:3 says of Christ, "He condemned sin in the flesh." We can know that God condemns sin simply by reading the Old Testament Scriptures. Christ did not have to become a physical being for us to learn that fact. So what does this mean? Obviously, it's not talking about His sacrifice for sin, but rather what He accomplished by His physical life—"in the flesh." In the context, Paul writes of the natural failings of human beings. What is it about Christ's life as a physical being that "condemned sin"? He condemned sin by resisting its pulls in His everyday life. He showed, as well as told, Christians how to succeed. Paul goes on to tell us that we have the power to resist sin through the indwelling of the Spirit of God.
Asking and answering another question helps reinforce the truth on this point. Did Christ come in the flesh only to lay down His life as a perfect sacrifice? This Scripture plainly says otherwise. He became a physical being to walk the walk that we have to walk and to remain faithful to God in the face of trials and tests of human life. Romans:8:1-14 speaks of those who "walk according to the flesh" and stresses that God will give eternal life to those who "walk according to the Spirit."
Christ's life in the flesh offers an example of how to live by the laws of God. He also made possible grace and forgiveness for sin, but not a do-it-yourself method for achieving a sinless life. The Bible clearly states that no human being has led a sinless life as Jesus did (1 John:1:7-8). The Holy Spirit does indeed offer the nature of God to be imparted, to provide spiritual understanding and motivation to obey God (Hebrews:8:10; 10:16); but we are all still human and still sin out of ignorance and weakness.
Christ came to model the way of life His followers have to live. Not only is Christ our Savior, but He is also our Brother. Far more important than whether or not He could have sinned is the fact that He never did sin. Rather, He lived a sin-free life as an example for us to follow, and died to pay the price for our sins.
For more information, please read our booklet Jesus Christ: The Real Story .