I want to finish up the area that we’ve been studying on Christ’s kenosis. In the birth of the King we’ve talked about the hypostatic union, we said that the hypostatic union gives the basis for all the rest of the Christology of the New Testament. Failure to get a clear understanding of that hypostatic union is going to lead to all kinds of confusion. Where it starts in is where we get into the life of the King and we begin to look at kenosis. To understand kenosis we have to know the hypostatic union. In Phil. 2:5-8, a very central passage, the central section of the New Testament Paul believed it was necessary, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit to reveal this truth about the person of Christ in order that He might be a model for us. You’ll notice Phil. 2:1-4 is dealing with just practical church type stuff. Yet when Paul goes to motivate readers to do those things, he provides this big hairy, detailed, theological statement about the person of Jesus Christ.
We commented before on this and you’ll see it again and again in the pages of the New Testament. The New Testament does not present ethics as ethics, because ethics by itself is just the law, it’s just legalism. It’s necessary, we have to have content to what we believe is right and wrong, but knowing the content of what is right and wrong doesn’t motivate. There needs to be spiritual energy, spiritual empowerment, and that falls under what we call the category of motivation. What is the source of motivation? It appears that the source of motivation is the theology and meditating upon these great truths that Paul goes to great lengths telling us.
Again, if you’ll follow in the text tonight just to root this in our minds, [Phil. 2:5] “Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus,  who, although He existed in the form of God,” an exact form of God actually, “did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped,  but He emptied Himself,” there’s the word kenosis, “taking the form of a bondservant, and being made in the likeness of men.  And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.” The word “humbled” shows that at the heart of Jesus’ model is humility toward God and that in the Biblical worldview is the answer to the Greeks, it’s the answer to Stoicism, it’s the answer to all the other ethics that are out there, that the fundamental cardinal virtue in the Christian faith is humility before God.
That’s the result of repentance if you think about it. Why is repentance again and again in the New Testament? It’s necessary because the natural flesh is arrogant. So how do you go from arrogance to humility? You only do that with repentance. Hopefully by thinking of the Scriptures again, as we said over and over, in terms of contrasting the Scripture with the world around us it helps clarify the truths of Scripture.
We stated the doctrine of kenosis, on the top of page 58 of the notes, and expanding on what Paul said, the best definition is that kenosis does not refer to Christ giving up His attributes. It does not refer to the loss of His attributes. It does not refer to the suspension of His attributes. What it does refer to is the independent use of His divine attributes. When it was okay with the Father for the Son to utilize His attributes on earth, He did. There’s no reluctance, there’s no diminishing of His attributes. Last time we went through some of the illustrations of the kenosis, we showed His attribute of omniscience, we took two attributes of Christ, on the divine side He had omniscience, He had omnipotence. As a human He had knowledge, and He had human energy. Sometimes He showed human knowledge, when He asked for information from people He didn’t use His omniscience. He asked various questions to watch responses to learn from that. Isaiah 50 said that Jesus Christ had to be awakened each morning in His humanity to be taught the Word of God.
Again and again He would show human knowledge. But then there would be those times when His omniscience would flash forth. So what do we make of this. Sometimes He doesn’t appear to have omniscience, other times He does. And there are various theories that have risen to account for that. We said that the true theology is that He was not independently using His omniscience. He only used it when it pleased His Father, that was it. We said the same thing with His omnipotence.
Beginning on page 58 we started to go through the implications of kenosis. We want to be sure we understand those, because tonight we go to a related doctrine, kenosis. We said there were three major applications of kenosis. Just as all these truths have many applications, many implications, kenosis leads to various truths. One of them is the cardinal virtue of humility. That is the model; Christ is the model of that. It was the greatest act of the cardinal virtue of humility ever seen in human history or ever will be seen.
Please notice that humility is not a characteristic of weakness. This is omnipotent God the Son who is being humbled. We’ve got to get out of our heads that humility before God means diminished strength. It doesn’t at all. It has nothing to do with that. It has to do completely with the will of God. Arrogance is not powerful; it may think it is, because there’s a self-delusion, a self-deception that accompanies arrogance that makes one think they’re powerful, and makes one think of humility as weakness. But you have to be careful about that, that’s the world impinging upon us, that’s not Biblical, that’s not true, it’s a deception. We want to remember that in the Christian way of looking at life humility is the cardinal virtue. Not humility before men, it’s humility before God. There may be humility before men, but that’s not the source of it, it’s humility before God.
Then we said, on page 60 that the second implication of kenosis is that it reinforces the concept of divine institutions, where you have authoritative relationships. Humility and authority go together. Humility recognizes authority, and authority, in order to function, requires humility. So these are related. In our society, in our maturation, the cardinal virtue of humility is to be learned in the home. This is why the Scripture stresses honor your parents, honor your father and honor your mother. What’s involved in that? It’s the first lesson all of us learn about authority and humility. In the Old Testament, Deut. 21 and other passages, when a young man or a young woman became a teenager in a Jewish home and had not learned humility, but instead showed arrogance by abusing their parents, by doing their own thing, etc., it was a capital offense. The parents, at 17 and 18 were to take that child down to the gates and if it proved true in a trial before the elders, that child was killed. God said that’s how you keep evil out of society. That might reduce the population a little bit today, but nevertheless, that was the way God ran it. And we dare not criticize those rules as being primitive. Those rules are not primitive. After all, of all the sin that they had, they did not have anybody shooting kids in schools in ancient Israel. So you can primitivise it all you want to, but they did handle themselves pretty well.
The third implication of kenosis is found on page 61. It’s just an utterly incomprehensible thing that Jesus Christ is the logos incarnate, and what we see as a result of His kenosis is that it qualifies Him to be a sympathetic high priest. In John 1:14 it says, “And the Word became flesh,” there is no other religion on earth where the Creator becomes man. The ones who claim… like Hinduism has kind of a thing like that but it’s not a genuine claim because in Hinduism there is no distinction between Creator and creature, so what, God is the rock, God is the bug, or whatever, it doesn’t make any difference because there is no difference between the Creator/creature.
But even in so-called Biblical faiths of modern Judaism and Islam, they don’t have anything like John 1:14, there’s nothing in there like that. God doesn’t become flesh, God doesn’t walk around, and God isn’t known face to face. There’s no God getting dirt on His feet, dirt under His fingernails, Allah doesn’t have dirty fingernails, Allah doesn’t have a scar on his body for dying for the people that believe in him. A lot of his believers have scars on them going into holy war. But in Christ He and He alone carries that distinction.
What does this mean practically? It means several things. The first thing, turn to John 5:22, this is one of many verses, this is one of those passages that show that Jesus Christ is a peer judge as well as an empathic priest. Because of His genuine humanity, because of His kenosis, because of His successful execution of the Father’s plan in His life, in John 5:22 it says “For not even the Father judges any one, but He has given all judgment to the Son.” Now isn’t that interesting. We studied the Trinity, Father, Son and Holy Spirit; there is a difference in the Trinity, and which of the three persons of the Trinity judges the world. If you come out of a liturgical church I’m sure you’ve had liturgy quoting one of the enthronement Psalms He comes, He comes, to judge the quick and the dead, He comes to judge the world, etc. It’s not the Father, it’s not the Holy Spirit, it’s the Son. This is the other side of Jesus that the world doesn’t really like. What the world would love to have is some weak Jewish carpenter boy.
But in the New Testament it is precisely the Son of God who becomes the judge. Why is that? It’s because Jesus Christ is a peer. The closest thing we’ve got is trial by jury, where the jury has to come out of peers. In the military, the code of military justice, if an officer is being charged the jury has to be officers, and if an enlisted person is charged the jury has to be enlisted. Theoretically that’s the way the court system is supposed to be in our country, except after the lawyers get through paring away the stupidest people they can find in the room is put on the jury. But in the New Testament and in the Old Testament, trial was trial by people who could understand.
So what does this tell us about Jesus Christ and kenosis? How does this relate to kenosis? It relates to kenosis because while in the kenotic state He had to face life exactly the way we face life. That means that Jesus Christ can understand, it means that He has empathy with us, and He, therefore, can be an accurate judge. There will be no court of appeals beyond Jesus Christ. He is the final court of appeal. You can’t go to the Father and appeal the judgment of the Son. What does John 5:22 say? It says the Father is not going to judge anything. He’s not involved in a final oversight court in case the Son makes a mistake, and then it gets passed to the Father. That’s not what we read here. The judgment is finished, it’s final.
Stated another, more blunt way, is that it’s Jesus Christ commits people to hell for eternity. That’s a thing about Jesus you don’t normally hear. Jesus Christ sends people to hell, that’s His job. He’s been delegated that job by God the Father. Why does He delegate that to the Son? Because the Son has the authority to do that because the Son can pierce through all the smoking mirrors and get down to the “no excuse, Sir” type stuff. And nobody is going to pull the wool over His eyes, nobody is going to say you don’t understand. Oh yes I do understand, is going to be the answer. It’s pretty frightening. There’s no escape from this judge who perfectly understands, it isn’t going to take bologna talk, no slick lawyer is going to end run this One. This is the final judgment.
Conversely, what did we say in the Old Testament when we dealt with Exodus and the Noahic flood. Remember the doctrine we tied with that, judgment/salvation. Here we see the same thing. We see He is a judge and He is an empathic priest. Turn to Heb. 4:14. This verse has so much in it; we just can’t spend time on it because this is not exegetical Bible teaching. “Since then we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession.  For we do not have a high priest,” watch it because here comes kenosis, here comes the application of kenosis, “For we do not have a high priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who has been tempted in all things as we are, yet without sin.  Let us therefore draw near with confidence to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and may find grace to help in time of need.”
In verse 15 how is it that Christ can be a high priest? What does it say? It specifically says, in two clauses it describes the same idea of Phil. 2:5-8, because He “has been tested in all things as we.” So since He has shared completely in the human situation, that’s what makes Him a great high priest. What makes Him a good judge is what makes Him a good priest. In both cases the Father is really not involved in this. This is God the Son, and you can begin to see after you look at Christ’s position as judge and priest why those who deny Jesus Christ have got a real problem, because it’s precisely the person of the Trinity that’s being downplayed, denied and compromised that is the center of the whole story here. That’s why the writer of Hebrews, whoever he may be, in verse 16 says, practical conclusion, I can come with confidence. Notice he’s not coming with confidence to the throne of judgment, nobody has confidence there. This is the throne of grace.
There are two thrones, there’s the throne of judgment and there’s the throne of grace, and Christ sits on both of them. What makes the difference? What is the cardinal virtue? The virtue is humility. What is humility? Repentance. What is repentance? Conversion from arrogance to submission to His authority. That’s the act of “believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and thou shalt be saved.” So what changes our meeting ground from the throne of judgment to the throne of grace is belief on the Lord Jesus Christ, that’s the gospel.
Another interesting thing in verse 14, just a little tidbit thrown in that’s really peripheral to our point, but if you observe carefully, there’s a phrase in there that’s quite remarkable. “Since then we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens,” plural, and it shows you that Jesus Christ had a trajectory when He ascended from the mount of ascent east of Jerusalem, really the Mount of Olives is the mount of ascension, when He ascended there it says He not only passed through the atmosphere, the ionosphere, the stratosphere with His resurrection body, but He passed through multiple heavens to get to wherever this throne of grace is. The interesting thing about verse 14 is it’s very geometrical. It’s stating that in His resurrection body He’s not omnipresent. Jesus is omnipresent as the Son, but as the resurrected priest He is not omnipresent, He’s located at a particular point. When we dwell in eternity we will see Him. We won’t see Him simultaneously at every place, but we’ll see Him where He is, wherever that is. His resurrection body is located at a point. So there’s some place, some place where Jesus Christ is tonight in His resurrection body.
How that ties in geometrically, I’m convinced it has very profound implications for geometry, because skeptics always put you down as a Christian, ha-ha, you stupid Christians, in the northern hemisphere they look up, in the southern hemisphere they look up, so how can Jesus be at one point? Well, the line of sight must be directing to the Throne, so talk about curved space or anything else, I think it has very interesting geometrical implications. A person of the southern hemisphere can look up and a person of the northern hemisphere can look up, and somehow the line of sight converges on this point. Otherwise He wouldn’t tell us to look up. This is another little gem in the Scripture, everybody laughs at and tee-hees and thinks it’s a big joke, and the jokes on them, because the joke is that obviously this is not Euclidean geometry. The obvious think is that God has another kind of geometry going on here. It doesn’t affect God just because we believe in Euclidean geometry, it doesn’t mean He runs the universe by it, it just means we’re arrogantly thinking He should do it because that’s what we understand, therefore He should run it by Euclidean techniques. Sorry!
Verses 14-16 emphasize this same theme of the kenosis. On the bottom of page 61, we’re summarizing the doctrine of kenosis. “Christ is the perfect model of sanctification. He modeled the cardinal virtue of humility toward God.” You might put in the margin because I didn’t put it in the notes, but this is why the Bible has four Gospels in it. We evangelicals sometimes don’t do justice to those four Gospels. We’re in such a hurry to get to the epistles all the time. 90% of evangelical sermons are out of the epistles. 67% of evangelical sermons ought to be out of the Old Testament, and about 15-20% more ought to be in the Gospels, and then the epistles if we’re going to balance our teaching and preaching the way God the Holy Spirit wrote the text.
“Christ is the perfect model of sanctification. He modeled the cardinal virtue of humility toward God. He showed us what true submission to authority is. And because He had to utilize the filling of the Holy Spirit in His faith walk, He has become an empathetic Intercessor for us with the Father.” By the way, that’s another point that I skipped when we were in Heb. 4. What does a priest do? A pries goes to God on behalf of the people. A priest makes intercession for the people. A priest carries on a conversation rationally with God. So here’s a priest who is talking to God, in this case the Son talking to the Father and He’s arguing our case and presenting our case. You begin to see a connection here with kenosis. What do you suppose Jesus Christ does when He prays for us, one of the things? He’s explaining to the Father our problem, because as one who is God and man, He knows by personal experience what we’re like. Do you think that makes Him an effective intercessor? Yes, because He understands us.
“He has become an empathetic Intercessor for us with His Father. Like a test pilot puts a new airplane through its paces, beyond the envelop of normal flight, Jesus Christ demonstrated the Christian life perfectly in every area beyond levels we are likely to experience.”
Now we move to the doctrine of impeccability. This is another doctrine that presumes we know hypostatic union, because if we don’t know the hypostatic union we’re lost again. Let’s look at the vocabulary word first. What does “impeccable” mean? It means without sin. Impeccability is Christ’s perfection, and there’s a problem with this. So follow me in the notes, we won’t look up all these verses but if you’ve been in the Bible any length of time you’re well aware of the content of these. It’s not that I’m trying to avoid them; it’s just in the interest of time we need to go pretty fast.
“That Christ was morally perfect is central to the Christian faith and one repeatedly mentioned in the New Testament. The following verses are just a few that confirm the point. Luke 1:35; John 8:46; Rom. 8:3; 2 Cor. 5:21; Heb. 4:14; 7:26; 1 Pet. 1:19; 1 John 3:5.” Since we’ve just been in Heb 4:14, “Since then we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens,” we have “a great high priest,” so the point is a priest had to be what in order to appear in the Old Testament? Think how a Jew would have thought. He had to be cleansed; he had to be morally perfect to survive the righteousness of God, to dare to walk into God’s presence.
“Nevertheless, many other verses seem to show Christ behaving in a fashion considered today as rude, impolite, and even eccentric. The Gospel of Matthew particularly notes this behavior.” By the way, I think that’s because again, what was Matthew’s background? Who was the guy that knew all the political [can’t understand word.] It was Matthew. “Jesus calls His opponents ‘snakes,’ ‘hypocrites,’ ‘adulterers,’ ‘children of hell,’ and ‘whitewashed gravestones’ (Matt. 12:34; 15:7; 16:4; 23:15, 27).” Not exactly what you would find in How to Win Friends and Influence People. “In spite of His own teaching not to call people fools in Matt. 5:22, Jesus calls His enemies fools in Matt. 23:17, 19. In Mark 11:13-14 Jesus curses a defenseless fig tree. In Matt. 15:26 He calls a seeking Gentile woman ‘a dog.’ At least twice He appears abrupt with His own mother (Matt. 12:48; John 2:4). In Matt. 8:21 Jesus is harsh toward traditional Jewish family loyalties, and in John 2:15 He assaults businessmen, damages their wares, and blocks public access.”
Is this a person with a perfect life? He’s not going to be considered a person with a perfect life today; not by today’s standards, Jesus is not living a perfect life, and says the kind of things He says, physically assaults people, and really almost at that point blocks public access. Think of the abortion clinic issue now. How do we reconcile this? Let’s think about this a minute, because we as Christians have got to learn that this kind of stuff, and I’m putting it in here with all its bluntness because it’s the kind of stuff that somebody is going to nail you with someday, if you haven’t already had it dumped on you. Somebody who is slick enough to have read the New Testament is going to challenge you. It may be in the store, it may be at work, it may be in your own family, so what do you do when somebody trots this stuff out? Go into shock, faint, or do what? We’ve got to think back through something here.
First of all, is this inaccurate? No, this is accurate data from the Bible. So if it’s accurate data from the Bible, then since God is rationally consistent, there must be some sort of solution to this. Now we personally may not be aware of it yet, but there’s a solution out there. Think about this for a minute, a person who objects to this sort of thing, who would object to the behavior of Jesus Christ doing these things and saying these kinds of things. You can understand how people would object to this. You can think of some nice, very ethical, gentle, well-cultured people that are among your personal acquaintances or your family circle that would just, if they could see… thankfully they don’t read the Bible so they’re not aware of this, but if they did read the Bible, or if there was an honest Hollywood producer who produced the Lord Jesus Christ saying these things and doing these things, I think a lot of people would be genuinely shocked. They would certainly say to themselves, if not to us in our hearing, they would certainly be saying to themselves in their own heart, wow, I’m not so sure that I think so much of Jesus now, not after seeing this.
What do we do now? What’s happening here is judgments are being passed as to what? A standard of behavior. Think about this. If Jesus is the standard and this is what He’s doing, and we’re condemning Him by another standard, what does this tell us? Let’s take this logically one step at a time. It tells us that our standards by which we are judging don’t look too good. It ought to start wheels turning in our minds about the standards that we use to judge everyday behavior, are they right? Maybe they aren’t right. If those standards turn out to fault Jesus, and He is the standard, then our standards must be wrong.
I work with instrumentation all the time and we have such a thing called calibration, and when you’re calibrating a thermometer, or a barometer or any kind of sensor, one of the rules is that you always have to calibrate it with an instrument at least ten times more accurate than the one you’re working with, on all the way back to the National Institute of Standards and Technology, the NIST standard. So if I have a thermometer and I think it’s right, I’ve used this thermometer, I’m very comfortable with it, and I start saying let me just check it against a standard, and I find it’s .8 degrees Celsius off, now what am I going to say, well gee, I’m comfortable with this, throw out the standard, the standard must be wrong. I don’t do that, we wouldn’t do that.
What do we do every time we see stuff like this in the Scripture? Inwardly there’s a tendency to chuck it. Inwardly there’s a tendency to impose a standard that we carry around with us that we’ve socially learned, we’ve become culturally conditioned to it, and we’re using that as a standard to evaluate Jesus. I say the problem is exactly the opposite. If our standard condemns Jesus, then our standard is wrong. Now let me extend the logic a little further. Watch the next paragraph.
“Before someone naïvely talks about being ‘Christlike,’ he ought to explain this apparent discrepancy between Jesus’ claim to sinlessness and His reported behavior. Modern observers, so heavily conditioned by present-day psychological models of ‘ideal’ personality, are upset by this discrepancy. Psychologist Paul Vitz” who by the way is a great Christian guy, he became a Christian later in life, he taught psychology for many years at New York University, a lot of nuts around New York so he had to go out of business. “Psychologist Paul Vitz is right when he notes ‘Certainly Jesus Christ never lived nor advocated a life that would qualify by today’s standards as ‘self-actualized.’ The problem, however, doesn’t lie with Jesus; it lies with present-day personality theories. Vitz’ notes in his book the anti-biblical assumptions between these modern (and mostly existentialist) theories.”
“Describing Jesus’ sinless but disturbing personality, Karl Adam writes: ‘From a purely psychological point of view, this humanity is characterized by an enormously powerful will.” Jesus was humble toward God, but in His life, His will was anything but weak. It was precisely because He submitted to the Father and was certain therefore of what the Father wanted Him to do and He did it, that comes off not weak, that comes off as strength. “… an enormously powerful will. Jesus knew what he wanted. He knew it as no one else did. In this entire public ministry… we cannot point to a single moment when he pauses to consider, or where he reflects, or where he takes back any word or deed.’” Please notice that, underline it and circle it because there’s another little tidbit about the person of Jesus and these obnoxious unbelievers who always like to talk about the good and gentle Jesus. Well, where did the good and gentle Jesus ever admit He made a mistake? Where’s the good and gentle Jesus ever taking back anything, ever apologizing for anything? See, Jesus is somebody special; you can’t categorize Him with all the rest of the good, nice people. He either is who He claimed to be, or He’s a liar and a lunatic. He doesn’t let you be in that comfort zone, He pulls you out. “‘From the beginning he appears as a finished, mature man.’”
The next paragraph has important implications today in our institutions. “Jesus’ personality is disturbing because it is perfectly holy and in active contact with the sinful, unholy world. Being ‘Christlike’ is not necessarily, therefore, being conformed to what modern psychological theory regards as the ideal or healthiest personality. For this reason Christian psychologists ought to develop new standards for the model personality, based not upon man’s speculations or statistical distributions, but upon the objective revelation of Christ. Would Christ, for example, be hired by a modern corporation which filtered job applicants on the basis of what modern theories consider mentally healthy personality?”
Institutions and corporations do this, they have filtering exams. I know one of them, a very famous national exam, that used to be given 20 years ago by a lot of corporations. And if you were an evangelical Christian and you really let your beliefs hang out while you were answering these questions, you got downgraded. If I remember, you lost 13 points just if you believed that prayer was answered. This is what idiot corporations use. That’s because they’re run by unbelievers, institutional fools. What they do is the enscripturate their foolishness into every company policy. And this is a good example of it. Jesus would flunk some of these personality profiles. He really would. What’s the problem? It gets back to how we started this series. Light has come into the world, and why is it that men don’t admit to Jesus Christ? Because of the darkness of the world, because men love darkness rather than light and neither come to the light lest their deeds be reproved. Why don’t the psychologists come to Jesus and submit, and say He is the model personality? Because men love darkness rather than light, lest their deeds be reproved. Are we saying necessarily killing people, bad deeds? Not necessarily, it could be good deeds done out of self-righteousness, the self-actualized personality.
When you think about it, that is a very arrogant statement, self-actualized personality, I do it my way. That’s an institutionalization of the virtue of arrogance and independence of the Creator. It’s the exact opposite of humility before the Creator. No wonder many of these personality profiles, I’m not saying all of them, but many of them are really weird and far out, even though they can be done and composed by PhD’s by the ton. Many of these profiles that I’m talking about weren’t made by stupid people. A lot of work went into them, and hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of research. The problem is what was the research? The research was statistical, looking at a group of 1000 people and saying who were the people that excelled? What do you mean by excelled? Oh, well, now what’s happening to the guy that designed the questionnaire for the statistical study? He’s got his definition of excel. Where did he get that definition at? His worldview. Now the worldview gets embedded into the definitions of the questionnaire so now what about the physical results of the questionnaire? They simply are numbers that reflect.
Who are you sampling in any questionnaire? Did you sample Adam before the fall? Was he part of the statistical sample? No. Are we sampling Jesus? No. Now it seems to me we’ve excluded the two guys, one was originally created perfect, the other guy was the God-man Savior, perfectly righteous and you’ve excluded them from the statistical study, so now what do we have left to put in to make statistic about? So now what does the norm mean in the center of the bell-shaped curve? It means the average of fallen statistical sinners. That’s the average sinner. Then we turn around and build a profile off the bell-shaped curve that really is measuring the statistical medium of sin, and say Jesus doesn’t fit the profile. Well, no kidding, guess why? This is an example of how subtle this is, and people can lose their jobs by this, you can lose your promotions by this sort of stuff, and it has nothing to do with you personally. It has to do with the foolishness of the institution that you work for.
Let’s state the doctrine of impeccability. “To state the doctrine of impeccability, one has to examine these two expressions.” The theologians expressed these back in the days when Latin was used as the language of precision, so we’re going to look at a little Latin here. “(1) ‘not able to sin,’” and you see the Latin word “(non posse peccare),” Latin infinitive. And “(2) ‘able not to sin’ (posse non peccare).”
Let’s stop and look at these two. Let’s look at the language very carefully. “Not able to sin,” and “able not to sin.” What’s the difference between these two phrases? A strong difference exists. The first one is perfection that can never fall, “not able to sin.” The second on leaves you uncertain, a person “able not to sin” but maybe they might. Clearly Adam was statement (2) at the point of his creation. Statement (2) unquestionably applies to Adam. Does statement (2) also apply to Jesus in so far as it says the truth? Yes. Was Jesus “able not to sin?” Sure He was. But here’s the question. Does statement (1) apply to Jesus, and if statement (1) applies to Jesus what does that do to the reality of temptation? So this has created a big debate in Christian circles.
We want to proceed carefully here, because I said you can’t understand kenosis and impeccability if you don’t understand the hypostatic union first. Let’s not be sucked into a blind path. However we deal with this we’ve got to remember who it is we’re dealing with, the hypostatic union; Jesus is God as well as man. Does statement (1) apply to God? You bet. Then which of the two most clearly expresses the God-man? Do you see the problem? That’s why theologians have a problem with this. If Jesus Christ is tempted and He wasn’t able to sin, how could He be tempted? And yet we have to adhere that statement one somehow does apply to Jesus because He is God. So as God statement (1) applies to Him, as man statement (2) applies to Him. How do we work these two together?
Page 63, “Good Reformed theologians have taken both sides of this question. Charles Hodge, for example, thought that statement (2) must apply to Christ” and not statement (1) “because he held that it must be possible for one to fall or sin in order to insure that any temptation would be real.” Why do you suppose they’re concerned about the temptations of Jesus being real? Because of kenosis. How could He not be genuinely tempted and come out as our sympathetic high priest. “He was tempted in all points as we are.” This is how doctrine is related, it’s like a sweater, you get rid of one of these little pieces of yarn and the thing starts unraveling, so you’ve got to be careful. One doctrine protects another doctrine. You don’t ever take a doctrine by itself. Ultimately when you deal with one doctrine you’re going to deal with all doctrines. [blank spot]
“William Shedd, however, held that statement (1) applies to Christ because he observed it was impossible for Christ as God-man to sin without fracturing the hypostatic union and the sovereign plan of God.” So the Hodge-Shedd discussion is critical to think this thing through. Let’s work through this a minute, and hopefully we’ll come out tonight with some sort of resolution to this.
“Hodge was obviously trying to protect human responsibility” Was he not? The reality of temptation, yes. “Shedd focused on divine sovereignty. The problem of resolving these two truths arises again and again in Biblical thought. (In the next chapter we encounter the dilemma in connection with the death of Christ—for whom did Christ die?)” Did Christ die for every man or did Christ die for the elect only. If Christ saves and His death doesn’t apply to the non-Christian, then did He really die for the non-Christian? To get involved in all of that we’re going to have to come right back to the same problem here. All these problems come right back to this, human responsibility and divine sovereignty. “To clarify matters we must dig a little deeper into the language and logic being used to discuss the question, using our knowledge of the Creator/creature distinction and the Trinity.” Always check how a question is asked before you try to answer it.
“The Biblical question,” this is a clarification of the language first, before we get to the logic. Be careful about alien ideas that we bring into our conversation because the vocabulary we are using we have learned out there in the world system, we bring it into a discussion and all of a sudden we realize, oops, we brought in through our language alien thoughts to Scripture. So let’s be careful.
“The Biblical question doesn’t involve abstract categories such as ‘free will’ and ‘determinism’.” Free will being you can do what you want to, determinism is that you’re biologically determined, that sort of thing. “To phrase the question as though free will and determinism are locked in mortal combat implies that both categories are universal and apply to all existence, including the Creator and the creature, in the same way. Saying that, however, puts the speaker solidly in the pagan camp believing in the Continuity of Being.” You can’t have a category that’s identical to God and man, to say that you have violated the Creator/creature distinction. “The question rather is: how do the analogous qualities of the Creator’s choice,” that is His sovereignty, “and the creature’s choice” human responsibility, how do those two “coexist? One expresses the incomprehensible nature of God,” divine sovereignty, and “the other describes human design,” human responsibility.
“To avoid drifting into the logical contradiction of free will versus determinism, it is better to use the terms ‘divine sovereignty’ and ‘human responsibility.’ The adjectives ‘divine’ and ‘human’ remind us of the fundamental Creator/creature distinction that underlies all our experience.” Watch this flow now. “As undiminished deity,” we know that from the hypostatic union, “Jesus possessed divine sovereignty,” so He possessed divine sovereignty but He was also true humanity, “as true humanity He possessed human responsibility. In the first statement above,” let’s look at this statement, if these two did apply to Jesus, for the sake of argument we’re going to say they do. “Not able to sin” reflects God’s unchanging holiness that God is not able to sin. He’s not able to lie, He’s not able to sin, and Jesus Christ was God. So if statement one applies to Jesus Christ in His divine sovereignty, what happens to this little vocabulary word [able], and is this little vocabulary word in statement (1) meaning the same thing as the vocabulary word in statement (2). This is where you can get really screwed up because you don’t notice things happening and we don’t consciously bring into our vocabulary and our logic and our discussions the Creator/creature distinction. So watch what we’re saying.
“In the first statement above, ‘not able to sin’ refers to the uncreated divine nature. The verb ‘able’ here takes on meaning from the divine sovereignty.” God is not able. “The second statement ‘able not to sin’ refers to the created human nature. In this statement the verb ‘able’ takes on meaning from human experience. Because of the hypostatic union, both must apply to Jesus Christ. The verb ‘able’, therefore, has different meanings in the two statements. No logical contradiction exists. Other Scripture supports this truth that Jesus was constrained (John 5:19)” says I can only do what I see My Father doing, “and free (John 8:35-36) at the same time.” In John 8 He says I make you free and if you are free you are free indeed. [John 5:19, “Jesus therefore answered and was saying to them, ‘Truly, truly, I say to you, the Son can do nothing of Himself, unless it is something He sees the Father doing; for whatever the Father does, these things the Son also does in like manner.’” John 8:35-36, “And the slave does not remain in the house forever; the son does remain forever,  If therefore the Son shall make you free, you shall be free indeed.”]
Jesus is at once constrained and free. So why there appears to be a contradiction is because we’ve loaded those two verbs with identical meaning. We’re using Aristotelian categories in our thinking, and we said “able” means the same thing in statement (1) as it means in statement (2). That can’t be. Why can’t it be? If this refers to Jesus’ deity, it means that God’s nature and character can never sin. We know this from statements repeatedly in Scripture. But “able” in this case is a description of what? The essence of God, the essence of the Creator, it labels His incomprehensible being. But this verb, when it’s talking about Christ in His humanity is talking about the creature capacity, capacity for choice, capacity for response. So since the word “able” does not have the same meaning in statement (1) and (2) you can’t show that there’s a contradiction between them. You cannot understand how they’re tied together but if we understood how they’re tied together then statement (1) would not be incomprehensible. And if statement (1) were comprehensible, then it would say that we in our finite mind have totally enveloped our God. That is a denial of the faith.
So if this leaves you on the prongs of a dilemma and you feel well, gee, it isn’t totally resolved, do you know what you’re feeling? You’re feeling the incomprehensibility of God right at that point. And this is where things like disasters in life, why the problem of evil will always come up like this, and it leaves you feeling like you’ve got two feet, and they’re both on different platforms and it’s a little uncomfortable, but it’s not logically incoherent. The unbeliever loves to say this is a logical contradiction. That’s not true. That is not a correct statement. That is not a logical statement. That is an irrational label, because in order to show a contradiction between these you’ve got to show the identity of the language. You haven’t done that and you’re not able to do it. So you can’t demonstrate there’s a contradiction but on the other hand we can’t get the two statements together to fully understand how they interplay. So let’s go on.
“Genuine temptation, therefore, does not require the ‘possibility of failure’,” here’s where I tried to get into the meaning of these words a little bit, so follow with me word by word, it’s my attempt to try to state something here. “Genuine temptation, therefore, does not require the possibility of failure if by ‘possibility of failure’ we mean that history is indeterminate, that its final outcome is ultimately the result of creature choices, atomic motions, and a plethora of other ‘clauses.’ If instead we mean by ‘possibililty of failure’ an unknown piece of the overall plan of the Creator, then temptation is adequately pictured.” In other words, you can walk into a situation, let’s take Jesus in Gethsemane for a clear picture of this. He goes into Gethsemane, He knows what’s going to happen, the cross is right there. Jesus has a choice; right up to the last minute of the cross He has a choice, doesn’t He. And you know that it’s a choice, because what is He praying about? The disciples are all sacked out, but what is He praying about? “Let this cup pass from me.” Do you get the impression it bothers Jesus? Yeah! Is He thrilled about this? I wouldn’t say so. He’s bringing it to prayer, as a human being in His humanity He’s able not to sin; He’s able to choose to go to be with the Father. He’s able to choose the will of God for Him.
You’re an outside observer and you’re watching Jesus praying in the garden, and you’re saying is He going to make it or not? But let’s suppose there are two of you. One of you is a Biblical observer and the other one is a non-biblical observer, pagan thinker. The pagan thinker looks at Jesus and says, gee, history is really uncertain, it’s a throw of the dice, nobody, not even Zeus know what’s finally going to come about because after all, the gods fight among themselves on Mount Olympus, they can’t get together, so I know that the gods don’t know for sure, they know more than I do, I have an IQ of 90 and Zeus might have an IQ of 900, but the problem still is that he can flunk. So the pagan sits there all this time thinking of history as a roll of the dice. So what can he do? He can only estimate, based on Jesus’ past character how it’s going to come out, but not really sure how it’s going to come out. He’s furthermore saying no one else knows how it comes out, including Jesus. See the hidden implication, there is no total knowledge here, it’s just a roll of the dice. He thinks that’s how he’s guaranteeing freedom of choice. He thinks the only way to guarantee freedom of choice is to have total uncertainty in history. So he sits there wondering which way are the dice going to go. Gee, I wonder if Zeus and everybody else gathers on the Mount of Olives to find out, all the gods and goddesses come to see, because none of them, whether they have a 900 IQ or a 90 IQ can tell what’s going to happen, because nobody knows what’s going to happen. That’s indeterminate history.
Over here we have a Biblical observer. He looks at this, and he doesn’t have any more information than the pagan. He doesn’t know what’s going to happen, but what’s the difference? The difference is he knows the One who does know what’s going to happen. He knows that his god is not a Zeus on Mount Olympus with a 900 IQ. My God is the Creator of the universe, who’s planned this from all eternity. And while I don’t know what it’s going to be like, I know that He knows. I know there’s a perfect plan here, and as a Biblical observer becomes more and more informed, he realizes this is the Son of God and the Son of Man, there’s going to be no failure here. So he knows the outcome is guaranteed. It’s not a roll of the dice.
So you see you can come to the same thing, it gets back to presuppositions again. Both these observers are looking at exactly the same data, and they’re coming to wildly different, exaggeratedly different conclusions. That’s why, when we discuss the temptation issue and the reality of temptation, the doctrine of impeccability, we’ve got to discipline ourselves to approach this thing out of a Biblical perspective in every area. We’ve got to watch out for slippery Aristotelian logic that leeks into our thinking, that we’re so used to using day after day. And all of a sudden it’s failing us here. We want to be careful, this is heavy stuff.
What we’re saying is that “in the case of Jesus Christ, however, we must further ask about whether temptation under the ‘not able to sin’ condition (i.e. it wasn’t in the plan of God for Him to sin) is somehow less of a problem than temptation is for fallen beings like ourselves. Did Jesus, in other words, not really enter into the struggles we face? B. F. Westcott, who lived in the nineteenth century along with Hodge and Shedd, gives us insight into what it means for a sinless being to be tempted. His classic commentary on the epistle to the Hebrews puts the matter well: ‘Sympathy with the sinner in this trial does not depend on the experience of sin but on the experience of the strength of the temptation to sin which only the sinless can know in its full intensity.’”
“Following Westcott, one can imagine a ‘temptation pressure’, pictured in Figure Four, which rises with resistance to the temptation. The pressure is relieved when one gives in and sins (line B). A sinless creature such as Jesus never gives in and, under the sovereign plan of God, might continue to experience the temptation and experience an intensity never encountered by a creature who sins (line B)”
“The doctrine of impeccability, therefore, states that Jesus Christ, though genuinely tempted beyond anything any other creature ever experienced, could not sin. As the One having true humanity and undiminished deity coexisting in one Person forever, Christ would always be victorious, even though kenotic during His life on earth.”
If that didn’t strain a few brains, I don’t know what will. I’m sure there are some questions.
Question asked: Clough replies: He’s wrestling, like I’m sure everybody else is, you understand the implications if Jesus did sin, shattering the plan of God and rupturing the hypostatic union and everything else. The question gets back to what had God sovereignly planned here. Is it absolutely necessary, we’ll see this as an implication of impeccability…let me go out on another area that might help us think this through. In answer to the question of evil, Christians often given the answer that God had to allow sin in order to demonstrate the existence of free will, that somehow free will, in order to be seen has to be seen as being exercised over to the negative side as well as the positive side. I do not believe that’s a complete answer, in fact I don’t even think it’s a Biblical answer. I don’t believe that God had to allow the fall in order to demonstrate free will or human responsibility.
An example of this is once we have the period of history called the probationary period, the period of grace, between the fall and the judgment, free will isn’t done away with in heaven. Free will is not done away with today among the angels that serve God that are loyal. You can’t say that God said, oh well, I let them choose for or against Me and now I’ve reprogrammed their computers so now they are robotically set never to fall. Yet it is in the plan of God that none will. It is in the plan of God that eternity is absolutely secure and free from all fall. How does He accomplish this? How is this pulled off, so that sin is guaranteed forever and ever never ever to be a threat, without at the same time somehow tampering with the volition of the people who dwell in the Kingdom of God for all eternity?
Somehow it happens, which gets back to a deeper question, that viewed from God’s plan, and this is the way you have to think about it, viewed from God’s plan it was not possible for Jesus Christ in His humanity to fall. God, from all eternity planned the cross, planned the salvation act of the cross, always as part and parcel of this plan of Jesus, because after all, what was the righteousness that we share? The righteousness that He generated in His life as the God-man. That means that all the time He was facing these temptations they were genuine temptations. Certainly Matt. 4 when He’s talking to Satan, they were genuine temptations but what we’re saying is the existence of the temptation does not require as its corollary a threat inside the plan of God, that once God decrees history to move in a certain direction there’s a certainty to the decree because He’s decreed it.
That’s why I’m saying what we’re dealing with here is hard because it’s the same thing that we run into all across the board. It’s just tonight when you get into the person of Christ because He’s God and man together, it comes out more clearly. But it’s not any different than, for example, why is it some people believe and some people don’t? Why is it that Satan fell? The answer goes back to the fact, because God established history under His decree that way, period. Because the only alternative you have to that view is what I said, it’s the pagan view, that history is a set of marbles, there is absolutely no plan whatsoever to history. You can’t have half a plan. You either have marbles or you have a plan. You either have sovereignty or you don’t.
Question asked: Clough starts to reply, is interrupted, someone else makes a statement: She is pointing out that the language in here… see, you can’t use words without automatically importing meaning that comes in with the words. There’s no such thing as a neutral word. That’s what’s going on in this discussion. What I tried to show there was that Jesus Christ can’t be divided half and half. Remember statement (1) and statement (2). The problem is both of them have to apply to the one person. What does the hypostatic union say? It says undiminished deity is united in one person without confusion forever. One or the other statements has to apply here as the ultimate statement, as the ultimate statement about what’s going on. All that Shedd is saying is that if you negate one, what you have done is that you have slighted the deity of Christ, because the One person is God and is man. What you’re dealing with here, going back to what she is saying, is that this “able” (this one right here) probably carries with it so much baggage the way we use it in our everyday language that it’s distorting our thinking about what that statement (1) is saying.
Debbie gave the illustration of a father who is perfectly capable of physically assaulting his child, and yet he loves the child and certainly will not do it. That’s the sort of thing that’s meant by this right here, because God has His character He’s not able to sin, never wants to sin. But because Jesus Christ is one person, not two, He shares both the divine nature and the human nature and under the plan of God, as He is sanctified, He loves the Father with all His heart, there’s not any sin Him, and He loves the Father with all His heart and that is a finite reflection in His humanity of His infinite holiness. It’s inconceivable that in His infinite holiness He would ever sin. The problem is, you’ve got this linkage in one person forever. That’s what the theologians are dealing with on the Shedd side of the controversy. What they’re trying to do is to show the impossibility of the destruction of the sovereign plan of God, which is rooted not in arbitrary sovereignty, like some hyper-Calvinists think, it’s rooted in the very character and being of God.
Wade pointed out that he feels right now, and I’m sure all of us have this sense, that he wants to break rationality and make an existential decision. That’s very much the kind of atmosphere we have lived in, our society, for the past hundred years. That would never have occurred to any of us if we had lived in America in 1780 or 1690, that’s a statement that’s a very 20th century statement. I feel like I’ve got to break out of rationality and just choose. Why we feel that way isn’t because of some inherent view of how we think, it’s because of a particular way we have been taught to think. It gets back to the fact that when we can’t demonstrate that sentence A and sentence B fit together, we can demonstrate they don’t conflict, but we can’t demonstrate they go together.
Let me give you a neutral illustration of the same kind of thing so it’s not theological. For years and years, for centuries men in western history were brought up on Euclid, and remember from high school, Euclid has his postulates, had his axioms, at the beginning of the book in plain geometry. One of those axioms was the parallel line axiom. What was the parallel line axiom? If I have a line and a point outside the line, then I can draw one and only one parallel line through that point. Euclid said that’s the axiom, and that along with the other axioms, we built theorems and corollaries and you built up geometry, everything was rational, everything was logically consistent. However, what then happened was that somebody, very perceptively, in the 19th century noted that that’s not axiomatic, that one and only one parallel line can be drawn through a point outside of a line. And if you want a good example of it in 3-D, it’s a sphere. You can draw different lines through that point in a sphere. So that’s when non-Euclidean geometry started, in the 19th century.
But they were logically consistent, so then the mathematicians were sitting here, going like this, like we are tonight, saying that I’ve got Euclidean geometry, they’re all perfectly… I mean guys sweat doing thesis to make sure that theorems followed from that, everything was rational over here in the Euclidean camp. But everything is rational over here in the non-Euclidean camp. So now which one fits the real scene? Do you know—we don’t know today. Nobody knows.
It’s that sort of dilemma that’s come up with the human thinking. Let me follow this through. What has happened is that people are retreating from the use of reason and leaping in the dark making all kinds of decisions. They’re fatigued, they’re depressed. This is an intellectual form of depression, don’t bother me, I just want to choose, I’ve got to live, come on, I haven’t got time for all this stuff. That’s the climate that’s happened in the last one or two hundred years. The reason we feel that is because is back when all this existential stuff was going on, what we were doing in our culture is we were doing exactly what the pagans had done prior to bouncing off the Bible in the days of the Roman Empire when the gospel first went out into what we call Western Europe. What has happened is that everybody has forgotten the fact that there is rationality, hyper rationality, in God. So He certainly knows, Euclidean and non-Euclidean, He knows which one fits. The problem is I’m finite and I don’t have enough data to decide. But because I don’t have enough data to decide doesn’t mean I break out of rationality and go irrational, IF I have what? In other words, if I’m sitting here I’ve got a dilemma, I can say I’ll stay and I’ll try to work it out rationally, or I go over here and I throw away… I don’t know, I don’t know, I don’t know what the answer is, I just choose. That’s existentialism.
This is genuine by the way, this Euclidean and non-Euclidean thing limits the rationality, that’s very real, that can be shown to be proved. So faced with the destruction over here, I start walking in this direction. But the difference between walking in this direction as a pagan and I get out here and I just choose, what I do Biblically, and we all do this if we think about it, if we are born again and we have a heart for God, we are automatically doing this, we’re just not thinking about it, when we’re prompted by the Spirit we’re doing this, and that is, when you face an evil situation and you don’t have an explanation for it, and your heart cries out for an explanation for it, what do you do as a Christian? Do you just say well, I don’t know what it is, so, must not have a reason, there’s no reason to this, no reason for my sickness.
None of us act that way. What do we do? We fall back on the fact that He knows. What are we doing rationally at that point and why is that decision not a violation of reason? That is not an existential decision. Modern theologians are wrong, that is not an existential decision, that’s completely different from what’s going on over here. In this case there is no reason in me or anywhere, that’s existentialism, that rationality I see doesn’t exist in me, I see it doesn’t exist in you, I see it doesn’t exist in the human race, and therefore I extrapolate and say that there’s no reason anywhere! No purpose anywhere! Do you see what I’ve done? I’ve universalized out of my finite experience I’ve made a universal. What is the universal? That there’s no reason, no purpose, nowhere anything. Why? Because I can’t find it in here.
What are we doing as Biblical Christians? We’re saying yes, we agree with you Mr. Pagan, we’ve come to the end of our rationality also. We can’t find meaning and purpose in here either. But we know where to go to find it. We’re not universalizing our frustration and throwing a philosophic tantrum, and throwing rationality out the back door. What we’re doing is realizing that what we call reason is part of His image in me. And if want to embed and put a foundation under this imagery under this imagery that I have, this finite version, I go to the infinite version, which is the foundation of it. What is that? God’s omniscience, the fact that I know He has a plan, and it is, frankly, inaccessible to me.
A good example: Job, he deals with this thing, you get at the back of the book of Job and does God ever tell Job why? He never does. But does Job break out of reason and go existential. Some people think he does, but he doesn’t. What does he rationally conclude in chapter 40? I have spoken words without knowledge, that’s a rational statement, it’s describing something, I have spoken words without knowledge, and I put my hand on my mouth and I trust you, O Lord. Are those meaningless statements or are they full of content intellectually?
That’s the same thing we’re doing here. We can’t explain what’s going on here, but we know one thing, there’s not a conflict between those two. When we feel tension between statement (1) and statement (2) the problem is that we’re loading them with identity. And when we load them with identity we’re crisscrossing the Creator/creature boundary. We’re doing exactly what Aristotle did, and we can’t do that; logic breaks down when we do that, you do get conflict, you really do. That’s the same kind of thinking that says the Trinity can’t exist, because how can you have one and three? God can’t be three and be one, come on! What do we say as Christians? He’s not three and one in the same way, I don’t know the different ways, sorry. That’s Trinitarian logic. It’s not irrationality, it’s not existentialism.
What we’re trying to do here in His impeccability is simply to describe the fact that in God’s sovereign plan, it wasn’t part of the plan for Jesus to fail, and God’s sovereign plan is perfect, and it was never going to be compromised, it was never going to be twisted, turned, or any other thing. Yet there was a reality that was conceivable, because what does Jesus Christ say, Do you not know that I could pray and there would be thousands of angels here. You could say that’s kind of an option, isn’t it? I mean, it’s a conceivable option. We’re not denying that He faced the temptation to do that. What we’re denying is that He ever would do that. There’s a difference.
I’ll tell you why this is not just theology. In the New Testament there’s a passage which is in the notes, that will blow you away, and everybody slips on it and does everything, there are several passages in the New Testament that when Christ’s life is imparted to the believer, there’s statements that go like this: He cannot sin because God’s seed abides in him. Oh-oh, now what are we going to do? Now we’ve got the same problem. We didn’t solve it when we started talking about Jesus, so now we’re in the New Testament epistles and here we go, bang, we get hit with it in 1 John 3, now what do we do with it there? That’s why I say you have to work through this thing, and it’s not easy, and it doesn’t come overnight. What we talked about tonight would take a whole semester in theology. And then the guys at the final exam are still going like this… so don’t feel bad
What I’m saying is, I’m presenting you with a discussion. This is what real people have debated down through church history. I told you my conclusion to it. Nobody’s going to get excommunicated if they don’t agree with me, I’m just saying that I believe that if you don’t hold to that position, you may think you’ve solved the problem and it resurfaces and bites you later on. We’ll see that, particularly when we deal with this nasty thing, we’re always talking about the limited atonement, the unlimited atonement, it turns out both sides have a point here. They really do, so you want to thread your way carefully through these things before you leap to one side or the other. Usually when good Christians that are Biblical students debate this kind of a question, there is usually a logistic and a linguistic problem that’s going on. Sometimes the language we use to state things is really misleading us because of the baggage we have with those words.
This will give you something to chew on.