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Jesus: Man of the Bible

Lesson 10

THE GREAT PARADOX … continued

Up to this point, we have spent considerable time trying to understand the person of Jesus Christ. In our previous lesson, we tried to find a way to make the two sides of Jesus (God and Man) fit together into a single individual who could be described as being like us in every way and yet remain like God in every way. The key we proposed was that of identity. Although Jesus faced every second of his earthly existence as an ordinary human, he never stopped being who he always was—God! So, what does all this mean in simple words? Jesus, the God of Creation, gave up his place in heaven and lived his life on the earth as an ordinary person. We must also remember that he did this to accomplish several things—all of which would NOT have been possible unless Jesus was made like us in every way! Being just like us in every way demands that we explain some of the things that happened in the recorded life of Jesus.

How can Jesus be “just like us” and perform miracles?

In order for Jesus to be described as being like us in every way, he would have to live with the same ordinary human powers that you and I see in one another every day. However, when we look at the record of Jesus’ life we cannot help but notice him doing many things that are very different from our ordinary human abilities. If he was just like us in every way, then how do we explain these miraculous abilities? Any time he wanted to, Jesus could walk on water, raise the dead, and heal sick people. These are things which ordinary people cannot do, but God can easily do. Wouldn’t these miracles, then, be proof that Jesus is God? Many Bible teachers would agree with this point without hesitation and many today, in fact, teach “the miracles of Jesus prove that he is God!” They reason that since only God can do miracles, and since Jesus performed miracles, then he MUST be God!

If it were not for the fact that certain New Testament writers we have studied in previous lessons placed great emphasis upon Jesus being like us in every way, then we could easily accept this idea. However, the fact that our previous studies stressed that Jesus was just like us has to make us wonder if this modern teaching is the only possible conclusion one can make regarding Jesus’ ability to do miracles. Does the fact that Jesus could perform miracles have to mean that he was doing those things because he was God? If Jesus made a decision to empty himself of all of HIS OWN powers, when he came down to the earth to live as a man, does this mean that he could no longer perform miracles? These are very good questions to think about.

As we consider these questions, we need to think deeper on the matter. Let us consider another question. Are there any cases in the Bible where ordinary people have performed miracles? Yes, there are several. The Bible records the cases of people like Moses, Elijah, and many of the other prophets in the Old Testament. In the New Testament, we also have the cases of ordinary people like Peter, Paul, and other Christians. All of these people were ordinary humans who possessed no special powers of their own. They were “just like us in every way”, and yet they performed miracles. Did the fact that these people performed miracles indicate that they were God? Of course not! These humans were only able to do these things because they were given the necessary power by God.

With this thought in mind, let us do some research into the things that Jesus did while he was alive on the earth and see if we can discover anything that might help explain this difficult situation.

Stop

PLEASE STOP HERE AND WORK THROUGH THE ASSIGNMENT WORKSHEET for this lesson. After completing your study of the list of passages then you may continue on to the rest of the lesson.

The passages of this worksheet fit into two categories. The first category is made up of passages in which Jesus spoke about himself. The first section of this list contains passages in which Jesus spoke, in a very general way, about his work and its relationship with the Father.

What Jesus said about himself

We begin the list with John 5:36, in which Jesus says that the things he does are the things the Father gave him to do. The point is very simple to understand. Jesus received all of his instructions from the Father.

Next, we have John 10:18, where Jesus speaks about giving his life. He mentions that he alone gives his life. However, notice how he closes the statement by saying that this is a command he received from his Father. Again, we see that the Father is behind the work Jesus came to do.

In John 14:31, Jesus speaks very clearly when he states that he loves the Father and that he does exactly what his Father has commanded him to do.

Next in the list is John 15:10, where Jesus defines love in terms of obedience. He points out that he obeyed the Father’s commands and so we should also obey his commands. Jesus did not do anything from his own authority. He completely submitted to the will of his Father.

All of these passages agree with what we learned about Jesus in Philippians chapter 2. Remember that it was there that it was explained how Jesus humbled himself and became obedient to the Father, although this obedience caused him to be killed on a cross! It was because of his obedience to the Father that Jesus was exalted!

The next section of passages in the worksheet contained statements from Jesus specifically about his teachings. Once again, let us put them into context and see what he has to say.

In John 7:16, Jesus clearly stated that the teachings he gave to the people did not originate from within him. Everything he taught he received from the Father.

The same idea can be found in John 8:26-28. Jesus said that the things he told the world were things he received from the Father.

Perhaps one of the best and clearest passages is John 12:49-50. Jesus indicated that he only spoke the things that the Father commanded him to say. He goes on to say that these very things he received and taught will form the basis for the Judgment on the last day!

Another very clear passage is John 14:10. The interesting point here seems to be that the things Jesus taught were things that the Father actually taught through him. The Father was living in him and working through him.

What others said about Jesus

The second category of passages in the worksheet is those spoken by others in explanation of Jesus and his works. The first two passages found in the list were spoken by the apostle Peter. He was an eyewitness to the life and works of Jesus and he knew him much better then most people did.

The first passage we have is Acts 10:37-38. The context of this passage is very important. Peter is making a speech in the house of the first non-Jewish person to become a Christian—a Roman soldier who was named Cornelius. He is telling the story of Jesus to this man and those people living in his house. In his description of Jesus, Peter states that Jesus was given the Holy Spirit, and that he then went around from place to place performing miracles because God was with him! The point here is that Jesus did miracles because God was with him. It would have been very easy for Peter to say that Jesus went around doing miracles because he was God, but this is not what he said. He emphasized the humanity of Jesus!

Another important passage is Acts 2:22. In this passage, Peter is making a speech to a crowd of people in Jerusalem, after Jesus went back to heaven. He is telling them about how God used them to kill Jesus and how he made Jesus the Messiah. When Peter introduced Jesus in his speech, he described him as a man who was approved by God and then pointed out that the proof of this “approval” was all the signs and miracles that God did through him! The point here is that God did miracles through Jesus. It would have been easy for Peter to tell those people that Jesus did the miracles by his own power because he was God, but Peter did not say that. Instead, Peter emphasized that Jesus was “a man”!

Finally, let us consider the record of one of the actual accounts of Jesus healing someone. Luke 5:17-26 tells the story about Jesus healing a paralyzed man whose friends lowered him down through a roof of the house where he was teaching. Notice that in verse 17 it states in very clear words, “... the power of the Lord was upon him to heal.” Jesus healed that man using power that he received from his Father!

Final questions to consider about Jesus’ abilities...

The situation we face here is truly interesting! Don’t you agree? On the one hand, we have the demands of humanity that we have noticed from our previous lessons. If Jesus did these special things using his own Godly power then it would not be possible to describe him as being just like us in every way! On the other hand, we have the seeming contradiction of the fact that Jesus did many miracles; things that ordinary people simply cannot do but things that God can do! We now have the new testimony of this lesson, which clearly shows that Jesus did not do those special and wonderful things using his own power. Instead, we discover that he did all of those miracles using power that he received from his Father. In fact, it was actually stated that God himself did those things through Jesus. God did those special things to show the people that Jesus was approved by him, and that Jesus was his Son!

Earlier in this lesson, we asked a question. “Are there any cases in the Bible where people we know to be ordinary humans perform miracles?” At that time, it was pointed out that the Bible contains many examples of ordinary people doing miracles, in the same way Jesus did. We know that those people were not able to do those things by their own ability because humanity does not possess the necessary power to do those things. Those people were able to do those miraculous things because God was with them. God did those things through them! God did miracles through these people to confirm to everyone that he was with these people and that they had his approval. (For additional evidence on this point, please read Hebrews 2:1-4. Notice how the miraculous work of God was for the purpose of confirmation.) This seems to be the same with Jesus’ miracles. As we have learned from past lessons, Jesus emptied himself of his own special powers when he became a man. The only reason Jesus was able to perform miracles was because God was doing them through him, just as God had also done miracles through other people, like Moses, Elijah, Peter, Paul, and many other humans. This explanation allows Jesus to be just like us in every way and still do all of the wonderful special things he did.

And what about all of the special knowledge Jesus had? “Are there any cases in the Bible where people we know to be ordinary humans had miraculous knowledge from God?” In our first few lessons, we studied about how MANY people in many times and places were given miraculous knowledge from God. That is how the Bible came into being! (Remember 2 Peter 1:20-21) Remember that Jesus HIMSELF mentioned time after time how NONE of the things he taught came from himself, but from the Father! Therefore, Jesus’ own special knowledge was set aside when he “emptied himself” and, instead, was replaced by the knowledge God decided to give him, in the same way that God had decided to give special knowledge to all of the other ordinary humans who served him before and after the time of Jesus!

Could Jesus be sinless and still be “like us in every way”?

Aside from the miracles Jesus did, another important difference we see between Jesus and ordinary people is his sinless life. How could Jesus be just like us and remain sinless? After all… “Doesn’t the Bible say that it is impossible for a human to live without committing a single sin?” Many people are confused about this matter. If Jesus was really like us in every way then he would have sinned, right? Therefore, if Jesus was sinless, and if all humans have to commit sin, then the only way Jesus could have remained sinless was if he did it as God. This is how many people today reason out the sinless life of Jesus. However, is this the correct way of explaining the situation? Could Jesus live a sinless life as a man—being just like us in every way? Let us investigate this further and see what we find.

“All people have sinned and fall short of God’s glory!”

Many people insist that Jesus was sinless because he was God. In addition, most religious minded people have been made to understand that no human being can live without sin. Romans 3:23 is commonly quoted “to prove” that this is true. The logic commonly used goes something like this;

PREMISE IF – ALL humans sin, and fall short of God’s glory.
(Romans 3:23)
OBSERVATION AND IF – Jesus was sinless,
CONCLUSION THEN – Jesus was sinless BECAUSE he was God!

However, careful examination will show that this is not the proper way to apply logic to this scenario. Proper logic would be stated as follows;

PREMISE IF – ALL humans sin, and fall short of God’s glory.
OBSERVATION AND IF – Jesus was sinless,
CONCLUSION THEN – Jesus was not a human!

Of course, we cannot accept the logical conclusion that Jesus was not a man because that would go against every piece of evidence we have seen in our study of the humanity of Jesus. Therefore, we need to examine his sinless life more closely to see if there might be another explanation.

The key to understanding Jesus’ sinless life lies in understanding two basic points. First, we must understand how sin works in the life of a human. Second, we must understand Romans 3:23 in its proper context.

Understanding how sin works…

We begin this part of our investigation by looking at a very important verse. (Perhaps this is one of the most important passages in the entire Bible. (This is a good passage for you to memorize and recite each morning when you wake up.) If you remember it and do what it says, it will save your life!) The Bible passage in question is 1 Corinthians 10:13. The context here is long but easy to establish. The apostle Paul is writing a letter to a group of Christians living in the Greek city of Corinth. It was a city of about 500,000 people and was filled with all kinds of immorality. Most of the Christians in that place came from this evil world and were struggling in their commitment to live the life of true faith. From what we read in the beginning of the letter, it seems that they were continually fighting with one another and practicing things in their lives that went against everything they had been taught about God’s will. In short, they were missing the main point of Christianity and were in danger of losing their souls! Paul wrote this letter, hoping to change their understanding so that they might change their lives. (It is a difficult letter to read because of the many details of their struggles! It is hard to accept that “Christians” living in that time struggled with the problems mentioned in the letter.)

The basic problem with these people was that they had not become the kind of people God intended them to be. In Chapter 10, Paul is making a very strong point. He reminds his readers about the people of Israel, in the Old Testament. At one time those people were very fortunate. They had a very special relationship given to them by God and yet later they treated him as if he did not matter to them. They did many bad things and because they did those bad things, God gave them up and they were lost. Paul pointed out to his readers that the stories of those Israelite people were written down so that they (and also us today!) might learn from the example of their mistakes.

Then we comes to verse 13, where he says,

13 The only temptations that you have are the same temptations that all people have. But you can trust God. He will not let you be tempted more than you can bear. But when you are tempted, God will also give you a way to escape that temptation. Then you will be able to endure it.”

This passage is remarkable because it reveals to us that there are actually some rules governing how temptation works in the lives of all humans. If we list down the facts that are presented here, we find the following:

  1. Temptation is the same for all people! In other words, no person can ever say that the temptations they face are different from those being faced by other people.
  2. God is faithful and will not let a person be tempted beyond their limitations! This is the key to the whole picture of temptation and sin. God places a limitation on how far the temptation can go. He will never allow a person to be tempted so much that the person is forced to sin!
  3. God will always give each person a way to escape each temptation so that the person can endure the temptation. This means that if God always provides a way to escape each temptation, then there will never be a time when a person is forced to sin.

Therefore, if a person is experiencing a certain temptation, then that person must understand that God has confidence that he/she can endure it, because if they could not endure that particular temptation then God would not allow them to be tempted in that way! Remember also that God is faithful! Paul wrote this to these people in order to help them see that they were accountable for their actions and that they did not have to do all of those bad things they were doing. He wanted them to stop sinning!

When temptation comes into the life of a person, it requires that person to make a choice. From what we learn in this passage, we know that every temptation will have two choices! When a person faces a temptation, that person can choose to do the right thing, or, that person can choose to do the wrong thing. As long as God keeps his promise to us, no person can ever say that they were FORCED to commit a sin. (The promise God makes, in this passage, forms the foundation for what we all like to call the “FREE WILL” of man.) If a person desires to live without committing a single sin, then he has the “free will” right to do so. Therefore, it is possible for a person to live without committing a single sin because if a person always makes the correct choice and takes the way of escape provided by God, then they will never sin. Living a sinless life is not a matter of “capability”, rather, it is a matter of choice! Isn’t this a great gift that God gives to us? Isn’t it unfortunate that most of us never discover it until long after we have committed our first sin. If we had only known more then perhaps things could have been different!

Temptation

There is another important passage concerning temptation that we need to study. Please turn to and carefully read James 1:13-15. What does this passage teach us about the relationship between temptation and sin? We discover that sin follows a process. It is a process that begins with wrong thoughts and desires and takes place inside of a person’s mind. These thoughts lead to wrong choices, which lead to wrong actions—which is SIN! James points out that it is wrong to blame God for sin in our lives. If we have sin, it is our own fault. We sin because we make wrong choices when we are tempted!

Once again, we must understand that sin happens as a result of a free-will decision that a person makes. If a person wants to do so, he does not have to sin. He can choose to do right each and every time! It is his free-will right.

This would also apply to Jesus. If he was just like us in every way, then he was also living under these same promises that God made to all other humans. No temptation would come to him that was greater than he could bear and God would provide him with a way to escape, just as he does all other people. When tempted, Jesus had the FREE WILL right to make any choice he wanted. Therefore, temptation and sin for Jesus was exactly like temptation and sin are for every other human. The difference is that while most of us often choose to do the wrong thing, Jesus always chose to do the right thing. That is why he was sinless.

With this in mind, let us now go back and look at Hebrews 4:15. What did it say about Jesus and the temptations he faced? It showed us that Jesus was tempted in every way just as we are and yet he did not sin! Considering that he was “like us in every way”, and knowing that 1 Corinthians 10:13 applies to all people, we can see that it was possible for Jesus to be sinless without using any Godly powers!

Therefore, the correct logic to use in explaining the sinless life of Jesus would be something like this,

PREMISE IF – ALL humans CAN CHOOSE to be sinless,
(1 Corinthians 10:13)
OBSERVATION AND IF – Jesus was “tempted like us in every way and yet did not sin”, (Hebrews 4:15)
CONCLUSION THEN – Jesus was sinless BECAUSE HE CHOSE “the way of escape” every time!

The final passage we will study in this section is 1 Peter 2:21-25. Please read it carefully. What do we learn here? It is very important to notice the point the writer is talking about people sinning. The amazing thing here is that he uses Jesus’ sinless life as an example for his readers to imitate! In fact, the text here actually says that Jesus left his sinless life as a pattern for all people to copy! If Jesus’ sinless life wasn’t a HUMAN sinless life, then how could the writer expect his human readers to be able to copy it in their own lives?

We hope now you understand the sinless life of Jesus. He was not sinless because he used his Godly powers. Jesus was sinless, as a man, because he always chose to take the way of escape when he was tempted. We all can do this too, if we want to! If we will only take more time to think before we act then perhaps we will become more successful in avoiding sin in our lives!

Understanding Romans 3:23

Earlier, we said that there were two points about sin that require our understanding. We have finished with the first and so let us now go on to the second. There is a very popular passage that people often say teaches that it is impossible for a human to live without committing sin; Romans 3:23. It is a very short statement and if you take it out of its paragraph and look at it alone, it can easily be misunderstood. Many people might say that this passage teaches that it is IMPOSSIBLE for a person to live without sin. However, is that what the writer meant to say in his letter?

In order to understand the proper meaning of any passage we need to establish its context, and this passage is no exception. In order to do this, we need to go back to the beginning of the book of Romans and carefully trace the writer’s thoughts through each paragraph. In chapter 1, after his introduction and greeting, the writer (who is Paul the apostle) sets up a point with the statement that he makes in verse 18. (Please read this.) This statement speaks about God’s judgment upon ALL bad conduct and injustice of men. Then, he speaks about two different groups of people and how each one relates to the statement. First, he mentions a group called the Gentiles.1 Paul tells them that they are without excuse because although they recognized that there was a God, they chose not to ask him to be their guide. Instead, they made up their own rules and did many terrible things. The conclusion is that the Gentiles will definitely be punished by God for their disobedience!

The second group Paul speaks about is called the Jews.2 These people were different from the Gentiles in that they knew God. Their ancestors had asked God for his guidance and he gave them a very special agreement at Mount Sinai. However, Paul says that these people were not much better than those Gentiles because although they had God’s guidance and laws, the Jews chose not to follow them and they also did terrible things. Therefore, the conclusion is that the Jews are also facing God’s punishment.

From chapter 3:21 to 26, which is one long sentence, Paul writes about how God’s justice is revealed in the way he made for those people who believe in Jesus to be saved. His emphasis there is on how this point relates to the discussion of the TWO groups he has been speaking about since chapter 1. Notice how, in verse 22, he states there is “no distinction” between the Jews and the Gentiles3. This seems to indicate that he is still speaking of the two groups in this section.

This brings us to that famous passage Romans 3:23. It is clear from the context, that Paul is continuing the thought he began in the previous verses because the verse begins with the word “For”, or “Because”. The point of the sentence is that God’s justice is revealed unto all the ones (both Jews and Gentiles) who believe, “because THEY all sinned and are in need of God’s glory!” There is no distinction! It is interesting to find that the writer uses a verb form here that excludes himself from the people he is speaking about. If we consider the point of the entire section (chapter 1-3), we actually find that it supports everything we have learned about sin. Paul’s point through all of this is that BOTH of these groups of people are bad, BECAUSE, instead of choosing to honor and serve God, (which they certainly COULD have done) they chose to serve themselves! They ALL sinned, not because they had to, but because they ALL CHOSE TO!

As students, we must make a careful evaluation of what we are reading in these three chapters of Romans. Is Paul speaking about whether it is possible for a person to live a sinless life, or, is he speaking about the history of mankind’s choices? Context clearly points to the second option. He is simply laying out a very short summary of the HISTORY of the bad choices mankind has made and the resulting difficult situation mankind faces due to those bad choices. We must assume that the Gentiles COULD have chosen to seek God and that the Jews COULD have chosen to follow God. If they had only done so, then the first three chapters of Romans would have been written differently!

Ultimately, we must remember what we read in 1 Corinthians 10:13; that God is FAIR! Therefore, if he is going to hold all people accountable for their sins—and punish people for the mistakes they make—then FAIRNESS demands that people must have the ability to “not do” the bad things they will be judged for! In order for there to be fairness in the judgment, each and every violation of God’s will must be a situation in which the person who has violated that will did so by choice! The only way this can happen is IF it is possible for a person to live their entire life without making a single sin. From what we learned in 1 Corinthians 10:13, combined with what we learned about the sinless human life of Jesus, we can be assured that it IS possible for humans to live without sin, and, that God will not be acting unfairly if he punishes sinners. If any person goes to Hell, they can only blame themselves!

SUMMARY:

In summary, let us try to remember that God has set rules that make it possible for us all to live a sinless life. Whether or not YOU and I actually live a sinless life is another matter entirely. Just because God makes it possible for us to be sinless, that does not mean that we will actually be sinless! It depends upon the individual choices each of us will make during each temptation we face during our lifetime. One fact we cannot deny is that Jesus came down and became a human and he was just like us in every way. Another fact we cannot deny is that Jesus was tempted in every way just as we are, and yet he did not sin. He could not have any special Godly power to help him accomplish this sinless life because if he did, then it could not be said that his temptation was just like ours or that he himself was just like us in every way. On the other hand, if Jesus was tempted like us in every way and yet he did not sin, then this means that he simply made the correct choice every time he was tempted. If his sinless life was a human sinless life, then this places accountability upon us! If he was an ordinary human and lived sinless, then we can also be sinless if we CHOOSE to! This thought makes us feel uncomfortable because we know how difficult it is not to sin. However, with the knowledge of right and wrong that God supplies us with in the Bible, and with the record of the example of Jesus, why should we be afraid? If God has given us all the information we need, and if he has set the rules of temptation in such a way that we will never be forced to do something against our will, then why can’t we live without sin? Jesus was sinless because of the love and commitment he had for his Father. Perhaps if we imitate this example of commitment then we will be much more successful than we imagine possible. One thing is certain. We all will be called to account for our actions and there will be a Judgment Day! The choices you and I make today will decide where we will spend eternity!

Footnotes

1 In many translations, the word Gentile is used to represent all of the people who were not part of the race of people called Israelites. Paul speaks about them from 1:18 down to 2:16.

2 The term Jew is used to refer to the people belonging to the nation of Israel. Paul speaks specifically about them in Romans 2:17 down to 3:20.

3 Paul’s comparison of the Jews and Gentiles can easily be seen by looking at Romans 1:16; 2:9-10; 3:9. In addition, the idea that Paul intends for the phrase “no distinction” to mean the Jews and Gentiles can clearly be seen in Romans 10:12.