The 15th Anglican article ("Of Christ Alone without Sin") may be quoted as a true summary of Scripture teaching on sinlessness: "Christ in the truth of our nature was made like unto us in all things, sin only excepted, from which He was clearly (prorsus) void, both in His flesh and in His spirit ..... Sin, as Saint John saith, was not in Him. But all we the rest, though baptized, and born again in Christ, yet offend in many things; and, if we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves."
1. Christ Sinless:
Here the sinlessness of the Incarnate Son is affirmed. It needs no elaborate argument to show that this is the affirmation of Scripture. It is not only, as we are reminded above, definitely taught there. Yet more is it implied in the mysterious (and morally miraculous) phenomenon of the Lord's evidently total immunity from the sense of sin, His freedom from inward discord or imperfection, from the slightest discontent with self. It is not too much to say that this representation is self-evidential of its truth to fact. Had it been the invention of worshipping disciples, we may say with confidence that they (supposed thus capable of "flee handling") would have been certain to betray some moral aberrations in their portraiture of their Master. They must have failed to put before us the profound ethical paradox of a person who, on the one hand, enjoins penitence and (with a tenderness infinitely deep) loves the penitent, and, on the other hand, is never for a moment penitent Himself, and who all the while has proved, from the first, a supreme moral and spiritual magnet, "drawing all men to him." Meanwhile the Scripture represents the sinlessness of the Incarnate Lord as no mere automatic or effortless condition. He is sensitive to temptation, to a degree which makes it agony. His sinlessness, as to actual experience (we are not here considering the matter sub specie aeternitatis), lies in the perfect fidelity to the Father of a will, exercised under human conditions, filled absolutely with the Holy Spirit, willingly received.
2. Saints Not Sinless:
On the other hand, "we the rest," contemplated as true believers, are warned by the general teaching of Scripture never to affirm sinlessness as our condition. There are passages (e.g. 1John 3:9; 5:1 f) which affirm of the regenerate man that he "sinneth not." But it seems obvious to remark that such words, taken without context and balance, would prove too much; they would make the smallest sense of sin a tremendous evidence against the person's regeneration at all. It would seem that such words practically mean that sin and the regenerate character are diametrical opposites, so that sinning is out of character, not in the man as such, but in the Christian as such. And the practical result is an unconquerable aversion and opposition in the regenerate will toward all known sin, and a readiness as sensitive as possible for confession of failure. Meanwhile such passages as 1 John are, to the unbiased reader, an urgent warning of the peril of affirming our perfect purity of will and character. But then, on the other hand, Scripture abounds in both precepts and promises bearing on the fact that in Christ and by the power of His Spirit, received by faith into a watchful soul, our weakness can be so lifted and transformed that a moral purification and emancipation is possible for the weakest Christian which, compared with the best efforts of unregenerate nature, is a "more than conquest" over evil (see e.g. 2 Corinthians 12:9,10; Galatians 2:20; Ephesians 6:16; Jude 1:24).
See further FLESH; SPIRIT.
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