Over the past two centuries, much has been written in evangelical circles on the deity of Christ. This has been good and necessary, for many people deny that Jesus is the Son of God incarnate. Sometimes I fear, however, that this emphasis on Christ’s deity has led to an imbalance in our doctrine of Christ. It’s proper to highlight our Lord’s deity, but Scripture also emphasizes His humanity. If Jesus were only God and not truly man, He could not save us. His humanity is inseparable from His being the second Adam, fulfilling all righteousness, and taking upon Himself all the obligations of God’s law that must be fulfilled for us to receive life eternal (Lev. 18:5; Rom. 2:13).
The New Testament proclaims Jesus Christ as vera homo, truly human, as well as vera Deus, truly God. References to Jesus’ true humanity abound. John numbers those who deny a real incarnation with the antichrist (2 John 1:7). Paul speaks of Christ as “born of a woman” (1 Cor. 11:12; Gal. 4:4). The Gospels reveal Christ as having the basic characteristics of humanity. He walks, He talks, He becomes tired, He eats, He drinks, He cries, He manifests every human emotion and every dimension of the physical aspect of mankind (see, for example, Matt. 8:24; Luke 7:34; John 11:35). There’s a full identification of Jesus with humanity—except with respect to one vital distinction: the moral distinction. Christ perfectly obeys the Father; we don’t.
Christ’s sinlessness is vital to the biblical understanding of redemption. If Jesus is to be our mediator, if He is to be our redeemer, it’s essential that He be sinless. How could His atoning life have any significance if He committed even one sin? He’s called the lamb without blemish because His perfection is integral to His redemptive role as the mediator who offers up a perfect sacrifice to the Father to fulfill the old covenant and satisfy the wrath of God. The sinlessness of Jesus is critical to the full biblical understanding of His sacrificial death. Not only does Christ take what should be ours—namely, punishment for sin—but through imputation He gives to those who are in Him by faith alone the inheritance He receives for His perfect obedience (Rom. 3:21–26).
Some have denied the sinlessness of Christ in the name of protecting His humanity. If there’s anything that binds us together in common humanity, if there’s anything true of all men of all races and creeds, it’s that we fall short of our standards. We transgress our own laws, not to mention the laws of God. I don’t know anything more common to humanity than sin. If one man in this world today lived ten minutes in perfect obedience to God, that would be nothing less than astonishing. But Christ’s entire life was marked by sinlessness (1 Peter 2:22). So, how could a sinless Christ be truly human if sinlessness violates what is so common to human behavior?
What we’re really asking is this: Is sinfulness intrinsic to true humanity? We can answer only in the negative. To say that sinfulness is intrinsic to authentic humanity requires two conclusions: first, that Adam before the fall was not a human being; second, and more seriously, that Christians in a state of perfected glory in heaven will no longer be human.