This is something that has come up a few times on Facebook and it seems to keep coming up so I figured I’d write about it here for easy access.
The term “peccability” is from the Latin term, “peccō”, which means “to sin”, or in this case, the capability of sinning. This is where we get the term that Martin Luther used, “Simul justus et peccator”, which describes the state of man in the “already and not yet” of our sanctification – we are “simultaneously justified, yet a sinner”. The peccability, or impeccability of Christ as it’s commonly stated, is where we have this discussion. The impeccabilty stance simply stated declares that Jesus is God and therefore incapable of sinning as it would violate his nature. Therefore Jesus is merely totally incapable of committing sin and any other view is negated. I think that this is a little naive. Don’t get me wrong – Jesus IS God. As God he cannot violate his own nature and, as that nature is the one which embodies perfect justice, and as the law giver for all of his creation, it would clearly violate that nature if he committed sin. My point is that his ability to sin is necessary to our salvation. Let me explain…
Jesus contained the moral breadth to sin and the physical capability to sin but chose not to at every moment of every day. As Adam’s selfish sin (to be like God) led him to sin, breaking his ability to choose not to sin (as the only person who could do that outside of Christ), we all are lost by his sin in the inheritance of our sin nature. Jesus, born without an earthly father, is the last man in this chain who could make that decision on his own, and as God he had the moral capability to keep from sinning. This is why not only Jesus’ death on the cross matters, but also why his perfect life does as well. It’s not merely enough for Jesus, as a robot who is incapable of sinning to merely exist, but his day by day, moment by moment choice not to sin is what grants his perfect life credence. Jesus’ life of perfect obedience on my behalf is transferred to me on the cross and my life of perfect disobedience is transferred to him. So Jesus had to have the capability to sin, but because he is God and therefore of a perfect moral character, he could choose at every moment to do that which honored God the most in each situation – in exactly the way that I can’t. Therefore, the peccabilty of Jesus is what makes my salvation possible, because he is the perfect lamb, the last Adam, and the end of my striving whose sacrifice on my behalf makes it possible for God to save a man like me.
To quote Charles Hodge:
The Mediator between God and man must be sinless. Under the law the victim offered on the altar must be without blemish. Christ, who was to offer Himself unto God as a sacrifice for the sins of the world, must be Himself free from sin. The High Priest, therefore, who becomes us, He whom our necessities demand, must be holy, harmless, undefiled, and separate from sinners. (Hebrews 7:26.) He was, therefore, “without sin.” (Hebrews 4:15; 1 Peter 2:22.) A sinful Saviour from sin is an impossibility. He could not have access to God. He could not be a sacrifice for sins; and He could not be the source of holiness and eternal life to his people. This sinlessness of our Lord, however, does not amount to absolute impeccability. It was not a non potest peccare. If He was a true man He must have been capable of sinning. That He did not sin under the greatest provocation; that when He was reviled He blessed; when He suffered He threatened not; that He was dumb, as a sheep before its shearers, is held up to us as an example. Temptation implies the possibility of sin. If from the constitution of his person it was impossible for Christ to sin, then his temptation was unreal and without effect, and He cannot sympathize with his people.
Hodge, C. (1997). Systematic theology (Vol. 2, p. 457). Oak Harbor, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc
I’m not saying that Jesus would ever have sinned, nor that his nature would have allowed it, but just that it was possible from the sense that he made conscious decisions to only ever honor God first in all that he thought, said, and did. The implication here is that, as I mentioned before, his actions were real actions and not some pre-scripted process which would eliminate the depth of his compassion for mankind or his ability to relate to us in our struggles. Jesus’ active obedience hinges on his ability to disobey, and because he never sinned at all, we can reap the benefit of this, whereas in our own lives, we try to do our best and fail at every turn.