The Cause Behind Our Unbelievable World

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“There can be no easily believable explanation for everything I’ve seen in this little ball-happy universe of ours. Occam’s well-worn razor will do us no good. There will be no ‘simplest’ explanation. A single world combining galaxies, black holes, Jerry Seinfeld, over 300,000 varieties of beetle, Shakespeare, adrenal glands, professional bowling, and the bizarre reproductive patterns of wasps (along with teams of BBC cameramen to document them), precludes easily palatable explanations.

“A neutral observer would not find this world to be believable. Ergo, the cause of said unbelievable world must place similar stretch marks on the imagination.”

N.D. Wilson, Notes from the Tilt-A-Whirl (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2009), 4-5.

Could Jesus Have Sinned?

I recently took part in a lively discussion about this question.

In an area (the Hypostatic Union of Christ) bristling with difficulties, I will keep my words few. I’d simply like to offer a couple points of clarification and then I’ll quote an expert.

The Difficulty

Some people may wonder why this is a difficult question. They will say God cannot sin, so of course Jesus could not sin. And that’s true. But a tension still exists. Scripture makes two claims that are difficult to combine. Scripture records Jesus being tempted (Luke 4:2), and Scripture informs us God cannot be tempted (James 1:13). So in what sense was Jesus tempted? If Jesus is God, then how can we say he was tempted? But he was tempted. Does this mean, theoretically, during the incarnation, Jesus could have sinned? If not, how can we say he was tempted? We’re not saying these assertions are contradictory, but they are difficult to understand and combine.1

What We’re NOT Considering

We’re not questioning if Jesus sinned. We are told Jesus was blameless, tempted but without sin (Hebrews 4:15).

We’re also not questioning whether Jesus would have sinned. The question is could Jesus have sinned. Theologian Millard Erickson writes, “…[I]t is fitting for us to point out here that while [Jesus] could have sinned, it was certain that he would not.”2 No one is suggesting Jesus was ever on the brink of sinning. Like many other theological discussions, we are considering something very abstract and theoretical.3

So how should we think about this question? How should we resolve these tensions?

What the Experts Say

Theologian Wayne Grudem outlines, in my opinion, the best way of thinking through this question. To be fair to Grudem, we should first hear his opening caution:

At this point, then, we pass beyond the clear affirmations of Scripture and attempt to suggest a solution to the problem of whether Christ could have sinned. But it is important to recognize that the following solution is more in the nature of a suggested means of combining various biblical teaching and is not directly supported by explicit statements of Scripture.

Does his caution give you a sense of just how knotty this question is? We are trying to look behind the curtain of the hypostatic union of Christ. Even if we could glimpse the pulleys and levers, we probably wouldn’t understand anyway. (C.S. Lewis once said that in heaven we’ll realize many of our questions were nonsensical in the first place, like asking what does blue smell like).

So here is how Grudem outlines thinking about this question:

  1. If Jesus’ human nature had existed by itself, independent of his divine nature, then it would have been a human nature just like that which God gave Adam and Eve. It would have been free from sin but nonetheless able to sin. Therefore, if Jesus’ human nature had existed by itself, there was the abstract or theoretical possibility that Jesus could have sinned, just as Adam and Eve’s human natures were able to sin.
  2. But Jesus’ human nature never existed apart from union with his divine nature. From the moment of his conception, he existed as truly God and truly man as well. Both his human nature and his divine nature existed united in one person.
  3. Although there were some things (such as being hungry or thirsty or weak) that Jesus experienced in his human nature alone and were not experienced in his divine nature…nonetheless, an act of sin would have been a moral act that would apparently have involved the whole person of Christ. Therefore, if he had sinned, it would have involved both his human and divine natures.
  4. But if Jesus as a person had sinned, involving both his human and divine natures in sin, then God himself would have sinned, and he would have ceased to be God. Yet that is clearly impossible because of the infinite holiness of God’s nature.
  5. Therefore, if we are asking if it was actually possible for Jesus to have sinned, it seems that we must conclude that it was not possible. The union of his human and divine natures in one person prevented it. 4

I think that makes sense. Note, the way he worded it, both with point one and emphasizing “actually” in point five, he and Erickson would likely agree.

So in what sense was Jesus tempted if he would not sin and could not actually sin?

Rethinking Temptation

Christian thinkers have suggested the experience of temptation does not require the experience or possibility of sin. However, we should not think this fact lessens the experience of temptation. Actually, just the opposite is true. Erickson writes, “The person who resists knows the full force of temptation. Sinlessness points to a more intense rather than less intense temptation.” 5 So the one who resists fully knows a unique fight.

Grudem offers the illustration of a weightlifter trying to raise and hold a certain weight. He points out the one who fully lifts and holds the weight is the one who feels it most, not the one who partially lifts and drops the weight. So though Christ would not and could not actually sin, he felt the force of temptation in a way we never will.

Anyway, I hope these quotes are helpful for you.


  1. Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology, p. 538. 
  2. Millard Erickson, Christian Theology, p. 736. 
  3. Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology, p. 538. 
  4. Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology, pp. 538-539. 
  5. Millard Erickson, Chrstian Theologyp. 737. 

Garden Cities

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My family and I stopped in Savannah, Georgia and visited Forsyth Park.

After a season of wintry darkness and rain, stepping into a Spring-filled garden of blooms felt like a rebirth. Fountains sprayed their waters. Spanish moss framed every vista. And the soft grass of Spring yielded to a zephyr. It was beautiful and intoxicating.

But the beauty of Forsyth Park derives from more than the change of season. The wonder comes from the intermingling of nature and humanity. It is a city garden, and Savannah is a garden city.

The flora of nature combines with the flourishes of the imago dei for a supernatural beauty. While I love the rugged glory of a raw landscape, I have always thought the cultivated garden bespeaks a richer and more textured delight.

If you’ve ever lingered long in Central Park, you will know the beauty I am getting at. It is the picture of harmony, sustainability, and potential. And I believe it is an echo of Eden and a hint of eternity future.

As many commentators have pointed out, the image of the new Jerusalem in Revelation is one of a garden city. It is as though mankind has at last found peace in our call and environment. We are neither trampled by nature, nor trampling nature. We are caretakers, gardeners.

So the delight of Forsyth Park is not merely the joy of Spring. It is the whisper of a future and lasting shalom, when all things will be made new, when the child shall play with the asp and God shall again stroll in the garden with his people.

Baptism

I have put together a brief FAQ on baptism. I have used this over the years in talking with candidates for baptism, and I thought I would share it has a helpful resource for you. It relies heavily on Grudem’s Systematic, but I hope to update it further with other sources. So be sure to check back at derekgriz.com/baptism for updates.

What does it mean to “baptize”?

The word baptize comes from the Greek word, baptizo, which means to dip or immerse.

Who do we baptize?

We baptize believers, upon their profession of their faith.

“And Peter said to them, ‘Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.’” (Acts 2:38)

“And no longer shall each one teach his neighbor and each his brother, saying, ‘Know the LORD,’ for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, declares the LORD. For I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more.” (Jeremiah 31:34)

Why do we baptize?

We baptize because Jesus commanded that we should baptize his disciples. For this reason, we refer to baptism of one of the ordinances.

“Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” (Matt. 28:19)

What is the significance of baptism?

Baptism identifies us with Christ’s death, burial, and resurrection.

Romans 6:3-5 “Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life. For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his.”

Colossians 2:12 “having been buried with him in baptism, in which you were also raised with him through faith in the powerful working of God, who raised him from the dead.”

Baptism is symbolic of our cleansing from sin.

Titus 3:5 “he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit,”

Acts 22:16 “And now why do you wait? Rise and be baptized and wash away your sins, calling on his name.”

Baptism is a public identification with the people of God. (Consequently, we may also view baptism as a public declaration of our faith.)

1 Corinthians 12:13 “For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body–Jews or Greeks, slaves or free–and all were made to drink of one Spirit.”

Bonus: Baptism identifies us with God’s act of re-creation, passing through the waters of judgement (a la Noahic and Mosaic traditions, etc.)

Is baptism necessary for salvation?

Jesus commands baptism, but baptism is not necessary for salvation.

Here are a few lines of thought to confirm this conclusion:

  1. We are saved by grace through faith alone. If we add anything to this formula, we are no longer saved by faith alone. Instead, we would be saved by faith and the work of baptism. This is the very kind of addition Paul condemned when he criticized the Galatians for adding circumcision (an outward sign) to faith.1

  2. Jesus told the thief on the cross that he would be with him in paradise that very day (Luke 23:43). Obviously, the man had no ability to receive baptism as he was hanging on a cross. Nonetheless, Jesus promised him salvation.2

  3. Scripture clearly teaches that justification comes at the moment of faith. As a declaration, it is instantaneous.3 We need no additional work or act to be justified. Paul writes in Romans 4:5, “And to the one who does not work but believes in him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is counted as righteousness…” So faith is contrasted with works, and faith is immediately linked with justification (i.e. being counted righteous).

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p>So how do we understand a verse that commands baptism? Theologian Wayne Grudem offers a helpful reply:4

But the very evident answer to this is simply to say that the verse says nothing about those who believe and are not baptized. The verse is simply talking about general cases without making a pedantic qualification for the unusual case of someone who believes and is not baptized. But certainly the verse should not be pressed into service and made to speak of something is it is not talking about.


  1. Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Biblical Doctrine, p. 981. 
  2. Grudem notes that for those who argue the thief died under the old covenant, which did not require baptism, Jesus died before the thieves and his death ushered in the new covenant (Heb. 9:17). Therefore, the thief was in fact under the new covenant, showing the new covenant does not require baptism. 
  3. Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Biblical Doctrine, p. 723. 
  4.  Ibid, p. 983.