If you’re like me, you give thought to the last temptations of Christ—those days when he rejected Satan’s urging to forgo the cross (Matt. 16:23). And you sometimes think about how he was tempted by Satan in the wilderness as an adult. When you think on these things, you probably marvel at his perfect obedience.
But have you ever pondered his first temptations? Have you spent much time considering that Jesus lived a perfectly obedient life every single day as a child?
Have you spent much time considering that Jesus lived a perfectly obedient life every single day as a child?
Think with me for a moment about what that mind-blowing reality means for us as adults, and for the children in our lives.
Jesus’s Sinlessness as a Child
If you’ve ever cared for children, you know they often display their sin boldly and frequently. From the moment your 10-month-old first defiantly flicks a Cheerio off the high chair, to the day your teenager slams the door in anger, their sin is not hidden. Some days seem like endless battles with sin—morning quarrels over shared toys, afternoon defiance at chore time, and evening altercations about who-knows-what. At times, life in the home can feel like being trapped in a sin fest. (Parents contribute too, of course, but that’s a different article!)
Transpose that environment to a home in first-century Nazareth. The Bible doesn’t tell us too much about Jesus’s childhood, but we are given some details. After Mary and Joseph presented infant Jesus at the temple, he “grew and became strong; he was filled with wisdom, and the grace of God was on him” (Luke 2:40). After the famous family visit to Jerusalem when he was 12, he went home with his parents and “was obedient to them” and “grew in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and man” (Luke 2:51–52).
These verses tell us that, like all children, Jesus was growing up physically. He obeyed his earthly parents. And he lived a life that commended himself to others, including God the Father. Notice that by age 12, he has gone from having God’s grace “on him” to growing “in favor with God and man.” His goodness had been noticed.
During these years, Jesus was also becoming a big brother to at least six siblings. Recall in Mark 6 when he returned as a man to his hometown, the locals asked: “Is not this the carpenter, the son of Mary and brother of James and Joses and Judas and Simon? And are not his sisters here with us?” Did you catch that? Jesus had at least four brothers (James, Joses, Judas, and Simon) and two sisters (because “sisters” is plural). Jesus was the oldest of at least seven children.
You may think that because Jesus was God, he wasn’t tempted to sin in the home. But his deity didn’t prevent him from experiencing temptation while growing up in a full house (Heb. 4:15). Yet he never once sinned (Heb. 4:15; 9:14).
As a toddler, Jesus never said, “No!” or threw off his sandals after Mary had just put them on. As a 7-year-old, he always shared and cleaned up promptly. As a 13-year-old, he never complained when Joseph said to finish one more carpentry project before dinner. As a 16-year-old, he didn’t unleash sinful anger when his younger brother taunted him for being a “goody two shoes,” or when his parents said he couldn’t hang out with friends. Moment by moment, in every age and stage, Jesus was sinless.
Humility of Christ
It’s even more of a “wow” when you consider the temptations created by his perfection. Knowing he was special, Jesus could have been like young Joseph in Genesis 37, flaunting his status over his siblings. Or he could have been a little Pharisee (e.g., Luke 18:11), scorning his siblings for failing to keep the law. But he wasn’t.
Don’t take my word for it, though. Ask his little brother James. James became a leader in the early church, and later a martyr for confessing that Jesus is Lord of all—a stance he wouldn’t have taken if he had seen Jesus sin. In his letter, James insists that faith is only real if it’s lived out in the nitty gritty of everyday life. If anyone had the chance to see Jesus sin by quarreling (4:1), grumbling (5:9), or expressing sinful anger (1:20), it was James. Instead, he calls himself “a servant” of his brother, “the Lord Jesus Christ,” thereby providing his own personal witness to Jesus’s sinlessness.
These early years of sinlessness were necessary for Jesus to become a perfect adult. As he aged, he “learned obedience through what he suffered” (Heb. 5:8). Though fully God, Jesus had to live a perfect human life in order to be fit to be our perfect sacrifice. And that included a perfectly obedient childhood.
Comforting Our Kids with His Sinlessness
So whenever you encounter sin in your children, or of other kids in your life, marvel that Jesus was sinless, even at that age. It’s incredible, isn’t it?
Don’t use this truth to shame or scold, but to comfort the children in your life. Whenever they face temptation (say, an insult from a friend or an unwelcome reminder to do a chore), remind them that “we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are” (Heb. 4:15). Remind them that Jesus was a kid once. Whether it’s facing a provoking sibling, not getting their way, or obeying flawed earthly parents, Jesus understands. He promises grace to obey, and forgiveness when they don’t.
Whether it’s facing a provoking sibling, not getting their way, or obeying flawed earthly parents, Jesus understands.
Here is comfort, really, for all of us. Jesus did what none of us can: live an immaculate life—from his first temptation to the last. And he gives that obedient life to us, clothing us in his perfection if we trust him. He promises that, by his Spirit in us, he will help us obey. And he promises to take us home to live with him, in his Father’s full house, as perfectly obedient children forever.