Most Christians, when they spend time thinking about Jesus, tend to focus on his death or perhaps some of his parables and teachings. But have you ever considered what an incredible thing it is that he lived his entire life without sinning? Like, ever? In any way whatsoever? Something like 10 billion people have lived on this planet since the beginning of history, and out of all those, Jesus is the only one who managed to live a life that deserves anything from God other than death and condemnation. However you look at it, that’s astonishing.
And yet sinless is exactly what those who knew him—his disciples, his family, his followers—said about him. According to John, “In him there is no sin” (1 John 3:5). The author of Hebrews said that even though he was tempted in every way imaginable, he met that temptation “without sin” (Heb. 4:15). Paul said he “knew no sin” (2 Cor. 5:21). And Peter put it as plainly as possible: “He committed no sin” (1 Pet. 2:22).
The No-Sin Challenge
How difficult is that really? Stop reading for three seconds. Go! (Ticktock, ticktock, ticktock.) There. I think I did it. I think I just managed right there—for about three seconds—not to sin in word, deed, or thought.
I didn’t say anything at all, so I’m pretty sure I didn’t sin in word. Given that I tried to be as still as possible, I also think I managed not to do anything particularly sinful either. I even tried to clear my mind of thoughts (you can do it if you try really hard, at least for three seconds), so I don’t think I sinned in those three seconds even in my mind.
Not bad, right? And honestly, if that’s all being “without sin” entails, I can actually get my mind around the idea Jesus might have done it. After all, if I can do it for three seconds, it’s at least conceivable to me that Jesus could’ve done it for 33 years. That’s not an insane thought to me.
But then I remember that sin isn’t just about words, deeds, and thoughts. It’s also about the motivations of the heart. And that’s when I stand in slack-jawed awe at what Jesus did, because even if I didn’t sin with my speech, actions, or mind, I can tell you right now that my motivations weren’t pure and godly even for those three seconds. I’m not going to deny I was at least a little bit proud of myself for not sinning even for that long. And I certainly wasn’t doing that little exercise in order to love the Lord my God with all my heart, soul, mind, and strength.
If I’m honest, I was doing it to see if I could do it. See?
That’s what’s so astounding about the fact that Jesus was sinless. He did everything right. He said everything right. He thought everything right. And he did it all—all the time—for the right reasons and out of a heart motivated perfectly by love for God and a desire for his glory. Astounding.
God set a perfect standard for the humans he created. Our obedience to and love for him have to be comprehensive, unbroken, and from the heart. That’s what Jesus did. He obeyed God’s law without fail, without pause, with a completely undivided heart.
And here’s why that’s so important: when he did that, he earned—he merited, he won—God’s favor.
Above all, in winning God’s favor, Jesus won life. That, after all, was the great promise to Adam and Eve from the very beginning. If they violated God’s law, threw off his authority and crown, and ate the fruit, they would die. But if they loved and obeyed him, fulfilling their God-given role as king and queen of the world under him, they would live. Jesus the well-pleasing one did just that—he loved and obeyed God as Adam and Eve hadn’t—and therefore death’s grip on humanity slipped in his presence.
So he said to the girl who’d died, “Little girl, arise,” and she did (Mark 5:41). He cried out to the Lazarus, “Lazarus, come out!” and the corpse came out (John 11:43). Instead of others’ sickness infecting him when he touched and embraced them, his life infected them and drove out the uncleanness. Time and time again, when sickness and death thought their reign was unquestioned and absolute, Jesus rolled it back with the power of life. Here’s how John put it: “As the Father has life in himself, so he has granted the Son also to have life in himself” (John 5:26).
Jesus alone won the favor of God, and therefore he had—and was—life.
Editor’s note: This is an adapted excerpt from Greg Gilbert’s new book, Favor: Finding Life at the Center of God’s Affection (Baker, 2017). It is published here in partnership with Baker Books.