In my last articles, I must have come across as if I believe that Jesus wasn’t sinless. In my first article, “A Flawless Hero,” I was bold enough to suggest that a hero without imperfections is boring—and Jesus is no boring hero. Next, in “Holy Outlaw,” I said that Jesus certainly wasn’t sinless, if we define sin as a violation of biblical law. Then, in “One of Us,” I subverted the idea of original sin, and the need for virgin birth as a foil for that nonexistent curse. So, I’m sure by this point, I’ve convinced you that I reject the doctrine of Jesus’ sinlessness. But that couldn’t be further from the case. So, if Jesus wasn’t sinless by these definitions, how was Jesus sinless?
If you’ve been deconstructing traditional doctrine, then maybe you’ve been on the same page with me as I’ve discussed the ways that Jesus wasn’t sinless. However, if we’re to maintain that Jesus was in some way sinless, we must produce a third meaning of sinlessness that applies to the life of Christ. If we reject original sin, but we also reject the idea of Jesus’s perfect record of moral behavior, what is left?
The Biblical Ancestors
First, Jesus was sinless according to the pattern of the biblical ancestors. Romans 4.3 says that Abraham believed God, and God counted it as righteousness. It’s not that Abraham never sinned, but because of Abraham’s faith, God did not count his sin against him, because of his faith. In the same way, Noah is someone whose misdeeds and mistakes are recorded in the Bible, yet the Bible also says that he was perfect in all his ways. Despite this conflicted nature that demonstrates his aspirations to goodness but propensity toward failure, he found grace in the eyes of the Lord. So, a person of faith can be perfectly flawed and in perfect fellowship with God at the same time. To have no barrier between you and God—this is sinlessness.
We can be sinless in this way as well. It’s not that we never violate God’s principles with acts of selfishness and pride. It’s just that if we have the faith of Abraham, Noah, and Jesus, then we too can find grace in the eyes of the Lord. We can believe God, and God will credit it to us as righteousness. And if God considers us righteous, then we are. If God does not consider our sins, this makes us sinless, just like Jesus.
Living Outside the Dichotomy
The second way that Jesus was sinless is that he lived outside of the dichotomy of righteousness versus sin. He was not a black-and-white thinker, labeling everything he saw as either heavenly or evil, worthy or unworthy, clean or unclean. He spent his time among the most disreputable people and really seemed to enjoy their company. When someone called him, “Good Teacher,” Jesus neither contradicted him by saying that he, Jesus, was really an evil sinner nor did he bask in the label of goodness. Instead, he found a third way and said, “Why do you call me good? There is no one good but God alone.” Jesus did not come out and claim to be God, which is how some people interpret this. Neither did he deny his own goodness and Godness. He simply stood outside of the dichotomy. In this way, he could be sinless, because “if you are led by the Spirit, you are not subject to the law.” Jesus was sinless because for him, there was no law, and “where there is no law, there is no transgression.” Where there is no labeling of righteousness and sin, you can live a life free from both sin and righteousness.
Jesus calls us into this sinlessness. He also calls us into this righteousnesslessness. And no, that wasn’t a typo. It’s the quality of lacking the need for righteousness because sin likewise has no meaning. Jesus calls us to be holy, a word that means apart or other. This is different from righteousness. Righteousness focuses on not sinning. It concentrates on the avoidance of evil. It pursues flawless performance. This is why, for those aspiring to the unattainable goal of perfection, Jesus said, “unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.” He was trying to convince them to hang up their efforts at perfect morality because salvation isn’t about righteousness anyway. The truth is that Jesus wasn’t perfect in the sense of never having committed any sin. but he was holy (separate, other) in the sense of separating himself from the need for definitions like righteousness and sin. In this way, he calls us to be perfect even as the heavenly father is perfect. Not perfect in deeds, but perfect in separating ourselves from judgment.
This righteousnesslessness, this judgmentlessness, is how Jesus was sinless. He said, “The Father judges no one but has given all judgment to the Son,” but then he turned right around and said, “You judge by human standards. I judge no one.” When we reserve judgment as Jesus did, we walk in his sinlessness.
We Can Be Sinless
So, the two ways that Jesus was sinless, we can share as well. We can have a faith, a connection to God, where we understand that nothing can separate us from our divine source. Knowing that we are never separated is the same thing as sinlessness if we define sin as separation from God. Since you can never be separated from God, sin is impossible.
If we define sin as a violation of God’s law, and we live as holy, which means separate or apart from the dichotomy of sin and righteousness, then the law no longer applies to us. We have no need to go about trying to avoid violations or attempting to please God through righteous action. Instead, we separate ourselves from the need to do either. In this way, neither sin nor the concept of sin can apply to our lives.
So, was Jesus sinless? Of course! And you can be too. This doesn’t mean you never make a mistake, but it does mean that God does not call your mistakes sins. It means your mistakes can never separate you from God. It also means you no longer judge other people by their mistakes either, because neither righteousness nor sin has any power in your world. This is what it means to be a Christian, a little Christ. It means everything that applies to Jesus also applies to you.