But further, it was flesh that the Word became; the humanity that Christ took and recreated and glorified in himself was the very humanity that in us had been ravished and ruined by sin.
At this point we do well to walk warily, since there are two vital affirmations that need to be made here, and it is so easy that in making one, to seem to be denying the other. We need to affirm Christ’s total sinlessness, and yet at the same time his total identification with sinners in the situation to which their sin has brought them. Hebrews holds both these together when it says, “We have not an high priest who is unable to sympathise with our weakness, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sinning” (Heb. 4.15). Let us look at each emphasis in turn:
(i) He is without sin, Jesus, in order to be who he is, remains for ever completely uncompromised in thought or deed with world, flesh and devil, in perfect obedience and undivided fellowship with the Father. We have a high priest who is “holy, blameless, unstained, separated from sinners (Heb. 7.26). Otherwise he becomes one of us in our rebellion and sin, and so is unable to save us from them. He is entirely without sin.
(ii) But in order for his work to become relevant to our need, he enters completely into the situation of sinners, and is in every respect exposed to every external and internal pressure that comes against them. The outcome is entirely different; he stands, we fall; but the battlefield is the same.
The New Testament piles paradox upon paradox to emphasise Christ’s saving entry into our plight and misery as sinners. He was made in all things like his brethren (Heb. 2.17), he became a curse for us (Gal. 3.13), he was made sin for us (2Cor 5.21), he was sent in the likeness of sinful flesh (Rom 8.3). And this saving solidarity with sinners was worked out not only forensically in his death on Calvary, but realistically in his whole life in our manhood of which Calvary was the climax, in which he engaged with a human nature, over which in us sin had ruled, but in him could rule no more.
As Karl Barth puts it,
The must be no weakening or obscuring of the saving truth that the nature which God assumed in Christ is identical with our nature, as we see it in the light of the Fall. If it was otherwise, how could Christ be really like us? What concern could we have with him? We stand before God characterised by the Fall. God’s Son not only assumed our nature, but he entered the concrete form of our nature, under which we stand before God as men damned and lost (Church Dogmatics (T & T Clark I.2, p.53).