Credible Faith

How We Know Jesus Lived a Sinless Life and Why a God Who Wants to Save Sinners Must Permit Murder

Paul gives an historical argument for the sinlessness of Jesus, and he explains why a God who wants to save sinners must permit horrendous evils.

Text Publication: September 22, 2018

Text Changes/Revisions: September 28, 2018

Audio Publication: September 22, 2018

Video Publication: September 22, 2018

Video Changes/Revisions:September 28, 2018

Author(s): Paul Larson

Hey, there! Paul D. Larson from Credible Faith. Have you ever asked how Christians know that Jesus lived a sinless life? Or, have you ever wondered why God permits horrendous evils in this world? At first, you might think that those two questions are not related, but they are, and I would like to explain why a God who sends Jesus to die as a sinless sacrifice for sinners must permit horrendous evils so that those sinners can be saved. There are lots of reasons why God might allow certain evils, but for right now, I want to focus on this one reason why God allows some evils: God permits evil and suffering because stopping those evils would remove our knowledge that Jesus lived a sinless life and took the punishment of sinners on himself, and God will not grant a request that stops him from seeking to save sinners.

In line with our own experience, the apostle Paul said that all have sinned, and the Biblical witness and our own reason and our own experience tell us that we deserve punishment for our morally wrong choices. Now, if a sinner (you and I) deserves a punishment for his own sin, then he cannot take on himself the punishment that a different sinner deserves. The same is true in our own justice system in the US, and elsewhere. If you commit a crime and a judge sends you to prison, the judge will not let your prison sentence count for both your crime and the crime of some other criminal. The only way for the prison sentence of some other criminal to be paid by you is if you are innocent before the law.

In a similar way, the only way for one person to take the punishment of a sinner is if that that one person is himself not a sinner. Given that the Apostle Paul said that all have sinned, and that our own experience demonstrates that Paul was right, the only hope for man to be saved from the punishment he deserves would be that God himself would enter the world, live a sinless life, and die for sinners in their place and suffer punishment that they deserve so that they do not have to bear that punishment.

Christians believe that God actually did this. Christians claim that Jesus was God himself and that Jesus entered this world, lived a sinless life and suffered a sacrificial death at the instigation of Jewish religious leaders and the hands of Roman authorities. But how do Christians know that Jesus lived a sinless life and that Jesus was God himself? We were not there to observe every small thing Jesus ever did, and even if we were, God rightly looks at the unseen thoughts and intentions of the heart. So someone might suppose that Jesus could have sinned secretly in his heart even if he never carried out the sin in the external world where someone might see it. I know that I have sinned in my heart many times, sins that no one else on earth saw, but that God saw. How we would we know if Jesus did not sin secretly in his mind in the same way that I have sinned secretly in mine?

In light of this consideration, sinners who are to be saved from the punishment that they deserve must have a way of knowing that Jesus actually lived a sinless life and thus took their punishment on himself. It is not enough for Jesus to enter the world and live a sinless life and die as a substitute for others without anyone having enough evidence to know that it happened. Sinners not only need a savior, but sinners also must have enough evidence to know that there was someone whose sinless life qualified that person to be a savior.

The Christian does have a way of knowing that Jesus was this sinless savior by the fact that God raised Jesus from the dead, which God would not have done if Jesus had sinned. Of course, the Christian can also look to what God has said in his word regarding the sinlessness of Jesus if the Spirit gives internal testimony to the reader of scripture that what he or she is reading is inspired by God.

But for someone who is doubting or for an unbeliever, simply claiming that passages in the New Testament about the sinlessness of Jesus are inspired would not be persuasive. For the unbeliever or the believer who has doubts, the resurrection of Jesus gives us a good argument to believe that Jesus never sinned. The argument for the sinlessness of Jesus, and thus for the ability of Jesus to be our savior who takes our punishment on himself, can be put this way:

1) God judges the thoughts and intentions of the heart, and so God regards something as a sin when someone has the intention in his heart to do that act, even if the person is stopped from carrying out that intention externally by force or lack of opportunity, or by other selfish considerations.

2) If Jesus had a secret intention in his heart or mind to sin, God therefore would have counted that intention as a sin and Jesus would have been a sinner just like we are.

3) In the same way that God does not permanently raise us from the dead because we are sinners (since physical death is God's curse for sin), God would not have raised Jesus from the dead permanently if Jesus had committed sin. (The resurrections of Lazarus and others were only temporary and were intended to glorify and reveal Christ; thus, they are not adequate counter-examples but confirm his sinlessness, as God would not glorify a sinner in such manner.)

4) Thus, the fact that God raised Jesus from the dead permanently is God's own testimony that Jesus never sinned, either externally or in the secret intentions of his heart, which is adequate evidence for us to know that Jesus can be a substitute sacrifice who took on himself punishment that sinners deserved.

With this reasoning, despite the fact that much of the external life and internal mental life of Jesus were never observed by humans, the Christian can still base his conviction that Jesus lived a sinless life and was God himself on the historical conclusion that God raised Jesus from the dead, something God would not do if Jesus had sinned. But what if the Christian did not know that Jesus was raised from the dead? What if the evidence for the resurrection was so weak that we would not be justified in believing that the resurrection actually happened? In that case, a sinner would be left without his strongest piece of evidence for the conviction that Jesus lived a sinless life, and the sinner thus would not know that Jesus lived a sinless life. But if a sinner does not know that Jesus lived a sinless life, then he also would not be justified in believing that Jesus had saved the sinner from the punishment that the sinner deserves.

In effect, if you take away the ability to know that the resurrection happened, you take away the sinner's salvation. That's the point that I would like you to remember: if you take away my ability to know that the resurrection happened, you take away my salvation. It was in light of this that the apostle Paul indicated that if Christ has not been raised, our faith is useless and we are still in our sins (1 Corinthians 15:17).

Now, you might ask yourself, what in the world does this have to do with the problem of evil? That's a good question, and it is true that it might not be immediately obvious what relevance this has for the question of why God permits horrendous evils. But hang with me for just a bit longer. Let's consider a suggestion, that God should stop people from killing at all times and everywhere. If God should prevent people from killing other people, then the Jewish and Roman authorities would not have killed Jesus, and you would not have the resurrection from the dead if Jesus did not die.

Further, disciples would not have been killed for their faith in the resurrection if God stopped people from killing, but disciples' suffering, hardship, and death is the main reason why I am justified in believing in the resurrection rather than believing the theory that disciples were deceiving people about a resurrection that never really happened. So if God stops the killing of Jesus and the killing of disciples, I would not know that Jesus rose from the dead, and thus I would not know that Jesus was a sinless savior whose blood paid for my sins. So if Jesus is going to save me from my sins, God has to permit the disciples and Jesus to die.

Now someone might respond to this by saying, 'So What? Yes, maybe God has to permit the killing of Jesus and the killing of disciples so that we know that disciples were telling the truth about the resurrection, since they would not suffer and die for what they knew was a lie. But that does not mean that God should permit horrendous evils that other people experience. God is still unjust for permitting those other horrendous evils.'

I can certainly sympathize with someone who might feel that way, but if God stops killings and murder at all other times and places, we will again encounter the problem of not knowing that Jesus lived a sinless life and thus not knowing that he was able to take our punishment on himself. Thus, if God stops killings at other times and places in human history, those people who would be saved physically in this life would not have a way of being saved from the eternal punishment for their sins in the next life.

Let me explain why that is. In our world, we have a number of ancient historical reports about different disciples dying for the one claim of the resurrection, and those reports are believable precisely because we know that God does not usually stop people from killing each other. So in our world, we do have to explain why so many men would die for the same, single miraculous claim. The best historical explanation is that Jesus really did rise from the dead.

But in an alternate universe, if God stops murder everywhere else in human history, including all of our own experience in our contemporary times, why should we trust those ancient reports about disciples dying for their claim about the resurrection? Those reports would lose much of their believability. If God stops people from killing each other in all of human history except for the case of Jesus and his disciples, many people, myself included, would be quite skeptical about some ancient historical reports that disciples actually died for their belief in the resurrection. And if we don't believe reports about disciples suffering and dying for their belief in the resurrection, then we are left uncertain whether Jesus really rose from the dead, and if we are uncertain if Jesus rose from the dead, we have lost our main historical basis for knowing that Jesus lived a sinless life and we thus lose our salvation from our sins. Before the time of final judgment comes, God will not stop seeking to save sinners, and so he will not consent to our objection to stop murder and killing when those killings are what allow us to know that God himself entered this world, suffered and died such that sins of people like you and me could be forgiven and we could escape the unending torment of hell.

In effect, if all you did was say that God should always stop murder, then you would take away my knowledge that Jesus rose from the dead, which would take away the salvation of me and of others in this world from the punishment that we deserve for our sins. God wants to save sinners from that punishment, and he will not turn his back on sinners who need that salvation, which is what implementing our simple solution to horrendous evils would require him to do.

If you are not a Christian, do know that Jesus entered this world, lived a sinless life, and died a sacrificial death so that sinners like me and you would have a way to escape the punishment that we deserve for our sins. Come to the cross of Jesus Christ. Confess that you are a sinner, and ask him to take your sins on himself so you can live in relationship of love with him and with others for eternity. There is no sin too great for God's forgiveness. Whatever your background is, there is nothing that you have done that would stop him from giving you eternal life if you come to him in repentance. You may not want to be saved, but at least you should sympathize with God if his intention is to save sinners and if he allows suffering and evil because that is the only way for Him to save them.

In place of a comments section, Dr. Larson accepts and encourages letters to the editor. If you would like to write a letter to the editor, then feel free to submit your letter here.