We do not sin in a vacuum, or for mere sinning's sake, but rather in response to natural human feelings and the pressures of circumstance: hunger, thirst, weariness, frustration, boredom, anger, loneliness, pain, sickness, discouragement, sexual urges, and so on. And when we seek sympathy and understanding from those who might otherwise condemn us, it is on that basis that we make our appeal. "I stole that money because I was hungry." "I hit that man because he made me furious." "I had that affair because I was so lonely." We want other people to understand the feelings that led to our giving in to temptation, to be able to imagine themselves in our place, so that they will be compassionate toward us and show us mercy.
If we think of it that way, then it is unnecessary to believe that Christ had to be capable of actually committing sin in order to sympathize with us. What we really want is to know that He understands how we feel before we give in to sin – that He knows what hunger, thirst, weariness, frustration, boredom, anger, loneliness, pain, sickness, discouragement, and sexual urges feel like because He has personally experienced them.*
Well, in the gospels we do find Christ coming under these kinds of overwhelming pressures, and being demonstrably affected by them. He was not some super-being immune to the frailties and vulnerabilities of humanity, but a true Son of Man. After forty days and nights in the wilderness, Matthew and Luke tell us, He was hungry (perhaps the most colossal understatement in all of Scripture: He must have been nearly dead of starvation). By the well in Samaria after a long day's walk, He was thirsty. After preaching long hours to the crowds in Galilee, He was weary – so weary in fact that He could sleep soundly in a boat tossed by a raging storm. In the temple courts, seeing His Father's house turned into a marketplace, He was consumed with anger. In Gethsemane, He was overwhelmed with loneliness and sorrow almost to the point of death. On Calvary, He experienced horrific physical, emotional and spiritual pain.
And yet, the author of Hebrews assures us, He went through all these ordeals "sin apart". He was tested and tempted in all the ways that make us weak and vulnerable and prone to sin, but He never stepped over the line. Sin found nothing in Him, no claim or hold on His spirit, because He was not only truly Man, but truly God. He never lost sight of the Father, or of the glories of heaven, and so none of the insipid, feeble pleasures of this sin-corrupted world could possibly beguile Him, any more than you or I would be tempted to covet rhinestones if we owned the Koh-I-Noor. All the tests and temptations He endured, potent and real as they were, served merely to demonstrate His incorruptible and divine character. As the same writer of Hebrews noted, "Such a high priest meets our need -- one who is holy, blameless, pure, set apart from sinners, exalted above the heavens."
But because as a Man Christ was tempted, in the sense of going through all the same feelings of need and experiences of hardship that we do, we can cry out to Him in any situation and know that He understands – not only how we feel, but what we need to endure and overcome. As Paul wrote to the Corinthians:
No temptation has seized you except what is common to man. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can stand up under it. (1 Cor. 10:13)I am thankful beyond words that whatever I feel, whatever I face, whatever pressures I am under, I have a Saviour who understands. He does not ignore or excuse sin -- rather, He died to save me from it. But He will never treat me unjustly or fail to hear my cries for help, either.
* Before anybody has hysterics over the implication that Christ was not asexual, I'd like to point out that the sexual impulses were given and blessed by God at the beginning of creation, and that they are in no way sinful in and of themselves. I suggest, therefore, that if the incarnate Christ was truly Man and not a eunuch, He would surely understand the feeling of sexual attraction, though He never indulged in lustful fantasies or committed any form of sexual sin.