September 14, 2009

The Gospel of the Christ: The Sinlessness of Christ

Dear Guests of IDOTG:

Last week I had the privilege of introducing the new book by Pastor Tom Stegall, The Gospel of the Christ: A Biblical response to the Crossless Gospel Regarding the Contents of Saving Faith.

In Tom Stegall’s introduction of his book he noted:

My objective in writing the book was to provide a biblical response to the controversy within the Free Grace community over the subject of the ‘crossless gospel’ and the contents of saving faith. Part I of the book lays the groundwork by introducing the problem of the crossless/promise-only/Grace Evangelical Society (GES) gospel and its associated doctrines. The remainder of the book still interacts with the new GES theology but it is primarily an exegetical synthesis of dozens of key passages involving the terms ‘gospel’ and ‘Christ’.

Today I am beginning a new series comprised of excerpts from Stegall’s book. The selections I am publishing (with permission) provide a balanced cross section of issues related to the Gospel. The first two are from chapter 14. The balance will be from chapter 5. I trust you will find each of the excerpts as edifying as I have.

The Sinlessness of Christ
One final point should be made about the person of Christ in 1 Corinthians 15. It is sometimes claimed by the proponents of a crossless gospel that in addition to our Lord’s deity and humanity being absent from this passage, the text also says nothing about His sinlessness. Thus, Wilkin writes regarding 1 Corinthians 15:3-11,
Note that Paul didn’t say here, as he did in 2 Cor 5:21, that Jesus never sinned. A person could believe all of what Paul says here and yet believe that Jesus was a sinner just like us. Whether that is an essential truth that must be believed for one to be born again is open to question. But, if it is, then clearly this passage isn’t giving us all the essential truths that must be believed.”1
Yet, Wilkin’s doctrine seems to be a transparent rejection of what is clearly revealed in the passage as an implicit truth. A person CANNOT “believe all of what Paul says here and yet believe that Jesus was a sinner just like us.” If the passage says that Christ “died for our sins” then He obviously didn’t die for His own sin. The implication of the passage is clear: if Christ had any personal sins of His own then He Himself would have needed a substitute. The fact that He died for “our” sins, according to the passage, clearly communicates to any objective reader without a preconceived theological agenda that He was a sinless substitute. While this is only implicit in the passage, it is nevertheless present by virtue of being inherent in the substitutionary death of Christ as expressed by the phrase, “Christ died for our sins.” Furthermore, the passage cited by Wilkin in 2 Corinthians 5:21 clearly teaches the sinlessness of Christ, and it, like 2 Corinthians 4:5, is a representative summarization of Paul’s evangelistic preaching to the lost, the kind of evangelism that these Corinthians would have already heard from Paul when he traveled to Corinth with the very same message (Acts 18:4-5; 1 Cor. 15:1). This means that in the historical context of 1 Corinthians 15 the Corinthian readers would have already understood and accepted this truth about Christ. In addition, if it is conceded that the term “Christ” inherently refers to the deity and humanity of the incarnate Son of God then, of necessity, Christ would be sinless by virtue of being God. When someone believes that Jesus Christ is God-incarnate, it is assumed and implied that He is sinless and therefore able to be our satisfactory sacrificial substitute.

At this point we need to stop and consider the biblical implications if the preceding conclusions are incorrect. If Wilkin and those who are promoting the G.E.S. gospel are teaching that Christ’s deity and sinlessness are not conveyed in this passage, then what are they really saying about Him? Regarding the sinlessness of Christ, are they actually teaching that someone can believe in “a sinful Savior” and still receive eternal life? While to date they have not yet explicitly affirmed this possibility in their public writing and speaking, they have come awfully close.2 When someone believes that Christ is God-incarnate and believes every word of 1 Corinthians 15 and yet comes away believing “that Jesus is a sinner just like us,” isn’t that really implying that someone can also be saved who believes that God is a sinner? The issue of Christ’s potential sinfulness goes right to heart of theology proper, the attributes of God, and to the fundamental question of what it means to even believe in “God.” It is likely that the next logical step in the tragic devolution of G.E.S. theology will be the denial that a person must even believe in “God” in order to be saved, for that too involves the recognition of His righteous nature or character.3

1) Wilkin, “Another Look at 1 Corinthians 15:3-11,” 1 (italics added).
2) Bob Wilkin, “Essential Truths About Our Savior,” Grace in Focus 23 (November/December 2008): 2n5.
3) Ibid., 1.

Please continue to: Excerpt 2

Editor’s Note: The Crossless Gospel was originated by the late Zane Hodges. This is the most egregious form of reductionist heresy ever introduced to the New Testament church by one of its own. No one in Christian circles outside the membership and friends of the Grace Evangelical Society (Bob Wilkin, Executive Director) believes in and/or advocates this assault on the necessary content of saving faith. For related reading and discussion see these articles.

The Gospel Under Siege by the Very Man Who Wrote the Book On It

GES Reductionist Affirmation of Faith

Is the “Crossless” Label the Right Label?

Believing the Gospel, “May Indeed Frustrate Grace.”

The Hollow “Gospel” of the Grace Evangelical Society

Can the Biblical Jesus & Mormon Jesus be, “One and the Same?”

Free Grace Theology: What Every Advocate of Lordship Salvation Should Know

Men Consistently “Saw the Light” of Hodges’s Reasoning.


  1. Tom,

    For all the debate that I'm involved with about the Gospel it's amazing to me how the important parts like "in accordance with the scriptures" and "for our sins" (not His) don't get to be the subject of the discussion.

    We are saved because He died for "our" sins in accordance with the Scriptures. He was qualified, properly sacrificed and accepted!!

    Part of that He had to be unblemished, or sinless.


  2. Hey Kev,

    So true about "according to the Scriptures." What "Christ" did Paul have in mind when he stated in verse 3 that "Christ" died for our sins? Paul obviously did not preach Christ to the Corinthians apart from an OT context that provided meaning and proper definition for this One who was the Object of their faith.

    I think it's vital that we interpret verses like 1 Cor. 15 according to Paul's original authorial intent towards his 1st century historical audience, rather than attempting to use verses 3-4 in our evangelism only after they've been stripped of their original context and meaning.

    In their zeal for simplification, the crossless folks have done this not only with 1 Cor.15 but also John 6:47.


  3. A lot could be said about the statement "He died for our sins"

    If He died, then He was human. If He died for "our" sins (not His) then He must have been God.

    Not to mention the willingness involved which speaks of His nature.

    I haven't ordered your book YET. I'm hoping it will pop up on (my prefered place of purchase)


  4. Hi Kev,

    I just checked amazon-canada and they have it; but I'm a little baffled about the amazon machinary and how they calculate price.

    The book retails for $34.99 USD, which converts into $41.07 CDN.

    Right now amazon-us is selling it at only a 6% discount from retail for $32.74 or thereabouts; but amazon-ca offers a whopping 42% discount on the book, selling it for CDN $23.93. Maybe they like you Canadians better than us Americans :)

    Go figure?!


  5. If you REALLY want to be a good Christian you need to be Canadian. You can tell by our book pricing.


    Thanks for the tip, I couldn't find it there even just yesterday.