This is part of my commentary series on The 39 Articles of Religion. Article 15 states:
XV. Of Christ alone without Sin
Christ in the truth of our nature was made like unto us in all things, sin only except, from which he was clearly void, both in his flesh, and in his spirit. He came to be the Lamb without spot, who, by sacrifice of himself once made, should take away the sins of the world, and sin, as Saint John saith, was not in him. But all we the rest, although baptized, and born again in Christ, yet offend in many things; and if we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.
Although Articles 2-4 already dealt with some basic matters of Christology – knowledge of the Christ – Article 15 returns us to that subject in the context of our salvation. Having established the human condition to be one of utter loss in the midst of sin, it is now pertinent to observe the One who was sinless: Jesus.
It begins with a reminder of Christ’s full humanity, with an allusion to Hebrews 2:14, “Since therefore the children share in flesh and blood, he himself likewise partook of the same nature, that through death he might destroy him who has the power of death, that is, the devil” and Hebrews 4:15, “who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin.” A fully human, yet sinless, Jesus is put forth here. This Article even quotes 1 John 3:5, “You know that he appeared to take away sins, and in him there is no sin.”
All this is emphasized in contrast to the rest of us Christians, who, “although baptized, and born again in Christ, yet offend in many things.” Article 15 even goes on to quote St. John again: “If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just, and will forgive our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:8-9). These verses are included in the “Words of Comfort” in the liturgy of the Communion service, highlighting their importance to us in the Anglican tradition. The doctrine that Christ is sinless and we are sinful is not meant to put us down in drudgery, but to highlight the fact that Jesus truly is the way of salvation. His victory outweighs our failings, and for that we can rejoice!
One might wonder why this Article was included; it seems like a no-brainer. The controversy at the time was that, among some of the radical reformers, a teaching was arising that true Christians don’t sin anymore. Or, more subtly, an ideal of Christian perfection was being taught, as if we might cease to sin in this life. Article 15 keeps us in our place and protects us from such heresies; we are not Jesus, and we will not be entirely like Jesus in this life. Anyone who teaches such human glory before the resurrection is a deceiver, and to be rejected immediately.