A friend sent me this question:
QUESTION: "I believe that Christ did not have a sinful nature. I believe he could not have sinned and would not have sinned. I believe he was tempted by Satan as an example to us. Christ would not have been tempted by the things satan had to offer. Those things were all earlthy pleasures and the things man would be tempted with. He only did it for our benefit and to teach us how to withstand temptation... We have several in our church that believe Jesus had a sin nature and that he could have sinned and that he simply chose not to. I think this would be contrary to His nature of Holiness. Christ gave up everything to come to earth except His holiness. Love to hear your thoughts or be pointed to some good material on this topic."
THOUGHTS: I'll start by putting on my Bounds' hat (the imaginary miter I where when I am trying to channel Dr. Chris Bounds and give the "orthodox" answer to a question). I've heard Bounds that Jesus could in theory have sinned but that the very structure of the universe would have fallen apart if he had.
As for my thoughts, I think the problem with the issue is that we have come to think of a sinful nature as something inside of us, something that is removed when we are entirely sanctified. We think of a sinful nature as something that makes us sin. Obviously if this is what a sinful nature is, then Jesus could not have had one.
But there are a couple reasons why this is not a good way of thinking about our "sin nature." First, Paul doesn't actually use any term like "sinful nature" and much to my delight the NIV2011 has gone back to the word that Paul did actually use, namely, "flesh." What we call the "sinful nature" is really human flesh under the power of Sin. To "have a sinful nature" is thus a metaphorical way of saying that a person's flesh is under the power of Sin (which is of course another metaphor but one that is more helpful).
To get even more literal, my human body is susceptible to any number of temptations, which are when something that is "good" on one level becomes a temptation to do "bad" in a specific context. So my temptation to have sex is good in itself, but it would be bad in the context of someone other than my wife.
Did Jesus have a sinful nature? The more accurate question is whether Jesus in his humanness was tempted to act out his desires in inappropriate contexts. That is of course what temptation is and since Jesus was tempted, the answer is yes. How did Adam sin when he didn't have a "sin nature"? He acted out his good desire to excel, grow, to "be all he could be" in relation to an inappropriate object.
So my answer would be, "Yes, Jesus could in theory have sinned, because temptation does not require a sinful nature" and "No, Jesus did not have a sinful nature, because his flesh was not under the power of sin."