Much debate has centered on whether Jesus took our fallen nature or Adam's nature before the fall. Even though this may seem like an unimportant point, it really has tremendous implications for the kind of life we can live day by day.
What kind of human being was Jesus? What kind of inheritance did Jesus receive from Mary? Was He exempt from the laws of inheritance by which we are born? Did His nature pull Him toward sin like ours does?
The first thing to understand is that the word "flesh" in this text, and in many other New Testament references, means fallen nature as we know it in our own natures. It refers to the basic equipment we all inherit as a result of Adam's sin. Sinful flesh in this verse means the fallen nature which we all share from our birth.
But what does it mean when we read that Christ came "in the likeness of sinful flesh? What does "likeness" mean? Does it mean "real" or "similar to"?
The same Greek word for "likeness" is used in both verses. Was Jesus made similar to human beings or did He become a real human being? I think all would agree that when Jesus came down to this earth He became a real man. But we don't have to rely on our common sense or deductions here.
Remember that flesh in the New Testament means our fallen nature. Here we have conclusive evidence that Jesus was not only a real flesh-and-blood human being, but that He really did take our flesh. In Philippians 2:7 we read that Jesus took the likeness of man. Clearly this means that Jesus really became a human being. Here "likeness" means "real." In Romans 8:3 we read that He came "in the likeness of sinful flesh." Did Jesus just look as if He had sinful flesh, or did He actually have sinful flesh?
The Expositors Greek Testament comments on this verse: "But the emphasis...is on Christ's likeness to us, not His unlikeness;...what he (Paul) means by it is that God sent His Son in that nature which in us is identified with sin." (Vol. 2, pp. 645,646) It would seem that if we are to interpret likeness in Philippians 2:7 as our actual human nature, then we must interpret likeness in Romans 8:3 as actual sinful flesh.
Jesus actually took the same flesh and blood that we receive at our birth. This debate about the nature of Christ could easily be settled with some basic questions. Was Jesus born with the same "flesh" with which we are born? Does the Bible teach that He had a special exemption from our "flesh" so that He could have a perfectly sinless nature?
If Jesus was born in the seed of Abraham, then we only have to ask the question, What nature did all the seed (descendants) of Abraham receive? Clearly they all received fallen nature as a birthright. Notice also that the text says that Jesus was made like his brethren (us) in all things.
Another inspired reference supports this conclusion. "It would have been an almost infinite humiliation for the Son of God to take man's nature, even when Adam stood in his innocence in Eden. But Jesus accepted humanity when the race had been weakened by four thousand years of sin. Like every child of Adam He accepted the results of the working of the great law of heredity. What these results were is shown in the history of His earthly ancestors. He came with such a heredity to share our sorrows and temptations, and to give us the example of a sinless life." The Desire of Ages, p. 49. (Emphasis supplied)
What are the results of the law of heredity for us? What nature did Jesus' ancestors inherit? The answer to these questions is all too obvious. The only possible conclusion is that Jesus came with the same heredity that David and Abraham had.
Conclusion: There is no inspired evidence that Jesus inherited only the physical results of the fall, such as hunger, weakness, thirst, and mortality, but that He did not inherit dispositional traits. These areas cannot be separated. If the law of heredity was operative, it was operative totally. If we receive traits of character from our parents, then Jesus received traits of character from His mother, for she was a fully human mother. If we do not believe that she was immaculately conceived, then we must believe that she had the same fallen nature than all human beings possess, and that she passed that nature on to her Son. There is no inspired evidence to suggest that the chain of heredity was broken between Mary and Jesus.
The only reason that this clear Biblical evidence is denied is because many Christians believe that to have a fallen nature is to be a condemned sinner. Therefore, they say, it would have been impossible for Jesus to have received a fallen nature from Mary, because that would have made Him a sinner, too, and He could not have been our sinless Saviour. This is the reason for the doctrine of the immaculate conception of Mary--to protect Jesus from any stain of sin. This is why many Christians talk about Christ being "exempted" from the normal laws of heredity. The real issue here is the nature of sin (Lessons 1-4) . This is why we began this series of lessons on righteousness by faith with the study of sin. If we do not understand the Biblical definition of sin, we cannot understand the Incarnation of Christ, and we will develop a false gospel, based on false premises about sin.
If Christ did not fully descend to our level, Satan would have cried "Foul" immediately, and nothing in the name of justice would have been accomplished in answering basic questions in the plan of salvation. To place Him above our nature, living in Adam's perfect nature, is to obscure the amazing victory He gained for us.
Where does the strength of our temptations lie? Surely within our fallen nature. Christ knows by experience what it means to be tempted from within. We can rejoice that Jesus did not sidestep the ugliness of being born into a fallen world, to fallen parents, with a fallen nature. We indeed have a Saviour who is very near to us. He did not quarantine Himself from the disease of a fallen nature, giving us instructions by long distance communication, but He stepped right into the battle zone with us. He takes our hand and will lead us out of the quagmire in which we find ourselves, if only we do not resist. Praise God for such a Saviour!