The Impossible and Possible: Part I
God and for Man
The Impossible and the Possible: God and Man – what a phrase. I suspect you have heard it said that nothing is impossible with God, and I can do all things in him who strengthens me. A recent movie was based on that theme. A down-and-out high school football team won a championship following a remarkable transition in thoughts, desires, and actions of the head coach. Every player followed suit. The movie made me pause as it should all of us.
As with any well-publicized concept especially regarding God, it is always wise to reflect. We should ask if there are any theological pitfalls that surround the concept of the impossible and the possible: God and man.
The idea of the impossibility for and of God is found in Scripture. After announcing Mary’s pregnancy and hearing Mary’s query, how will this be, the angel Gabriel assured Mary that with God nothing is impossible (1:34-37). After Jesus’ encounter with the rich young ruler and his refusal to deny himself him and his own desires and wants (his “stuff”), Jesus responded, how hard it is for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven (Matthew 19:23; Mark 10:24; Luke 18:24).
The disciples and most others functioned under the under the false premise that material wealth was a reward from God due to the person’s “right-living: (see the book of Job). Therefore, the disciples were dumbfounded at Jesus’ dealing with the man. After the man went away, they exclaimed, Who then could be saved? The disciples wanted to know how it could be that the ruler was not saved given his status and state. Jesus answered: What is impossible with man is possible with God … (Matthew 19:26; Mark 10:27; Luke 18:27). In this account with the ruler, Jesus highlighted the supernatural activity of the Holy Spirit which is termed regeneration (John 3:3-8).
The real question was: How can anyone be saved? Jesus’ answer is simple and supernatural. Salvation is a work of the Triune God. It is not based on the individual’s works or status gained, but on God’s work through the blood-bought work of Christ and the application of it by the Holy Spirit.
Is anything impossible for God? Is everything and anything possible? We must be careful when bold questions like these are asked. Often, the statement regarding impossibility and God is mentioned alongside of prayer. Is prayer a way of unlocking God’s possibility? What is possible with God is only what He has ordained in eternity past. It is a reality to him and will become reality in the life of individuals. God reveals Himself in His providence – the event of one’s life.
A similar teaching scenario occurs in the Synoptic Gospels (Mark 9 14-29; also see Matthew 17:14-21; Luke 8:37-42). A father brought his demon-possessed son to Jesus after the disciples failed to heal the boy (Mark 9:18). The father doubted Jesus’ ability to heal because of the failure by the disciples. What was the basis for the failure? Jesus told them: It was faithlessness. Jesus exclaimed: in Mark 9:19: O faithless generation!
Jesus stated the problem: what an unbelieving generation you are! The father implored Jesus: …But if you can do anything, take pity on us and help us. In 9:23, Jesus focused on the father’s words: if you can (9:22). Jesus responded: If you can believe, all things are possible to him who believes: (9:23). Jesus focused on the father’s doubt (if you can) which is unbelief. The father believed initially, but it was not belief in God.
Jesus expressed the truth: Everything can be done for the one who believes. The father should not doubt the Person and power of God. The father manifested true but weak faith! …Lord, I believe. Help my unbelief. Doubt indicates a double-souled person – divided within (James 1:5-8). The man was now in the position to receive help. He knew he was needy; but for a moment he lived the lie!
He would come to know more clearly that Jesus and the Holy Spirit were the source of that help AND hope. Physical healing does not come to everyone who believes but growth in faithfulness and in Christ can does come (James 1:2-4). Such is how God works in His world!
The man, the disciples, and perhaps the crowd learned facts: Jesus is in control. Miracles demonstrated Jesus’ deity – power and control. so that the people would believe that Jesus is God (John 20:30-31). Today, the sign function of miracles has ceased because the greatest miracle – Jesus’ resurrection — occurred. Today, salvation involves a true belief in a crucified and resurrected Savior. Jesus while on earth exercised control for God’s glory and the benefit of His children. Belief in Jesus is man’s only logical course of action in this life in preparation for enjoying life and in heaven (Romans 12:1-2)!
A word regarding healing. Because the earth is not heaven, not all human diseases are eradicated on this earth. “Healing” of the soul” – we call this regeneration (John 3:3-8) does occur. healing is a poor term. Fallen man does NOT need healing. He needs regeneration and restoration. He is not sick. He is in bondage to sin, self, and Satan. As a consequence, he lives the lie, inverts the Creator-creature distinction, and inverts the pleasure principle: he lives for self, by self, for self.
God’s means for entrance into His family is supranatural (John 3:3-8; 2 Corinthians 5:15-17, 18-21; Colossians 1:13). The omniscient and omnipotent God always answers the prayers of His people. Once saved, the believer can be assured that His answers include yes, no, and wait. But no matter the answer, God bids His people to come to Him in prayer as a worship service and a source of joy, comfort, and encouragement (Matthew 7:7-12; Luke 11:1-13).
Each of Jesus’ teaching on prayer carry a warning: each end with the “Golden Rule”: God is the “great” Giver; His children are to model Him (Matthew 7:12: Therefore, whatever you want men to do to you, do also for them, for this is the law and the prophets; Luke 11:13)! Noticed the Therefore. Prayer is not so much about you getting. Rather, it is to reflect love for God and others! It involves action that springs from changed thoughts and desires.
Prayer focuses on the God the person is praying to! God gives to His children what He knows the person needs first and most. His yes, no, or wait are according to His purpose and plan! He gives what is needed, not necessarily what the person wants or thinks best. God wants His children to enjoy what He gives which is Himself even when He says no. The believer is to involve others in the proper approach to God. Because prayer is to God for self and others. God honors “biblically selfish” prayers! Such is the beauty of understanding the imposible and the possible: God and man.
1. What is your response to the statement that God is limited by Himself and by His own nature.
2. What is your response to God’s apparent limitation?
3. Healing does not come to everyone including you. How does the Golden Rule help
The Impossible and Possible: Part II
For God and for Man
This is the second in the series: The Impossible and the Possible: God and Man. I concluded the first section with a brief discussion of prayer. I extend that aspect of our topic by considering Job and his prayer life. Job was unique. The Holy Spirit said that Job was a praying man, blameless and upright – a man who fears God and shuns evil (Job 1:1, 5; 2:3). Job knew he and God had a special relationship. In a sense, Job was a poster boy for Christianity! He seemingly had it made as evidenced by his “stuff.” He was deeply concerned about his children offering sacrifices and praying for them (Job 1:4-5).
Initially when faced with God’s providence which included trouble and misery, Job was solid and steadfast (Job 1:13-19; 2:7-8). He held to his belief in a good God and so counseled his wife (Job 1:20-22; 2:10). But he did not accept the fact that God would treat his friends – those he loved – in the way he was being treated. However, as his situation lingered and he received false counsel from his three friends, Job demanded an audience and explanation from God. It did not come in Job’s timing. God was in charge not Job! It was as if Job would have God report to him for an accounting!
Job knew the issue was God’s power and control and His exercise of it. He also believed good things happen to “good” people. Job knew the sovereign God was in control. That was not the issue. Job wanted, and then demanded, an explanation for his predicament. He did not like God’s control especially without an explanation. He demanded an accounting from God!
In chapters 38-42, God called Job to attention and gave him a “piece of Himself.” Job came to attention never interrupting God as God revealed Himself. He showed Job that He was Creator, Ruler, and Controller of His universe. He took Job to creation, the zoo, and the aquarium! Job confessed that he was living the lie (40:1-5) God and Job entered a second round. In his second response to God, Job more fully came to his senses and repented of living the lie (Job 42:2-6; see Psalm 73:16-18, 25-26; Luke 15:17-18).
Job put on truth! He exclaimed: I know that you can do all things; no plan of yours can be thwarted (Job 42:2; see 2 Chronicles 20:6). Job, not God, repented and came to his senses. Job came face to face with the living God in an entirely different way. He now knew God in a completely different way. He knew himself in a completely was as well! He humbled himself and continued to humble himself. God did not change – Job did. And Job rejoiced/. Blessings flowed to Job and his family, and we assume to the three friends. Truth trumped ignorance and arrogance! And Job rejoiced!
God runs – governs – His world His way for His glory and the good of His people (Genesis 50:15-21; Romans 8:28-29, 35-39). That truth is mind-boggling and life changing. It is fundamental for living in God’s world as a victor and a true child of God. It is vital for a proper understanding of the impossible and the possible. Job came face to face with the living God in terms of His sovereign will. Job balked and for a time he lived the lie.
However, he came to know and reverence God and His control. This happened before he was restored which is recorded in Job 42:7 and following. Job learned he was not God, and that God will not relinquish His Headship and His crown. Job came to appreciate and rejoice in that fact. All of God’s saints do and continue to grow in living by truth. Correctly defining the impossible and the possible is a first major step.
Consider Job and your yourself in comparison and contrast to Jesus. Jesus was satisfied with doing God’s will and the God of that will. Jesus never believed the lie, inverted the Creator-creature distinction, and properly understood and lived by the pleasure principle: for God to God, by God. Pleasing God was not impossible for Jesus or for any of God’s children including Job! Jesus knew this fact! But once Job learned that lesson his life changed radically and dramatically.
Life was now about pleasing God for His glory and not to get. The getting will come but in due time. Jesus knew that truth and acted upon it. In John’s gospel there is the refrain regarding time and hour: Jesus was on God’s timetable: He knew His time and hour had not come (John 2:4; 7:6,8, 30; 8:20) and when it had come (12:23, 27; 13:1; 16:32; 17:1). He was on God’s schedule.
So, Job was looking for answers. God provided his wife. Very little is recorded about her. She did advise Job to curse God and die thus following Satan’s claim to God when enough “heat” was placed on Job (Job 2:9). God provided three friends. These three had wrong theology and were willing to impart it. They too lived the lie. They eventually lost interest assuming Job was hopelessly lost. Job eventually said no more, and they ceased speaking which was one of their wisest decisions. God brought Elihu to Job. Some surmise that he “set the table for God.”
God came on the scene in His full glory. In chapters 38-42, despite his physical problems, Job only listened. He rarely spoke. He totally fixed on God and His words. He had practiced what he would say to God but when face-to-face with Him, he shut his mouth and opened his heart! After Job’s repentance, he became like Christ in that he was a high priest offering sacrifices for his three friends. Job never learned God’s reasoning behind all that transpired, but he began to envision God, His redeemer, and himself in a different way.
A relationship with God and God’s relationship with him took on a new perspective. God was more important than someone to give answers. Knowing the true God enabled him to know his true self. He was now enlightened – he was wise beyond his years. He was no worse off for God’s hard providence. In fact, he like Joesph (Genesis 50:15-21) and Moses (Hebrews 11:24-27), to name two, redeemed the time. They imitated Christ. God answered Job’s prayers by giving him a piece of Him! And Job was more than satisfied!
1. What is the source of your satisfaction? Are you a getter or a giver?
2. How are you like Job? How are you unlike Job? What were Job’s sins and graces?
3. What was the ultimate message Job learned and cherished? How about you?
The Impossible and the Possible: Part III
This is the third section of the discussion on The Impossible and the Possible: God and man. Our topic sets before us certain non-negotiable truths. I will cover the first of these truths in this section and complete the thought in part IV. First, we are faced with the reality of God’s being and the fact that He can’t and will not stop being God. If He could, He would not be sovereign, He would not be God, and He would not be trustworthy. God must be true to Himself and He does that by fulfilling His eternal plan of creation, redemption, and recreation all leading to establishing His forever kingdom,
It is in this context that we go with Jesus into the Garden of Gethsemane. We read Jesus’ words as recorded in Matthew 26:39, Mark 14:36, and Luke 22:42:
- Going a little farther, he fell with his face to the ground and prayed: My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me. Yet not as I will, but as you will.
- Abba Father, he said, everything is possible for you. Take this cup from me. Yet not what I want but what you will.
- Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will but thine be done.
These are familiar passages but with varying interpretations. They are important for a proper understanding of the impossible and the possible. What truth is Jesus conveying in His prayer? Luke records Jesus as praying if you are willing and Matthew and Mark record if it is possible. The word translated possible in the gospel of Matthew and Mark is dunatos; it indicates power (dynamite); the word translated as willing in Luke’s account is boulemai which indicates desire. Some believe that Jesus was referring to the cross itself and others that He was referring to His time in the Garden.
In numerous places in his gospel, John wrote that as Jesus approached the time of cross, He was troubled in His inner man – He was disturbed, agitated within (John 11:33; 12:27; 13:21; 14:1, 27). Throughout His ministry, Jesus was coming to grips with the full force of going to hell on the cross – being forsaken by His Father. The slowness of the disciples and their lack of understanding must have added to His burden!
It is noteworthy that Luke, in his description of the inauguration of Jesus’ ministry and His victory in the wilderness (Luke 4), wrote that Satan departed from Him until an opportune time (Luke 4:13). I believe Jesus’ time in the Garden was the greatest and perhaps Satan’s last attempt to deter Jesus from honoring His Father. While He was on the cross, Jesus was busy ministering to others and to us as the Victor!
Please note: Jesus left the wilderness and the Garden as the Winner. Matthew and Mark records Jesus’ words after He completed His prayer: The hour has come for the Son of Man to be betrayed into the hands of sinners. Rise, let us go….. (Matthew 26:45-46; Mark 15:41-42). Jesus was ready and was very aware of time and schedule. Luke and John records the work Jesus did while on the cross: He ministered to the thief next to Him Luke 27:39-43) and He modeled Romans 12:17-21 for those with ears to hear, eyes to see, and hearts attuned to Him.
In Luke 27:34, Jesus prayed: Father forgive them. He acknowledged their guilt, ignorance, and arrogance. Please note that Jesus’ prayer was not a request for forgiveness at that moment. No believer should grant forgiveness apart from the cross. But he can and must be ready to forgive and pray for repentance (Mark 11:25). Jesus’ prayer was answered at Pentecost – many repented t! Forgiveness does not come without repentance (Acts 2:36-39).
Moreover, John 19:25-26 records the scene of Jesus entrusting His mother to John and John to His mother. And in John 19:30 are the familiar words: It is finished! Jesus knew the debt was paid in full. How did he know? He had run the race and completed the course. He was about to cross the finish line (Hebrews 12:1-3). The Holy Spirit in Matthew 27:50 put it this way: ..he gave up his spirit. From start to finish, Jesus was in control and on God’s timetable. He did not simply die: He set the time: the day, hour, the minute, and the second! He paid it all!
As I have mentioned, John in his gospel makes it abundantly clear that Jesus is on God’s schedule (John 2:4; 7:6, 8, 30; 8:20; 12:23; 13:1; 16:32; 17:1). God’s schedule was His and vice versa! Jesus honored their relationship. Jesus had been preparing for the cross. He was ready! He remained on the cross until it was finished: debt paid in full!
Jesus knew it was not possible for the Triune God to save a people in any other way than via by a perfect Sacrifice – a perfect man/Savior who kept the law perfectly, died as he perfect, unblemished sacrifice. who must enter hell which He did on the cross. He experienced the unmitigated fullness of God’s wrath – separation from God (John 6:37-43). This is one reason why He proclaimed that He was the bread and water of life (John 6:35, 38, 41, 48; John 4:13-14)! Jesus was motivated by the principle of life through death.
I think John 10:10-11 captures this truth from the Good Shepherd standpoint. He is the Life-giver because He is Life. Jesus pictures this in 15:5 from a vine perspective: I am the vine, and you are the branches. If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing. True fruit bearing and the fullness of life is impossible for man apart from Christ. True fruit bearing and abundant life are realities for those in Christ. Once the “decision” was made in eternity past to save a rebellious people by Christ’s substitutionary atonement, it was impossible for God and Jesus to “change their minds.” If either did, they would not be God! Jesus would not abandon His destiny.
It is noteworthy to remember that salvation and its fruit – sanctification – is impossible apart from Christ and the Holy Spirit. The Triune God was working out His plan of redemption as Jesus moved closer to hell on the cross. It was impossible for any man other than the God-man to accomplish salvation for His people. The impossible for man and the possible for God powerfully came together in Christ. Jesus would have no other way. Neither should believers!
Jesus’ words of being forsaken must be understood as an expression of His knowledge of the Triune God, His character, His plan, and His role in it. They must be understood from the fact that He is the God-man. We have moved into the deep recesses of the nature of the Trinity and the Incarnation. We can go so far. But the reality and depth of God’s wrath and judgment is matched only by the height, width, breadth and length of His love and mercy (Ephesians 3;14-19). These all came together at the cross!
These truths, especially when juxtaposed, are mind-boggling and emanate from the mind of the Triune God. This dualism and its reality were looming larger and larger as Jesus neared the time of the cross. But predictably, He trusted and entrusted Himself to His Father and completed the course set before him (Hebrews 12:1-3).
Jesus faced the great divide daily throughout His life – serving and pleasing God or self. And it was reaching a climax. Unlike the first Adam, Jesus proved covenantally faithful. He consistently and perfectly chose to please the Father! But He experienced the full weight of the choice and the consequences of failing! Jesus knew better than anyone the facts. Satan’s temptations (please notice the plural) which was first manifested in the Garden of Eden were played out in Jesus’ life. They culminated in the last garden: Gethsemane. The choice remains for both believers who can chose life and for unbelievers who can only choose death.
Jesus knew God is free only to be God. It was impossible for Him to be any other way! Jesus would never have prayed against the will of the Triune God. Jesus would have it no other way. He prayed: Yet not what I will, but what you will. The decision of the Triune God trumped all else! Jesus’ wants and God’s wants were in sync. Jesus never lived the lie! His prayers and this prayer on the cross specifically expressed not only submission as the Messiah, but agreement with the eternal counsel of the Triune God (John 6:37-43).
1. Review Christ’s temptation in the wilderness and on the cross: how are they similar? What was Satan’s purpose? How did Jesus respond?
2. What do you learn about Jesus and yourself?
3. How do you view yourself as following in Jesus; footsteps remembering that you are not Christ BUT you are to become more like Him
The Impossible and the Possible: Part IV
This is the fourth section in our study: The Impossible and the Possible. God and Man. Additionally, it is the completion of the discussion begun in part III. In that section, I began a discussion of five non-negotiable truths regarding our subject. The first truth was simple yet profound: God is God and He will not stop being God!
The second truth focuses on the will of God and man. They are similar in terms of freedom. God and man are inside-out, free moral beings. They can do only what they are by nature. God can only be God. He can’t lie, steal, murder, change, renege on promises, or profane His own name. What He ordained in eternity past comes to fruition. Otherwise, He would not be God. Moreover, He has ordained the ends and the means. It is impossible for Him to be anything but God! This kind of Being is impossible for anyone to fathom and even accept unless they are believers – indwelt by the Holy Spirit.
Sadly, and too often, believers when faced with a sovereign God, His control, power, and authority, are tempted to live the lie and invert the Creator-creature distinction. The mantra is: “I want it my way!”! Pushing aside all else, the ultimate truth for any person is the crucifixion and the Triune Gods work before it, in it, and after it (1 Corinthians 18-31). The Crucifixion – its plan, fact, and results – separate godly and satanic reasoning. it cuts through the issues of life and death, and freedom and bondage and gives direction, hope, and victory. It is the ultimate example and fulfillment of God’s promise-making and promise-keeping – His covenantal nature (Acts 2:22-24; 4:27-28). But it easily rejected by fallen man who wants to be God and run things his way for his glory.
The third truth is this: there are things God doesn’t desire to do or not to do. He is Truth and the Truth-Teller and Revealer. He speaks truth. He would not be God if He did not. He can only be himself – always and forever (Numbers 6:24-26). His yes is yes in Christ who came to explain the Father. Moreover, Jesus told Phillip that is he saw Jesus, (and he did), he would see the Father (John 1:14-18; 14:6-9; 2 Corinthians 1:20-22; 5:5; Hebrews 13:8).
Thus, everything and anything are not possible for God. It is not possible for God not to be God. The believer’s responsibility, duty, privilege, and blessing are to know this God and enjoy Him forever (1 John 3:1-3)! But this should be a source of encouragement and hope for every believer.
Fourth, God is trustworthy, and His yes is always yes and His no is always no but always in Christ (2 Corinthians 1:20-22). Every promise and His yes or no, must be interpreted through the grid of His love and wisdom displayed in Christ. God’s providence are expressions of His sovereign, divine will. The believer’s response in them is through the believer’s union with the Person and work of the Messiah as applied by the working of the indwelling Holy Spirit (Ephesians 1:17-19; 2:14-18; 3:14-19).
If God’s promises in terms of how He runes His world are yes in Christ, and they are, Christ is the Triune God’s amen. God’s purposes will be and are being carried out! The cross, resurrection, and Ascension proved those truths. We must go back to the basics. Someone had to go to hell because of mankind’s indebtedness. There was no other way for salvation and sanctification! What was impossible for man to do – experience the forsakenness of God to save a people for the Triune God – is a reality in Jesus Christ. He is the Triune’s God amen! But it is not simply His death, but it is also His perfect life, resurrection, ascension, and session! It is a package deal!
Fifth, the Triune God is the Promise-maker and Promise-keeper which has come, is coming, and will come to pass. Because He is a jealous God, He protects His name and His people and does not share His glory with another (Exodus 20:4-6; Isaiah 42:6; 48:8-11). What God promised to Abraham (Gensis 12-15, 17, 22) came to pass in Isaac and came to pass in Christ. God promised: I will be your God and you will be my people was purchased in final form at the cross and awaits its fulfillment when Jesus returns. Paul wrote that no matter how many promises God has made they are yes and no in Christ.
I repeat. Please notice the yes and the no. God is trustworthy. It is impossible for Him not to be! When we receive a different answer than we hoped, or even demanded, the problem is not God. He gives what is best for Him and His people – all the time (Romans 8:28-29). The two are linked. God is the compassionate, hope-engendering Giver. He is simply being Himself. He has been teaching and will continue to teach His people to say it is well with my soul. All things that God has ordained are not only possible but certain. Amen!
Let’s consider Genesis 17 and 18. God told Abraham that Sarai would become pregnant, and her name would be changed (17:14). Abraham the man of God and of faith, fell down, laughed, and he counseled himself: Will a son be born to a man hundred years old? Will Sarai bear a child at the age of ninety (17:17). According to Abraham, this was simply beyond human, natural reasoning – certainly his! Abraham was living the lie. He had heard God, but he looked at himself and his wife and said: NO WAY!
He gave several reasons why this was impossible. The words from God that followed are exceedingly powerful and cogent: … .Yes, but your wife Sarah will bear a son.. Sarah had a name change, and she and Abraham would have a son (17:19)! Basically, God told Abraham that this miraculous event was partial fulfillment of God’s covenant promise made in Genesis 3:15: a Savior is coming (17:19-22)! Abraham could not understand the significance of this supernatural event without the indwelling Holy Spirit. Yet he was learning and would learn that what God has ordained is a reality in due time. Humanly, what is impossible for man – saving himself and others – is a reality, not simply a possibility- for the Triune God!
Similarly, a boy was to be born to virgin Jewish girl. That child was Jesus. Mary responded with awe and wonder and accepted Gabriel’s words (Luke 1:26-33). How will this be (verse 34). Notice: how can vs. will it be? Amazingly and faithfully, Mary did not doubt God. She had doubts more about herself since she was a virgin. Humanly speaking, she had no clue how this miracle would happen! The angel explained: For nothing is impossible with God. The reasoning is simple: God is the covenant-making and covenant-keeping God. He brings to pass His will for His glory and the good of His people. What happened to Abraham, Sarah, and Mary was the outworking of God’s covenantal faithfulness. Praise the Lord.
But we too must remember God works through ordinary means on this side of the cross. Mankind has “seen” the greatest miracles: the perfect life, the perfect death, the crucifixion, the Resurrection, and the Ascension of Christ. These impossibilities with man were realities with God all along. The believer is to be joyously thankful for where he is in God’s story and how he got there. What was impossible for man was a reality for God. The believer will live with “one eye on heaven” and “one eye on earth: (Colossians 3:1-3; 1 John 3:1-3)..
1. What is your view of the statement that all things are possible with God?
2. What is the purpose of that statement?
3. What are some potential pitfalls inherent in that statement of you must be wary?
The Impossible and Possible: God and Man: Part V
This is fifth in our series of the Impossible and the Possible: God and Man. I have focused on the subject from God’s perspective. Now I move the discussion from man’s perspective. Is it sinful to pray for something to happen or not to happen by adding if it is your will? There are many pithy and even catchy phrases in the Bible. One of those is found in the book of Philippians, one of Paul’s prison epistles written in Rome about 60-61 AD (the others include the letters to the Ephesians, to the Colossians, and to Philemon). As a prisoner no less, in this letter, Paul made joy a major focus. From that would flow thanksgiving and hope. How can that be?
Moreover, he gave warnings regarding disunity and false teachers which would dishonor God and lead to selfishness, fragmentation, and disorganization within Christ’s body of believers (1:12-21; 4:1-3). In Philippians 4:13, Paul wrote I can do everything/all things through Him who strengthens me. How does the Holy Spirit want us to understand this passage especially in the context of the Impossible and the Possible: God and man?
The context of the passage is Paul’s gratitude and joy for the people and their gift to him and to God. The Philippians had blessed Paul and his companions, and thus the Lord and His work (4:14-19). Paul expressed his thanksgiving. They were partners in the gospel. Paul taught the Philippians to imitate him as he imitated Christ as he had elsewhere (Philippians 4:1 – 1 Corinthians 4:16; Ephesians 5:1; 1 Thessalonians 1:6; 2:14).
He taught them the source of his own contentment and satisfaction (3:12-14: Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already been made perfect, but I press on to take hold of that which Christ Jesus took hold of me. Brothers, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead I press toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called heavenward in Christ Jesus).
Paul was excited, pleased, and satisfied being a believer. But, more so, he was enjoying God and salvation! Hard times were viewed through the grid of a good God working out His will for His glory and the good of his people. Paul does not rest on their gift or his progress and ministry results; rather he rests and rejoices on what he is in Christ by the Holy Spirit and the ministry he has as a result. Please meditate on the significance of that last sentence. Paul knew he was a changed person. Evidence of that fact was his lifestyle – thinking, wanting, and doing.
Paul changed from a self-pleaser to a God-pleaser in his whole person: his thoughts, desires, and actions were changed and changing (Ephesians 2:1-3, 4-6). He was a new creature in Christ; he relished that fact and the God of that fact (2 Corinthians 5:15-17). Therefore, he no longer lived the lie; he did not invert the Creator-creature discussion, and he did not misapply the pleasure principle. Here is evidence of the impossible and possible: God and man!
Paul knew change – in him and others – had occurred (regeneration: John 3:3-8; Philippians 3:7-11). As a result, he was a new creature committed to pleasing God not simply to get but humble gratitude (2 Corinthians 5:9. 15-17). Moreover, Paul, in Philippians 4:13, knew that he had been empowered: I can do all things. The Greek word translated as can do depicts a dynamo or power as dynamite. The idea is to equip and to pour power into a person. It is to make strong and vigorous. The power is Spirit-derived. Does that mean nothing was impossible for Paul? No! What was impossible for Paul was to function as a patterned non-believer. Yes, he could and did, but his course was set on pleasing his God.
Please notice the synergism explained in the passage: I can do AND through Christ who powers me. This dualism expresses the work of sanctification – growth in Christlikeness. We know salvation is 100% the work of the Spirit and 0 % the person. Salvation is all of God. Growth in Christlikeness – sanctification – differs. Sanctification is 100% the work of the Spirit and 100% the work of the now-believer. The Spirit works in and with the believer but never for or against him.
Yet when the believer does grow and change, we praise God and not self. In a true sense, it was impossible for Paul, as it is for any believer, not to grow in Christlikeness. James pictures in James 2;14-26. If someone is treading water or moving backwards, he and his friends must say WHOA. Some ting is not right! The person is back living the lie. It is impossible for the believer to continue to live the lie (Luke 15:17-18).
But! The believer rejoices in growth as he should! Paul is referring to evidence of his heart change; this occurred through the singular, miraculous, monergistic work of the Holy Spirit (John 3:3-8). In His providence, God placed Paul in various situations – for the purpose of learning. Learning what you ask? Paul as is every person is a member of Satan’s family, school, and kingdom until regeneration. He was steeped in satanic thinking, wanting, and doing. He lived the lie, inverted the Creator-creature distinction, and misused the pleasure principle.
Now and finally as a child of God, he was to grow in Christlike-, Holy Spirit-motivated thinking, wanting, and doing. He is a child of the King! The Triune God placed and prepared Paul for family life and ministry. This ministry was one of growth – for himself and for others.
By God’s providence, Paul’s classroom was prison and fledgling and often sinning congregations. Paul was in the school of discipleship of Jesus Christ. Paul would not graduate from Christ’s school until death. What was impossible for Paul was to be his workshop as he wrote in Philippians 1:12-14. He had a captive audience to which to minister. He was chained to a Roman guard! But he knew what was impossible for him was possible and a reality with God. Every believer’s heart change was from God, by God, for God, and to God.
Even so, the temptation for the believer is to think that he could force God to exalt him based on his possessions, position, performance (works), and posterity/pedigree still exists. That was part of spiritual DNA as an unbeliever. The description of fits Paul’s previous lifestyle and mindset is given in Philippians 3:3-6. You might say that at regeneration, a “spiritual” genetic make over occurs: It is out with the old (“satanic DNA”) and in with the new. (Holy Spirited-derived and implanted biblical truth). BUT! There is remaining sinfulness and habituation in the believer.
As a result, the believer is a saved sinner. He still sins. However, he is a new creature in Christ as discussed previously. His life as a believer is described in Philippians 3:7-11. What Paul considered as gain he counted as loss (the word for loss indicates manure. The change is radical. It was only possible and a reality because what is impossible with man is possible with God.. In fact, the unbeliever rejects this change (Romans 1:18-25). Change occurs only if the Holy Spirit and Christ entered into the picture.
After the fall, every activity (thoughts, desires, and actions) is either man-Satan or God engendered, oriented, and directed. These become patterned living. After the fall, man lives as a member of Satan’s family and kingdom (Romans 8:5-8; Ephesians 2:1-3). The impossible and the possible: God and man take centerstage.
As I have mentioned. at regeneration a person’s membership and orientation changes via supernatural activity of the Spirit. The believer begins to love – think, desire, and act – as a child of God. The use of the word strengthens in the Philippians 4:13 as in the rest of the New Testament focuses on God-engendered activity with results (Acts 9:22; Romans 4:20; Ephesians 6:10; 2 Timothy 2:1). This activity imitates Christ. It is what the believer does because of the Holy Spirit’s strengthening. The impossible and the possible: God and man have been wedded!
Paul was, and the believer is, aware of the source of his strength. Paul encouraged his people to be aware of their change to respond to God’s providence as God-pleasers, enjoy their salvation as he did his! The key for the believer is living as a child of God in God’s tough providences or in any of His providences. What is considered impossible is only a manifestation of living the lie.
All believers begin to do the impossible: to live as a child of the King because they are in Christ as new creatures because of the supernatural indwelling of the Holy Spirit. The impossible is the possible with God. Believers have a new heart and with it, a new desire and motivation to become more Christ. What was impossible is now a reality for the believer. Paul knew this fact and people and circumstances did not change it. Praise God! He knew it, taught it, and practiced it. He imitated Christ and enjoyed it despite and hard times!
1. What is your understanding of: I can do all things? in the context of the Impossible and possible: God and man? Read 2 Corinthians 12:7-10.
2. Circumstances are God’s providences – they are opportunities to grow in Christlikeness or Satan’s likeness: what did Paul know about God, self, and Satan?
3. How does Paul’s view of what one is and knows being in Christ influence your daily thoughts, desires, and actions? Give examples.
The Impossible and the Possible: God and Man: Part VI
We are continuing our series The Impossible and the Possible: God and Man. Our first two sections addressed the topic from God’s perspective. In subsequent sections, I have intertwined the issue from God’s and man’s perspective. In this section, I continue the discussion regarding man’s perspective.
Paul stated that he had learned the secret of contentment (Philippians 4:10-13). The original term for contentment focuses on enough-ness and being satisfied with. The circumstances for this lesson were times of plenty and times of little and lack. Paul was a needy person in the true sense of the word. He needed God all the time no matter the circumstances. He conveyed this truth to the Philippian congregation. He wanted them to rejoice in their circumstances by rejoicing in the God of them! This could happen only if they were in Christ! Such is true Christlikeness. This truth is taught in many passages (Romans 5:1-5; 2 Corinthians 4:14-16; James 1:2-4; 1 Peter 1:6-7).
Scripture urges a proper vertical reference in a person’s thinking and wanting which controls action. Paul emphasized the possibility – the reality – of pleasing God even if it seemed humanly impossible or even loathsome. Paul in.2 Corinthians 12:7-10 urges satisfaction with God in the context of Paul’s physical malady. Paul made a prayerful fervent request for its removal. God’s answer was No.
\Verse 9 records God’s answer: But he said to me: My grace is sufficient for you for my power is made perfect in weakness. The word for perfect includes the idea of completion and wholeness (see James 1:2-4 in relation to faith). Dependence on God and victory manifested by a maturing faith and trust are major characteristics of Christlikeness irrespective if circumstances change! The believer is to use both hard and softer times for growth (Proverbs 30:7-9).
Paul was instructed to be satisfied with God’s grace and His wisdom – God’s enough-ness! Paul’s earnest, prayerful plea for the “thorn” to be removed was met with God’s no. Paul responded to it as if was yes! Paul wrote that he gloried in his weaknesses (things not to my liking and in fact the hard way) because when he was weak God’s power was his lifeline. Previously a control-freak, Paul was now dependent on grace. He trusted God and gloried in his tough times because then he was strong – strong in the Lord and not himself! This is simply counterintuitive and countercultural! Such is the result of correctly understanding the impossible and the possible: Gpd and man.
In a similar manner, consider Hebrews 13:5: Keep your lives free from the love of money and be content with what you have, because God has said: Never will I leave you never will I forsake you. The Hebrew congregation was in great peril. Many considered apostasy – returning to Judaism. Life was too hard. They were dissatisfied with God and His provisions. The author of Hebrews reminded the congregation of God’s character: His covenant commitment to them: I will be your God and you will be my people. That fact was to be a major factor in properly understanding and applying the truth the impossible and the possible.: God and man.
Those who are ignorant, arrogant, and content to live the lie, are people who look at things – circumstances, others, and self – through the lens of hard times and their wants. They conclude that God has proven himself untrustworthy. Only good times are acceptable! Many if not most in the Hebrew congregation, believed they had a right to abandon ship as did the Israelites (see Exodus 15-17; Numbers 11-14, 21). Life was impossible for the people. However, pleasing God by trusting, obeying, and enjoying God is always possible. It is the best thing for God’s people! Sadly, some of the people then and now have reject that truth.
Paul teaches the same point in 1 Timothy 6:8. The people were to be satisfied with their food and clothing. Paul’s point is this: satisfaction and contentment depend on one’s view of God. Satisfaction with God as Creator and Controller reflects a person’s view of God. himself, and the situation. Victory comes in the problem, not necessarily out of it. Seeking God is commanded and blessed (Matthew 6:33). Becoming more like Christ is the believer’s greatest joy (Galatians 2:20). Properly understanding the impossible and possible; God and man is key to victory.
The circumstances which are God’s providence are not the issue. They are the training ground to learn contentment, that is, to enjoy thinking, desiring, and doing as a God-pleaser. Doing all things means growing and changing God’s way for His glory out of awe, respect, and gratitude for who God is and what He has done. In sum, it is practicing and developing Christlikeness (v.13). Contentment is great gain! What is impossible for the unbeliever is a reality for the believer.
Self-pleasing is never to be for personal gain. Verse 13 of Philippians 4 does not say that the believer can do anything he wants. On the contrary, it says contentment comes when the believer uses circumstances to become more like Christ. He is then imitating Christ. When trouble comes, a common initial reaction is to consider the situation an I-don’t-like situation. When that happens, the believer is functioning as if his “dynamite” (4:13) has fizzled or is non-existent. This is tantamount to denying the work of the Holy Spirit. This borders on blasphemy!
Believers have been removed from the kingdom and family of self-pleasing and have been radically transferred into the family and kingdom of God (Colossians 1:13-14). A true believer is learning and will learn to be content in all circumstances. That is impossible in one’s own strength and following Satan’s, and the world’s, reasoning. The believer will apply more and more the great and simple truths that God is real, in the problem, up to something, and that something is good. Romans 8:28-29 spells out the good – becoming more like Christ.
A biblical lifestyle of thinking God’s thoughts and desiring what God desires as given in the Bible does not come easy. But it is more than a possibility: it is a reality for the believer. It must be learned and developed through the practice of knowing and applying biblical truth (Psalm 119:9-11). The believer has a new grid to measure life. He is a disciple in Christ’s school of doing all things for God’s glory and a child of the King. The believer knows that he is in Christ and that he is indwelt by the Holy Spirit. As a result, the believer is liberally endowed with God’s resources. Therefore, he is without excuse.
Does the above sound harsh? It is not when you remember that doing all things means using God’s resources to please Him in the situation that God has placed you. It is refreshing and hope-engendering knowing that you are in the circumstances but not under them. The believer uses the situation to grow and change. He is strengthened before and in the doing. There is blessing in and after the doing (John 13:17; James 1:25). Jesus our Messiah and Mediator demonstrated this and bids us to follow – imitate Him (Matthew 11:28-30; Hebrews 12:1-3; 6:13-20). This is the privilege for those in God’s family.
1. What is your understanding of I can do all things?
2. What is it that only the believer can do and on what basis?
3. What does draw on the strength of Christ and the Holy Spirit look like in your life as it relates to the impossible and possible: God and man? Please be specific.
The Impossible and Possible: God and Man: Part VII
In the first two sections in this series: The impossible and the Possible, God and Man, I touched on the Impossible and the Possible from God’s perspective (nothing is impossible for God). I then considered the phrase from man’s perspective (man can do all things). This last section is a summary and synthesis of what has preceded it with emphasis on both God and man. Scripture teaches that God is and must be God or He would not be God (Genesis 1:1-2; Romans 1:18-20; Hebrews 1:1, 6).
Moreover, there are things that God can’t do and doesn’t desire to do. If He did, He would not be God. It is impossible for Him to share, subvert, or disparage His Being (Isaiah 42:8-9; 48:9-11). He will not and cannot share His glory with another! Yet He gave His Son and His Spirt to His people individually and corporately. Individual believers and the Church are in principle and in practice reflectors and imitators of Christ!
God will not be what He is not! He can’t desire to go against His nature. The Bible teaches that God is all-in-all. He is all that God should be. Nothing is lacking. He is one in being, three in person, holy, wise, truth, love, mercy, goodness, justice, righteous, and true to Himself. He does not simply love, do good, or act justly. He IS and does all those things at the same time. He is not a compilation of those things. Rather, His very Being encompasses and defines those attributes.
Therefore, God can’t, or would not desire to lie, deny Himself, or make a wheel so big that He could not roll. What God does do and has been doing since eternity past is to run His world His way for His glory and for the good of His people. The two are interrelated. He chose to reveal Himself through nature, (Psalm 19), His Son, and the Bible. Moreover, He created man a revelation receiver, interpreter, and implementer so that man would know and serve Him and others as God’s prophet, priest, and king.
Too often, these essential truths are ignored, maligned, and rejected by believers, and unbelievers alike. Paul praised God for who He was and how He ran His world (Romans 11:33-36). The only possible for God is the reality of God being God so that all who have a new heart receive, hear, and see, understand, and rejoice this truth. The truth of the impossible and possible God and man is awe-inspiring, exciting, and yet humbling. It is a major source of comfort, blessing, and encouragement for Christians is God being God – praise God. it is also a threat to autonomous man.
As for man, there is both the impossible and the possible. Consider these truths. The unbeliever cannot love, forgive, or comfort (1 John 4:7-12; Ephesians 4:32; Colossians 3:12-14; 2 Corinthians 1:3-4). The secular world masquerades as helpers. It may offer solutions that seem helpful; however, help is not defined God’s way. But if relief comes, it is short-lived and is a result of God’s common grace as opposed to sanctifying grace. Moreover, God is not honored as the Problem-Solver.
But the secular world uses God’s common kindness and biblical principles without a proper vertical reference thus stealing from Him. The unbeliever has not received God’s saving love and His forgiveness. Therefore, he does not know God’s comfort. He comforts himself with a false comfort which is his false god.
God does give all men life, breath, and everything else (Acts 17:25). In that sense, we can speak of the universal Fatherhood of God including believers and unbelievers. Yet, all men know God and have the privilege and obligation of seeking Him (Acts 17:27; Romans 1:18-20). Unbelievers are the offspring of God because they are created image bearers of God. As such, God is their Father in a non-salvific way. Every person lives and breathes and has his being in God (Acts 17:28-29). Every being owes God and is a theologian.
God is the origin of all things including mankind and time (Psalm 31:15). God is the Creator of all men but Savior of only His people. Consider the impossibilities. Unbelievers are not of the household of faith. They don’t know God, don’t desire to know God, and they don’t have saving faith. They are rebels and God-haters expressed in varying degrees at varying times. They exchanged the truth of God thereby functioning as idolaters (Roman 1:18-23). Only God changes them! What is impossible for them is possible with God.
The believer knows God because God knows him in an intensely personal and saving way (John 17:3). Eternal life begins now on this earth and looks forward to the not yet – heaven (Romans 6:9-11; Colossians 3:1-3; 1 John 3:1-3). The believer can and does love God and others, forgives as he has been forgiven, and comforts because he has been graced with God’s love and comfort, and the desire to love and comfort others. This is the true circle of life (1 John 4:7-12).
The believer may consider certain things impossible for him. These include loving an offensive brother (Matthew 22:37-40), reconciling one to another (Matthew 5:23-24), and counting it all joy (James 1;2-4). Only the believer will do what the world considers impossible: love your enemy, reconcile, and returning good for evil (Romans 12;17-21).
The believer grows as a God-pleaser. What seems impossible at times becomes a source of nourishment and joy. He earnestly desires to become more like Christ. However, he knows that his thoughts and desires and subsequent actions are not always in sync with what he is in Christ. Paul spells this fact out in Romans 7:14-25. There he wrote that his wants and thoughts were too often toward self. Acts followed. Yet he cried out to the Lord to save him from himself and continuing sinfulness (v.24-25).
Only a believer would do that! Paul was face to face with the dilemma of the impossible and the possible. Paul was saved and indwelt by the Spirit; he knew his Savior and his God. He cried out to the Triune God for himself and those around him. Paul desired to close the gap, so to speak, between what he had been in self and Satan and what he was now in Christ. He described his radical transformation in Philippians 3:7-1. This mindset was the mindset of Christ who took the mantle of humanity in order to please the Father (Philippians 2:3-4, 5-9).
A realized possibility for the believer is growth in Christlikeness which is more than duty. it is a blessing and privilege and not a burden (1 John 5:3-4). Situations are from God – our own sins and being sinned against – and are to be used for growth in Christlikeness. What humanly speaking is impossible for God, the Bible tells us that God did! He saved a people, one soul at a time, despite themselves – enemies, rebels, and impotent (Romans 5:6-10). He saved for a reason: His glory and the person’s good (Romans 8:28-29).
What is impossible for man IS NOT impossible for God. In fact, God’s mean and mode of salvation and the believer’s growth in Christ highlight His greatness, goodness, and majesty. Man’s impossibility is to be linked with God’s predetermined power and goodness. That linkage exponentially increases the believer’s awe and thankfulness for salvation and the God of it. Such is the answer to: the impossible and possible: God and man. Praise God.
1. What is your understanding of the phrases: the impossible and possible: God and man; nothing is impossible with God; and the believer can do all things?
2. How has your view of God’s impossibility changed and what are the results?
3. How has your view of man’s possibility changed and what are the results?