The Impossible and the Possible for God and for Man: Part I
Introduction: the three-part series: The Impossible and the Possible for God and for Man unpacks a commonly misunderstood phrase found in Scripture. it addresses the essential nature and work of God.
I suspect you have heard it said that nothing is impossible with God. 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. As with any well-publicized concept especially regarding God, it is always wise to reflect. We do that by asking if there are any theological pitfalls that surround the impossibility of God. Scripture address this concept in various places (Genesis 18:14; Jeremiah 32:17; Luke 1:34-37). Can God do anything? God cannot and has no desire to stopping God. He can’t deny Himself. A proper understanding of this concept is especially important in the prayer life of every believer
The idea of the impossibility for 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 will be impossible (1:34-37). After Jesus’ encounter with the rich young ruler and his refusal to deny himself his own desires (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, Therefore, the disciples were dumbfounded at Jesus’ dealings with the man.
After the man went away, they exclaimed, Who then could be saved? The disciples wanted to know how it could it that the ruler would not be saved given his wealth, status and state. Jesus explained the Impossible and the Possible for God and for Man. Jesus answered: What is impossible with man is possible with God … (Matthew 19:26; Mark 10:27; Luke 18:27). In this account Jesus was referring to the supernatural activity of the Holy Spirit termed salvation.
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 in regard to God is mentioned alongside of prayer. Is prayer a way of unlocking God’s possibility? Consider Job and his prayer life. 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. Job was in the throes of a dilemma: The Impossible and the Possible for God and for Man. When faced with God’s providence which included misery, Job was confused and did not accept the fact that God would treat his friends in the way he was being treated.
Job demanded an audience and explanation from God. It was as if Job would have God report to him for an accounting! Yet Job knew the issue was not God’s power and control. The sovereign God was in control but Job did not like His control. In chapters 38-42, God gave Job a “piece of Himself” by showing Job that He was Creator, Ruler, and Controller of His universe. In his second response to God, Job came to his senses and repented (Job 42:2-6; see Psalm 73:16-18; Luke 15:17-18). Job exclaimed: I know that you can do all things; no plan of yours can be thwarted. Job, not God, repented. Job came face to face with the living God in an entirely different way. He had come to know God in a way never before and he humbled himself.
God does not change. Job was able to resolve: The Impossible and the Possible for God and for Man God’s way which is the only way!
Is anything impossible for and with God? First, God can’t stop being God. That is impossible. It is in that context we need to read Jesus’ words in Mark 14:36: Abba Father, he said, everythi8ng is possible for you. Take this cup from me. Yet not what I want but what you will. Was it possible for the Triune God to save a people any other way that a perfect Sacrifice by a perfect man who would enter hell on the cross thus experiencing the fullness of God’s wrath? Once the “decision” was made in eternity past to save a rebellious people by Christ’s substitutionary atonement, it was impossible for God to “change His mind.” If He did, He would not be God! Jesus knew this and His words must be interpreted in light of His knowledge of God and His plan and the reality of God’s wrath and judgment that was looming larger and larger.
The great divide which Jesus face throughout His life was reaching a climax: will I prove covenantally faithful and serve and please God or will I opt to please myself? Jesus chose pleasing the Father! Jesus knew God is free only to be God. He did not want it any other way so He prayed: Yet not what I will, but what you will. The decision of the Triune God trumped Jesus’ individual wants. His prayer expresses not only submission as the Messiah but agreement with the eternal counsel of the Triune God (John 6:37-43).
Second, God’s will and man’s will are similar in terms of being free. Both are inside-out beings and can do only what they are by nature. God can’t lie, steal, murder, change, renege on promises, or profane His own name. He can only be God. He makes and keeps promises. What He has ordained in eternity past, He will and is bringing to fruition. Moreover, He has ordained the ends and the means. The crucifixion is the ultimate example of God’s promise-making and promise-keeping (Acts 2:22-24; 4:27-28).
Third, there are things God won’t do. He does not desire to do all things. If He did, He would not be God. He can only be God. Everything is not possible with God. It is not possible for God not to be God.
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 seen through the grid of the exercise of His sovereign, divine will and through the Person and work of the Messiah. If God’s promises are yes in Christ, Christ is the Triune God’s amen.
Fifth, the Triune God made promises in eternity past that have and will come to pass. He is a jealous God and protects His name. Paul wrote that no matter how many promises God has made they are yes and no in Christ. 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 that which is best for Him and His people. 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 since eternity are not only possible but a certainty. Amen!
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 that you must be wary of?
The Impossible and Possible For God and for Man: Part II
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 and the Colossians and to Philemon). As a prisoner no less, Paul focused on joy, thanksgiving, and warnings regarding disunity and false teachers (4:1-3; 1:12-21).
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? The context of the passage is Paul’s gratitude and joy for the gift from the Philippian congregation. Yet he quickly adds that his contentment and satisfaction does not rest on their gift but on what he is in Christ by the Holy Spirit. Please meditate on the significance of that last sentence. Paul knew he was a changed person. Evidence of that fact was his lifestyle. He changed from a self-pleaser to one of a God-pleaser in thought, desire, and action.
Paul knew how the change occurred (John 3:3-8; Philippians 3:7-11). As a result, he was a new creature and committed to pleasing God (2 Corinthians 5:17, 9). Moreover, Paul knew that he had been empowered. The Greek word 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 heart change had occurred through the singular, miraculous, monergistic work of the Holy Spirit. In His providence, God placed Paul in various situations for the purpose of learning to think, desire, and act as one of His children. He was preparing Paul for family life and ministry. These situations were Paul’s classroom in the school of discipleship of Jesus Christ. Paul would not graduate from Christ’s school until after Paul’s death.
Paul’s heart change was from God, by God, for God, and to God. Even so, the temptation for the believer to think that he could have a claim on God by his position, performance (works), and posterity/pedigree still exists. That description fits Paul’s previous lifestyle and mindset as given in Philippians 3:3-6.
Any activity (thoughts, desires, and actions) is man or God-engendered, -oriented, and -directed. 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 is what the believer does as a result of the Holy Spirit’s en-strengthening. Paul was, and the believer is, aware of the source of his strength. Paul encouraged his people to be aware of their change and to respond to God’s providence as God-pleasers.
Paul had learned the secret of contentment. The original term for contentment focuses on enough-ness and being satisfied with. In 2 Corinthians 12:9, Paul was satisfied with God’s grace. In Hebrews 13:5, the congregation was to be satisfied with God’s provisions. In 1Timothy 6:8, the people were to be satisfied with food and clothing. A critical point is made in each of these passages. Satisfaction and contentment depend on how a person views God and himself in any situation.
The circumstances which are God’s providence are not the issue. They are the training ground to learn to be content, that is, to think, to desire, and to do all things in order to please God. 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).
Self-pleasing in order to get is not gain. Verse 13 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. When trouble comes no matter what is, a common initial reaction is to consider the situation as an I-don’t-like situation. When that happens the believer is functioning as if his dynamite has fizzled or is non-existent. This is tantamount to denying the work of the Holy Spirit.
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). By definition, the believer is learning and will learn to be content. He applies 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. It must be learned and developed through the acceptance and practice of biblical truth. The believer has a new gird 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. In the situation the believer uses them 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).Such was the life of Christ our Messiah and Mediator. Such it is 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 drawing on the strength of Christ and the Holy Spirit look like in your life? Please be specific.
God’s and Man’s Perspective: Part III
In the first two sections in this series: The impossible and [possible for God and for man, I touched on the subject of the possible and the impossible from God’s perspective (nothing is impossible for God) and man’s perspective (man can do all things). Scripture teaches that God is and must be God or He would not be God (Genesis 1:1-2; .Romans 1:18-20; Hebrews 11:1, 6). 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 subvert or disparage His Being. He can’t go against or desire to go against His nature. The Bible teaches that God is all-in-all God. He is one, wise, truth, love, mercy, goodness, justice, righteous, and true to Himself. He does not simply love, do good, or act justly. He IS all of those things at the same time. He is not a compilation of those things. Rather, His very Being encompasses and defines those attributes.
God can’t nor would He desire to lie, deny Himself, or make a wheel so big He could not roll it. 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. He chose to reveal Himself through nature, His Son, and the Bible. Moreover, he created man a revelation receiver, interpreter, and implementer so that he would know God and serve as His prophet, priest, and king. Too often, these essential truths are ignored, maligned, and or rejected by believer and unbeliever alike. Paul praised God for who He was and how He ran His world (Romans 11:36). The only possible for God is the reality of God being God so that all who have ears to hear and eyes to see understand and rejoice. This truth 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.
As for man, there are things that are both possible and impossible. The unbeliever can not love, forgive, and comfort (1 John 4:7-12; Ephesians 4:32/Colossians 3:12-14; 2 Corinthians 1:3-4). The unbeliever has not received God’s saving love and His forgiveness. Therefore he does not know God’s saving love, forgiveness and comfort.
God does give all men life, breath, and everything else (Acts 17:25). All men know God and have the privilege and obligation of seeking God (Acts 17:27; Romans 1:18-20). The unbeliever is the offspring of God – they are created image bearers of God. As such, God is their Father in a non-saving way. Every person lives and breathes and has his being in God (Acts 17:28-29). God is the origin of all things including mankind and his time (Psalm 31:15). God is the Creator of all men but the Savior only of His people (Acts 4:12). Unbelievers are not of the household of saving faith. They don’t know God, they don’t desire to know God, and they don’t have saving faith. They exchanged the truth of God – they are and function as idolaters (Roman 1:18-23).
The believer knows God because God knows him in an intensely personal and saving way (John 17:3). 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.
The believer can please God and 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 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). Paul was saved and therefore he knew his Savior and his God. He cried out to him 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 3:7-11.
What is to be a realized possibility for the believer is growth in Christlikeness which is a blessing and privilege and not a burden (1 John 5:3-4). Situations are from God 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, in spite of themselves – enemies, rebels, and impotent dead in their sins (Romans 5:6-10; Ephesians 2:1-3). 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 increases the believer’s awe and thankfulness for salvation exponentially.
1. What is your understanding of the phrases: 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?