Mrs. Brittany Bardsley “nominated” me for the Five-Day Scripture Challenge that’s making its way across Facebook at the moment. The bottom line: You post a verse every day and you nominate two new people every day to take the challenge. Pretty easy, but if I’m honest, it seemed highly annoying…and then I realized that I’m a total chump if I’m annoyed at posting Scripture but not sarcasm. So, in order to handle it the best way I can, I’m trying not to Jesus juke this whole thing. I’ll blog about a verse (or a few verses) for the next five days, no problem. The catch: I’m going to try to tackle some verses that we either have a very poor understanding of, or a very idealistic view of (example: Jeremiah 29:11. We quote that WAY too often. That’ll likely show up here too).
Day 1 – Matthew 19:26
“With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.”
If I had a dime every time someone in college quoted this when a big project was due, I probably could have paid for my student loan debt along with a third of the campus. We have this hilarious tendency of pulling out a verse that sounds really nice and applying it to any and every situation in life, even when it’s a far cry from what was actually taking place. Context, dear friends. Context.
It’s really cute to operate under the assumption that God will make all things possible just because he’s God. At least it’s cute if you’re 11 and at a youth retreat. I mean, okay, fine. I guess he can – he’s God. It’s not like he needs anyone’s permission. But do you honestly think this is the best verse to pull out every single time you know of someone who has a loved one on their death bed? Or when a friend is right in the middle of the most hell-infested storm of her life because her husband has cheated on her with multiple women? Or when a family is learning to cope with their child being paralyzed from the waist down because of being hit by a drunk driver? No, really – I get it. He’s God, and yes, he absolutely can and has raised the dead. He can and has healed marriages that are barely hanging on by the final thread of a final thread. Yes he can and has healed the paralytic. But stop. Just stop for one second. Take off the rose colored glasses and just look. Is this really what Jesus was talking about? Did any of those things take place when he said these words?
Not a single one.
In fact, Jesus isn’t working miracles at all right now. He’s teaching. Back up to verse 16. This entire passage is about the rich young ruler who was curious what more needed to be done to gain eternal life. Jesus says hang on to the Top Ten. Our little beacon of success asks which ones. Jesus tells him the big ones: Don’t murder, don’t commit adultery, honor Ma & Pa Kettle, don’t lie, and love the people around you as you love yourself. The kiddo has this down. He’s been a decent guy. He’s rich, he’s successful, he seems like a decent guy. Props to him, because he realizes he isn’t perfect. He asks Jesus what he still lacks. Jesus cuts right to the chase:
“‘If you want to be perfect, go, sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.’ When the young man heard this, he went away sad, because he had great wealth. Then Jesus said to his disciples, ‘I tell you the truth, it is hard for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven. Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.’
When the disciples heard this, they were greatly astonished and asked, ‘Who then can be saved”‘ Jesus looked at them and said, ‘With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.’
Translation: For those of us who are completely content and satisfied with the things of this world and the things under our control, it’s going to be extremely difficult for us to deny ourselves. It’s hard for someone who is rich with excess to deny themselves and be humble enough to admit, “I must give this up. If I’m going to truly follow Jesus, then it’s time to lay this aside and be done with it.” When the disciples heard this teaching, they were confused until Jesus clarified; “With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible” (verse 26).
I’m guessing you’ve likely heard verse 26 in this sort of context: “If you believe, God can make it possible. If you have enough faith, God can work in it.” As if our level of faith somehow determines what God can or can’t do. Please. “With God, all good things are possible!” When you actually look at this verse in context it says something totally different. May I?
With man, it will be impossible for anyone to deny themselves.
With man, it’s impossible to make a legitimate sacrifice.
With man, it’s impossible to have lasting self-control.
But with God, the sacrificial things are possible.
With God self-control is possible.
This is very different from the belief that with God, all good things are possible. Yes, all good things are possible, but that doesn’t mean they’re probable. You can have all the faith in the world, but I’d assume that would make it just as likely for you to be a moving target for Satan as you are a recipient of God’s blessing (not that you shouldn’t daily build that faith – good grief, don’t misunderstand me).
Let’s not assume that holding fast to rules will somehow gain us eternity. Let’s not fool ourselves into thinking that if we do it all right, a life of abundant blessing will follow. Let’s not turn the Gospel into something it isn’t. Jesus did everything right and we see where that landed him here on earth. But we also see where that took him in death and resurrection.
Summary: Please don’t misunderstand me. I adamantly believe that God can and will bless people however he chooses to. However, let’s not use verses as our shouts of health, wealth, and victory when they’re more geared towards being tokens of honesty about our own condition.
The encouraging part is, no matter what we’re holding onto, yes, we absolutely can surrender it, we just can’t do it on our own. Speaking from personal experience here. It wasn’t until I was willing to spend nights on my face – sometimes until 4 or 5 in the morning – in an all-out battle to not fight on my own but to continue surrendering the struggle minute after minute that any amount of headway was actually made. Sometimes that’s where you have to go. Sometimes that’s what it takes. If you’re still trying to deny yourself with your own power, trust me: It’s why it isn’t working. That moment that you decide to give in is the moment we succumb to this idea that the temptation is “too strong.” Load of crap: If we take God at his word, then we really do believe he will always provide a way out (in Ephesians – forgive me for not having the exact reference on the tip of my tongue..um…fingers at 1:30 AM). That might require swallowing pride in a new way, but he does provide that.
It’s possible to deny yourself and starve the porn addiction.
It’s possible to deny yourself and battle against the food addiction.
It’s possible to deny yourself and surrender the blood-thirsty hunger for control and power.
It’s possible to deny yourself and turn away from the shopping sprees.
It’s possible to deny yourself and close the chapter on your party life.
It’s possible to deny yourself and learn to love who you are for once.
All of this is possible, not with ourselves, but with the power of God Almighty himself.
May we not forget such a bedrock truth.
Pray. Seek. Do.
Soli Deo Gloria.