Do you know that feeling when you read something that is a very important statement, but that someone has used in a very cheap or trite way? Unwittingly we can do that with Scripture. We tend to jump on a phrase of Scripture and run with it without reference to its native context. When we do that we miss out on the very Word of God and no matter how “encouraging” we think that verse is out of context, it is not encouraging in the way God intended it and it is not as encouraging as it was designed to be in its context.
Matthew 19:26 is one of those verses. Especially in a nation that has the “American Dream” and you can do “anything you set your mind to” and the “sky is the limit,” lifting this verse out of context and placing it within those categories is easy to do…far too easy. This verse, “With people this is impossible, but with God all things are possible,” is very encouraging and powerful, but we need to make sure we understand how God intended it to be encouraging. Is Jesus encouraging us to start a business, finish a degree, lose weight, run longer, live healthier etc. and telling us that with God it is possible? No He is not. Certainly there is a principle that holds true here in every area of a Christian’s life and it is this: If God has commanded something that seems impossible and/or is humanly impossible, we are to by faith believe that with Him it is possible and act with appropriate faith. But notice even with this the focus is on God’s revealed will, not our revealed desires! But beyond this more generalized point the specific point that this is applied to in Matthew 19 is actually about the salvation of souls.
Jesus just had a conversation with the rich young ruler who thought He had done rather well at earning His way to a right relationship with God. But Jesus skillfully puts His finger on the young man’s real God:
Jesus said to him, “If you wish to be complete, go and sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow Me.” 22 But when the young man heard this statement, he went away grieving; for he was one who owned much property (Matthew 19:21-22).
After the rich young ruler left Jesus used this as an opportunity to instruct His disciples about the salvation of souls:
And Jesus said to His disciples, “Truly I say to you, it is hard for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven. 24 “Again I say to 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.” 25 When the disciples heard this, they were very astonished and said, “Then who can be saved?” 26 And looking at them Jesus said to them, “With people this is impossible, but with God all things are possible” (Matthew 19:23-26).
What is the humanly impossible thing that Jesus is referring to? The salvation of a rich person, and by implication salvation in general because the disciples did not ask “then what rich person can be saved,” but “then who can be saved?” In other words, they recognized that the words of Jesus not only showed the difficulty that it was for rich people to get saved, but for anyone in general to get saved.
Once the disciples and we rightly understand how impossible it is for human being to earn their way to heaven then we are in the right position to understand the point of Matthew 19:26. Once we recognize from other passages as well how spiritually dead and blinded to God’s truth the sinner is then we are in the right position to understand the point of Matthew 19:26. Salvation is humanly impossible, only God can make possible the impossible. Only God can turn a soul from loving itself rather than loving God. Only God can bring life out of death.
So how should this verse be encouraging? Be careful not to miss how God intends it to be encouraging. Here is a simple exercise that will help you to get the encouragement that God intends for you from this verse. Think of those in your life that you know who are not saved and write their names down. To the right of each name write out this: “With people this is impossible, but with God all things are possible” (Matthew 19:26). Remember, for anyone to get saved, it is humanly impossible, but only possible with God. But you could do something else as well. You could write down the names of those in your life that you feel are least likely to ever come to know Christ. They may be hardened, distracted, rejecting, scoffing, rich, successful, and generally satisfied with this world, but write their name down and then write this out next to their name: “With people this is impossible, but with God all things are possible” (Matthew 19:26).Now that is encouraging, encouraging how God intended it to be encouraging. And if it is true (and it is!) then two very practical things should flow from this encouragement: Prayer to God about this and continued proclamation of the gospel to them. It seems impossible and it is, but not with God. So pray and proclaim and watch God’s grace save the hardest cases. He saved us! “With God all things are possible.”