What Is the Meaning of the Promise ‘With God All Things Are Possible’?
- Aaron Berry Crosswalk.com Contributing Writer
- 2018 12 Jul
You’ve seen it cross-stitched on pillows and hung on walls. You’ve heard it recited before the Regional Championship and whispered before a big job interview: “With God all things are possible.”
This phrase, found in Matthew 19:26, speaks of God’s omnipotence—his absolute power to what he pleases. It’s a theme that is echoed all throughout Scripture. When Sarah and Abraham doubted God’s promise to give them a son, God said, “Is anything too hard for the LORD?” (Gen 18:14). When God displayed his absolute sovereignty to Job in his distress, Job replied, “I know that you can do all things, and that no purpose of yours can be thwarted” (Job 42:2). Jesus himself, when he prayed to his Father in the garden before he was crucified, cried out, “Abba, Father, all things are possible for you. Remove this cup from me” (Mark 14:36). This phrase, “with God all things are possible,” proclaims the absolute sovereignty and uncontested power of God.
I fear, however, that we have hijacked this profound phrase in Scripture and have turned it into a slogan for the power of positive thinking. So, before we discuss what the meaning of this promise is, we should clarify what it does not mean.
It’s a not good luck charm
Here’s how we typically interpret this phrase: we transform “with God all things are possible” into “since God is with me, all things are possible…for me.” In other words, since God is on my side, I can accomplish anything I want to do. We claim God’s power as a lucky rabbit’s foot that gives us the ability to chase any dream or accomplish any task we want.
But this couldn’t be further from the truth. God is not at our bidding—we are at his. Although it is true that God is always with his children and gives them strength, he does not guarantee that we will succeed in every venture. Sometimes, it is God’s will for us to miss out on that job opportunity or lose that state championship. Does that mean that God really isn’t all powerful? Does that mean that God somehow failed you? Not at all. When we hijack this phrase, we set ourselves up for frustration, doubt, and sorrow. God is all-powerful, but he does not give us the right to claim that power for whatever we want. When Jesus prayed to his Father in the garden before he was taken to the cross, “all things are possible for you,” he concluded by saying, “Yet not what I will, but what you will.” The reality of the Father’s absolute power compelled Jesus to submit to the Father’s will, not to hijack that power to accomplish his own will.
If Jesus himself responded to his Father’s power this way, shouldn’t we respond in the same way?
Context, Context, Context
So, if the promise “with God all things are possible” is not meant to be a good luck charm for my dreams and ambitions, what does it actually mean? To answer that question, we must go to the passage in which the phrase is found, since best safeguard against the misuse of Scripture is to understand Scripture within its given context. So, in order to better understand this phrase, we must go to Matthew 19. Matthew 19:16–30 is the story of the rich young ruler who came to Jesus asking what he must do to have eternal life (v. 16). Jesus responds by saying that he must not only follow all the commandments, but also give up all his possessions to the poor and follow him (vv. 17-22). Far from preaching a works-bases salvation, Jesus was exposing the young man’s treasures that were keeping him from a devotion to Christ. Upon hearing this radical command, the rich young ruler goes away “sorrowful, for he had great possessions” (v. 22).
Jesus then turns to his disciples and tells them that “it is easier for a camel to go through an eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God” (v. 24). The disciples were astonished by this, because in their way of thinking, rich people had the best chance of getting into heaven—they had every advantage. The conclusion of the disciples was, if a rich person can’t get saved, “who then can be saved?” They thought that if the rich didn’t have a chance, then neither did anyone else. It’s at this point that Jesus responds, “With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.”
We see that, within its original context, the phrase “with God all things are possible” was applied to the issue of salvation. Humanity is completely unable to achieve salvation through personal effort—only God can save, because “all things are possible” for God. It is the ultimate example of man’s will contrasted to God’s will. The rich young ruler did everything he could to earn eternal life, but it wasn’t good enough. It is only through God’s grace that one can receive eternal life.
So what does “with God all things are possible” mean in its original context? It means “only God can save sinners and give them eternal life.” No human being can hijack this power, in salvation or in any other matter. What then should be our response? Humility, submission, and trust.
God does what he pleases. He acts according to his will, not mine or yours. We misunderstand this phrase when we act like it is a guarantee of success for any task we are facing. We, like the rich young ruler, think that we have complete control over our lives if God is with us. Instead, we must realize that, if God is indeed with us, it is he alone who has complete control over our lives.
Because all things are possible with God, we must submit to him and yield ourselves to his sovereign plan, trusting him to do what is best for us, even when it included failure.
But what about “I can do all things through Christ”?
During this discussion, you might have thought about another passage of Scripture that seems to contradict what I’m saying. Didn’t Paul himself say, “I can do all things through him who strengthens me” (Phil 4:13)? Isn’t this an example of someone claiming God’s power to achieve any dream one wants?
Again, the context provides the clarity. When Paul says, “I can do all things,” what are the “things” he is referring to? Philippians 4:11–12 provide the answer: “Not that I am speaking of being in need, for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. I can do all things through he who strengthens me.”
Paul isn’t saying that God gives him the power to do anything he wants to do; he is saying that Christ strengthens him to be content in any circumstance, in times of “plenty and hunger, abundance and need.” Paul wasn’t hijacking God’s power to escape poverty or hunger, he relied on God’s power to be satisfied with Christ during times of poverty and hunger.
We must rejoice in the glorious reality that “with God all things are possible,” but we must never expect God to use his power to do our every bidding. He is sovereign over your salvation, your future, your career, your every breath. All things are possible for him, and he uses that ability to accomplish his own will. Yes, it is frustrating when we don’t know what God’s will is. We want the assurance that we will succeed in everything we do. We wish that God bent to our every whim.
But this would be a disaster. If God used his power to accomplish my will, my life would end in disaster. I don’t know what is best for me, but God does. I must trust him to accomplish his will for my life, and I can be confident that he will do exactly that—because “with God all things are possible.”
Aaron Berry is a co-author for the Pursuing the Pursuer Blog. You can read more articles from Aaron and his colleagues by subscribing to their blog or following them on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. Aaron currently resides in Allen Park, MI with his wife and daughter, where he serves in his local church and recently completed an MDiv degree at Detroit Baptist Theological Seminary.