Christ had said to the rich young ruler, “Sell all that thou hast … and come, follow me.” The young man went away sorrowful. Christ then turned to the disciples, and said: “How hardly shall they that have riches enter into the kingdom of God!” The disciples, we read, were greatly astonished, and answered: “If it is so difficult to enter the kingdom, who, then, can be saved?” And Christ gave this blessed answer:
“The things which are impossible with men are possible with God.”
The text contains two thoughts—that in religion, in the question of salvation and of following Christ by a holy life, it is impossible for man to do it. And then alongside that is the thought—What is impossible with man is possible with God.
The two thoughts mark the two great lessons that man has to learn in the religious life. It often takes a long time to learn the first lesson, that in religion man can do nothing, that salvation is impossible to man. And often a man learns that, and yet he does not learn the second lesson—what has been impossible to him is possible with God. Blessed is the man who learns both lessons! The learning of them marks stages in the Christian’s life.
The one stage is when a man is trying to do his utmost and fails, when a man tries to do still better and fails again, when a man tries still more and always fails. And yet very often he does not even then learn the lesson: With man it is impossible to serve God and Christ. Peter spent three years in Christ’s school, and he never learned that word, It is impossible, until he had denied his Lord and went out and wept bitterly. Then he learned it.
Just look for a moment at a man who is learning this lesson. At first he fights against it; then he submits to it, but reluctantly and in despair; at last he accepts it willingly and rejoices in it. At the beginning of the Christian life the young convert has no conception of this truth. He has been converted, he has the joy of the Lord in his heart, he begins to run the race and fight the battle; he is sure he can conquer, for he is earnest and honest, and God will help him. Yet, somehow, very soon he fails where he did not expect it, and sin gets the better of him. He is disappointed; but he thinks: “I was not watchful enough, I did not make my resolutions strong enough.” And again he vows, and again he prays, and yet he fails. He thought: “Am I not a regenerate man? Have I not the life of God within me?” And he thinks again: “Yes, and I have Christ to help me, I can live the holy life.”
At a later period he comes to another state of mind. He begins to see such a life is impossible, but he does not accept it. There are multitudes of Christians who come to this point: “I cannot”; and then think God never expected them to do what they cannot do. If you tell them that God does expect it, it appears to them a mystery. A good many Christians are living a low life, a life of failure and of sin, instead of rest and victory, because they began to see: “I cannot, it is impossible.” And yet they do not understand it fully, and so, under the impression, I cannot, they give way to despair. They will do their best, but they never expect to get on very far.
But God leads His children on to a third stage, when a man comes to take that word, It is impossible, in its full truth, and yet at the same time says: “I must do it, and I will do it—it is impossible for man, and yet I must do it”; when the renewed will begins to exercise its whole power, and in intense longing and prayer begins to cry to God: “Lord, what is the meaning of this?—how am I to be freed from the power of sin?”
It is the state of the regenerate man in Rom. 7. There you will find the Christian man trying his very utmost to live a holy life. God’s law has been revealed to him as reaching down into the very depth of the desires of the heart, and the man can dare to say:
“I delight in the law of God after the inward man. To will what is good is present with me. My heart loves the law of God, and my will has chosen that law.”
Can a man like that fail, with his heart full of delight in God’s law and with his will determined to do what is right? Yes. That is what Rom. 7 teaches us. There is something more needed. Not only must I delight in the law of God after the inward man, and will what God wills, but I need a divine omnipotence to work it in me. And that is what the Apostle Paul teaches in Phil. 2:
“It is God which worketh in you, both to will and to do.”
Note the contrast. In Rom. 7, the regenerate man says: “To will is present with me, but to do—I find I cannot do. I will, but I cannot perform.” But in Phil. 2, you have a man who has been led on farther, a man who understands that when God has worked the renewed will, God will give the power to accomplish what that will desires. Let us receive this as
THE FIRST GREAT LESSON IN THE SPIRITUAL LIFE
“It is impossible for me, my God; let there be an end of the flesh and all its powers, an end of self, and let it be my glory to be helpless.”
Praise God for the divine teaching that makes us helpless!
Murray, Andrew. 1897. Absolute Surrender. New York; Chicago; Toronto: Fleming H. Revell Company.
Check out our Bible Study on the book by classic book by John Murray, Absolute Surrender
These lessons are available on Amazon, as well as a part of Good Questions Have Groups Talking Subscription Service. Like Netflix for Bible Lessons, one low subscription gives you access to all our lessons–thousands of them. For a medium-sized church, lessons are as little as $10 per teacher per year.