What does it mean when the Bible says that “with God all things are possible?”

This question refers to a statement made by Jesus in Matthew 19:26 and its counterpart Mark 10:27.  The totality of His statement was, “With people this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.”   The question is best answered by looking at the context of the statement, which, beginning in Matthew 19:16, consists of a conversation between Jesus and a young rich ruler.  The keys to purely understanding the statement hinge first on what Jesus meant by “this,” and second, what He meant by “all.”  Whatever “this” was is impossible with man, but with God, “all” is possible.

The scene opens up with a rich young man coming to Jesus asking Him “what good things he should do to inherit eternal life” (Matthew 19:16).  Jesus’ response is important because He begins to attack the young man’s understanding of “goodness.”  Jesus declares that only the Father in heaven is good.  This, of course, was not a disclaimer of His own deity, but a lesson to His special audience that no one is good except for God.  Continuing His discourse with the young man, Jesus then said, “but if you wish to enter eternal life, keep the commandments” (Matthew 19:17).

Because he still did not understand, the young man’s response to Jesus was to receive a “laundry list” of commandments that he needed to follow in order to receive eternal life.  Jesus replied by listing five commandments that all deal with human relationships (Matthew 19:18-19).  This is important because He was making a distinction between having faith in the law (or in his own abilities) and having faith in God; that is, the difference between the law and grace.  The young man thought that the law could save him, but Jesus knew that that was impossible. As John MacArthur has written, “Jesus was trying to impress on the young man both the high standard required by God and the absolute futility of seeking salvation by his own merit.  This should have elicited a response about the impossibility of keeping the law perfectly but instead the young man confidently declared that he qualified for heaven under those terms.”  “All these things I have kept,” said the young ruler (Matthew 19:20).

Even after the young man failed twice to acknowledge his self-righteousness, Jesus continued to try to expose the sin in his heart.  The young man asked, “What am I still lacking?” (Matthew 19:20)  Jesus replied, “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” (Matthew 19:21).  At this, the young man “went away grieving for he was one who owned much property” (Matthew 19:22). 

At least two sins were revealed here: First, the young man was not as blameless as he thought he was because he was guilty of loving himself and his possessions more than his neighbor, (which was a broken commandment according to v.19), and second, he lacked true faith which requires an unparalleled devotion to Jesus.  This is when Jesus called over His disciples to teach them a lesson.  He said, “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” (Matthew 19:24).  The disciple’s response was, “Then who can be saved?” or, “Then how is it possible for anyone to be qualified to enter the kingdom of God?” (Matthew 19:25)

This is where the famous and oft quoted verse comes in, which is the inspiration for our question.  Jesus replied, “With people this is impossible, but with God all things are possible” (Matthew 19:26).  This answers our first contextual issue, for we can now see that the “this” concerns salvation.  It is impossible for man to save himself by his own merits, or for the law to grant eternal life.  The grace offered only by Jesus Christ is necessary.  The question now is, “What did Jesus mean by ‘all things?’” 

This part of the question concerns God’s omnipotence, or, His power.  It is important to understand that omnipotence does not mean that God is capable of doing anything including the irrational or imperfect. There are things that God is incapable of doing, such as lying or denying Himself (Hebrews 6:18; 2 Timothy 2:13; Titus 1:2).  Because God cannot do certain things, however, does not mean that He is less God because the things that He cannot do would actually take away from His perfect nature.  Instead, omnipotence refers to God’s power, which is unlimited (Job 11:7-11, 37:23; Revelation 4:8).  That is, God can take the things that are impossible to man, and make them possible because His power is unlimited, while ours is limited.  The context of Jesus’ statement in Matthew 19:26 is a perfect example of His unlimited power because while it is possible for man to be saved, it is impossible for man to accomplish the goal on his own.  God’s unlimited power is needed to make the possibly impossible, possible.

Scripture is full of verses that portray God making the possibly impossible possible.  When Abraham and Sarah were awaiting the promise of a son, even after they were well past childbearing years, God told them, “Is anything too difficult for the Lord?” (Genesis 18:14)  In the book of Numbers when the Israelites were complaining to Moses about food, the Lord told Moses that he was going to feed over 600,000 people for an entire month.  Moses was skeptical, but God said, “Is the Lord’s power limited?  Now you shall see whether My word will come true for you or not” (Numbers 11:23).  In the book of Job, after forty-two chapters of trials, Job was able to answer God and say, “I know that You can do all things, and that no purpose of Yours can be thwarted” (Job 42:2).  The prophet Isaiah wrote, “Behold, the Lord’s hand is not so short that it cannot save; Nor is His ear so dull that it cannot hear” (Isaiah 59:1).  Jeremiah said, “Ah Lord God! Behold, You have made the heavens and the earth by Your great power and by your outstretched arm! Nothing is too difficult for You” (Jeremiah 32:17).  Finally, in Luke 1:37, in foretelling the birth of Jesus, the angel Gabriel told Mary, “For nothing will be impossible with God.”

It is easy to get hung up on the word “all,” but it is best to remember that the context of this statement is in reference to salvation.  God made a way when the way was impossible for us.  This is what it means that “with God all things are possible.”