God and the Impossibility of Goodness

It’s easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for us to be good enough for God.

The story of the rich young ruler resonates with me today in the seeming impossibility of living without sin. I suspect that I am not alone in the experience of certain sinful inclinations that I just can’t seem to shake. Try as I might, I fall into the same traps of temptation over and over again. I get angry at myself. I ask for forgiveness. I renew my resolve, but I inevitably trip and fall. And sometimes I despair.

God cannot be mocked. Whatever a man sows, he will reap in return. The one who sows to please his flesh, from the flesh will reap destruction; but the one who sows to please the Spirit, from the Spirit will reap eternal life….” (Gal. 6:7-8)

I know this, but it doesn’t seem to help. My sinful flesh often overcomes the spirit within me. While the spirit is often willing, the flesh is weak; and sometimes, let’s be honest, my spirit isn’t as willing as it should be.

I think, “If I could just resist more and try harder and find just the right combination of thoughts and habits and resolve, I could lick this thing.” But, days come and go. Things change: busyness, or worry, or distraction, or boredom, or some dryness in my spiritual life, or difficulty, or disappointment or any number of things (or a combination of them) sets in, and when my guard is down, temptation comes and catches me off guard in a moment of weakness.

I truly believe it is possible to overcome the sin within me. Scripture seems to require it of me. What I reap I will sow. Yet I fail. I fully identify with Paul, who said:

“I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do. And if I do what I do not want to do, I agree that the law is good. As it is, it is no longer I myself who do it, but it is sin living in me. For I know that good itself does not dwell in me, that is, in my sinful nature. For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. For I do not do the good I want to do, but the evil I do not want to do—this I keep on doing.” (Rom 7:15-19)

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The Impossible Perfection of God

What is it that is impossible with man, but possible with God? What can we not do that only God can do for us?


In the Gospel of Mark, we read the story of the rich young man who came to Jesus and asked him what he must do to inherit eternal life. (Mark 10:17) After a brief discussion about the law and keeping its commandments, Jesus said to him, “One thing you lack: go and sell all you possess and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow Me.” (Mark 10:21)

The rich young ruler went away saddened and grieving. (Mark 10:22)

Obviously, the rich young man found the instruction very difficult. He was evidently hoping for a different answer. He claimed to have kept the commandments of God from an early age, but Jesus brushed his boasting aside and dashed his hopes by demanding the “impossible” from him.

Jesus turned to his disciples as the example for what he was about to say was walking away, and commented, “How hard it will be for those who are wealthy to enter the Kingdom of God!” (Mark 10:23)

If we are being honest with ourselves, most Christians in the United States are wealthy compared to the rest of the world. We might even be considered wealthy compared to the rich young man who sought out Jesus in the First Century. Unless we gloss over what Jesus said, these are hard words to swallow.

They were hard words for the disciples also. Though they had left everything to follow Jesus, they were still “amazed” at what Jesus just said. (Mark 10:24)

As if the example wasn’t enough, Jesus said it again, “[H]ow hard it is to enter the kingdom of God!” and he added a word picture for emphasis:

“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.” (Mark 10:25)

At these words, the disciples were not just amazed; they were “astonished”, asking, “Then who can be saved?” (Mark 10:26)

I believe they identified with the rich young man. I suspect they knew they had to more to give than what they had given. They might have also been thinking about the size of this following to which they had given themselves – it would be small indeed! Who could even qualify?!

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