Perhaps you know someone, if not yourself, struggling with a particular sin or some kind of addiction. And all the while you or that person may find yourselves falling prey to the sin or addiction time and time again, being overcome by it instead of overcoming it.
One might thus be led to ask: Does God require us to do the impossible? Let us examine what God’s Word – the Holy Bible – has to say about this issue, and be encouraged by it.
The obvious answer some might present is Yes – God does require us to do the impossible. And one well-known Scripture verse they may quote is Matthew 5:48 – “Therefore you shall be perfect, just as your Father in heaven is perfect” [NKJV]. The KJV renders this verse as: “Be ye therefore perfect even as your Father in heaven is perfect.”
In the NKJV the verse seems to imply the person’s condition as done for him by another, whereas the KJV sounds like a command – which requires each of us to become perfect like God [the Father].
One who has become frustrated with repeated failures at attempts to be or become perfect could easily feel like one is being called or required to do something impossible – and especially humanly impossible.
When we examine what God says in His Word, we can plainly understand that yes, it is humanly impossible to be or become perfect, try the hardest as we might! Several Scripture passages tell us why.
Jeremiah 17:9 says, “The heart [of man] is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked; who can know it?” Jeremiah 10:23 adds, “O LORD, I know the way of man is not in himself, it is not in man to direct his own way.”
This is saying that, by our own smarts or talents, we humans have no way of directing our steps in the path God wants us to walk. [See: Is There Ever Any Good in Man? and A Law-abiding Universe – But Man!]
The apostle Paul, who had his own personal struggles with sin, declared: “Because the carnal [from the Greek sarx, meaning fleshly] mind is enmity against [hostile to] God; for it is not subject to the law of God, nor indeed can be. So then, those who are in the flesh cannot please God” (Romans 7:14-24; 8:7).
While he understood the human dilemma, Paul also understood that there is a solution to it: “But you are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if indeed the Spirit of God dwells in you. Now if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he is not His. And if Christ is in you, the body is dead because of sin [death is sin’s penalty, Romans 6:23], but the Spirit is life because of righteousness. But if the Spirit of Him [God the Father] who raised up Jesus from the dead dwells in you, He who raised Christ from the dead will give life to your mortal bodies through His Spirit [that] dwells in you” (Romans 8:7-11).
It is through that Spirit that it is possible for man to become perfect! Thus Jesus told His disciple Peter: “The things that are impossible with men are possible with God” (Luke 18:28; see also Mark 10:27).
In Mark 9:23 Jesus qualified: “If you can believe, all things are possible to him who believes.” Paul so believed, that in Christ was his hope of overcoming his dilemma (Romans 7:24-25; 8:1, etc.).
However, God does not present the solution on a silver platter! He expects us to do our part. We need to co-operate with Him. And what are those ways we are to work with Him?
First and foremost, we need to be single-minded or determined to depart from the sin or sins that plague us, and walk in the way of righteousness instead. This is what real repentance is about. Jesus said: “No one, having put his hand to the plow, and looking back, is fit for the kingdom of God” (Luke 9:62). He also commands those whom He forgives: “Go, and sin no more (John 8:11; 5:14).
What if our resolve to “sin no more” is weak? We can certainly ask Jesus to give us a strong or firm resolve. Jesus assures: “If you ask anything in My name, I will do it” (John 14:14). If we ask Him to give us the strength to resist sin – and the devil – He assuredly will!
James 4:7-10 exhorts us: “Therefore submit to God. Resist the devil and he will flee from you. Draw near to God and He will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners; and purify your hearts, you double-minded. Humble yourselves in the sight of the Lord, and He will lift you up.”
God can help us find the will to obey Him and do good works (Philippians 2:13) [see: Saved for Good Works]. But He does not force us in such a way that we can no longer exercise our will or freedom to choose for ourselves. [See: What Is This Thing Called “Will?”]
God’s Spirit works by giving us the power to do His will, to do good. [See: God’s Spirit and Obedience and The Higher Law of the Spirit.]
This helps us to fix our eyes on Jesus while we struggle to lay aside the sins that so easily beset us (Hebrews 12:2). As we do, we avoid the problem of Peter, who sank in the troubled waters when he took his eyes away from Jesus and focused instead on his fear. But Jesus saved him when he called out to Him for help (Matthew 214:25-31).
As we call on Jesus in faith, He will help us tear down Satan’s stronghold in our minds and hearts, to make our every thought obedient to Him (2 Corinthians 10:3-5).
Secondly, God also provides a “support system” for a sinner who is struggling to overcome sin. Proverbs 17:17 says: “A friend loves at all times, and a brother is born for adversity.”
Jesus came to establish a community of believers who would so love one another as He has loved them (Matthew 16:18; John 13:34). The Church of God provides a sinner with a friend or friends and brothers in Christ who can help bear his spiritual and other burdens (Galatians 6:2). [See: Where Is God’s Church Today?]
Jesus has set in His church various ministers to help build and encourage His people toward His perfect spiritual likeness (Ephesians 4:11-13).
God knows how difficult it is for a person struggling with some pernicious sin to go it on his own. He needs a friend or buddy who could help him go through the straight and narrow way of God. Associating with such Christian friends helps encourage him to do good works and depart from evil works (|Hebrews 10:24-25).
Hebrews 12:22-24 shows that it is possible for Christians to come to have their spirit [ the inner man] made perfect through Christ’s provisions, and make them worthy of everlasting life in God’s kingdom.
As the Feast of Pentecost approaches [to be observed by God’s people on May 16 this year], let us remember that eventful day during which God poured out His Spirit on the newly founded Church of God (acts 2). May you find that same Spirit, and community, to help you become perfect as God is perfect!
Pedro R. Meléndez, Jr.