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“Five Things God Cannot Do”


(originally preached by Pastor Charles Bartels on 11/11/79)

Mayfair Bible Church Centennial Message

adapted by Pastor Tim Glover



Is there anything too hard for God? Jeremiah didn’t think so, even though he struggled with it ---

“16 ¶  "After I had given the deed of purchase to Baruch son of Neriah, I prayed to the LORD: 17  "Ah, Sovereign LORD, you have made the heavens and the earth by your great power and outstretched arm. Nothing is too hard for you. 18  You show love to thousands but bring the punishment for the fathers’ sins into the laps of their children after them. O great and powerful God, whose name is the LORD Almighty, 19  great are your purposes and mighty are your deeds. Your eyes are open to all the ways of men; you reward everyone according to his conduct and as his deeds deserve. 20  You performed miraculous signs and wonders in Egypt and have continued them to this day, both in Israel and among all mankind, and have gained the renown that is still yours. 21  You brought your people Israel out of Egypt with signs and wonders, by a mighty hand and an outstretched arm and with great terror. 22  You gave them this land you had sworn to give their forefathers, a land flowing with milk and honey. 23  They came in and took possession of it, but they did not obey you or follow your law; they did not do what you commanded them to do. So you brought all this disaster upon them. 24  "See how the siege ramps are built up to take the city. Because of the sword, famine and plague, the city will be handed over to the Babylonians who are attacking it. What you said has happened, as you now see. 25  And though the city will be handed over to the Babylonians, you, O Sovereign LORD, say to me, ‘Buy the field with silver and have the transaction witnessed.’" 26 ¶  Then the word of the LORD came to Jeremiah: 27  "I am the LORD, the God of all mankind. Is anything too hard for me? 28  Therefore, this is what the LORD says: I am about to hand this city over to the Babylonians and to Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon, who will capture it.” (Jer 32:16-28 NivUS)

If you believe the prophet Jeremiah, indeed if you believe Jeremiah’s God, the One who ordained him, even He who is also our God, the One who brought about such great events in salvation history, then this is a strange title for a message indeed.

But we need not leave the witness even there. Job echoed this truth in ancient times that “there is nothing too hard for God”.

“1 ¶  Then Job replied to the LORD: 2  "I know that you can do all things; no plan of yours can be thwarted. 3  You asked,‘Who is this that obscures my counsel without knowledge?’ Surely I spoke of things I did not understand, things too wonderful for me to know.” (Job 42:1-3 NivUS)

Job said this at the end of his rope. Job had gone as far as he could in and of himself in the pursuit of the knowledge of God. Only God could take him the rest of the way.

Sarah also discovered this amazing thing about her God in those times – that nothing is too hard for Him, and that He didn’t find it humorous at all.

“13  Then the LORD said to Abraham, "Why did Sarah laugh and say, ‘Will I really have a child, now that I am old?’ 14  Is anything too hard for the LORD? I will return to you at the appointed time next year and Sarah will have a son."” (Ge 18:13-14 NivUS)

About 2,000 years later, and 2,000 years ago, the mother of our Lord had this witness of the ages not to question God too long about what He could or couldn’t do.

“34  "How will this be," Mary asked the angel, "since I am a virgin?" 35  The angel answered, "The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the holy one to be born will be called the Son of God. 36  Even Elizabeth your relative is going to have a child in her old age, and she who was said to be barren is in her sixth month. 37  For nothing is impossible with God." 38  "I am the Lord’s servant," Mary answered. "May it be to me as you have said." Then the angel left her.” (Lu 1:34-38 NivUS)

And Jesus? What a witness He brought on earth of things possible with God.

“23 ¶  Then Jesus said to his disciples, "I tell you the truth, it is hard for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven. 24  Again I tell you, 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." 25  When the disciples heard this, they were greatly astonished and asked, "Who then can be saved?" 26  Jesus looked at them and said, "With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible."” (Mt 19:23-26 NivUS)

--- and yet there are five things God cannot do. We cannot put God in a box, but can God place restrictions upon himself for his glory and our good?

God created the heavens and all that is in them. This includes all material things in heaven and earth – all that you can imagine. He has all power over his creation.

“For in six days the LORD made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but he rested on the seventh day. Therefore the LORD blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy.” (Ex 20:11 NivUS)

There is nothing earthly, nothing in this realm, that is impossible for God to do. But although He made man from dust, shall return him to dust, and raise him up from dust again, these are the material things of creation.

No, the five things God cannot do are in the moral and spiritual realm. These are things that go against His nature that He cannot do if he be truly God.

Big Question:

In what ways does God limit Himself for His glory and our good?

I.       Limitation #1: God Cannot Lie (Titus 1:2)


“1 ¶  Paul, a servant of God and an apostle of Jesus Christ for the faith of God’s elect and the knowledge of the truth that leads to godliness— 2  a faith and knowledge resting on the hope of eternal life, which God, who does not lie, promised before the beginning of time,” (Tit 1:1-2 NivUS)

          A.      Narrative

God’s nature is total holiness. All he does is holy: his love is holy, his creation is holy, his Word is holy, even we that are fallen are potentially holy by faith and positionally holy by decree.

But God’s nature is far different from ours at the present. Contrast our nature with his in these words of Balaam, that opportunistic pagan prophet hired by the Amorites, Moabites and Midianites to curse the children of Israel about to enter the Promised Land.

“God is not a man, that he should lie, nor a son of man, that he should change his mind. Does he speak and then not act? Does he promise and not fulfill?” (Nu 23:19 NivUS)

Balaam could not speak that which he would. We are all liars by nature, but not our God. Even using such a liar, God speaks the truth. And God’s Word was fulfilled.

“There is no sorcery against Jacob, no divination against Israel. It will now be said of Jacob and of Israel, ‘See what God has done!’” (Nu 23:23 NivUS)

Even the psalmist, David, said “all men are liars” (Ps. 116:11) as he sought God, his only source of hope, proclaiming, “For you, O Lord, have delivered my soul from death.”

All men strain the truth, but for God, the truth is no strain. Have you ever tweaked words a certain way by intent to show only what you want to be seen?

King Saul learned the hard way about playing such games with God.

“13  When Samuel reached him, Saul said, "The LORD bless you! I have carried out the LORD’s instructions." 14  But Samuel said, "What then is this bleating of sheep in my ears? What is this lowing of cattle that I hear?" 15  Saul answered, "The soldiers brought them from the Amalekites; they spared the best of the sheep and cattle to sacrifice to the LORD your God, but we totally destroyed the rest."” (1Sa 15:13-15 NivUS)

“27  As Samuel turned to leave, Saul caught hold of the hem of his robe, and it tore. 28  Samuel said to him, "The LORD has torn the kingdom of Israel from you today and has given it to one of your neighbors— to one better than you. 29  He who is the Glory of Israel does not lie or change his mind; for he is not a man, that he should change his mind."” (1Sa 15:27-29 NivUS)

Indeed, we can say about God that it is impossible for him to lie.

“17  Because God wanted to make the unchanging nature of his purpose very clear to the heirs of what was promised, he confirmed it with an oath. 18  God did this so that, by two unchangeable things in which it is impossible for God to lie, we who have fled to take hold of the hope offered to us may be greatly encouraged.” (Heb 6:17-18 NivUS)

Because God cannot lie, because truth is his very nature, we are encouraged. We can trust God. We can count on him and what he says.

“Everyone lies to his neighbor; their flattering lips speak with deception.” (Ps 12:2 NivUS)

“6  And the words of the LORD are flawless, like silver refined in a furnace of clay, purified seven times. 7  O LORD, you will keep us safe and protect us from such people forever.” (Ps 12:6-7 NivUS)

Pastor Bartels gave the illustration about a man who wrote the pastor expressing his many doubts about God. We have many people like that today as we find even churches and denominations redefining truth.

“They exchanged the truth of God for a lie, and worshiped and served created things rather than the Creator— who is forever praised. Amen.” (Ro 1:25 NivUS)

Even our most prestigious institutions of learning have changed the truth for a lie as they redefine it to mean ‘whatever works for you’. Moral relativity is today’s game of roulette.

But the response of the pastor to his inquisitor was “then whom can you believe?”

I quoted the latest Barna Report last Sunday that only 35% of Americans believe in the concept of absolute truth, and that only 5% of Americans have a biblical worldview.

That 30% difference is disturbing. I wonder what ‘absolute’ they are following if it is not the Bible?

Yes, God limits Himself to ‘tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth so help --- ’ well, I guess there is no one to swear by except Himself that we can really trust.

It is all for his glory and our good so that we can at least count on something in this world.

II.      Limitation #2: God Cannot Look Upon Sin (Hab. 1:13)

 “Your eyes are too pure to look on evil; you cannot tolerate wrong. Why then do you tolerate the treacherous? Why are you silent while the wicked swallow up those more righteous than themselves?” (Hab 1:13 NivUS)

          A.      Narrative

The prophet Habakkuk complains to God about the rampant evil around him. Why does God do nothing? But when God announces the use of Babylon to punish Israel’s sin he questions how God could judge by using those even more sinful.

But this is God’s nature to deal with sin because sin is so abhorrent to a holy and righteous God, especially among his own people.

God is not limited by how he chooses to deal with sin because he cannot be limited by sin. His nature is totally sinless. Anything or anyone associated with him must also be sinless. Does that leave us out? Not necessarily. But more about that later.

It is not just that God ‘cannot look upon sin’ – he does see it.

He saw it with David and Bathsheba in the royal chamber ‘of horrors’. He saw it with Samson and Delilah in the enemy’s bordello. He saw it with Moses’ heart as he attempted to ‘stick it’ to the Israelites living on the dry, desert hardpan. He saw it with Noah when he flooded his spirit with the first fruit of the land in defilement.

God sees all we do too.

It is just that God can’t give approval to sin – he can’t look upon it with approval.

We are called upon to be like him – to limit our own selves. And he will help us.

“Let those who love the LORD hate evil, for he guards the lives of his faithful ones and delivers them from the hand of the wicked.” (Ps 97:10 NivUS)

God cannot look upon sin for what it is. It is an intrusion. It is like a mother going into her baby’s crib room only to discover a kidnapper coming through the bedroom window. Danger is imminently present. Family sanctity is breached.

Sin is just such an offense, a defiance, an evil intrusion into the holy relationship God wants to have with his people, his family, his world. Sin separates, kidnaps, brings death and disfellowship.

“For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Ro 6:23 NivUS)

Sin hides God’s face when God hungers to show it to us.

“24  "‘"The LORD bless you and keep you; 25  the LORD make his face shine upon you and be gracious to you; 26  the LORD turn his face toward you and give you peace."‘” (Nu 6:24-26 NivUS)

Sin is something God just cannot do because it is not his nature. It is against his nature. And his will is to do everything in order to bring everything into conformity with himself.

“11  In him we were also chosen, having been predestined according to the plan of him who works out everything in conformity with the purpose of his will, 12  in order that we, who were the first to hope in Christ, might be for the praise of his glory.” (Eph 1:11-12 NivUS)

Because God cannot sin, he has a plan for us sinners. He limits himself only to the purity of holiness because that is what he wants for us. This is for our good and his glory.

III.    Limitation #3: God Cannot Deny Himself [be inconsistent] (2Tim. 2:13)

“If we are faithless, He remains faithful, for He cannot deny Himself.” (2Ti 2:13 NAS95)

          A.      Narrative

God is utterly and eternally consistent. He cannot act one way and then another. There is no ‘shadow of turning’ with him like it says in that great hymn “Great Is Thy Faithfulness”.

          Great is thy faithfulness

          O God my Father

          There is no shadow of turning with Thee

          Thou changest not

          Thy compassions they fail not

          As Thou hast been

          Thou forever wilt be

He is the same yesterday, today and forever.

“Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.” (Heb 13:8 NivUS)

“25  In the beginning you laid the foundations of the earth, and the heavens are the work of your hands. 26  They will perish, but you remain; they will all wear out like a garment. Like clothing you will change them and they will be discarded. 27  But you remain the same, and your years will never end.” (Ps 102:25-27 NivUS)

God is not like a man as a judge. He is not like many of our Supreme Court justices who change their decisions according to the secular mood of the times. His courts are eternal.

God may change the way he interacts with man because of the progression of history and the prophetic record of his eternal will and program of redemption. But he himself is the same. His consistency with the prophetic record proves his original and eternal intent.

When something happens of global importance, it is because God said it would from the beginning. He is never surprised. But he can be pleased as well as disappointed.

He is consistent regarding good and evil. He rewards one and punishes the other.

“Be sure of this: The wicked will not go unpunished, but those who are righteous will go free.” (Pr 11:21 NivUS)

He is consistent in answering prayer.

“7 ¶  "Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. 8  For everyone who asks receives; he who seeks finds; and to him who knocks, the door will be opened.” (Mt 7:7-8 NivUS)

He is consistent in supplying our needs.

“And my God will meet all your needs according to his glorious riches in Christ Jesus.” (Php 4:19 NivUS)

He is consistent as our Keeper.

“4 ¶  But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, 5  made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions— it is by grace you have been saved. 6  And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus, 7  in order that in the coming ages he might show the incomparable riches of his grace, expressed in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus.” (Eph 2:4-7 NivUS)

“39  And this is the will of him who sent me, that I shall lose none of all that he has given me, but raise them up at the last day. 40  For my Father’s will is that everyone who looks to the Son and believes in him shall have eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day."” (Joh 6:39-40 NivUS)

“28  I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one can snatch them out of my hand. 29  My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all; no one can snatch them out of my Father’s hand. 30  I and the Father are one."” (Joh 10:28-30 NivUS)

So God limits himself from being fickle. His consistency follows along with his truthfulness and sinlessness. We could call this consistency faithfulness.

He is faithful to himself and he demands our faithfulness to him. He is worthy.

These are all qualities of God, without which, he would not be God. And we worship God because he is God.

The world wants a God of their own making, in their own image, fallen as it is, rather than conforming to a God who made man in his image.

Ours is a God who has these five things he cannot do because he will not do them.

It is to God’s glory and our good that he is faithful to himself in being that which is truly God. We can trust him as the only constant in a world constantly changing.

He cannot lie, cannot sin, cannot be inconsistent. So what are the other two things God cannot do that are consistent with his nature?

IV.    Limitation #4: God Cannot Save Himself and Others Too (Mt. 27:42)


“42  "He saved others," they said, "but he can’t save himself! He’s the King of Israel! Let him come down now from the cross, and we will believe in him. 43  He trusts in God. Let God rescue him now if he wants him, for he said, ‘I am the Son of God.’"” (Mt 27:42-43 NivUS)

          A.      Narrative

Briefly put, God cannot ignore the need of his children to be saved from sin. He is altogether compassionate and loving. He cannot abandon mankind, the works of his hand made in his image. Being faithful to us is being faithful to himself, and God is faithful.

“14  Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the desert, so the Son of Man must be lifted up, 15  that everyone who believes in him may have eternal life. 16  "For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. 17  For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.” (Joh 3:14-17 NivUS)

Jesus had to die to save us. He came to take away our sins. Ours is not a bloodless religion. From the first recorded act of worship until now, only lifeblood has been acceptable payment for sin before a holy God.

He had to become like us in every way except sin in order to make this payment. Only the blood of man could pay for the sin of man.

“For this reason he had to be made like his brothers in every way, in order that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in service to God, and that he might make atonement for the sins of the people.” (Heb 2:17 NivUS)

 “For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are— yet was without sin.” (Heb 4:15 NivUS)

He had the power to lay down his life and take it up again, but he went to the cross voluntarily by his own will on our behalf.

“Do you think I cannot call on my Father, and he will at once put at my disposal more than twelve legions of angels?” (Mt 26:53 NivUS)

“17  The reason my Father loves me is that I lay down my life— only to take it up again. 18  No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down and authority to take it up again. This command I received from my Father."” (Joh 10:17-18 NivUS)

Praise God that he is not one who gives life and then ignores it! Praise God that he is intimately involved in his creation! Praise God that he could not ignore our need of a righteous sacrifice! Our God is all truthfulness, all holiness, all faithfulness, and all lovingkindness. There is no part of his nature inconsistent with the rest.

No, he could not save us and save himself too. He had to give himself for us to be saved. But this leads us to the fifth thing he cannot do.

V.      Limitation #5: God Cannot Save a Sinner Against His Will (Lk. 13:34)

“"O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you were not willing!” (Lu 13:34 NivUS)

          A.      Narrative

Even in our wickedness, God wants to save us, but chooses to do so only if we really want salvation from wickedness. He offers us a choice – and isn’t that what the world seems all about these days?

We struggle to uphold human rights, freedom of choice, the sovereignty of the individual. What good is our allegiance to God in the gathering of his kingdom through the ages if it is not by choice? What he wants is willing worshippers.

He does not want a false kingdom through the means of coercion. He labors to show us and teach us, he may chide and entice us, but will not force us.

ILLUS.: Rev. Francis Frangipane, River of Life Ministries, praying for his father.

And he makes the choice a simple one – unlike the world with its myriad and multiplied choices in the storehouses of materialism.

With God the choice is clear – it is light vs. dark, good vs. evil, heaven vs. hell, faith vs. unbelief, life vs. death.

If God is fully and consistently loving, which he is, then he is also not overbearing, because love is patient and kind, not rude or self-seeking (1Cor. 13).

He longs to show us his love but will not force it on us.

God is love, and he loved us first.

“Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love.” (1Jo 4:8 NivUS)

“We love because he first loved us.” (1Jo 4:19 NivUS)

Salvation is a function of God’s love on our behalf, but in order for love to function there must be a response.

He will not make us love him. He has given us a free will with which we can deny him and defy him. But in so doing we deny and defy ourselves.

We cut short the miracles we might have received.

“1 ¶  Jesus left there and went to his hometown, accompanied by his disciples. 2  When the Sabbath came, he began to teach in the synagogue, and many who heard him were amazed. "Where did this man get these things?" they asked. "What’s this wisdom that has been given him, that he even does miracles! 3  Isn’t this the carpenter? Isn’t this Mary’s son and the brother of James, Joseph, Judas and Simon? Aren’t his sisters here with us?" And they took offense at him. 4  Jesus said to them, "Only in his hometown, among his relatives and in his own house is a prophet without honor." 5  He could not do any miracles there, except lay his hands on a few sick people and heal them. 6  And he was amazed at their lack of faith. Then Jesus went around teaching from village to village.” (Mr 6:1-6 NivUS)

We cut short the grace and peace we might have received.

“12  As you enter the home, give it your greeting. 13  If the home is deserving, let your peace rest on it; if it is not, let your peace return to you. 14  If anyone will not welcome you or listen to your words, shake the dust off your feet when you leave that home or town. 15  I tell you the truth, it will be more bearable for Sodom and Gomorrah on the day of judgment than for that town.” (Mt 10:12-15 NivUS)

Oh, what loss we cast upon ourselves for our unbelief! We need to be like the father of the demon possessed boy.

“21  Jesus asked the boy’s father, "How long has he been like this?" "From childhood," he answered. 22  "It has often thrown him into fire or water to kill him. But if you can do anything, take pity on us and help us." 23  "‘If you can’?"said Jesus. "Everything is possible for him who believes." 24  Immediately the boy’s father exclaimed, "I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief!"” (Mr 9:21-24 NivUS)

God has limited himself in salvation to the response of the soul. And what if we do not want God?

“And without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him.” (Heb 11:6 NivUS)

“16  Who were they who heard and rebelled? Were they not all those Moses led out of Egypt? 17  And with whom was he angry for forty years? Was it not with those who sinned, whose bodies fell in the desert? 18  And to whom did God swear that they would never enter his rest if not to those who disobeyed? 19  So we see that they were not able to enter, because of their unbelief.” (Heb 3:16-19 NivUS)

It wasn’t because of giants or walled cities that the Israelites were afraid to enter the Promised Land at Kadesh Barnea. It was because of unbelief, and so God could not give it to them at that time. He waited another forty years for faith to be found. A whole generation had to pass.

And there will be those who are refused a place in heaven not because of sin, for we are all sinners, but because of unbelief for they had no faith to enter in.

“Faith is the free action of the will in accepting God’s Word as absolute truth and God’s Son as absolute Savior without any reservation.” (Pastor Bartels)

God loves you too much to force your love for him. And so he cannot save you against your will. Although he is all-powerful, it is not his nature to bully you into submission, because he is also loving and kind.

“4  But when the kindness and love of God our Savior appeared, 5  he saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy. He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit, 6  whom he poured out on us generously through Jesus Christ our Savior, 7  so that, having been justified by his grace, we might become heirs having the hope of eternal life.” (Tit 3:4-7 NivUS)

His desire is to entice us to salvation through the mercy of his kindness and love.

So we see that God cannot lie, cannot (look upon) sin, cannot (deny himself) be inconsistent, cannot (save himself and others too) be unloving, and he cannot (save a sinner against his will) be unkind by giving us what we don’t want.

All these things are for his glory and our good.


Let us turn back in time to let Pastor Charles Bartels close his own message with the 7 minute invitation he gave in 1979 to come to faith in Jesus.


Perhaps some of you came to faith through his message at that time.


Perhaps some of you will come to faith through this message now.

I.       Limitation #1: God Cannot Lie (Titus 1:2)

II.      Limitation #2: God Cannot Look Upon Sin (Hab. 1:13)


III.    Limitation #3: God Cannot Deny Himself [be inconsistent] (2Tim. 2:13)

IV.    Limitation #4: God Cannot Save Himself and Others Too (Mt. 27:42)

V.      Limitation #5: God Cannot Save a Sinner Against His Will (Lk. 13:34)

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