What are some things God cannot do?
“Nothing is impossible for God,” is a common expression used by Christians for all sorts of situations. The idea is that because our God is so big and powerful and wonderful and beautiful, nothing is impossible for him. Nothing is too big for him. He can do whatever he wants, whenever he wants, however he wants. After all, he is . . . God.
But is this true?
The expression “nothing is impossible for God” is used directly or indirectly at least twice in Scripture. The angel comforts Mary when speaking to her about Jesus in her womb, reminding her that through God’s power she can conceive a child as a virgin (Luke 1:37). The context is to trust in God who can enable Mary, a virgin, to conceive a baby.
It is also used in another context dealing with money and salvation. When the disciples asked Jesus who can be saved if it’s hard for a rich person to enter the Kingdom, Jesus responds by saying, “With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible” (Matthew 19:26). He’s talking about one’s allegiance to money and salvation. By God’s power, your main allegiance can shift from money to God, and no one is beyond the scope of salvation if God chooses to save him or her. The context is money and salvation.
But the fact that nothing is impossible for God doesn’t mean there are things God cannot do.
4 Things God Cannot Do
I’ve been reading through Wayne Grudem’s book Bible Doctrine: Essential Teachings of the Christian Faith as a break from studying biblical Hebrew this summer. One particular quote from the book struck me: “God cannot will or do anything that will deny his character. It is not absolutely everything that God is able to do, but everything that is consistent with his character.”
While there are more than just four, here are at least four things God cannot do as Grudem suggests from his book:
1. God cannot lie
God cannot lie, meaning everything that he says is 100% true. There is no falsehood is his character. God’s truthfulness is shown and repeated throughout all of Scripture. If he could lie, then he would cease to be a good God, since lying is not worthy of approval. But God is unable to lie (Titus 1:2; Hebrews 6:18).
Since God perfectly penned his truth through human authors who wrote the words of the Bible, this means that you can trust every promise, letter, and word with 100% assurance found in Scripture.
2. God cannot increase or diminish in knowledge
It’s impossible for God to learn anything (think about that) since he already knows all things before the foundation of the world (I John 3:20).
Grudem defines God’s omniscience (all knowing) as: God fully knows himself and all things actual and possible in one simple and eternal act.
“God is fully aware of everything.”
“He knows all things at once.”
“He never learns or forgets anything.”
To be omniscient is to be God, and if God had to learn anything, he would cease to be God.
Think about your greatest fears, your current struggles, and your future anxieties. God knows absolutely everything that is bothering you right now with perfect accuracy. For the believer, the doctrine of God’s omniscience is of immense comfort. You can cast your anxieties on him knowing that the one who already knows cares deeply about you and knows what you need before you even ask. Others may misunderstand you, but God never does.
3. God cannot be tempted with evil and cannot tempt others
James is blunt: “Let no one say when he is tempted, ‘I am being tempted by God,’ for God cannot be tempted with evil, and tempts no one.” (James 1:13)
The ESV Study Bible footnote says it well: “God tests his people so that their character is strengthened, but he never tempts. Since God cannot be tempted with evil, and he is unreservedly good, he would never entice human beings to sin or seek to harm their faith.”
God cannot sin, and he does not desire others to sin. We can never blame God for our sin since “each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire” (James 1:14).
4. God cannot deny himself
“. . . if we are faithless, he remains faithful — for he cannot deny himself” (2 Timothy 2:13).
This text is a reminder of God’s enduring power and his unending faithfulness toward his people. This text has in mind strictly Christians. While God shows his common grace to all, his covenantal faithfulness is only on display for believers. God does not start a work that he does not finish. He will always be trustworthy and faithful to his people since not being trustworthy or faithful would be to deny himself. And that’s impossible for God to do.
John Piper comments on this verse and says, “The point is that God saves those who believe because belief glorifies his trustworthiness and God cannot deny that he is trustworthy.”
I love when I hear Christians say, “nothing is impossible for God.” I admire the faith to believe God can save or heal or provide or sustain. This kind of faith is contagious and we need more of it in the church. Nevertheless, when we speak of God we must confess that are simply some things God cannot do since those things do not align with his character. Everything that God does is intentional, and nothing he does is contrary to his perfect being.
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