Jesus said a number of things that, at face value, lead us to believe that with faith we can do anything.
- “If you had faith even as small as a mustard seed, you could say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it would move. Nothing would be impossible” (Matthew 17:20)
- “What do you mean, ‘If I can’?” Jesus asked. “Anything is possible if a person believes” (Mark 9:23)
- “...you can pray for anything, and if you believe that you’ve received it, it will be yours” (Mark 11:24)
- “If you remain in me and my words remain in you, you may ask for anything you want, and it will be granted!” (John 15:7, 16; cf. 14:14)
The Apostles wrote something similar. John wrote “...we can come to God with bold confidence. And we will receive from him whatever we ask because we obey him and do the things that please him” (1 John 3:21–22). Paul declared, “For I can do everything through Christ, who gives me strength” (Philippians 4:13).
That all sounds great but there seems to be another side to this that suggests even with faith, we can’t do everything.
Jesus had perfect faith and in the Garden of Gethsemane asked His Father to remove the cup of suffering (Matthew 26:39). But He didn’t remove it. Jesus had to endure the agony that caused Him to cry out, “My God, my God, why have you abandoned me?” (Matthew 27:46).
Stephen was stoned to death, James was killed with a sword, and all of the Apostles endured persecution and imprisonment–things they undoubtedly would have avoided if they could have been delivered from them by their faith (cf. Hebrews 11:36–40).
Paul was a man of faith. He asked God to remove his thorn in the flesh, but the Lord gave him added grace instead of the deliverance he requested (2 Corinthians 12:1–10).
Another time, Paul suggested to Timothy that he drink some wine as medicine for his physical infirmities–something he would not have done if a simple request to God in faith for sound health would have brought healing (1 Timothy 5:23).
And although Paul expected that God would answer the prayers of His people and deliver him from prison, he expressed his confidence that even if he died it would be for God’s glory (Philippians 1:19–26).
So can I do anything by faith?
Our Lord’s promises in Matthew 17:20 and John 14:14 assure us that we can indeed do anything we want to do or receive anything we want to receive if it is in harmony with God’s sovereign will. Paul, who certainly had enough faith, asked God three times to remove his thorn in the flesh, but it was not God’s plan to do that. Instead, He gave him added grace to bear with the suffering because God wanted to accomplish something else (2 Corinthians 12:1–10).
Jesus’ prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane is instructive (Luke 22:42). He knew He was to go to the cross and be abandoned by the Father for the price of our sin because that was the revealed will of the Father. It was why He came to earth. And yet Jesus still asked for the cup to be removed, saying, “If you are willing.” That tells me it is OK to ask for things when we are uncertain whether it is in harmony with God’s will. That is provided, like Jesus, we are fully surrendered to God’s will and can say, “I want your will to be done, not mine.”
By faith we can do anything we want to do or receive anything we want to receive as long as it is in harmony with God’s revealed and sovereign will.
How do we know God’s will? He has revealed His will and what He desires of us in the Bible in the form of His commands and principles. But we never know God’s sovereign will until it happens.
What about things not revealed in the Bible? Whatever isn’t revealed in the Bible we may ask for in humble submission as long as it isn’t contrary to what He has already revealed in Scripture.
That means it’s OK to ask God for great things because He is all-powerful and may answer affirmatively. It also means we should attempt great things for God believing His power is available to those who trust Him.
And when faced with trials we have the right as His children to ask Him to deliver us from them. When He does, we should thank and praise Him. When He doesn’t, we should submit to His sovereign will, believe He is still good, wise, and loving, and trust Him to carry us through. From God, we can learn when I can or can’t do anything by faith.