“Who then can be saved?” But Jesus looked at them and said, “With man this is impossible…”
This passage, if read honestly, proves to be the bullet in the brain of Arminianism. The context, of course, is the story of the rich young ruler in Matthew 19:16-30. Much ridiculous speculation has been done about the ‘eye of the needle.” One such attempt to soften the blow of Christ’s words is to render it “cable” instead of “camel,” as if threading a needle with a cable were easier than running a camel through it! Others have emasculated the text by proposing some imaginary gateway into Jerusalem to be the “eye of the needle.” These ideas are clearly wrong because the miss the absoluteness of the impossibility. The disciples’ response gives us the clue that this is how the impossibility is to be understood. They cry out in astonishment: “Who then can be saved?”
Surely this is beside the point. The point Jesus makes, as evidenced by the Disciples’ response, is not how much money one can have before it becomes a hindrance to entering heaven. The point is that “salvation is of the Lord” (Jonah 2:9). Unless God does what is impossible for men, it doesn’t get done. End of story.
Notice that Jesus does not say, “With men it is difficult;” or, “With men it requires a sincere effort;” or “With men it hinges upon their decision.” No, friend. It is as blunt, succinct and as concise as language can express it: It is impossible.
“Impossibility is the sphere of God’s activity,” says Warfield. Which means only one thing: If God doesn’t save you, you don’t get saved. One of the most widely quoted sayings also happens to one of the stupidest: God helps those who help themselves. Wrong! This assumes that anyone can actually help himself. This Scripture bluntly denies. Moreover, the common understanding of the saying that we have to act to show God that we’re serious so that He will help us is a misunderstanding of the saying’s original meaning. It was coined by a Cynic philosopher who meant by it to say that people do things for themselves, then give an imaginary god the credit for that which they have actually done for themselves. This reminds me of Robert Kennedy’s quote, “There are those that look at things the way they are, and ask why? I dream of things that never were, and ask why not?” The source of this statement is actually George Bernard Shaw’s play “Back to Methuselah,” and the speaker is Satan! Talk about ‘out of context!’
Look again at something in the passage. Note the expressions used regarding salvation: “inherit the kingdom of heaven,” “enter the kingdom of God,” and “be saved.” We have here in this passage what appears to me to be the strongest Scriptural statement of the doctrine of inability. Any way you choose to phrase, whether it be inheriting the kingdom of heaven, whether it be entering the kingdom of God, or if it be being saved, Christ has one response: “With men it is impossible.” And because it is impossible for man to do, it is not to be done by man at all. The doctrine of inability leads us smack-dab into the doctrine of imputed righteousness. It is impossible for man to do anything tending to his own salvation, therefore God, with Whom all things are possible, must do it. The good news is that in Christ, God has done all righteousness for the elect. Their salvation hinges on nothing that they have, will or can do.