At the first session of Day 2 of the Impossible Conference 2024, PASTOR ROBERT FERGUSSON of Hillsong Church opened with a word from Luke 18:18-27 on why the Christian life is an “impossible” one.

Fergusson covered five things that are impossible for humans to do unless we have Christ in us, and three steps we need to take to live an impossible life. We’ve adapted his message below.

“A certain ruler asked him, “Good teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” “Why do you call me good?”

Jesus answered. “No one is good—except God alone. You know the commandments: ‘You shall not commit adultery, you shall not murder, you shall not steal, you shall not give false testimony, honor your father and mother.’” “All these I have kept since I was a boy,” he said.

When Jesus heard this, he said to him, “You still lack one thing. Sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.” When he heard this, he became very sad, because he was very wealthy.

Jesus looked at him and said, “How hard it is for the rich to enter the kingdom of God! Indeed, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.” Those who heard this asked, “Who then can be saved?” Jesus replied, “What is impossible with man is possible with God.”” (Luke 18:18-27)

When we read Luke 18:18-27, we think: “Well, I know some rich people who have become Christians.”

So, clearly Jesus didn’t mean that it was impossible. He must have meant something else! After all, it is a ridiculous thing to say, how can a camel go through the eye of a needle?

There have been lots of interpretations of this scripture. The most common one is that in Jerusalem, there was a small gate called the Needle’s Eye. For a camel to go through the gate, it had to get on its knees. In other words, the only way into the kingdom of heaven is through obedience, through humility, through your works.

But that’s not what it means at all.

There is no historical evidence for that gate in archaeology.

When Jesus said that it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, He was talking about a camel, a real camel and the real eye of a needle.

He was saying it is impossible. And we know that because He then explains it by saying, what is impossible for you is possible for God. For you and I to live an impossible life, we have to first understand that we can’t do it.

God always starts with putting off what is to be put off before we can put on what needs to be put on. We need to repent before we can believe. We need to put off stealing in order to put on generosity. If we simply add Christianity to our lives, we become generous thieves.

God wants you to understand you can’t do this. That’s the point of the story. So looking at this passage in Luke 18, let us talk about five things that you can’t do without Jesus.

5 things that we cannot do by ourselves

1. We cannot be good except through Christ

We live in a generation that tells you that you’re wonderful. We talk to people who say that you have to build up your self-esteem. Look in the mirror, and tell yourself every morning that you are fearfully and wonderfully made.

But I have news for you, you cannot be good. The Bible says that only God Himself is good.

Romans 15:13 says, “May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace”. How? “As you trust in Him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.”

This generation seems to have forgotten Genesis 3. Genesis 1 and 2 say that you are image-bearers, made in the image of God; everyone goes around saying, “I’m valuable, I’m special. I’m made in the image of God.”

But Genesis 3 says, you are broken, you are sinners, you are fallen. As such, the conclusion is you are fallen image-bearers.

But here’s the thing. You put more emphasis on the image-bearing than the fallenness.

I have a coin at home. On the face of the coin is Alexander the Great, who lived 300 to 400 years before Jesus. The coin is silver and it is 2400 years old. It has a small value as an old piece of silver. But what makes it valuable is not the coin — it’s the image it bears.

You are valuable simply because you are a human being. But you are really valuable because you bear the image of God. It is the image that it’s important, not the coin.

On top of that, you are a fallen image-bearer. You are a mess. You can’t change your school, you can’t change your army barracks, you can’t change your family, you can’t do miracles. You can’t heal the sick, you can’t do anything.

The Christian life is impossible, you cannot be good.

2. We cannot see eternity except through Christ

The man asked, “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” But Jesus put it like this – no one can see the kingdom of God unless you are born again.

In the Bible, it tells us to see. Moses saw the invisible. Paul, in 2 Corinthians 4:18, says to fix your eyes not on what is seen but what is unseen, for what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.

God is requiring you to do the impossible: to see the invisible, to fix your eyes on the unseen. But these things are beyond your capacity, it is impossible for you.

And why, do you think God is impressed with you running to the front and kneeling before him with your hands in the air, as you did last night?

You will see that you can’t earn God’s favour through your obedience. Everything that you are required to do is only possible through Christ.

3. We cannot keep the commandments except through Christ

The man said, “I have kept all the commandments”. But he was wrong.

Jesus took him on a pathway to the impossible. Jesus said that the man hadn’t kept all the commandments. But just to prove that he hadn’t, Jesus gave the man a further commandment, which the man could not fulfil.

The Bible makes it very clear in Romans 3:10 that no one is righteous, not even one. The purpose of the Lord is to enable you to understand you can’t keep the commandments. It is such an ideal that it is impossible for you to keep.

Romans 3:20 states that no one is declared righteous in God’s sight by the works of the law. Rather, through the law we become conscious of our sin.

The law is like a sign on the grass saying, “Don’t walk on the grass.” When the sign is not there, we walk on the path. But as soon as the sign is there, “Don’t walk on the grass,” we want to do it. Our human nature and fallenness want us to break the law.

The sign is there to show us that we are lawbreakers. Moreover, the sign, “Don’t walk on the grass,” cannot change you. So why is it even there?

The Bible says it is to lead you to Jesus (Galatians 3:24).

4. We cannot please God except through Christ

John 15:5 states that, “I am the vine, you are the branches. If you remain in me, I am you you will bear much fruit, apart from me you can do nothing.”

Jesus said that you are a branch. A branch is powerless.

Outside of Christ, you have no life, no power, no purpose. In Christ, through Christ, you have power, you have ability and you have the capacity and the purpose to bear fruit.

Jesus was saying to this man, apart from God, you can do nothing.

That starts the conversation: What can I do Jesus? What can I do? Should I crawl up a mountain on my hands and knees? Should I come to the front at a conference and kneel and worship you? Do I need to read my Bible every day? Do I need to learn the Scripture?

What must I do but believe in the one God has sent?

5. We cannot be saved except through Christ

Luke 9:23 states this, “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.”

The first rule of following Jesus is the denial of yourself.

We live in a world that says that we’ve got to authenticate ourselves, express ourselves and be ourselves. But Jesus said we’ve got to deny ourselves.

The safe avenue to self-expression is self-repression. It’s only when you die to yourself, that you can live for Him.

In Luke 18, it says that Jesus loved this rich, young ruler. But here’s the weird thing – you don’t even know and cannot know how much God loves you. It’s impossible to receive His love without His help.

How do I know? Because in Ephesians 3:17-19, Paul says, “I pray that God would open your eyes so that you will know this love that surpasses knowledge”.

How can we know love that surpasses knowledge? How can we see what is invisible? How can a camel go through the eye of a needle? It can’t and that’s the point. It is impossible.

So what Jesus does in this passage, is He takes this rich young ruler through three steps — the same three steps that Jesus is going to take everyone through. This is how He gets us to understand and live the life of the impossible.

3 steps to live the impossible life

1. Self-confidence

This is where we all start – what must I do to inherit eternal life?

In the Old Testament, Joseph said that he had visions and dreams, potential and possibilities. How could he change the world? He was full of self-confidence.

Peter in the Bible was exactly the same. In John 13:37, he said, “Lord, why can’t I follow you now? I will lay down my life for you.”

You think that’s wonderful? No, it’s just the first step.

This auditorium is filled with people full of self-confidence thinking that you are going to change the world, that you are going to make a difference.

You start like that when you’re young. As life goes on, you lose some of that passion, some of that enthusiasm, because you realise you can’t change the world.

But that’s the first step – understanding that you can’t change the world. Self-confidence is not going to get you anywhere.

Think about it from this perspective: if all you need is someone to recognise your potential, to see your abilities, to see your value, to see what you’re worth and inspire you and encourage you… God would have sent you a coach, a mentor.

But God didn’t send you a mentor. He sent a Saviour, a rescuer, someone who can and will do the impossible in your life.

2. Self-examination

When we realise that we cannot follow Christ, that’s a good place to be.

In the early 80s, I was preaching in Belgrade and I was lying in my hotel room. And God spoke to me clearly. God said, “Robert, do you love me?”

I replied, “Well, I’ve been serving You faithfully for the last few years. I’ve given up everything to follow You. Surely that’s an indicator that I love You.”

But God did what He did to Peter in John 21. He asked me, “Do you really love me?” I answered, “Well, I want to love You.”

Still, God pressed on and asked something shocking. He asked, “Do you want to love Me?”

At that time, all I could answer God was with this: “I want to want to love You.”

That was my moment of self examination.

I started my ministry in 1978, full of confidence and enthusiasm. I thought I was the best thing since sliced bread, that God was going to be with me, that I was going to change the world full of self-confidence.

But after many years, God took me to a place of self-examination.

3. Self-sacrifice

  • You’re going to have to give up everything.
  • It’s going to cost you your life.
  • You’re going to have to deny your self.

Jesus did this to Peter. Initially, Peter said, “I can serve You.” But then he said, “I can’t serve You.”

In John 21, Jesus said to Peter, “When you were younger, you dressed yourself and went where you wanted, but when you are old, you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will dress you and lead you where you don’t want to go” (John 21:18).

Then He said to Peter, “Follow me”. But Peter didn’t want to do it.

Well, I can tell you first-hand, after 50 years of serving Christ — I don’t want to do this.

So why am I doing it? Because God asked me to. Am I equipped to do it? No, I’m an idiot. But I’m still doing it. Because what is impossible for humans, is possible with God.

I’ve been travelling to over 70 countries in the world, despite my school reports. I have spoken to thousands upon thousands of people, I have written books — simply because I have learned to live an impossible life.

If you want to make a difference, if you want to add value, you have to go through these three steps – self-confidence, self-examination and self-sacrifice.

The rich young ruler in the passage walked away sad and unchanged, making it seem as if Luke 18 says it is impossible for rich people to come into the kingdom of heaven.

But the next chapter, Luke 19, talks about Zacchaeus, a very wealthy man and it says that what impossible for humans is possible for God.

The rich young ruler walked away unchanged because he never reached a point of self-sacrifice. But Zacchaeus walked away with Jesus because he understood that he couldn’t save himself, only God could.

Which one will you choose? Are you going to walk with or without Jesus?