Commentary, Featured, John McReynolds - Posted by on Tuesday, December 28, 2010 20:04 - 2 Comments 7,780 views

Basics 19 – Our Unchanging God

BASIC BIBLE DOCTRINE

Understanding God

Lesson Nineteen: Our Unchanging God 

Biblical immutability is a difficult concept for a lot of people. It is one of the most seemingly self-contradictory attributes of God—even the Bible appears to contradict itself in places where the immutability or unchangeableness of God is concerned.  For example, the Lord says of Himself in Malachi 3:6a, “For I, the LORD, do not change …”  And 1st Samuel 15:29—“Also the Glory of Israel will not lie or change His mind; for He is not a man that He should change His mind.” And yet in places the Bible seems to indicate that from time to time God does change His attitude toward people. 

For example, Genesis 6:6—“The LORD was sorry that He had made man on the earth, and He was grieved in His heart.” And Jeremiah 26:13—“Now therefore amend your ways and your deeds and obey the voice of the LORD your God; and the LORD will change His mind about the misfortune which He has pronounced against you.

However contradictory these verses appear, when we see what the Scriptures actually say about God’s unchanging character, not only will these apparent contradictions melt away, we will have a new sense of peace and confidence in the promises of God.

 

 

 BASIC BIBLE DOCTRINE

Understanding God

Lesson Nineteen: 

Our Unchanging God 

by John McReynolds

As is our custom in these studies, before we begin we again remind you to be sure that you are cleansed of sin and filled with the Holy Spirit.  This is especially important as we study the essence and the attributes of God.  Understanding the essence and nature of God is particularly difficult, and it can only be done in the filling of the Holy Spirit.  So with that in mind, be sure you have confessed all your known sins to the Father per 1 John 1:9 before you continue:

Thank You Father for the opportunity to study what You have revealed to us about Yourself.  Give us grace to aid in our understanding as we undertake this challenging subject, for we ask it in Christ’s name—amen.

We are now going to take up the study of God’s Immutability.  When we say that God is Immutable we are saying that He does not change.  In 1828 Noah Webster defined immutability as follows: “Unchangeableness; the quality that renders change or alteration impossible; invariableness. Immutability is an attribute of God.

Biblical immutability is a difficult concept for a lot of people. It is one of the most seemingly self-contradictory attributes of God—even the Bible appears to contradict itself in places where the immutability or unchangeableness of God is concerned.  For example, the Lord says of Himself in Malachi 3:6a, “For I, the LORD, do not change”  And 1st Samuel 15:29—“Also the Glory of Israel will not lie or change His mind; for He is not a man that He should change His mind.” And yet in places the Bible seems to indicate that from time to time God does change His mind toward people. 

For example, Genesis 6:6—“The LORD was sorry that He had made man on the earth, and He was grieved in His heart.” And Jeremiah 26:13—“Now therefore amend your ways and your deeds and obey the voice of the LORD your God; and the LORD will change His mind about the misfortune which He has pronounced against you.

However contradictory these verses appear, when we see what the Scriptures actually say about God’s unchanging character, not only will these apparent contradictions melt away, we will have a new sense of peace and confidence in the promises of God.  But before we begin looking at what the Bible has to tell us about our unchanging God, let’s look at what the idea of change means within the culture of mankind.

Change Is Inevitable

“Change is inevitable. Change is constant.”  So said the famous 19th century British statesman Benjamin Disraeli.  I suspect that you could find very few people of average or above intelligence and a normal degree of sanity who would upon reflection disagree with Disraeli’s observation.  Even the most casual observer of the human condition is finally forced to conclude that of all the varied aspects of life, the fact that it changes is the most inescapable.  Some changes are gradual, some are abrupt.  Some are of marginal consequence, and some are profound.  But the fact remains that many changes occur in all different areas of of our lives, until that ultimate transition from life to death.

Hope and Change

Every couple of years in this country the airways are bombarded with appeals from political candidates calling for a different direction and promising wonderful changes if only the electorate will put them into whatever office they are running for, and putting the incumbent in the unemployment line.  What they forget—or at least what they hope the voter will forget—is that the incumbent originally got into office on the basis of essentially the same promises. 

Recently the office of President was filled by a person who as a candidate promised “Hope and Change”.  Two years later economic conditions have prompted a number of sarcastic plays on that slogan:  “How’s that ‘Hope and Change’ working for you?”  Or, “I just ‘Hope’ to have even a little ‘Change’ in my pocket at the end of the day!” Or “You can keep your Hope—I’d rather just keep my Change, thank you!”  The truth to be told, however, had his opponent won the election it is likely that he too would have failed to prevent the economic crisis that has resulted in disillusion with the current president.

Change is Good …

As a part of preparing this lesson I researched the concept of “change” and what many thinkers and men of letters have had to say on the subject.  The results were illuminating to say the least.  Many—especially those of the 19th century—were of the opinion that all that has passed for progress in mankind has been ultimately good—that through the process of change man is becoming something better and greater than he has been:

“Progress is The law of life, man is not Man as yet.” ~Robert Browning

Like most children of the “Enlightenment” who embraced the new concept of evolution they saw all life as a struggle toward a higher level of being:

“Like plants in mines, which never saw the sun, But dream of him, and guess where he may be, And do the best to climb, and get to him.” ~Robert Browning

“All things journey: sun and moon, Morning, noon, and afternoon, Night and all her stars; ‘Twixt the east and western bars Round they journey, Come and go! We go with them!” ~George Eliot

And striving to be Man, the worm Mounts through all the spires of form.

~Ralph Waldo Emerson

And by progress eventually consuming evil within a much greater good:

“From lower to the higher next,

Not to the top, is Nature’s text;

And embryo good, to reach full stature,

Absorbs the evil in its nature.”

~James Russell Lowell

And according to this evolutionary view, life ultimately attains freedom from God:

“Progress is the process whereby the human race is getting rid of whiskers, the vermiform appendix and God.” ~H. L. Mencken

… Or Is It? 

While these thinkers imagined ultimate good coming from changes within the condition of mankind, there were many others who held a more jaundiced view of “progress”:

“Is it progress if a cannibal uses knife and fork?” ~Stanislaw Lec

“What we call ‘Progress’ is the exchange of one nuisance for another nuisance.” ~Havelock Ellis

“Progress might have been all right once, but it has gone on too long.” ~Ogden Nash

“Usually, terrible things that are done with the excuse that progress requires them are not really progress at all, but just terrible things.” ~Russell Baker

And some recognized the effect of the total depravity of mankind—even if they did not identify it as such:

“The chief obstacle to the progress of the human race—is the human race.” ~Don Marquis

Many people have learned that change is a two-edged sword:

“There is a certain relief in change, even though it be from bad to worse! As I have often found in travelling in a stagecoach, that it is often a comfort to shift one’s position, and be bruised in a new place.” ~Washington Irving

“Those who expect moments of change to be comfortable and free of conflict have not learned their history.” ~Joan Wallach

And that change is not all it’s cracked up to be:

“We spend our time searching for security and hate it when we get it.” ~John Steinbeck

“The wheel of change moves on, and those who were down go up and those who were up go down.” ~Jawaharlal Nehru

“I put a dollar in one of those change machines. Nothing changed.” ~George Carlin

“Change is inevitable—except from a vending machine.” ~Robert C. Gallagher

And, paradoxically, even when we know that changes are necessary, we resist them:

“If you want to make enemies, try to change something.” ~Woodrow Wilson

“It is not necessary to change. Survival is not mandatory.” ~W. Edwards Deming

“We would rather be ruined than changed; We would rather die in our dread Than climb the cross of the moment And let our illusions die.” ~W.H. Auden

“Faced with the choice between changing one’s mind and proving that there is no need to do so, almost everyone gets busy on the proof.” ~John Kenneth Galbraith

Change as Part of the Christian Experience 

And even from the Christian perspective, when faced with the need for our lives to change we are confronted with the difficulties posed by change:

“For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh; for the willing is present in me, but the doing of the good is not.  For the good that I want, I do not do, but I practice the very evil that I do not want.  But if I am doing the very thing I do not want, I am no longer the one doing it, but sin which dwells in me.

“I find then the principle that evil is present in me—the one who wants to do good. For I joyfully concur with the law of God in the inner man, but I see a different law in the members of my body, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin which is in my members.

“Wretched man that I am! Who will set me free from the body of this death?” ~The Apostle Paul, Romans 7:18-24

“God, grant me the serenity To accept the things I cannot change; Courage to change the things I can; And wisdom to know the difference.” ~Reinhold Niebuhr—The Serenity Prayer

“God grant me the serenity to accept the people I cannot change, the courage to change the one I can, and the wisdom to know it’s me.” ~Author Unknown

Interestingly, some secular writers grasped a deep fundamental spiritual truth:  For the most profound and lasting changes, something—or someone—must die and something—or someone—must be reborn:

“All changes, even the most longed for, have their melancholy; for what we leave behind us is a part of ourselves; we must die to one life before we can enter another.” ~Anatole France

Compare that statement to what Jesus said:

“Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.” ~John 12:24

And to what the Apostle Paul said:

“Even so consider yourselves to be dead to sin, but alive to God in Christ Jesus. Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body so that you obey its lusts, and do not go on presenting the members of your body to sin as instruments of unrighteousness; but present yourselves to God as those alive from the dead, and your members as instruments of righteousness to God.” ~Romans 6:11-13

I remember once hearing someone say that Christians are the most conflicted people in the world, being faced with that awful inner battle that Paul describes in Romans chapter 7.  I can personally testify to the truth of that statement.  As members of the Body of Christ our own personal lives have become the battleground of the Angelic Conflict, and that fact is the most frustrating aspect of the Christian experience.  As Paul lamented in Romans 7:24,  “Wretched man that I am! Who will set me free from the body of this death?”  But praise God for the answer in chapter 7 verse 25, and the following verses in chapter 8:

Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, on the one hand I myself with my mind am serving the law of God, but on the other, with my flesh the law of sin.  Therefore there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.  For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set you free from the law of sin and of death.” ~Rom. 7:25; 8:1-2

Jesus Christ has solved the sin problem once and for all.  In taking upon Himself the sins of all mankind He has freed us from the tyranny of the endless cycles of changes in our lives.  And while we cannot escape the changes that must inevitably come to us in this life, because of the unchanging character and essence of God, we can experience blessings through the changes that God intends for us to undergo as a part of His conforming us to the image of Christ.  So now let us look at that consistent, unchanging aspect of God’s essence—His Immutability.

Can God Change? 

The answer is that it depends on how you look at God.  If you view God from the standpoint of His essence, His attributes, and His character, the answer is no—He cannot.  As we have seen, we here on earth change constantly—sometimes for the better, probably more often for the worse.  But since God is perfect in all of His ways and attributes, any change in His essence would be for the worse, and for Him that cannot be.  So one of the fundamental aspects of His nature must be that in order to remain God He does not change, He needs not change, and indeed He cannot change.

Nevertheless the manner in which He relates to mankind can and does change—at least from mankind’s perspective.  Actually even in that respect He really does not change—it’s just that different aspects of His character are in view at different times, and He only appears to change, as we will see as we progress in this study.  So now let’s look at some of the scriptures that tell of His unchanging essence.

God’s Unchanging Essence 

With respect to His attributes, personality, and character God does not change:

Even they will perish, but You endure; And all of them will wear out like a garment; Like clothing You will change them and they will be changed.  But You are the same, And Your years will not come to an end.” ~Psa. 102:26-27

For I, the LORD, do not change; therefore you, O sons of Jacob, are not consumed.” ~Mal. 3:6

And like a mantle You will roll them up; like a garment they will also be changed.  But You are the same, and Your years will not come to an end.” ~Heb. 1:12

This unchanging nature is reflected in God’s absolute stability:

Do you not know? Have you not heard? The Everlasting God, the LORD, the Creator of the ends of the earth Does not become weary or tired. His understanding is inscrutable.” ~Isa. 40:28

“Every good thing given and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shifting shadow.” ~James 1:17

Because of God’s immutability neither the Word of God nor the works of God change:

Forever, O LORD, Your word is settled in heaven.” ~Psa. 119:89

I know that everything God does will remain forever; there is nothing to add to it and there is nothing to take from it, for God has so worked that men should fear Him.” ~Eccl. 3:14

“The grass withers, the flower fades, But the word of our God stands forever.” ~Isaiah 40:8

God’s immutability is at the core of His absolute faithfulness and lovingkindness:

Your lovingkindness, O LORD, extends to the heavens, Your faithfulness reaches to the skies.” ~Psa. 36:5

But I will not break off My lovingkindness from him, Nor deal falsely in My faithfulness.” ~Psalm 89:33

“Your faithfulness continues throughout all generations; You established the earth, and it stands.” ~Psalm 119:90

“The LORD’S lovingkindnesses indeed never cease, For His compassions never fail.  They are new every morning; Great is Your faithfulness.” ~Lamentations 3:22-23

Because of God’s faithfulness, which rests in the immutability of His Person, we can be absolutely confident that He will keep His promises:

God is not a man, that He should lie, Nor a son of man, that He should repent; Has He said, and will He not do it? Or has He spoken, and will He not make it good?” ~Numbers 23:19

Blessed be the LORD, who has given rest to His people Israel, according to all that He promised; not one word has failed of all His good promise, which He promised through Moses His servant.” ~1 Kings 8:56

For as many as are the promises of God, in Him they are yes; therefore also through Him is our Amen to the glory of God through us.” ~2 Cor. 1:20

“… in the hope of eternal life, which God, who cannot lie, promised long ages ago…” ~Titus 1:2

Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for He who promised is faithful…” ~Hebrews 10:23

“By faith even Sarah herself received ability to conceive, even beyond the proper time of life, since she considered Him faithful who had promised.” ~Hebrews 11:11

Because He is God—one of the Members of the Divine Trinity—Jesus Christ is immutable and faithful in all His ways:

Therefore, holy brethren, partakers of a heavenly calling, consider Jesus, the Apostle and High Priest of our confession; He was faithful to Him who appointed Him, as Moses also was in all His house.” ~Hebrews 3:2-3

Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.” ~Hebrews 13:8

“… Jesus Christ, the faithful witness, the firstborn of the dead, and the ruler of the kings of the earth.” ~Revelation 1:5

And I saw heaven opened, and behold, a white horse, and He who sat on it is called Faithful and True, and in righteousness He judges and wages war.” ~Revelation19:11

Immutability and the Believer 

God is Faithful to Forgive Us 

Now let’s look at the applications of God’s immutability that we can make in our own Christian walk.  Many believers, struggling with sin issues in their lives, needlessly succumb to discouragement and despair over their inability to stop sinning.  This is because they have forgotten—if they ever understood it to begin with—that God is faithful to forgive us when we sin.  That famous verse in the little book of First John tells us:

If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” ~1 John 1:9

Of course we have a part in this.  The phrase “If we confess our sins …” in this passage is what is known in the Greek as a third class conditional clause, which basically means “maybe we will confess, maybe we won’t”—it is up to us.  But if we do confess our sins to the Father, His immutable nature guarantees that He will forgive us—every time—no matter how many times we lapse into sin.

Now this is not a license to sin.  God doesn’t grant us the freedom to sin just because He promises to clean us up when we do.  We don’t have to repent to be cleansed of sin, but we do have to repent to recover from sin.  If we have been thrashing around in the hog wallow of sin and we stand up and get the filth hosed off of us, it does no good if we just lie back down in the muck.  We have to turn around and walk away from the pig sty.  This takes an act of the will—an act of volition—and it involves more deliberate effort than just standing up and getting hosed off.

Recovery from sin involves both confession of sin (standing up and getting hosed off) and repentance of sin (turning around and walking away from the pig pen).  We have covered this concept of recovery from sin in earlier lessons, so we’ll not spend any more time on it here.

God is Faithful to Secure Us 

Another fear that many Christians succumb to—often related to the inability to stop sinning as described above—is fear of losing their salvation.  But just as God is faithful to save us when we confess our faith in Jesus Christ for salvation, He is also faithful to keep us saved for all eternity—and that includes keeping us saved through all the failures we experience in life.  Look at this passage in the Gospel of John:

My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me; and I give eternal life to them, and they will never perish; and no one will snatch them out of My hand.  My Father, who has given them to Me, is greater than all; and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father’s hand.  I and the Father are one.” ~John 10:27-30

And this one from 2nd Timothy:

If we endure, we will also reign with Him; If we deny Him, He also will deny us [the privilege of reigning with Him]; If we are faithless, He remains faithful [in securing us for all eternity], for He cannot deny Himself.” ~2 Timothy 2:12-13

Eternal security is one of the most well-established doctrines in the Bible.  No believer should ever fret about whether he has lost his salvation.  God’s immutability will not allow Him to change our saved status because “… He cannot deny Himself.”  Jesus must be faithful to us because He poured His own life into us—and that guarantees our eternal security:

I have been crucified with Christ [at the point of salvation]; and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself up for me.” ~Galatians 2:20

God is Faithful to See Us Through 

God’s immutable faithfulness will always see us through times of trouble, pressure, and temptation.  No matter what the problem is, God provides the solution for it—in fact He provided the solution in eternity past before He ever created man.

No temptation has overtaken you but such as is common to man; and God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will provide the way of escape also, so that you will be able to endure it. ~1 Corinthians 10:13

Yes, God is faithful to see us through any and all of life’s difficulties.  But God wants us to respond to His faithfulness with our own faith.  In providing His divine solution God seldom—if ever—provides it in the way we would expect Him to, or even the way we would want Him to.  Most often in difficult situations the answers to our pressing problems come in a form we could not have possibly imagined.  He wants us to look to Him for the solution and call on Him in prayer. 

Therefore, those also who suffer according to the will of God shall entrust their souls to a faithful Creator in doing what is right.” ~1 Peter 4:19

And He will answer—just likely not in the way we would expect.

Call to Me and I will answer you, and I will tell you great and mighty things, which you do not know.” ~Jeremiah 33:3

When it comes to deliverance from life’s hard situations God’s timing very often is not as we expect or want it to be.  Usually He brings difficulty into our lives, not so that He can just take it away from us, but so that He can take us through it and bring us out the other side more refined and purified than when we went in. 

The process of refining gold involves subjecting the impure ore to extreme conditions to separate the impurities from the precious metal.  This requires extremely hot temperatures that melt the gold and cause the impurities to separate or burn away.  It is not a comfortable process, nor especially quick.  God may seem slow to us from our perspective in time, but from the perspective of eternity—which we will spend with Him—the refining process does not take long at all.

The Lord is not slow about His promise, as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing for any to perish but for all to come to repentance.” ~2 Peter 3:9

Nevertheless, it can be a frustrating process for us.  But that is why we must focus on God’s character and promises as we allow Him to operate in our lives, cleaning us up and purifying us.  Job, who is the Biblical poster boy when it comes to suffering, understood this as he waited patiently for God to take him through his extreme distress:

Behold, I go forward but He is not there, And backward, but I cannot perceive Him; When He acts on the left, I cannot behold Him; He turns on the right, I cannot see Him.  But He knows the way I take; When He has tried me, I shall come forth as gold.” ~Job 23:8-10

God is indeed faithful to see us through.  And He is faithful to stabilize the believer in these pressure situations.

But the Lord is faithful, and He will strengthen and protect you from the evil one.” ~2 Thessalonians 3:3

God is Faithful to Provide for Us in Eternity 

And just as God is faithful to save us, and to secure us, and to cleanse us, and to see us through life’s difficulties, He is faithful to provide for us in eternity.

Faithful is He who calls you, and He also will bring it to pass.” ~1 Thessalonians 5:24

Human imagination is not able to conceive the wonders God has reserved for those who have believed on the name of the only begotten Son of the Father, and who have developed true love for Him through growth to spiritual maturity in the Word.

But as it is written, Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God hath prepared for them that love him.” ~1 Corinthians 2:9 (KJV)

So then it is the fact of God’s immutability that provides all of the security and stability in our lives.  It is the basis for our salvation, it is the basis for our eternal security, it is the basis for blessings in time, and the basis for incredible blessings in eternity.  It is the basis for God sustaining the life of every person on earth—even those who hate God.  The reason why all people on earth—believers and unbelievers alike—have food to eat, water to drink, and air to breath, is because God is a God whose nature it is to bless.  It is always His nature to be a blessing, gifting God because He is immutable in His essence.  And it is His immutability that is the foundation of our God’s incomprehensible faithfulness. The hymnwriter Thomas O. Chisholm got it exactly right in that wonderful hymn he penned in 1923, 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 will be.

Great is Thy faithfulness!
Great is Thy faithfulness!
Morning by morning new mercies I see.
All I have needed Thy hand hath provided;
Great is Thy faithfulness, Lord, unto me!

Summer and winter and springtime and harvest,
Sun, moon and stars in their courses above
Join with all nature in manifold witness
To Thy great faithfulness, mercy and love.

Great is Thy faithfulness!
Great is Thy faithfulness!
Morning by morning new mercies I see.
All I have needed Thy hand hath provided;
Great is Thy faithfulness, Lord, unto me!

Pardon for sin and a peace that endureth
Thine own dear presence to cheer and to guide;
Strength for today and bright hope for tomorrow,
Blessings all mine, with ten thousand beside!

As we leave the year 2010 and enter into 2011 we may be tempted to view the coming year with a certain amount of dread and foreboding.  But God is faithful to His children, and He is faithful because He is immutable.  His character and attributes cannot change, and that provides us with the ability to live the Christian life with maximum stability and confidence, because we know the unchanging God of the universe is on our side.

We’re grateful, Heavenly Father, that You have revealed to us the perfection of your character and attributes.  Knowing even a little of who You are gives us confidence to live by faith—even as You have said in your word, “… the just shall live by faith.”  So thank You for displaying Your immutable nature to us so that we can face this world with lack of fear and the confident expectation of your grace and mercy, rewards and blessings.

Thank you Father for your word. May it be a lamp to our feet and a light to our path.  Bless now this study and sanctify the things we have learned to conform us more perfectly to the image of Your dear Son, for it is in His name we ask it, amen.

 

To the reader:  If you have read this lesson, I would greatly appreciate any feedback, questions, or comments you have.  Getting feedback from my readers is very helpful and encouraging to me.  I promise to respond to all legitimate questions or comments as appropriate.  But please, do keep your questions and comments appropriate and constructive.

Thank you very much.

In His Service,

John McReynolds

 

 

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Bible Basics 19–Our Unchanging God « GJCN
Feb 5, 2011 19:07

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Christ Report – Bible Basics 19–Our Unchanging God
Feb 5, 2011 22:40

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