Dr. Richard L. Strauss
October 14, 1979
One of the most threatening things we face in life is change. And yet we encounter it every day, everywhere we turn. The universe itself is changing. Scientists tell us that there is a continual process of change occurring in which all observed systems go from a state of order to disorder, and every transformation of energy is accompanied by a loss in the availability of energy for future use. In other words, our universe is running down.
Our world is changing. Technical developments have radically altered our lifestyle, and now they threaten our very existence. Ideological developments have changed the balance of world power and threaten our freedom as a nation. Governments are toppled and new ones established almost overnight. Revolution seems to be as common as eating and sleeping. Every day the news reports focus on some new changes in our world.
People change. One day they may be in a good mood, the next day in an ugly mood. Disconcerting when we never know what to expect from our wives, husbands, parents, or bosses. Nice people sometimes get irritable and touchy. Fortunately grouchy people sometimes get nicer. But we all change. That is the nature of creaturehood. Created things wear out.
And that's the way life is in this world. We find it unpleasant and intimidating at times. We would rather keep things the way they always were. The old and the familiar are more secure and comfortable, just like an old shoe. But shoes wear out eventually and need to be replaced, just like everything else in life.
We grow, we strive to better ourselves. And that's change. Then our world may collapse—we may lose our health, our loved ones, our money. And that's change. It's all unsettling and unnerving, but it's inevitable. What can we do about it? Is there anything unchanging that we can hold on to a world where everything is so tenuous and transitory?
1. The Revelation of God's Immutability
An unnamed Psalmist asked that question in a moment of great trial. It's in Psalm 102.
This man is in trouble. He's facing some devastating changes. We know that before we ever start reading the first verse because we see the inspired title. (It's not in italics in our Bibles, therefore you know it is part of the original inspired text.) The psalm is titled, "A prayer of an afflicted person who has grown weak and pours out a lament before the Lord."
This man is facing some devastating changes in his life.
Do not hide your face from me
when I am in distress.
Turn Your ear to me;
when I call, answer me quickly.
For my days vanish like smoke;
my bones burn like glowing embers.
My heart is blighted and withered like grass;
You see, he is emotionally down as well as physically down.
I forget to eat my food.
In my distress I groan aloud
and am reduced to skin and bones.
His troubles are affecting his appetite and he's losing weight.
...All day long my enemies taunt me;
those who rail against me use my name as a curse.
...My days are like the evening shadow;
I wither away like grass.
(Psalm 102:2-5, 8, 11)
Is there some kind of life preserver a person can hang on to when he feels like he's about to go under—something solid, stable and unchanging? Well, as we learned last week, there's God, who is eternal.
But you, Lord, sit enthroned forever;
your renown endures through all generations.
But God is more than eternal. He is unchanging. Drop down to verse 25.
In the beginning you laid the foundations of the earth,
and the heavens are the work of Your hands.
They will perish, but You remain;
they will all wear out like a garment.
Like clothing You will change them
and they will be discarded.
But You remain the same,
and Your years will never end. (Psalm 102:25-27)
Heavens and earth shall change, but God is the same.
This is one of first great revelations of what theologians call God's immutability. That simply means that God is unchangeable. He is neither capable of nor susceptible to change of any kind. He is the unchanging God. That’s the truth that I want you to learn from this message.
Now, that makes sense. Any change will probably be for the better or for the worse. God cannot change for the better because He is already perfect. And He cannot change for the worse, for then He would be imperfect and would cease to be God. That is impossible, for He is eternally God.
Created things will change. It is part of their constitutional nature. Things that are made run down or wear out. But God wasn't created. God has no beginning or end. Therefore, He cannot change.
People sometimes think He changes, especially when they experience divine discipline. The people of Israel felt that way at times. Their prophets often predicted divine punishment for their rebelliousness and sin, and there were occasions when they began to feel that God was changing—getting more harsh and less fair. Turn over to the last book of the Old Testament: Malachi, chapter 3.
The prophet Malachi predicted that Messiah would come suddenly in judgment like a refiner's fire and a purifier of silver:
"I will send my messenger, who will prepare the way before Me. Then suddenly the Lord you are seeking will come to His temple; the messenger of the covenant, whom you desire, will come," says the Lord Almighty.
But who can endure the day of His coming? Who can stand when He appears? For He will be like a refiner's fire or a launderer's soap. He will sit as a refiner and purifier of silver; He will purify the Levites and refine them like gold and silver. Then the Lord will have men who will bring offerings in righteousness, and the offerings of Judah and Jerusalem will be acceptable to the Lord, as in days gone by, as in former years.
Judgment. That's going to be pretty harsh. When did God get so concerned about sin? The people have been living in sin all these years and they are probably thinking that God has changed and now He is suddenly concerned about their sin.
Well, sorry, folks, that's nothing new. God is always concerned about our sin. That's His nature. He is unchangeably holy and righteous and just.
"I the Lord do not change" (Malachi 3:6a).
That's probably the most direct statement about God's immutability in the Bible. "I change not."
God is unchangeably righteous, and holy, and just. And by the way, it was only because of God's immutability that nation Israel had not been destroyed before this. Look at the rest of the verse.
"So you, the descendants of Jacob, are not destroyed" (Malachi 3:6b).
Not only is He unchangeably holy and righteous, but He is unchangeably merciful and faithful to His word. Years before this He promised Abraham that his seed would endure forever (Genesis 13:15). He cannot go back on His Word, because He is immutable. The very existence of the nation Israel today is evidence of God’s immutability.
Every time you read the newspaper and see something about the nation Israel, or watch the news and see a story about Israel, remind yourself of this fact: God never changes. Israel is a living object lesson, right in front of our eyes. You see it for yourself in Malachi 3:6. He says had it not been for this fact that He doesn't change, Israel would have long ago been destroyed.
In any time of trial any one of us may begin to think that God has changed. The trial might be a disciplinary action for sin, or it might be something preemptive to keep us from sin. Regardless, we start thinking, "He used to be good to me, but this surely doesn't seem very good." The Apostle James directed some penetrating comments to a group of people who were being persecuted for their faith. And because they were being persecuting, many of them were thinking God isn't being good anymore. Listen to James encourage them:
Don't be deceived, my dear brothers and sisters. Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows.
"Father of lights" is the God who created the heavenly bodies: the sun and the stars, the planets and moons. They move and turn and cast shadows on the earth and on each other. They are created things, so they change. But the God who made them does not change. There is absolutely no variation with Him. No eclipse. And He never tempts us to sin. He always gives us good things. In fact, He will give nothing but what is best. We can count on that. It's the promise of an unchanging God.
Now if Jesus Christ is God in flesh—and He is—we would expect Him likewise to be unchanging. That clear revelation came to another group of people who were suffering for their faith.
“Remember your leaders, who spoke the word of God to you. Consider the outcome of their way of life and imitate their faith. Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever” (Hebrews 13:7-8).
Have you ever read those two verses and wondered what they had to do with each other? Well, the writer to the Hebrews wanted the folks who read his letter to know that the unchanging Savior who was at work in the lives of the men who taught them the Word, could do a supernatural work in their lives as well.
He is the same Savior He always was. What He's done for those men who taught them the word He could do for them, and He can do for you. He's got the same power today that He’s always had.
2. The Ramifications of God's Immutability
We've seen God’s immutability clearly revealed. Now let's see what it involves. Obviously, it includes everything about God. All that God ever was, He always will be. But look at some Biblical examples that I think would be good for us to see.
a. The Word of God is Unchanging
"Your word, Lord, is eternal; it stands firm in the heavens" (Psalm 119:89).
It's settled; it's unchanged. That's not true of our word. We change our minds about things and can no longer agree with what we said in the past when we learn something new or consider something different. Sometimes we say things we don't mean, or say things that prove to be wrong, and we must later retract them.
That's not true of God's Word. When He speaks, it is true. He never changes His mind—there is nothing He doesn't know or hasn't already considered. He never speaks in error. He never said anything He was sorry for. His Word is settled and unchanging.
"The grass withers and the flowers fall, but the word of our God endures forever" (Isaiah 40:8).
The word of our God shall stand forever. God said it; you can count on it.
b. The Counsel of God is Unchanging
God's counsel is also unchanging. The word counsel has idea of plan or purpose. God's plans never change. His purposes will always be carried out.
"But the plans of the Lord stand firm forever, the purposes of his heart through all generations" (Psalm 33:11).
Our plans and purposes change. Sometimes they're just not very realistic. On other occasions, somebody frustrates them. God's plans are perfect and nobody frustrates them. So there is no reason to change them.
"Because God wanted to make the unchanging nature of His purpose very clear to the heirs of what was promised, He confirmed it with an oath. God did this so that, by two unchangeable things in which it is impossible for God to lie, we who have fled to take hold of the hope set before us may be greatly encouraged" (Hebrews 6:17-18).
Two immutable things: His counsel and His oath.
It's great to know that God's plan for this world never changes—He will carry it out right on schedule. He will do it all to His pleasure. That’s really powerful. We'll talk about that again in our next lesson, when we talk about God’s sovereignty. He will do what He wants.
"Remember the former things, those of long ago; I am God, and there is no other; I am God, and there is none like me. I make known the end from the beginning, from ancient times, what is still to come. I say, 'My purpose will stand, and I will do all that I please'" (Isaiah 46:9-10). Refer also to Romans 11:29.
c. The Knowledge of God is Unchanging
There are other applications of God's immutability in Scripture, but look at one more. Writing to the Jerusalem Council, James wrote:
Known to God from eternity are all His works.
(Acts 15:18, NKJV)
Everything that happens is part of God's decree. We could have figured that out even if James had not said it. If God is unchanging, and nothing about Him varies, then obviously His knowledge never increases or decreases. He knows everything and always has known everything.
God knew from eternity past what I would be saying to you right now. Did you know that? If that were not true, then He did not have complete knowledge at that time and therefore would not be God. But you can be sure He did know.
That is surely different from me. My knowledge has grown, yet I still know only a fraction of what there is to know. And quite frankly, my knowledge decreases, too. I have forgotten more than I have remembered. But what a consolation to know a God who has complete and unchanging knowledge of everything.
That's not only a consolation, by the way, but it's a challenge. If you look again at Hebrews—turn to chapter 4.
"Nothing in all creation is hidden from God's sight. Everything is uncovered and laid bare before the eyes of him to whom we must give account" (Hebrews 4:13).
The New King James Version says, "There is no creature hidden from His sight..." God knows what's going on in your mind right now. He knows whether you're listening to this message right now, or whether you’re daydreaming. He knows everything. We'll talk more about that when we get to the omniscience of God.
3. The Resistance to God's Immutability
Did you know that not everybody believes what I am telling you right now? Some people resist this truth. They don’t believe God is unchanging. They point to Scriptures that tell us God repents and say, "You see, God is not immutable. He does change His mind. Therefore, He may not keep His Word. He may not carry out His purposes. He may not know everything." We don't need to read very far in the Bible before coming to such a passage.
"The Lord saw how great the wickedness of the human race had become on the earth, and that every inclination of the thoughts of the human heart was only evil all the time. The Lord regretted [the King James Version says "repented"] that He had made human beings on the earth, and His heart was deeply troubled" (Genesis 6:5-6).
Hmm. It sounds like God is changing His mind. "Boy, I sure wish I hadn't made these people. What a sad and pathetic bunch they are. I regret making them."
And yet there are passages assuring us that God is not a man that He should repent:
"God is not human, that He should lie, not a human being, that He should change His mind. Does He speak and then not act? Does He promise and not fulfill?"(Numbers 23:19).
"He who is the Glory of Israel does not lie or change his mind; for he is not a human being, that he should change his mind" (1 Samuel 15:29).
Is that a contradiction in the Bible? I don't think so.
We need to understand that while God’s character never changes, His methods of dealing with men and administering His program on earth do vary. Whatever He does will be consistent with His eternal nature, and will have been known to Him from eternity past. He knew these people He made were going to be a mess and grieve Him. He knew that.
But He does do things differently at different times based on the actions of men, even knowing what those actions would be. The same writer who reminded us of God's immutable counsel and oath (Hebrews 6:17-18), also told us that God changed the priesthood and the law (Hebrews 7:12). We don't have a priesthood that offers sacrifices in God's presence on our behalf. We don’t go to a temple and have our goats and sheep offered on an altar. God changed all that. We are all priests now; we can all come into God’s presence.
God also took the old covenant away that He might establish the new (Hebrews 10:9). We don’t live under the old covenant anymore.
God sometimes changes His actions on the basis of man's actions, and the Scripture portrays that as God changing His mind, or repenting, in order to help us understand what is happening. But man's actions didn't take God by surprise. He knew what they would be from eternity past, and He knew how He would respond. His actions, which appear to be a change of mind, and are so described for our help are fully consistent with His unchanging nature (as in Genesis 6:6 and 1 Samuel 15:11).
Sometimes Scripture says God changes His mind when He threatens some punishment to demonstrate how strongly He feels about sin, then withholds that punishment as an act of mercy, like at Nineveh (Jonah 3:10). Remember? God told Jonah He would destroy the Ninevites then He didn't do it. Did God change His mind? No, He knew what He was going to do from the beginning. He just wanted them to know how serious sin is. (See also another example in Exodus 32:14.)
In other cases He begins to discipline for sin, as in David's day, then He stops short of doing what He said He was going to do, and reduces His sentence because His good purposes have been accomplished (2 Samuel 24:16). Did He change His mind? No. It simply means that His purposes were accomplished.
None of that destroys the doctrine of immutability. God's immutability means that He always acts consistently and in accord with His eternal nature.
4. The Rewards of God's Immutability
The obvious question is, "So what? So God is immutable. What does that mean to me?" If you really want to know Him then it means everything. A God who changes would not be worth knowing. You wouldn't be able to trust Him.
Do you trust a friend who changes his attitude or actions toward you from one day to the next? Of course not. You're not going to open your heart to him, share your feelings with him, tell him your failures and needs. If he is sympathetic and helpful on some occasions, but disinterested or judgmental on others, you probably won't take the chance. Human friends may be that way, but God's attitude toward us never changes. We can trust Him.
God is never in a bad mood. Now that's different from us. We get into bad moods periodically. We growl at our spouses. We snap at our children. We criticize our coworkers. I don’t know about you but sometimes I don’t even know why I'm in a bad mood; I just feel irritable. But God's mood never changes. What a pleasure to know that whenever we approach Him through the merits of His Son, He receives us warmly and lovingly.
That's one of the things that makes prayer such a pleasure. We know His is always open to our request. He never gets tired of us coming to Him. Never. Even with the same requests. In fact, He keeps inviting us to come.
"Call to Me and I will answer you and tell you great and unsearchable things you do not know" (Jeremiah 33:3).
Jesus said to His disciples:
"Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you" (Matthew 7:7).
"Until now you have not asked for anything in My name. Ask and you will receive, and your joy will be complete" (John 16:24).
We would have little interest in praying to a God who might be listening, but who, on the other hand, might be out for a walk or taking a nap (like Baal in Elijah's day—1 Kings 18:27). We have the assurance that His ears are always open to our prayers.
"For the eyes of the Lord are on the righteous and His ears are attentive to their prayer, but the face of the Lord is against those who do evil" (1 Peter 3:12).
Ah, but here's one for you: What sense is there in praying to an unchangeable God? Hasn't He already made up His mind about what He's going to do? How will our prayers change anything?
We know that prayer changes things because He told us it does. He decided in eternity past that He will take certain actions, provide certain things, and bestow certain blessings when we come to Him in prayer. Prayer is part of His unchanging plan. So we come because He told us to come, and we make our request because He told us it would make a difference. And we have the assurance that if we ask anything according to His will, He hears us and answers.
"This is the confidence we have in approaching God: that if we ask anything according to His will, He hears us. And if we know that He hears us—whatever we ask—we know that we have what we asked of Him" (1 John 5:14-15).
We can count on Him. Since God is immutable, we can always count on His help. We cannot always count on our human friends. They let us down at times. Their actions are sometimes affected by how they feel we have treated them. Their love is conditioned on our performance. Not God's. His love is everlasting (Jeremiah 31:3) and therefore unchanging. He always acts on the basis of love. His kindness (goodness) is everlasting (Isaiah 54:10), and therefore unchanging. He always acts on the basis of kindness. We can count on that. We may not always understand how the things He allows are loving and kind, but the better we know Him as the immutable God, the more we shall be able to trust Him, and hang on to Him for stability and strength when everything around us is changing.
This is a great doctrine. It's a good one to keep in mind—the fact that God does not change. Unfortunately, one of our most glaring defects as mortal beings is our inability to remember what we have learned about God when we need it most.
Did you know that God has given us a visible sign to remind us of His immutability? It’s the rainbow. When Noah and his family emerged from the ark and worshipped God, He promised them that He would never again destroy the whole earth with a flood. He said, "I do set my bow in the cloud, and it shall be for a token of a covenant between me and the earth" (Genesis 9:13). He is a God of His Word. He has never again destroyed whole earth by water. And He won’t, because He said He won't. He never changes.
Every time you see a rainbow, remind yourself that you know a God who never changes. And remind yourself that a God who is unchanging in His love and kindness to you deserves your unchanging love, devotion, and service.
Trusting Jesus as Your Savior
I would not be fair to you if I failed to remind you that our immutable God is unalterably opposed to sin. He's never going to change His mind about sin. He lets His children experience the consequences of their sin as an encouragement to forsake it. He does that because He loves them.
And He has decisively declared that He must separate unrepentant and unregenerate sinners from Him eternally. He will not change His mind about that. Some of us would like to believe that we can live our life our own way and do a few good deeds and that God will see those deeds and change His mind and open the gates of heaven to us. But He won’t. He will not change His mind about sin.
But He did something about our sin, and that's the good news. He sent His sinless Son Jesus to take our place so that He bore the punishment of our sin in our stead, so that by putting our trust in Him we will be forgiven and have everlasting life with God. If you have not yet made that decision, please do it today.
Father, we ask You to use this message from Your word to help us as believers to trust You and to really believe that You never change. And for those who have never changed their mind about sin and repented of it, call them to do so and put their trust in Jesus Christ for forgiveness. We ask it in Jesus' name. Amen.
God Is Immutable
I the Lord do not change. So you, the descendants of Jacob, are not destroyed.
Malachi 3:6 NIV
Continue to AT-06: The Most High Rules