To be immutable is to be unchanging, uncompromising, and relentless in one’s convictions. This is more true for God than any person I have ever known – the Lord remains the same in His divine nature and in the purposes of His heart. “By the immutability of God we mean that in essence, attributes, consciousness, and will God is unchangeable. All change must be to the better or the worse. But God cannot change to the better, since He is absolutely perfect; neither can He change to the worse, for the same reason. He can never be wiser, more holy, more just, more merciful, more truthful, nor less so. Nor do His plans and purposes change” (Lectures in Systematic Theology, Thiessen, 127). And what a relief this is to those of us who have to suffer through a lifetime of existence in a world that does nothing but change. Everything from the weather, to our environment, to our bodies, and even to every relationship we have with other humans (good or bad) changes on a daily (even momentary) basis. We meet one unreliable person after another and wonder if there is anywhere we can turn for some consistency. The answer, of course, is God.
What the scriptures say
Friends, we can depend on God in a way that we cannot when it comes to mankind. Even our friends disappoint us, at times, by changing their minds or opinions, or by abandoning us when it comes to stand up for a conviction. But to those of us who love and trust Him, God’s consistency is a relief:
· “God is not a man, that He should lie; neither the son of man, that He should repent” (Numbers 23:19). How many people do you know who have lied at some point in their lives? I would imagine that almost everybody I know has at least bent the truth in some way, some even to my face. But God is no mere man – He is not tempted by the cheap thrills and easy answers that plague our fellow men.
· “Even they will perish, but You endure… But You are the same” (Psalm 102:26-27).
· “For I, the Lord, do not change” (Malachi 3:6). And how many of us can say the same thing? How often do we change our positions on some matter when it is convenient? How often do we compromise when our job is the line (or a raise)? How often do we get caught by our spouses when we promise to do something and never do? Not only that, but how many marriages have fallen apart because one spouse “changed” (became bitter, jaded, disgruntled, more selfish, etc.)?
· “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). Unlike the heavenly bodies, God does not have good days and bad days (bright days and dark days, like the moon and the stars). He does not experience one day of good mood and then another of catastrophic displeasure with His creation. He does not hate us one day on a whim and hold us close the next. He consistently gives good gifts, and gives them on a consistent basis (Matthew 7:7-11).
We need to be thankful every day that God does not change. Some, however, complain about God’s unrelenting nature, arguing that He does not keep up with the times, or apply His wisdom to modern day problems and situations. Many believe that the Bible cannot work in our society – its canon is closed, its regulations too strict, and its words immutable. But do we really want God to change all the time? These arguments would not be made if God shifted from loving Savior to merciless tyrant every other day! We need to be grateful that we can expect the same God day in and day out. He does not keep changing His rules on us every day. His expectations stay the same. His wisdom is consistent. His discipline should come as no surprise to us. This makes God approachable – we always know where to find Him and what we have to do make Him happy. God’s uncompromising nature also means that He will always want us saved, He will always love us, and He will always wish for the sinner to come to repentance (2 Peter 3:9). Or would we rather have a God that acts like an unreliable friend, giving us compliments one moment and spreading gossip the next?
The Immutability of Jesus Christ
Hebrews 13:8 states, “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.” The author may have written this to remind second generation Christians of the authority, power, and perfection of their leader. We need to learn the same lesson, understanding that Christ is the same as God, with the same motives, mind, attitudes, and immutability. Jesus Christ is the same today as He was at the end of the first century, the same as He was while living in a fleshly body, and the same while helping create the world (John 1:1). The only question that remains is will our faith be the same today, yesterday, and tomorrow? Will we try to be as consistent as the one after whom we model our life?
Some who claim to profess Christ sometimes complain that conservative Christians are too uncompromising, as if we are not in tune with the world around us and are stuck believing and teaching a way of thinking that is inconsequential and outdated. We need to remind those who mock our attempts at consistency that even Christ did not listen to what others were saying when we He took a stand. In John 6, many of Christ’s followers abandoned Him because He would not back down on His difficult saying. To the twelve disciples, our Lord asks, “You do not want to go away also, do you?” (John 6:67). Simon Peter responds, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.” Christ did not change His words simply because they were not popular or too supposedly difficult to understand – neither should we.
The Benefits to the Believer
God is faithful, and making the mistake of depending on somebody who is not dependable is a very unpleasant experience. “Like a bad tooth and an unsteady foot is confidence in a faithless man in time of trouble” (Proverbs 25:19). This verse certainly makes it clear that undependable people are both painful and useless – they fail you when you need them most. Unlike people, though, God demonstrates His perfect faithfulness by always being there for us when we stick our necks. He does not leave us without strength, support, comfort, or guidance in our moments of trial. “She considered Him faithful who had promised” (Hebrews 11:11). Speaking of the relationship that Abraham had with God, Romans 4:20-21 states, “With respect to the promise of God, he did not waver in unbelief, but grew strong in faith, giving glory to God, and being fully assured that what He had promised, He was able to perform.” While some say that having faith in God is going out on a limb, the reality is that it pulls off the limb and grounds us in tangible promises and firm convictions (Lamentations 3:22-26, 2 Timothy 2:13, 1 John 1:9).
Peace of Mind. “In this world where men forget us, change their attitude toward us as their private interests dictate, and revise their opinion of us for the slightest cause, is it not a source of wondrous strength to know what the God with whom we have to do changes not? What peace it brings to the Christian’s heart to realize that our Heavenly Father never differs from Himself. In coming to Him at any time we need not wonder whether we shall find Him in a receptive mood. He is always receptive to misery and need, as well as to love and faith. He does not keep office hours nor set aside periods when He will see no one. Today, this moment, He feels toward His creatures, exactly as He did when He sent His only begotten Son into the world to die for mankind. God never changes moods or cools off in His affections or loses enthusiasm. His attitude towards sin is now the same as it was when He drove out Adam and Eve from the eastward garden, and His attitude toward the sinner is the same as when He stretched forth His hands and cried, ‘Come unto me, all ye that labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest’” (The Knowledge of the Holy, A.W. Tozer, 59).
The reliability of His Word. If God does not change than neither does His counsel. “The counsel of the Lord stands forever, the plans of His heart from generation to generation” (Psalm 33:11). “The sum of Thy word is truth, and every one of Thy righteous ordinances is everlasting” (Psalm 119:160). Also see Psalm 119:89-90 and Deuteronomy 29:29. This means that:
· God’s expectations are always the same. He has outlined precisely what He wants us to do morally, ethically, socially, and religiously. The roles of people in the church and the family are clear, and our place in society is no mystery. We know what will make God angry, and what will please Him. Everything that we need to know is written in the Bible (2 Peter 1:3).
· The rules will never change. God does not say one thing and then expect something different ten generations later.
· We can always depend on the Bible. Its wisdom applies to all people, for all time (Revelation 5:9-10).
· Sometimes people say things they do not mean (Ecclesiastes 5:6). But God always means what He says. For the Christian, that is invigorating and refreshing. For the unbeliever, it is terrifying to realize that everything God says about Heaven, Hell, and judgment are serious – He will not take it back.
Does God Change?
We do have to acknowledge the fact that it seems like there are numerous instances in the Bible when God changes His mind about something. It appears to make little sense, then, to argue that God is immutable when He withdraws a judgment or changes His mind about being merciful. For example, it took only a few generations after Adam for God to be “sorry that He had made man on the earth, and He was grieved in His heart” (Genesis 6:6). Critics of the Bible point to this and then say it contradicts passages about the Lord being pleased with the creation. But we need to remember that God’s immutability is not like a rock which fails to respond to its environment, but like mercury that rises and falls with temperature. The mercury never lies and it faithfully reads its surrounding conditions. God never changes His standards, His expectations, or His truthful nature, but He has told us that sin will be punished and righteousness rewarded. It is not, in fact, God but we who are changing. When we do good or bad the result is adjusted accordingly (Jeremiah 18:8, Joel 2:12-14).
So when God is grieved over the creation of man, it is only because we are the ones changing. He is happy with us when we do good, and disappointed when we do evil. In the end, God stays the same – He is always pleased righteousness and unhappy with evil. The same is true when God regrets making certain people kings, such as Saul in 1 Samuel 15:11. What this means to us is that we are not sealed in stone when we become Christians. Even God’s anointed people in the Old Testament rebelled to the point that He rejected them – He will not bend His standard of judgment for any of us.
Conversely, that means that we always have hope for salvation. God is always eager to see the sinner repent (Luke 15:20). The promise of eternal life remains unchanged forever (Hebrews 6:17-20). God immutability requires that if anybody is going to be changing, then it has to be us!