Saturday, April 20, 2013

Sovereignty Study, Part 2a: God's Immutability

One of the most fascinating aspects of God is His immutability, which can be defined as the perfection of God by which He is devoid of all change in essence, attributes, consciousness, will and promises. In short, He is unchangeable.
All throughout Scripture we see evidence of God’s immutability and the attestations of His people who have been impacted by it. On the surface, the fact that God doesn’t change may seem easy to grasp and somewhat irrelevant for practical application, but this couldn’t be further from the truth. God’s immutability is in direct harmony with his eternality and infiniteness. If God were changeable, either by external forces, or somehow by His own will, then the possibility of Him being eternal and consistent in His promises would be up for question. The implications of that would be staggering, significantly casting doubt on His own revealed Word and our faith in Him.
Charles Haddon Spurgeon said with conviction:

“The doctrine of the immutability of God should be more considered than it is, for the neglect of it tinges the theology of many religious teachers and makes them utter many things of which they would have seen the absurdity long ago if they had remembered the divine declaration, “I am God, I change not, therefore ye sons of Jacob are not consumed.”

As best as you can, think about God and how He has forever existed, even before the world began, knowing that He will continue to exist after the world is recreated. From the universal beginning to the apocalyptic end, He has told us what already happened and what will happen and has established the means for how we ought to live in the middle. He created time. He created existence. He created the past, present and future. How could a God who is subject to change, do this? How could God possibly orchestrate all of these incredibly complicated series of events to work out perfectly in the end if He was liable to change His mind somewhere down the road?
If this were the case, then the prophecies found in Scripture could potentially be wrong, thus nullifying the infallibility and veracity of Scripture. Our faith, originally founded in the promise of the forgiveness of sins, would be left in a panic, wondering if God would change His mind about that, too. The most important questions in life would have no final answers if God were not a God of unchanging finality.
The Essence of God Does Not Change
Does Scripture really get this specific about the immutability of God? It certainly does. As the first part of our definition stated, the immutability of God is the perfection of God by which He is devoid of all change in… essence.
Tozer once said,

“To say that God is immutable is to say that he never differs from Himself. The concept of a growing or developing God is not found in the Scriptures.”

Indeed, that is true. One of the most popular passages in the Bible referring to God’s unchanging nature, in fact, the same one that Spurgeon quoted, is Malachi 3:6, which simply says, “I, the Lord, do not change.”
The context around this verse is extremely important to understanding the significance of it. For one thing, God just got done saying in the preceding verse that He would be a swift witness against all kinds of sinners: sorcerers, adulterers, against those who swear falsely, against those who oppress the hired worker in his wages, the widow and the fatherless, against those who thrust aside sojourners, and against those who do not fear the Lord.
It is after this that he states, “I, the Lord, do not change.
Immediately following that, He says, “Therefore you, O children of Jacob, are not consumed.” Israel was not going to be completely destroyed due to their sins since God had promised Abraham that he would always have a great and vast nation, documented in Genesis 15. What is also important to remember is that Israel has always been on the hook for one thing that was essential to being God’s people: obedience.
When Moses arrived on the scene and was communing with God on Mt. Sinai during the burning bush event, God told Moses in Exodus 19, “If you will indeed obey my voice and keep my covenant, you shall be my treasured possession among all peoples, for all the earth is mine; and you shall be to me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation. These are the words that you shall speak to the people of Israel.”
Since the Lord does not change, in essence, the Israelites knew they had a God who would never think of sin any differently than he did when He flooded the earth, but they also knew that He would be faithful to carry out His promise to be a great nation unto the Lord when they were obedient to God’s commands. If God varied on any of this, then what God would have to say would not be something that the Israelites could count on. He would be just as good as any man could be to his word, which is unreliable.
In between condemning sin and promising vengeance upon sinners, as well as affirming His promise remained to Abraham, God affirmed His own sovereignty by stating simply, “I, the Lord, do not change.”
James says it another way, “the Father of lights has no variation or shadow due to change” (1:17). Nothing He does alters who He is or contradicts what He has always been. He is the same yesterday, today and forever (Heb. 13:8).
Of equal importance is in understanding that God’s unchanging essence directly coincides with His eternal nature.
Of the earth and all that is in it, the psalmist says in chapter 102, “Of old you laid the foundation of the earth, and the heavens are the work of your hands. They will perish, but you will remain; they will all wear out like a garment. You will change them like a robe, and they will pass away, but you are the same and your years have no end” (25-27).
Verse 27 brings both God’s immutability and eternal nature into the same thought, showing us that they are one together. Stephen Charnock, a Puritan theologian in the early 17th century, is probably known best for his book The Existence and Attributes of God, which was published after his death in 1682. In his exposition of Psalm 102:27 he explains so wonderfully how much truth to God’s sovereignty is found here:

“The essence of God, with all the perfections of his nature, are pronounced the same, without any variation from eternity to eternity. So that the text does not only assert the eternal duration of God, but His immutability in that duration; His eternity is signified in that expression, “thou shalt endure”; His immutability in this, “thou art the same.” To endure argues indeed this immutability as well as eternity; for what endures is not changed and what is changed does not endure. “But thou art the same” does more fully signify it. He could not be the same if He could be changed into any other thing than what He is. The Psalmist therefore puts, not thou “hast been” or “shall be”, but “thou art” the same, without any alteration; thou art the same, that is, the same God, the same in essence and nature, the same in will and purpose, you do change all other things as you please; but you are immutable in every respect, and receive no shadow of change, though never so light and small. The Psalmist here alludes to the name Jehovah, I am, and does not only ascribe immutability to God, but excludes everything else from partaking in that perfection.”

It is no wonder that after this wonderful truth is written, the psalmist ends his psalm with, “The children of your servants shall dwell secure; their offspring shall be established before you” (28).
Tozer suggested that if God could indeed change, it would have to be in one of three directions…

“He must go from better to worse, or from worse to better; or, granted that the moral quality remain stable, he must change within Himself, as from immature to mature or from one order of being to another. It should be clear that God can move in none of these directions. His perfections forever rule out any such possibilities.”

God has always been infinitely perfect and fully holy without any possibility of attaining to something greater. He is the greatest source and example of perfection and holiness we will ever have because He is perfect and holy. His immutability goes hand in hand with His eternality, for if He could change, or was subject to change, then his ability to be our holy, saving, righteous God would be cast into doubt.

Let us not ever doubt that our God is unchanging and unchangeable, lest our own faith fail due to our own unwillingness to believe what Scripture has made so clear. Though the Lord, in His matchless glory and creative genius, has created beings like us humans, or animals, or processes, or insects like the Monarch Butterfly to change as a part of our finite ecosystem, He Himself does not change. Truly, it is for our benefit that the Bible has shown us this divine characteristic of God, so that our faith can stay strong and steadfast.

-How does God’s unchanging essence and eternal nature impact your understanding of Him?

-What were the implications we saw that would come about if God’s essence could change?

-What questions come to your mind now that we’ve seen that God’s essence is unchangeable?

-Could understanding God’s unchanging nature help you in sharing the Gospel more clearly? How so?

Follow up with Part 2b: "Immutable Attributes: Does God "Change" If He Is Merciful One Moment and Just the Next?"

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