1 Samuel 15: 29
“God and Change.” Only 2 things are constant: God (who never changes) and change (which is always with us). We live in an ever-changing world. Not only is the volume of knowledge increasing, the very rate of increase itself is increasing. Our children routinely play with electronic devices their great-grandparents never dreamed of. We take for granted technological advances that were simply unthinkable 25 years ago. Our grandchildren will enter a world advanced far beyond our current imagining. We live in an ever-changing world.
South Africa is changing - not always for the better. But the essential things have not changed. Putting the entire Bible on a computer chip doesn’t change the fact that it is still the Word of God. We can translate the JESUS film into hundreds of languages—and do it by computer!—but the message is still the same.
South Africa has changed, is changing, and will change yet again. But we have nothing to fear because the human heart hasn’t changed at all. The packaging is different, the methods may vary, but the gospel of Christ is still the only hope for men and women trapped in sin. We may use different words - but what they said in 1911 we still say in 2011. That has not changed and, with God’s help, will never change.
Nothing That Matters Has Changed
We have the same God, the same Bible, the same Jesus, and the same gospel. Nothing that matters has changed at all. Beneath the surface, people are the same the world over. The Bible is just as true in Johannesburg as it is in Jerusalem because it is based on the character of God who cannot change.
1. Immutability: Defining an Unusual Word
That’s an unusual word and one that we need to define carefully. Most of you have heard of “mutations.” Those are random genetic changes that produce new offspring. Something is mutable if it is subject to change in any degree. Therefore, to be immutable means to be unchanging and unchangeable.
Here’s a working definition of immutability. It means that God does not change in his basic character. There are several ways of expressing this truth: His purposes do not change. He never grows in knowledge or wisdom. He never differs from himself. He never improves upon his own perfection. He never “grows” or “develops” in any respect.
You can also use the word “always” to express this truth. God is always wise, always sovereign, always good, always just, always holy, always merciful and always gracious. Whatever God is, he always is. There are no “sometimes” attributes of God. All of his attributes are “always” attributes. He always is what he is.
He Doesn’t Change His Mind
Many verses in the Bible teach this truth in one way or the other:
1 Samuel 15: 29 — “He who is the Glory of Israel does not lie or change his mind; for he is not a man, that he should change his mind.”
Malachi 3: 6 — “I the Lord do not change.”
James 1: 17 — “Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows.”
Psalm 102: 25 - 27 — “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.”
Hebrews 13: 8 — “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.”
The doctrine of immutability teaches us - at the heart of an ever-changing universe is an unchanging God.
“Change and decay in all around I see,
O Thou who changest not, abide with me.”
2. What It Means: Implications of Immutability
A. God’s promises do not change.
We break our promises all the time. We say, “I’ll pick you up tomorrow at 2:30 pm.” Tomorrow comes, you stand outside and wait. At 2:30 pm. I’m nowhere to be found. 20 minutes later you’re still standing there. The next day when you ask where I was, I smile and say, “Well, I got held up at work, I was running late, I had a lot to do, something came up, I lost your address, I got a better offer.” We’ve got a thousand excuses, don’t we? But God never makes excuses. He never has to because he always keeps his promises. We may rely upon God to keep his word!
B. God’s purposes do not change.
We change our plans frequently. We make our list for the day and plan to do 5 or 6 key things. We do the first thing, then we get a phone call, then one of the kids gets sick, then the boss calls an unplanned meeting. So we skip number 2, take a mild stab at number 3 and never get around to numbers 4, 5 and 6. That’s the way life is. But God’s purposes never change. “The plans of the Lord stand firm forever, the purposes of his heart through all generations” (Psalm 33: 11). “The LORD Almighty has sworn, ‘Surely, as I have planned, so it will be, and as I have purposed, so it will stand’” (Isaiah 14: 24).
C. God’s character does not change.
He is not fickle in his feelings nor changeable in his moods. He never has bad days or good days. He doesn’t treat us according to the whims of the moment. He is always completely consistent with himself.
People change in their attitude toward us. They may be grumpy in the morning and friendly at noon. They may whisper gossip to us and then turn around and gossip about us. All of us have been disappointed by people we felt were friends who let us down because they didn’t live up to our expectations.
God feels about us today the same way he did when he sent Christ to the earth. The same love that motivated him then motivates him now. What if God changed as we do? We would never pray. We would never trust him. We would never venture out in faith. We would never ask for his help.
That’s an absolutely crucial thought. God’s character is the same today as it was in Bible times. That’s why the OT calls him “The God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.” Even though men come and go, God remains the same. He’s the same God today that he was then, which means he is absolutely reliable and completely consistent in his dealings with his children.
“Have we trials and temptations? Is there trouble anywhere?
We should never be discouraged; take it to the Lord in prayer.
Can we find a friend so faithful who will all our sorrow share?
Jesus knows our every weakness; take it to the Lord in prayer!”
It is precisely because God is immutable that he is our faithful friend. We never need to worry about being turned away because if he listened to us once, he will listen to us again, he will listen to us a thousand times even though we come with the same request each time.
3. What It Doesn’t Mean: God Changed His Mind
The major problem with the doctrine of God’s immutability. What about those verses that say God changed his mind or that God “repented?” There are several verses in the OT - Genesis 6: 6 - says that God was “sorry” he had created the pre-flood world. The word in question speaks of God’s grief over man’s sin. It doesn’t mean that God thought he had somehow made a mistake.
Jonah 3: 10 - quoted as another example of God changing his mind. Some translations use the word “repented” to describe God’s reaction to the repentance of Nineveh. NIV - more accurate - God “relented of punishment he had threatened.” God didn’t “change” his mind. He threatened Nineveh with punishment unless they repented. When the people repented, God withheld his threatened judgment.
We might say that God is immutable but not immobile. He is stable but not static. He responds to the changing conditions on the earth by presenting different aspects of his personality. He responds to us as we respond to him.
Consider a father dealing with his children. When they obey, they experience his pleasure. When they disobey, they face his justice. When they are hurt, they feel his compassion. He’s always the same father, but with many sides to his character. The same is true with God. What may seem to be an inconsistency with God is often simply God displaying another aspect of his character to us.
4. What Difference It Makes
What difference does this make in practical terms? I would like to consider immutability first as it applies to the lost.
A. This is very bad news for rebellious sinners.
God’s nature does not change. That’s bad news for those who hope that God will “change his mind” and let them slip into heaven. I’m sure that many people fervently hope that the God of the Bible is not the God they will someday meet. Consider the following: If God became less holy, sin would no longer be sin. If God became less just, sin would no longer be punished. If God became less sovereign, man could take his place. If God could forget, he might overlook our sin.
But none of those things are true. God cannot become less holy, less just, less sovereign and he cannot forget anything. That means there is no escape from the hands of an all-seeing, all-knowing, all-powerful God! On the other hand -
B. This is very good news to those who want to be saved.
God’s nature does not change! God’s attitude toward seekers does not change.
John 6: 37- Jesus said, “Whoever comes to me I will never drive away.”
We live in a world where you get one chance or two and then you’re out. You fail once or twice and then you’re history. But because God’s nature does not change, we may come to him at any time and be saved. This is not a license to sin, but it is certainly good news for sinners.
We worship an unchanging God. That’s bad news for those who don’t know Jesus and don’t want to know him! It’s the best news in the world for a sinner who needs a Saviour.