Living Theology #9 – The Immutability of God

by Garrett Glende

Last week we looked at our ability to know God, concluding that although God is ultimately beyond our finite minds, we can still know Him in a true way. This brings us to the next chapter of Wayne Grudem’s Systematic Theology which focuses on the incommunicable attributes of God. There are about 25 attributes listed over the next three chapters and if I spent an article on each attribute of God mentioned this series would become even that much longer. Needless to say, I think it’s going to be long enough already. So the next two articles will each focus on a single attribute of God, one incommunicable and one communicable. The term “incommunicable” is meant to distinguish certain aspects of God’s character, specifically those that cannot be shared by man. One example of an incommunicable attribute is omnipresence, which man cannot even come close to relating to. Something such as love or mercy would certainly be able to be expressed in some capacity by humans, thus qualifying them as communicable attributes. We can also think about these as either shared (communicable) or unshared (incommunicable) attributes. One of God’s incommunicable attributes is His immutability, or unchangeableness. This attribute of God will be the focus for now, and we’ll look at a communicable attribute next week.

Grudem defines the immutability of God, writing that “God is unchanging in His being, perfections, purposes, and promises, yet God does act and feel emotions, and he acts and feels differently in response to different situations.” A biblical basis for this definition comes from verses like Psalm 102:26-27 where the psalmist thinks of all creation and declares that “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.” God proclaims His longsuffering and patience with the people of Israel in Malachi 3:6, saying, “For I the Lord do not change; therefore you, O children of Jacob are not consumed.” Even more, James relates the fact that all good gifts are from God to His immutability when he writes, “every good and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change” (James 1:17). All of these verses describe the fact that God does not change in His person or character. We can always be sure that God is a loving, faithful, and just God because He is unchanging in His being.

God is also unchanging in His purposes, as everything that He has purposed will come to fruition. He does not decide to do one thing and then not follow through with it. We see this clearly in the person of Christ, as He was tempted many times to avoid the cross, but always was faithful to the eternal plan of the Father. In fact, there are many instances throughout the ministry of Christ where He does something in order to fulfill the prophecy spoken long before. Psalm 33:11 says, “The counsel of the Lord stands forever, the plans of his heart to all generations.” Isaiah 46:9-11 wonderfully demonstrates the unchanging purposes of God, saying “I am God, and there is no other; I am God, and there is none like me, declaring the end from the beginning and from ancient times things not yet done, saying My counsel shall stand, and I will accomplish all my purpose.”

Although the Bible is clear that God does not change in His person or purposes, there are many passages that speak of God changing His mind or feeling sorry for an action that He had done. So does this mean that we cannot trust what Scripture says about God’s immutability? Grudem responds to this challenge, saying that “these instances [God being sorry for making man on earth, withholding judgment on Nineveh, etc.] should all be understood as true expressions of God’s present attitude or intention with respect to the situation as it exists at that moment…God responds differently to different situations.” For example, God promised judgment would fall on the wicked city of Nineveh, but the situation changed once the city became repentant. Seeing the new circumstances, God chose not to cast judgment upon them. “When God saw what they did, how they turned from their evil way, God relented of the disaster that he had said he would do to them, and he did not do it” (Jonah 3:10).

Because God’s law and standards never change, then neither should ours. It’s common for us to mold our morality to our circumstances rather than keeping it in line with God’s unchanging truth. This happens often in dating relationships where as the couple grows closer, their standards for purity become more and more loose until they fall into sin. God’s requirements regarding sexual purity have never changed, but some couples claim that certain sins become permissible because they’ve been in the relationship long enough. Just because you think you’re going to marry someone doesn’t give you the right to act like a married couple, ignoring God’s commands about premarital sex. This is just one way in which we shift God’s law to meet our desires, and there are many others.

The immutability of God is a wonderful truth for the Christian to come to grasps with. Imagine if it were the case that God did change who He is. What then would be our basis for our salvation? Could we even be sure that we are still saved, or has God decided to change the methods and requirements for salvation? We would live in constant fear and insecurity because we would not be able to rest on the unchanging nature of the gospel. Seeing that the canon is closed and God does not give any new revelation, we would not even know if He changed at all. Thankfully, God does not deal with us in this way. We can stand before the throne confident that He will receive us as His own because of the constant truth of the gospel. Christ’s substitutionary sacrifice on our behalf has always been and will always be the only way to secure eternal life.

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The Beacon is the monthly newsletter for Lighthouse Bible Church in San Diego, California. It covers a variety of subjects including LBC events, church history, current events from a Christan perspective, ministry profiles, and messages from our pastors and elders. To join the Beacon ministry, please contact Stephen Rodgers.

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