God Unchanging ~ 20150913 ~ Pastor Rodney Zedicher ~ Ephraim Church of the Bible ~ www.ephraimbible.org
09/13 God Unchanging; Audio available at: http://www.ephraimbible.org/Sermons/20150913_god-unchanging.mp3
O Lord, we desire to know you. We long to enjoy your intimate fellowship as Enoch, who walked with you and was not, for you took him. We want to love and fear you like Abraham, so much that no sacrifice is considered too great. We desire to count our time with you so valuable that like Daniel we would risk being eaten by lions just to spend a few precious moments with you. We want, like Job, to bless your name and worship you, whether you give good gifts, or take those gifts away. Help us to say with the Psalmist, that we seek you, we thirst for you, we faint for you, 'because your steadfast love is better than life' (Ps.63:3).
Today we will look at the immutability of God, the unchangeable nature of his being and attributes.
When we travel to visit family in Minnesota, it is a 22 hour drive, so we usually stop somewhere in the middle to spend the night. One of our early trips, Deanna found a great deal on a motel. It was an older motel, and they rented us what must have been the caretaker's apartment. It had several rooms, a small kitchen, and the pool was right outside the door. It looked like it had been furnished in the '70's, but it was comfortable, it fit our family well, and it was cheap! We made some great memories there with our little family. On a later trip, we tried to look this place up so we could make reservations. We couldn't find it online. We made some calls, but came up with nothing. We tried to remember where exactly it was. We took the exit and drove around, but we couldn't find it. Finally, we narrowed it down to where it was, and it was a construction zone. The property was surrounded by chain link fence, and there was nothing there but dirt. No motel, no apartment, no pool, no parking lot, no sign, nothing. It was gone. Erased. No trace. Obviously we had to find a different place to stay.
Everything changes. Our culture has changed. Our country has changed. What not too long ago was considered deviant behavior is now celebrated and protected. What would have been considered standing up for what is right and good and true is now considered hate speech. What was wrong is now right. What was right is now wrong.
In a world that is so rapidly changing we look for something stable, something solid, something permanent, something that we can hold on to, something we can trust.
Consider our brothers and sisters fleeing from Syria, Afghanistan, and Eritria seeking a place to live where they will not be killed for their faith in Christ. Last year nearly 200,000 Assyrian Christians were forced to flee their homes around the Mosul area in Iraq, near the site of ancient Nineveh, after ISIS took control of the city and destroyed historic Christian churches. Imagine, the stability of an 1800 year old church building demolished and the Christian community forced to flee, be killed, or convert to Islam. What is there to hold on to? What doesn't change?
Listen to the words of Psalm 102
Listen to the descriptions the afflicted one uses of himself; my days pass away like smoke; grass that has withered, alone, my days are like an evening shadow, I wither away like grass. Temporary, transient, fading, impermanent, unstable, momentary, fleeting.
Now listen to the permanence and stability of the rest of the Psalm:
You are enthroned forever; throughout all generations; generations to come; you whose years endure throughout all generations.
Listen to the closing verses:
What is more permanent than the foundation of the earth and the regularity of the heavens? And yet compared to God, they were brought into existence by him, they will perish, they will wear out, they will be changed and pass away, but the LORD will remain. You are the same. Listen to the comfort in those words. You are the same! Something stable. Something unchangeable. Something solid and consistent. Something to hold on to when everything else is in upheaval and turmoil. You remain. You are the same. Everything else changes. The heavens and the earth change, all created things change, but you are the same. The immutability of God is a strong comfort in troubled times.
Unchangeable and Impassible
What does it mean that God is unchanging? It means both that he will not change and that he cannot change. He is who he is. His being, his essence, his character is always the same. What he is he always is. He cannot be other than he is. He is consistent.
Did you ever have something important you wanted to ask your parents? You learn to pay attention to what is going on and be sure to ask at the right time. Is mom in a good mood? Did dad have a good day at work today? If you ask at the wrong time, the answer is automatically 'no'. So you learn to pick up on cues, to find the most agreeable time to ask. God is not like that. God is always in a good mood. I think that is what the Westminster divines were getting at when they wrote their description of God who is 'without body, parts, or passions, immutable' [Westminster Confession, 2, I]. They did not mean that God is not passionate about anything, or that he is emotionless. It is clear that God has a red-hot hatred of sin and evil, and that he delights to show mercy and extend grace to undeserving sinners. But he is not passively affected from something outside himself. God is never grumpy and frustrated because he had a bad day and things didn't go his way.
Unchangeable in His Character and Nature
God says to his disobedient people:
I YHWH do not change. This is a passage of judgment. He is rebuking them for their unrighteousness, for their sorcery, adultery, lies, oppression, lack of love and care for the hurting and downcast, lack of fear of the Lord. The fact that they are not consumed is not because of them. They fully deserve to be consumed. They have earned the fires of hell. The fact that they are not consumed has nothing to do with them. They are not consumed because of the character of God. God is an unchanging God. God is merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in loving kindness. He is always that way. You are not consumed because I am God and I have made promises to you, children of Jacob. The day of judgment is coming. God is just and he will punish all the arrogant and all evildoers. But he is patient and merciful. He sends his messenger to turn the hearts of his people back to him.
James tells us:
God is the Father of lights. There is no fickleness, no variability in him. There is no shadow from turning. There is absolute consistency. Rock solid reliability. No dark spots on his character. God cannot be tempted with evil and he tempts no one. All good gifts come from him. The greatest gift is new birth. Of his own will he brought us forth by the word of truth. He caused us to be born again through the transforming power of his word.
Unchangeable in his Purposes and Promises
What a glorious truth that God is unchangeable. He is ever the same. He is unchangeable in his being and essence; he cannot become more God than he is; he cannot become less God. He is God. He always has been God. He always will be God. He is unchanging in his perfections or his attributes. Every characteristic that describes God has always been true of him and will always be true of him. He has always been just and will forever be just. He has always been love and will for eternity be love. God is unchanging in his purposes and his promises. He does not set out to do something and then change his mind.
Numbers 23 says:
God is contrasted with man. Man is characterized by changeability. We change our minds. We lie. We speak and don't follow through. God is not a man. He never was a man. He is not a son of man. God is not like man. He cannot lie. He cannot change his mind. He does not promise and then fail to make good on his promise. We change our minds because we don't have all the facts up front. We make a decision based on limited information, and then when more information comes, we see a better way. We change our minds because we are subject to circumstances that are beyond our control. Something happens and now we can't follow through with what we had planned. But there is nothing God does not know. He has all the facts in front of him, so he always makes the best possible decision. To change his mind would be to move from the best decision to a worse alternative, and God will not do that. There are no circumstances unforeseen or beyond God's control. Nothing will ever come up that forces God to change his plans.
God Changes His Mind
1 Samuel 15 says:
God is not a man. He will not have regret. We regret when we make a bad decision and have to suffer the consequences. We didn't have all the facts, and couldn't see the outcome, and knowing what we now know, if we had it to do over again, we would choose differently. God is not a man to regret or repent or change his mind that way. But doesn't the Bible say that God changed his mind on occasion? One of those occasions is right here in 1 Samuel 15. It will help us to look at it. Back in verse 11, God tells Samuel:
And then in verse 35, we are told:
And in between these two verses that tell us that God regretted or repented or changed his mind, we have the statement that
So what do we make of this? God regretted that he made Saul king, because Saul turned back from following the Lord. He disobeyed the Lord, he rejected the word of the Lord, and so the Lord rejected him as king. God was sorry that he made Saul king, not in the sense that he wished he had more information on which to base his decision, not in the sense that he wished he could have known what was going to happen, not in the sense that he would choose differently if he had it to do over again. God is not a man that he regrets that way. God new exactly what Saul would do. God knew that he would turn away and disobey. God knew Saul's character and the outcome of what would happen, and knowing all this, he chose to make Saul king for a time according to his good and wise purposes. When Saul chose to disobey, God responded the way he always responds to sin and disobedience; with judgment. Sin has consequences. God did not change. Saul changed. And although God knew it all along and saw it coming, he is grieved by sin. He has an emotional response to our sin. But even in Saul's rebellion, God had good purposes that were bigger than this isolated event, that he was bringing about, bigger purposes for the nation of Israel, bigger purposes for David, and if he had it to do over again, he would make the exact same choice, knowing that it is the best possible choice, even though he will grieve over Saul's rebellion. He regretted or repented or changed his mind, but not in the same way that we as finite creatures with limited foresight and understanding regret or change our minds. God is not a man that he should have that kind of regret.
Isaiah 46 says:
God accomplishes all his purpose. His counsel stands. When he speaks he brings it to pass. His purpose is unchangeable. He is absolutely unique in knowing the end from the beginning and never having to change his mind. In Isaiah 40 he says:
Again the contrast is drawn between the changeability of people who wither and fade like grass and flowers, but God's word stands forever. The confidence we have in God's word, the Bible, is rooted in the character and nature of God. Because God is unchangeable his word is unchangeable. When he speaks he never has to take it back, because he is not subject to limited knowledge or outside forces beyond his control. His word stands forever because he is the same yesterday, today and forever (Heb.13:8).
We can take great confidence in the unchangeable character of God.
God's purpose is unchangeable. His word is unchangeable. His promise is unchangeable. It is impossible for God to lie. This is strong encouragement. This is a sure and steadfast anchor for the soul. This is an unwavering hope that enters in to the very presence of God, that flees for refuge to Jesus.
God is referred to as a rock repeatedly in scripture because a rock is the nearest thing we can think of that seems solid and permanent and unchanging. Deuteronomy 32 says
God is perfect, just, faithful, upright. He will never change. He is solid, reliable, enduring. Psalm 31 says:
God is a rock of refuge, a strong fortress. We can run to him with absolute confidence because of his unchangeable in his being, his perfections, his purposes. He will never go back on his word. And he has promised to rescue all who run to Jesus for refuge!
Pastor Rodney Zedicher ~ Ephraim Church of the Bible ~ www.ephraimbible.org