************ Sermon on Belgic Confession Article 1d ************
By: Rev. Adrian Dieleman
This sermon was preached on March 10, 2019
Belgic Confession Article 1d
"God is Unchangeable"
I God Does Not Change
A People change. They are in a state of flux. None of us are static. The person I married is not the same person I am married to now -- like a good wine she improves with age. And, the person she married is not the same person either -- I used to have hair and wear glasses all the time. Little babies -- they are tiny, soft, helpless but they change so quickly.
As human beings we change in many ways. We increase in knowledge. We increase or decrease in strength. Sometimes we have to go to the hospital and parts are repaired, replaced, or removed. We change our habits and either stop smoking and drinking or start such bad habits. We change careers -- the average person changes jobs an average of 12 times during his or her career. And, by the grace of God, we make a life-changing decision to follow Jesus. We mature in faith. We grow in grace and sanctification. We advance in wisdom.
Change is one of the themes of the book of Hebrews. The altar changed from the temporary altar to the eternal altar; the priesthood changed from the temporary priesthood of Aaron to the eternal priesthood of Christ; the tabernacle changed from the temporary tabernacle in Jerusalem to the eternal tabernacle in the heavens; the blood sacrifice changed from the blood that was shed repeatedly to the blood that was shed once for all and does not need to be repeated. All these changed until they became perfect in Christ and then they changed no more.
B Only God does not change. God does not grow. God does not improve with age. God cannot change. For God to change, one of three things has to happen. One, God has to go from better to worse. Or two, God has to go from worse to better. Or three, God must change from one kind of being to another. But God is perfect. There will never be a change in God -- no change is necessary or possible!
God does not change. He is eternally the same. He says, "I the LORD do not change" (Mal 3:6). Or, as Hebrews puts it, "Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever" (Heb 13:8). The song writer of "Abide with Me" puts it this way:
earth's joys grow dim, its glories pass away.
Change and decay in all around I see.
O Lord who changest not, abide with me.
To say that God does not change is to say that God is immutable -- He undergoes no mutations. There is an inner consistency to the nature of God; He never goes through an inward process of evolution.
How different God is from the universe He has made. Did you know the common cold has mutated into over 200 different viruses? Did you know that botanists have discovered thousands of different varieties of wheat, each one an adaptation to a specific set of circumstances? But with God there is no change. He is immutable.
God does not change, God cannot change, but our understanding of God most certainly does change. A number of years ago I ran the doorbell of a house. I heard a little voice yell, "God is here." Hopefully, as this child got older his concept and understanding of God changed.
When we say God does not change, we mean this for all three persons of the Trinity. What we say about the Father we also say about the Son and about the Spirit. So when we say God is the same, we are saying that the Father is the same and Jesus Christ is the same and the Holy Spirit is the same. All that God ever was, God still is, and will ever be.
II Problems with God's Immutability
A When we think of God's immutability, it is easy to fall into the error of thinking that God is an immobile, inert, static, rigid, fixed, stationary, paralyzed being. But that is not the picture the Bible presents of God. Scripture presents a God Who is alive, dynamic, conscious, mobile. There is constant change round about Him. For by His almighty power He creates and upholds, He blesses and punishes, He gives and He takes away. There is also change in the relations of men to Him. For God is a personable being Who desires a relationship with every person if only they would repent and acknowledge Him as King and Lord.
No, God is not immobile. He acts. He performs. He thinks. He creates. He upholds. He watches. He saves. Because He is dynamic there is constant change around Him and in the relations of men and women to Him. However, there is no change in His Being, His will, His attributes, His purpose, His motives, or His promises. For God is immutable. He is unchangeable. He can never stop being God. God is now all that He ever was or ever shall be.
B God is immutable. He is unchangeable. So how do we handle those Christian hymns that mention the death of God upon the cross:
-"And Can It Be" - "Amazing love! How can it be that you, my Lord, should die for me?!"
-"When I survey the wondrous cross on which the Prince of glory died ... Forbid it, Lord, that I should boast save in the death of Christ, my God!"
-"Alas! and did my Savior bleed, and did my Sovereign die?"
If God died, then He is NOT an unchangeable, immutable God.
So, did God die on the cross? Was there a moment in time when the omnipotent God was dead? In the darkest hour of Calvary was heaven suddenly vacant? Did God pass out of existence? No!
We must be careful to distinguish between the human and divine natures of Christ. Human natures can die, but divine natures cannot. It was Jesus' human nature which died; it was His perfect humanity which was slain upon the cross. His divine nature did not die and cannot die because it is an inseparable part of the eternal, triune, immutable Godhead.
C God is immutable. He is unchangeable. This means He never changes His mind. We see that in our Scripture reading for this evening. I've always delighted in the story of Balaam and Balak. Balaam so badly wanted to do what Balak asked him to do. All that he had to do was curse Israel and he could have Balak's silver and gold. However, Balaam could only say what God put in his mouth; and, God's will for Israel was blessing and not curse. Five times Balak and Balaam tried to curse Israel. No matter what they tried what came out of Balaam's mouth was blessings for Israel and curses for her enemies. It is within this context that Balaam says,
(Num 23:19-20) God is not a man, that he should lie, nor a son of man, that he should change his mind. Does he speak and then not act? Does he promise and not fulfill? (20) I have received a command to bless; he has blessed, and I cannot change it.
This same thought is expressed elsewhere. Remember when King Saul failed to obey the Lord? King Saul saved the best of the Amalekite sheep and cattle to sacrifice them to the Lord instead of destroying them as the Lord commanded. After this sin Samuel announced that the Lord has rejected Saul as king over Israel. Saul cried and pleaded and begged Samuel for a change of heart. Samuel's response:
(1 Sam 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."
God is immutable. He is unchangeable. He does not change His mind. His purposes and decrees are from everlasting to everlasting. God did not argue with Himself or within Himself over whether to create heaven and earth and everything in them. God does not change His mind from day-to-day about His decree to elect and save some of the lost -- one day adding some and the next day removing others. God is God. Therefore He is immutable and unchangeable; He does not change His mind.
D What do we do, then, with those passages of Scripture which seem to indicate that God does indeed change His mind? For instance, when Israel made the golden calf, God told Moses to stand aside so He could destroy the people. But Moses pleaded with the Lord.
(Ex 32:14) Then the LORD relented and did not bring on his people the disaster he had threatened.Or, think of the time the Lord through Jonah announced the imminent destruction of Nineveh. The Ninevites believed God. They declared a fast and, as a sign of repentance, they put on sackcloth.
(Jonah 3:10) When God saw what they did and how they turned from their evil ways, he had compassion and did not bring upon them the destruction he had threatened.
When we read passages like these can we really say that God is immutable, that He is unchangeable, that He does not change His mind? Yes we can! In those passages in which God appears to change, He only does what He has promised to do all along -- not punish sinners who repent and turn from their evil ways. When it comes right down to it, who is it that is changing, that relents, that has a change of heart? It isn't God Who is changing here; it is man. When man repents God removes the threat of punishment even as He has always promised.
E God is immutable. He is unchangeable. This means His knowledge must be complete and perfect and there is nothing He has to learn. For if there are gaps in His knowledge or understanding He would have to learn and thereby change.
Some biblical texts suggest, however, that God learns or discovers things. Consider, for example, the time God tested Abraham and commanded him to sacrifice his son Isaac. When Abraham bound Isaac upon the altar and stood there knife in hand, poised to slaughter, God stopped him
(Gen 22:12) "Do not lay a hand on the boy ... Do not do anything to him. Now I know that you fear God, because you have not withheld from me your son, your only son."
Does this suggest that God learned something about Abraham that day? Was God wondering the whole time if Abraham would or could grasp the knife and plunge it into his son's body? Are we to picture God wringing His hands in heaven, waiting anxiously for moment-to-moment bulletins on the progress of His servant Abraham? Can we imagine God sighing in relief when the news reached Him that Abraham had been obedient? Can we imagine God going through the same agony while waiting for the result of the Fall or Jesus' temptation in the wilderness?
God is immutable. He is unchangeable. His knowledge is complete and perfect and there is nothing He has to learn. That's why He knows what is going to happen before it happens: Egypt, Babylon, the virgin birth, the crucifixion and resurrection. There are no surprises for God.
III What God's Immutability Means for Us
A What kind of God do we believe in? The sound doctrine of the Belgic Confession reminds us God is unchangeable. He is immutable. He does not change in His being, will, attributes, purpose, motives, or promises; He is the same yesterday and today and forever.
In Seminary I remember learning about a God-in-process. I had to study the writings of theologians who flirted with a finite God, a God Who is in the process of change, growth, and development. This God is not the same today as He was yesterday; and tomorrow He may not be what He is today.
B Modern man likes this kind of God, a God-in-process. A God-in-process means that God's will -- His ethics, norms, laws, and commandments -- are also in process. What was wrong or sinful yesterday is not wrong or sinful today; and what is wrong or sinful today might not be wrong or sinful tomorrow.
A God-in-process is a very handy way to justify and excuse human behavior. A God-in-process means pre-marital sex, extra-marital sex, and homosexual sex are no longer wrong. A God-in-process means abortion and euthanasia are not the murder we once thought they were. A God-in-process means drug and alcohol abuse are no longer sin; rather, they are a genetic predisposition. A God-in-process means Sunday work, Sunday shopping, Sunday sports, and Sunday recreation -- at the expense of Sunday worship -- are no longer forbidden. A God-in-process means women can hold all the church offices. A God-in-process means Adam evolved. But God is not a God-in-process. God is immutable. He is unchangeable. His will, His commandments, His ethics, His norms, His laws do not change because He does not change.
Whatever God felt about anything, He still feels. Whatever He thought about anyone, He still thinks. Whatever He approved, He still approves. Whatever He condemned, He still condemns. Nothing is relative with God. Everything about God is fixed and eternal and perfect.
C God does not change. If you remember that, it will help you in the hour of trial. It will help you at the time of death, in the resurrection and in the world to come. God does not change. So His promises do not change or fail.
God does not change. There is confusion, revolution, tumult, and change unless you come to Jesus, the unchanging One. He is the same Jesus as when He gave sight to the blind -- the very same Jesus. He will feed you as He fed the multitude. He will calm you as He calmed the sea. He will bless you as He blessed the children. He will forgive you as He forgave the woman at the well. He will give you eternal life as He gave eternal life to His people. He will wash you as He washed the feet of His disciples. He is the same! The God we preach is the same God, unchanging and unchangeable, forever and ever.
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