The Immutability of God:
Why God’s Unchanging Nature Matters
Why God’s Unchanging Nature Matters
By: Richard P Moore
Kandern, Germany January, 2018
Maybe it is because I have been feeling the onset of a midlife crisis, and that things are so rapidly changing around me and I cannot keep up with stuff like I used to anymore, that I want to address the never changing nature of God. Maybe it is because so many artists lately have covered the subject of the immutability of God (see videos below). Maybe it is because I feel myself changing so much. Even since beginning of this writing this I have changed. That is the nature of being human. We change! From the moment we are born, we are changing. Sometimes for better sometimes for worse. I have been intrigued by the immutability of God probably mostly because I sense the change and tumultuous upheaval in my life and even soul and spirit. Recently I have felt my spiritual life changing for the worse. I sense my heart being drawn to the lusts of the flesh more and more. Comfort breeds complacency and complacency breeds comfort. I am feeling spiritually complacent. That is why I would like to address the immutability of God. I want to break my heart of this spiritual upheaval in my life, and whenever I have focused on the character, essence, and person of God I have shaken myself of the trappings and the sin that so easily entangle. That is my hope in contemplating with fresh eyes on the nature of a good and immutable God.
God is immutable. That means that he is unchanging. Put another way God’s nature, essence, and character are all constant. His nature is unchanging. Nothing about Him has ever changed. From eternity past to eternity future He will never change. The Westminster confession describes the immutability of God in this way:
"There is but one only living and true God, who is infinite in being and perfection, a most pure spirit, invisible, without body, parts, or passions, immutable, immense, eternal, incomprehensible, almighty, most wise, most holy, most free, most absolute, working all things according to the counsel of his own immutable and most righteous will, for his own glory; most loving, gracious, merciful, long-suffering, abundant in goodness and truth, forgiving iniquity, transgression, and sin; the rewarder of them that diligently seek him; and withall most just and terrible in his judgments; hating all sin, and who will by no means clear the guilty.”
This makes the nature of God quite clear but let us unpack that a little. He is infinite; never beginning and never ending in that perfect state. He is uncaused therefore, he needs no one. This is seen in his own descriptions of himself like that instance when Moses asks God what his name is. He said, “I am that I am.” This is often referred to in theological terms as “Aseity” which is a term derived from Latin “As” which means "from" and “se” which means “self.” Aseity is the property by which a being exists in and of itself, from itself, or exists as of and from itself. The bottom line here is that God is self-sufficient. However it is not like we define self-sufficiency. A baby is not self-sufficient and an adult is. We are not talking about the self-sufficiency of adulthood, but rather God is of himself and exists outside the necessity or dependence on anything or anyone. This word also means that God contains within Himself the cause of Himself, is the first cause, or rather is simply uncaused. He is the uncaused cause. God is absolutely independent and self-existent.
The Westminster confession also describes an immutable God that is “working all things according to the counsel of His own immutable and most righteous will.” This is so comforting to me right now. I am in such upheaval spiritually with change and insecurity, but the Lord, the unchanging God in heaven, is working all these things according to the counsel of His own righteous will. Sometimes, I have to keep that truth right in front of me so that I do not become discouraged and lose heart. The pain, hurt, disease, suffering that we see so often around us He is working and turning to his righteous will! What a hope! What a relief in those most trying of times. God is most at work in the most difficult of times, and even turning your situation of suffering to His righteous immutable purposes (Romans 8:28). Moreover, overwhelming evidence of God’s immutability or unchanging nature are described in the following verses:
“Every good gift 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 ESV
We live in a world of shifting shadows. Not just personally, but in our whole existence there is so much that changes and the shadows of this world are deceptive. We many times are confused by all that changes in our lives and worlds. But this verse explains that there is not any variation due to change with God. Not one shifting shadow has been cast by Him because of the setting sun in the afternoon sky. It does not matter where the sun hangs in the sky, he changes not! Not just that he does not change due to circumstance, but more than that His giving nature is tied in this verse to his immutability! He gives good gifts and thus is the most unchanging benevolent being in all the universe!
“"For I the Lord do not change; therefore you, O children of Jacob, are not consumed.”
Malachi 3:6 ESV
The prophet Malachi also describes God’s immutability. His thus saith the Lord is “I do not change” but He goes on to describe the outcome of His own immutability. Which is that the children of Jacob are not consumed. Herein, God ties his immutability to his eternal justice. He is a long-suffering and gracious God, thus He has shown kindness to a thousand generations of those that fear him. He will also display His justice to those who do not fear Him, and that justice has been exhibited throughout biblical history.
“God is not man, that he should lie, or a son of man, that he should change his mind. Has he said, and will he not do it? Or has he spoken, and will he not fulfill it?”
Numbers 23:19 ESV
God’s immutability is seen here as contrary to the attributes of man. His immutability is not Anthropomorphic. He is not a man. Thus, He cannot lie or change His mind. His promises are then also immutable. They stand like an immovable rock. Like Martin Luther once said, “The mercy of God is like the immovable Heavens that firmly stay above us. Under this roof, we are safe wherever we are.” The mercy of God is one promise to those who have placed faith in Him, but His mercy is also an attribute of His immutable nature that is not conditional. He is merciful in all His dealings because He is merciful. It is not the action and extension of mercy that makes Him merciful, but because He is merciful, He thus extends mercy.
“Paul, a servant of God and an apostle of Jesus Christ, for the sake of the faith of God's elect and their knowledge of the truth, which accords with godliness, in hope of eternal life, which God, who never lies, promised before the ages began and at the proper time manifested in his word through the preaching with which I have been entrusted by the command of God our Savior;”
Titus 1:1-3 ESV
This passage shows us the unchanging nature of the truthfulness of God. Again, He does not become truthful because He told the truth a few times. It is His character thus He must tell the truth for He is truth. Jesus prayed to the Father in John 17:17, “Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth.” He speaks the truth in His word, because He is truth. He is not like man who has a “eureka!” moment when we finally find the answer or the truth. He needs no eureka moment to find the answer. He is tho one constantly giving the eureka moments to us, because He is the eureka we are looking for.
“For people swear by something greater than themselves, and in all their disputes an oath is final for confirmation. So when God desired to show more convincingly to the heirs of the promise the unchangeable character of his purpose, he guaranteed it with an oath, so that by two unchangeable things, in which it is impossible for God to lie, we who have fled for refuge might have strong encouragement to hold fast to the hope set before us. We have this as a sure and steadfast anchor of the soul, a hope that enters into the inner place behind the curtain, where Jesus has gone as a forerunner on our behalf, having become a high priest forever after the order of Melchizedek.”
Hebrews 6:16-20 ESV
His immutability also makes Him the greatest being of the universe. This is seen in the covenants that he made with man. A covenant is made against a power or being greater than the one making the covenant so that the promise can be held out against the one making the covenant. This idea can be found in a court of law. A person giving testimony will swear to, “tell the whole truth and nothing but the truth, so help me God.“ After agreeing to tell the truth that person is “under oath.” What do we swear against when we are “under oath?” We promise against something greater than us, namely God. Since there is nothing greater than Himself and His immutability He cannot swear to anything greater, so He swears against the “unchangeable character of His purpose.” The writer of Hebrews then points out that God has sworn in a covenant to us against the two unchanging things, He Himself, and the unchanging character of His purpose. Accordingly, Jesus has gone into the Holy place to effectuate the terms of the covenant. In so doing Jesus also confirmed His immutability as a priest forever in the order of the eternal line of priesthood seen in the archetype of Melchizedek.
“Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.”
Hebrews 13:8 ESV
Furthermore, the writer of Hebrews confirms Jesus as that eternal priest that He had previously mentioned. Jesus is proven here and throughout Hebrews to be God, and the same immutable God that has been described throughout Scripture. He is the second person of the Triune Godhead and so He must also have the same qualities and characteristics of the immutable God. Thus, we can throw ourselves onto his great mercy and grace because He is the immutable God that we have come to know and trust who has made a way to Himself through His effectual sacrifice. This verse is a direct claim to deity, for only God is immutable and so this points to Christ as that same immutable God revealed in the scriptures. The immutability of God means that God will follow through with judgment. It also means God will follow through with His promise of salvation. We can know and be sure that God’s certain judgment fell on His Son, Jesus Christ, and thus by faith in Him, men are saved from their sins and from God’s unchanging wrath.
What about the passages of scripture where it appears that God "changes his mind" or “repents?” I would offer a few arguments as to why God does not change His mind or ways as we understand change or repentance.
1. The evidence is overwhelming that God is immutable and does not “change His mind“ or “repent” according to our understanding. There are only a few instances where God appears to be described as changing His mind or described as repenting. I tend to think that those instances are where the writers of scripture are trying to put into the best language that they have to describe what is happening in God’s dealings with man.
2. The second explanation that I can give is that God is being described in those passages of scripture in Anthropomorphisms. That means that the writers are describing God in terms of what man would do or using the language of man to describe God. I would argue that those passages do not mean that God repents as in what we understand repent to mean in turning from an evil action, or something that we believed to be wrong, but only that the writers are using anthropomorphic language to describe God.
3. And thirdly, some of these “changes of mind” like Adam’s relationship to God, Ninevah, or Moses “changing God’s mind” in relation to destroying Israel are changes in the orientation or that standing between God and man. God never changes, but we do and so these apparent “changes of mind” occur when man changes or His relationship and repentance toward God change, and that can appear to be God changing His ways or mind.
I would like to address some of the characteristics of God’s immutability.
1. He is eternal. Time does not apply to Him. He was before time began. We might ask how old is God? That question is not adequate. He is not older than aeons ago, and no younger than yesterday. He simply is not restricted by the confines of time as we calculate it. He was, He is, and He will be. also God is timeless he does not grow or develop. There are no variations in His character due to change. As James writes, “Every good gift 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) Shadows change due to the position of the sun in relation to the thing casting the shadow during the day. If the sun is high in the noon sky the shadows are not very long. in the late evening right before the setting of the sun the shadows are long. Shadows are shifty and changing. James uses that analogy as a contrast to the character of God. God does not shift like shadows! There is no variation in his character, being, essence, nature, or work according to the shifting sands of time, or the shadows of the day. He is simply outside time. Although he is outside time and not bound by its constraints, he is conscious and aware of our time and is sovereign within human history. He not only knows what is happening in human history, but orchestrates it as a conductor of a symphony that stands outside the symphony. The conductor instructs the symphony while not playing a single note of an instrument. He conducts the whole thing without being constrained by playing a single instrument. God is not only aware that certain events occur, but is sovereignly working those events of all of human history to His glorious plan. He does not get taken by surprise. He has no contingency plan when something does not go His way.
2. He never changes and this remains the same as he has eternally existed
3. He is not like us. We are fickle and change consistently
4. His character, will, nature, and essence stay the same
5. Christ’s character also stays the same although he was not man before, He was always the eternal son. When He took on flesh that did not change His character or his personhood in any way as the second person of the trinity the eternal son was, always is, and will always be the eternal son.
6. The Holy Spirit also has eternally existed and His character never changes. He works as the Ruhach (Hebrew for Spirit or life force) of God from eternity past into eternity future.
7. God the father has also eternally existed and his character stays consistent throughout all eternity.
8. He exhibits certain traits simultaneously with the same fervor and zeal unchangeably, eternally, and equally. He exhibits sovereignty, pureness and holiness, love and grace, wrath and mercy, glory, supremacy, magnificence, transcendence, authority, excellence and faithfulness.
He is all seeing: He sees all movements and activity of the universe and He controls it all at the same time, never losing sight of one single activity of man or one microscopic detail of the movements that take place in the universe at any given time. It is all under his all seeing caring, and all powerful eye.
He is all knowing (omniscient): Jesus said that not a sparrow can fall to the ground without the Father’s will (Matt 10:29), and even the hairs of the disciples heads are numbered (verse 30), and before Him no creature is hidden (Hebrews 4:13).Everything is completely transparent before God. He knows all truth completely even those things we have not yet discovered, because He built them into all creation as the great architect. He knows all the possibilities even when they are infinite; for He is infinitely possible. His knowledge is never taxed by our infinite list of impossibilities.
He is all powerful (omnipotent): This means that God is able to do all things which are proper. He is known as El Shaddai. God almighty as He was know to Abraham. God overcomes insurmountable problems with ease as Jeremiah 32:17 says, “Ah, Lord God! It is you who have made the heavens and the earth by your great power and by your outstretched arm! Nothing is too hard for you.” And in Matthew 19:26 “but with God all things are possible.” His power is expressed in scripture over nature, as creator, as controller of the course of history, and the omnipotence to change man’s nature through salvation. God’s power is also never frustrated. The psalmist writes, “Our God is in the heavens, He does whatever he pleases.” (115:3) There are limits to His power however. He cannot do anything that we as humans can imagine. He shall only do things that are in line with the objects of his power. He cannot do absurd, illogical, or contradictory things. Like things against His creative order, against His own holiness, or undoing history, etc.
He is all present (omnipresent): He is present everywhere all at the same time. However that does not mean that He is like some sort of divine superman darting here and there in creation to give us access to himself across all of his creation, he simply is present and accessible across the whole of creation at all times.
9. God‘s extension of grace then must also be immutable. Charles Spurgeon said it this way,
"I do not believe we can preach the gospel, if we do not preach justification by faith, without works; nor unless we preach the sovereignty of God in His dispensation of grace; nor unless we exalt the electing, unchangeable, eternal, immutable, conquering love of Jehovah; nor do I think we can preach the gospel, unless we base it upon the special and particular redemption of His elect and chosen people which Christ wrought out upon the cross; nor can I comprehend a gospel which lets saints fall away after they are called."
In Conclusion, it seems rather apparent from insurmountable scriptural evidence that God is immutable. Why does that matter? I would like to give a few reasons in conclusion why the immutability of God matters. First, the immutability of God means that fellowship with God, how man is made right with God, being able to trust in His word, living by faith as a Christian, are fundamentally the same realities and truths for us today as they were for Old and New Testament believers. Since God has not changed, how man is made right with Him also remains the same throughout the ages. We do not have to guess or uncover some mystic secrets, we are made right with God by faith as Hebrews 11 and the great men and women of the faith have showed us for generations. Amidst all the uncertainties of our current day and age. Political, cultural, social, and economic unrest, we can know and worship the eternal God by faith, as the saints have done for all time. Amongst all the tumult in this world God has stayed the same, and how we approach Him has stayed constant throughout the ages.
Second, God’s immutability means that the things He says must also be true. This means that His word must have the same qualities of His immutable character. What does that mean? We can trust that His word is true, it is accurate, and we can take it as the eternal message that He wanted to deliver to man. A common trend in preaching and teaching is to sort of soften the word of God to make it more palatable for the everyday person. While that is all good, it overlooks the fact that God’s word is never out of date, never old-fashioned, or irrelevant. What is written is what we can know that God wanted said to man through the writers of the Old and New Testaments. Thus, we do not need to make it more palatable or relevant. We need to strive to make it understandable, but we don’t need to make it more relevant. It is already relevant, as it has been for ages.
Third, I appreciate the immutability of God as an assurance to me as a Christian that God will do what He says He will do. In regards to salvation He says He will save me and “remember my sins no more.” That is of utmost importance to the Christian. He is constant in uncertain times. His promises of His presence and help are of highest importance in the life of the everyday Christian. We are called children of God, a priesthood forever, co-heirs with Christ, and the unchanging Jesus calls us friends. These positions of our salvation cannot change. What a comfort. The God of the universe calls us sons and daughters and that cannot change because He cannot change!
Fourth, God’s immutability is a great comfort to the Christian in our deepest times of trouble. We can be assured that He hears us and at any time that we call on Him He is there to comfort us. One of my favorite psalms is 34:17-18 which says, “When the righteous cry for help, the Lord hears and delivers them out of all their troubles. The Lord is near to the brokenhearted and saves the crushed in spirit.” What a promise! I am particularly glad for this promise that God is near to me in the valley of the shadow of death! It is there that the good shepherd's rod and staff protect me. That is what is so unique to Christianity. We grow more toward maturity in the hardship than we do in times of success and prosperity. I have learned more in the valley of the shadow of death about deepened faith and spiritual maturity than I have ever learned in the green pastures (Psalm 23). God is most true in our most trying times of life. These truths altogether about the unchanging nature of God can carry us in our deepest and darkest times. I am so glad for an immutable God aren’t you?
The following is a spoken word piece that is a powerful declaration of God’s immutability.
The following is a spoken word piece that is a powerful declaration of God’s immutability.
In the beginning there was the Hero, And the Hero was the Father, And the Hero was the Spirit, And the Hero was the Son, And if this hurts your head already, Welcome to the kingdom.
Immutable, inscrutable, infinitely Glad-hearted, triune perfection His ancient love reverberated off each Member with no hint of dissension, Perfect in unity, Perfect in diversity, Holy Trinity.
 Williamson, G. I. 2004. The Westminster Confession of Faith for Study Classes. Phillipsburg, NJ: P & R Pub. Page 23