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05292011 - Malachi 4.6 - Something God Cannot Do - The Immutability of God

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Malachi 4:6
Something God Cannot Do

Introduction:  Have you ever stopped to think about the number of things that have changed over the past few years? Just since 1970 – the year I started my architectural training at Tulane University I’ve seen mathematical calculations go from slide rules to hand-held computers that have graphic displays and can do trigonometric functions in a fraction of a second.  I took a computer class in Fortran and MAP (macro assembly programming) in which I had to sit in front of a typewriter type machine to punch computer cards that would then be fed into a computer that took up an entire floor in a building.  Now we have computers on our desktops, in our laps, and in our hands that can do the same calculations in a blink of an eye.  Televisions have gone from huge boxes with tubes to flat screens with 3D technology  - telephones were once fixed to the wall with cords and dial – now they can fit in your pocket and have touch sensitive screens – typewriters have gone from manual to electric and have now virtually been replaced with word processors on computers that fit in your hand.

And that’s just some of the technological changes.  Banks have boomed and busted.  Walls have collapsed between countries  . . .  landmarks have been destroyed and rebuilt . . . tsunamis, earthquakes and floods have changed the cities as we know them.

Even in the world of theology – the study of God – there are people who would have us believe that God is open to change.  Open theism makes the case for a personal God who is open to influence through the prayers, decision and action of people.  God is able to anticipate the future, yet remains fluid to respond and react to prayers and decision made either contrary or concurrently to His plan.

The world is full of change and instability – constantly in a state of flux, so where is our security?  Where is our stability?

Contrary to what some may say the scriptures are clear and teach us that there is one who does not change. In fact, it is impossible for this one to change.  God is immutable – He is infinite, eternal, and unchangeable in his person, his perfections, and his promises. Immutability is one of the incommunicable attributes of God, one of those characteristics that describe his essential nature. To say that God is immutable is to say that He never differs from Himself. He cannot change for the better since He is perfectly holy. Neither can God change for the worse since that would mean He would be imperfect.  Here is something God cannot do . . . He cannot change!

God does not change in his PERSON – in His being.

Numbers 23:19 (NASB95)
19 “God is not a man, that He should lie, Nor a son of man, that He should repent; Has He said, and will He not do it? Or has He spoken, and will He not make it good?

1 Samuel 15:29 (NASB95)
29 “Also the Glory of Israel will not lie or change His mind; for He is not a man that He should change His mind.”

Malachi 3:6 (NASB95)
6 “For I, the Lord, do not change; therefore you, O sons of Jacob, are not consumed.

2 Timothy 2:13 (NASB95)
13 If we are faithless, He remains faithful, for He cannot deny Himself.

Hebrews 6:17-18 (NASB95)
17 In the same way God, desiring even more to show to the heirs of the promise the unchangeableness of His purpose, interposed with an oath,
18 so that by two unchangeable things in which it is impossible for God to lie, we who have taken refuge would have strong encouragement to take hold of the hope set before us.

The very essence of God is immutability.  His nature and his being are infinite.  There never was a time when He was not.  There will never be a time in which He won’t be.  He has not grown or evolved.  He has not improved or increased.  All that He is today He was during the time of Adam, Moses, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and David – all that He was then He is now and tomorrow.  He is unaffected by anything outside himself.  He is the only one who can say “I am that I am.” (Ex 3:14).  He is the Alpha and the Omega – the beginning and the end.  He is beyond time, the creator of time, the same yesterday, today and forever.  God in his being – his person – does not change.

God does not change in his perfections.

All of the attributes, the qualities, the characteristics of His being that God has allowed us to see through his word are but a small part of who He is.  Words can never totally describe the one who is indescribable.  His wisdom is wonderful.  His power is perfect.  His holiness is undefiled.  His word is totally dependable – “Forever, O Lord, Your word is settled in heaven.” (Ps. 119:89).  His love is unchanging and everlasting (Jer 31:3; John 13:1).  His mercies may be new (to us) every morning, but within Him there is nothing new.  He has decreed all things that come to pass. “The Lord is good; His lovingkindness is everlasting and his faithfulness endures to all generations” (Psalm 100:5).

 The WCF Ch. 2.1 says “ . . . He is without erratic emotions.” (without passions).  This is not to say (as some have said) that God is “eternally frozen” (Packer???) and impassable.  Throughout the Scriptures He is described as one who can and does enter into deep, personal relationships with people.  He is a God who cares for his creatures and their well being.  To say that God is unchangeable – immutable – is not to say the He cannot and does not act.  He is not static.  He is dynamic in his immutability, but his dynamic immutability in no way affects his essential nature as God.  He always wills and acts in faithfulness to his decrees.  “In perfect faithfulness you have done marvelous things, things planned long ago” (Is. 25:1).  God’s perfections do not change.

God does not change his promises.

God’s promises – his word never changes.  The promises He made to Moses and to Malachi – to Jeremiah and to John remain the same (Job 23:13) “He is unique . . . Has He not decreed and will it not come to pass?”  We change our minds and often reverse our plans because of lack of foresight or even because we lack the ability or the power to affect the changes we are confronted with.  But God is both omniscient and omnipotent.  There is never any need for Him to revise His plans – His decrees.  “The counsel of the Lord stands forever . . . (Ps. 33:11) and so in Heb. 6:17 we read of the “immutability of his counsel.” What He does in time, He planned from eternity and all that He planned in eternity He carries out in time.  All that He has committed in his word himself to do will infallibly be done.  In Hebrews we read about the ‘immutability of his counsel’  to bring believers into full enjoyment of their promised inheritance and of the immutable oath by which He confirmed this counsel through Abraham, the father of the faithful, both for Abraham’s assurance and ours. 

But what about when we read:
Genesis 6:5-7 (NASB95)
5 Then the Lord saw that the wickedness of man was great on the earth, and that every intent of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually.
6 The Lord was sorry that He had made man on the earth, and He was grieved in His heart.
7 The Lord said, “I will blot out man whom I have created from the face of the land, from man to animals to creeping things and to birds of the sky; for I am sorry that I have made them.”

Exodus 32:9-10 (NASB95)
9 The Lord said to Moses, “I have seen this people, and behold, they are an obstinate people.
10 “Now then let Me alone, that My anger may burn against them and that I may destroy them; and I will make of you a great nation.”

1 Samuel 15:11 (NASB95)
11 “I regret that I have made Saul king, for he has turned back from following Me and has not carried out My commands.” And Samuel was distressed and cried out to the Lord all night.

Jonah 3:3-5 (NASB95)
3 So Jonah arose and went to Nineveh according to the word of the Lord. Now Nineveh was an exceedingly great city, a three days’ walk.
4 Then Jonah began to go through the city one day’s walk; and he cried out and said, “Yet forty days and Nineveh will be overthrown.”
5 Then the people of Nineveh believed in God; and they called a fast and put on sackcloth from the greatest to the least of them.

Jonah 3:10 (NASB95)
10 When God saw their deeds, that they turned from their wicked way, then God relented concerning the calamity which He had declared He would bring upon them. And He did not do it.

Here we have a group of texts (Gen. 6:6-8; 1 Sam. 15:11; 2 Sam. 24:16; Joel 2:13-14; Jon. 3:10) which speak of God as being sorry – grieving - repenting. The reference in each case is to an apparent reversal of God's previous treatment of particular men, consequent upon their reaction to that treatment. But there is no suggestion that this reaction was not foreseen, or that it took God by surprise, and was not provided for in his eternal plan. No change in his eternal purpose is implied when He begins to deal with a person in a new way.

Numbers 23:19 (NASB95)
19 “God is not a man, that He should lie, Nor a son of man, that He should repent; Has He said, and will He not do it? Or has He spoken, and will He not make it good?

Repenting means revising one's judgment and changing one's plan of action. God never does this; He never needs to, for his purposes – his plans -  are made on the basis of complete knowledge and control which extends to all things past, present, and future, so that there can be no sudden emergencies or unlooked-for developments to take him by surprise. "The counsel of the Lord stands for ever, the thoughts of his heart to all generations" (Ps. 33:11). What He does in time, He planned from eternity. And all that He planned in eternity, He carries out in time. And all that He has in his Word committed himself to do, will infallibly be done. Thus we read of the "unchangeable character of his purpose" to bring believers into full enjoyment of their promised inheritance, and of the immutable oath by which He confirmed his counsel to Abraham, the archetypal believer, both for Abraham's own assurance and also for others (Heb. 6:17-19). So it is with all God's announced intentions. They do not change. No part of his eternal plan changes.

God does not change in his person – his perfections – his promises. 

When Lloyd C. Douglas, author of The Robe, was a university student, He lived a boarding house. Downstairs on the first floor was an elderly, retired music teacher, who was infirm and unable to leave the apartment. Douglas said that every morning they had a ritual they would go through together. He would come down the steps, open the old man's door, and ask, "Well, what's the good news?" The old man would pick up his tuning fork, tap it on the side of his wheelchair and say, "That's middle C! It was middle C yesterday; it will be middle C tomorrow; it will be middle C a thousand years from now. The tenor upstairs sings flat, the piano across the hall is out of tune, but, my friend, THAT is middle C!" The old man had discovered one thing upon which He could depend, one constant reality in his life, one "still point in a turning world."

In this world that is constantly changing there is one constant – one still point, – one absolute in which there is no change – no shadow  - not turning. Christ is our ‘middle C’. In Him all the fullness of Deity dwells in bodily form and in Him you have been made complete. . . .” (Col 2:9).

"But as God is faithful, our word to you is not yes and no. For the Son of God, Christ Jesus, who was preached among you by us—by me and Silvanus and Timothy—was not yes and no, but is yes in Him. For as many as are the promises of God, in Him they are yes; therefore also through Him is our Amen to the glory of God through us."

(2 Corinthians 1:18-20, NASB95)

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