We are constantly changing. God does not, which is really good news. But unfortunately, this tends to be one of those biblical realities we don’t consider often enough.
There may be any number of reasons why we don’t think about the immutability of God more than we do. Perhaps one reason we don’t consider it often enough is because it seems so obvious. As one older commentator has written, “There is nothing more deeply and indelibly engraved on our nature, and nothing more abundantly affirmed in the Bible, than that God is unchangeable.” It’s not all that complicated. I mean Malachi 3:6 says “I the Lord do not change…” The Psalmist explains in Psalm 102:27, “But Thou [O God] art the same, and Thy years will not come to an end.” And Hebrews 13:8 says that “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, yes and forever.” So really what’s there to discuss?
Those statements seem straightforward enough. What’s there even to think about?
Yet, believe it or not, in spite of statements like those, this is a truth that is hotly contested.
There are a number of scholars and pastors who claim to be Christians, and claim to love the Scriptures, yet flat out deny the immutability of God. In fact, I read one pastor who has written, “I submit that the view that God is above … change is unbiblical and theological harmful.”
They are saying that it is actually unbiblical to assert that God does not change, and that they are being Biblical by teaching God changes. If they are right and the Bible does teach that God does indeed change, that’s pretty significant. Because as we are going to see if God does change then there are absolutely no absolutes. In fact Scripture itself is meaningless because we can have no real confidence that God is the same today as when He first wrote it. All of our hopes for this life and for the life to come are built on this great reality: God does not change.
When scholars starting teaching something in colleges and seminaries, you know what happens, it trickles down to the church, and pastors start preaching it. So, I’m pretty confident that along the way you are going to be confronted by someone who teaches that God does change, and he’s going to try to take you to Scripture to support that, so since this is such a fundamental issue, we better clearly understand just what the Bible teaches.
Does God change?
But really, when it comes right down to it, I’m not as concerned about pastors and scholars causing you to question whether or not God changes, as I am about your own hearts.
Because you see the question, ‘does God change?’ is not merely a question pastors and scholars debate in a seminary classroom. This question is the kind of question that you, that we, as people struggle with on a daily basis. You read your Bible and you look at your world and you look at your life and you wonder, has God changed?
James the half-brother of Jesus Christ is very aware of this. He understands that this is a real-life kind of problem. He makes that clear in James 1:16 and 17. The believers to whom James writes are suffering. They are facing intense trials. James is concerned about them and so he writes to provide the instruction they need to handle the trials they are enduring.
These as you remember, are very practical verses. In the midst of all this instruction about responding to trials and dealing with temptation, James stops and says something very interesting in verse 16:
“Do not be deceived, my beloved brethren…”
That’s a warning.
You see, we live in a world full of lies. And although we are always susceptible to Satan’s deceit, there are two times when we are especially vulnerable to falling for deception, when we are especially prone to being deceived:
One, when we are enduring trials. Two, when we are facing temptation. That’s the context here.
When we are in a trial, we are prone to believe lies because we are desperate. We’ll believe anything that will make us feel better. The trials hurt, we feel pressured, and when we are hurting and feeling pressured, it’s often difficult to think straight. And so when we are enduring trials, we are especially vulnerable to believing something that is flat out untrue.
When we are tempted, we are prone to believe lies because the lies make us feel better about what we are about to do. James describes the process of temptation in verse 14. He says that is our own lusts that carry us away and entice us. When you are tempted you are enticed. And when you are enticed, you want to do something that is wrong. And when you want to do something that is wrong, guess what – you are going to be very willing to believe any lie that makes you feel better about doing it.
There are many different examples of the kinds of lies we’re tempted to believe when we are enduring trials or when we are being tempted. I’m sure you could give many specific examples of the kind of lies you are tempted to believe when suffering or being enticed; but notice James here in verse 16, is talking about one kind of lie in particular.
When tempted and tried we are especially prone to believe lies about God.
James sets the context in verse 13, “Let no one say when he is tempted, ‘I am being tempted by God’; for God cannot be tempted by evil, and He Himself does not tempt anyone…” Then down in verse 17, “Every good thing bestowed and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights.”
When tempted and tried we are especially prone to begin blaming God. Specifically we are tempted to believe that God is not good.
It’s easy for us to allow our circumstances to distort and twist our view of who God is. Instead of going to God’s Word and saying this is who God is. We look at our circumstances and say this is who God is. And when our view of God flows out of what we are experiencing instead of what He’s revealed, our view of God is usually wrong.
A woman’s husband turns out not to be the man she wanted him to be. He doesn’t listen, doesn’t treat her the way she likes, and after experiencing an extended period of frustration, she starts asking “God why are you allowing this to happen to me?” In other words, God when I look at my circumstances, when I look at my life, it sure doesn’t seem like you are good.
A man faces difficult ethical decision at work. To get the promotion and raise he wants, he knows he has to do something that the Scripture says is wrong. He’s angry that he has to make such a choice, and looks to God and says, “God you are tempting me.” In other words, God when I look at the situation you’ve placed me in, it sure doesn’t seem like you are good.
James, in verses 13 and 17, lifts our eyes from our circumstances, to the character of God Himself. Here is what is true:
God never entices someone to do something evil, v.13; “for God cannot be tempted by evil, and He Himself does not tempt anyone.” This means God is not the source of evil; instead verse 17, God is the source of all good. “Every good thing bestowed and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights.”
To bolster our confidence, he adds a striking little statement at the end of verse 17. It’s as if he has said, “Here is what you can count on.” And here he adds, “And this is why you can count on it.”
“With whom there is no variation, or shifting shadow…”
James is painting us a picture. You look up at the stars, you look up at the heavens, God is the Father or Creator of all those things. And in the context here, light obviously is more than just a description of the sun and stars, it’s a metaphor for that which is good, pure and holy. So James is saying God is the creator of all that is good and holy. As we look at the good gifts in our life we need to remember that they have come down from God who is the Creator of the heavens. Looking at the light, looking at the stars, looking at the heavens, should be a constant reminder that God is continually pouring out good gifts on us.
But you can only take this illustration so far. Because although the sun and the stars are awesome and beautiful, with the sun and stars there are variations and sometimes there are shadows. Sometimes it is light out, sometimes it is dark. Nature is subject to variation and change. Not God.
With God there is no variation, there is no shifting shadow, there is never such turning because of any change in His nature or His purpose. The heavens change, God does not. And that’s a truth to bank your life on. When your circumstances are difficult, and you are tempted to get a distorted twisted perspective of who God, you need to run back to Scripture and rest in what it says, because God does not change.
Since this reality is so fundamental to our hope, and since we are going to be tempted not to believe it