June 6, 2014 Broadcast

The Immutability of God

A Message by Steven Lawson

It is hard for anyone to go a day, even an hour, without changing in some way. Our thoughts and emotions are in a constant state of flux. Even our greatest desires and plans change over time. God, however, never changes His mind or His course of action in the world. He is an immovable rock, a mighty fortress, and the only sure anchor in an ever-changing world. In this lesson, Dr. Lawson explores the biblical view of God’s immutability, showing how His character, Word, plan, and salvation never change.

From the series: The Attributes of God

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Further Study On This Topic

  1. blog-post

    Divine Immutability and the Doctrines of Grace (pt. 3)

  2. blog-post

    Divine Immutability and the Doctrines of Grace (pt. 2)

  3. blog-post

    Divine Immutability and the Doctrines of Grace (pt. 1)

Divine Immutability and the Doctrines of Grace (pt. 3)

John MacArthur

(Continued from Divine Immutability and the Doctrines of Grace Part 2)

Why Did God Determine to Elect the Redeemed?
Though the doctrine of election applies to all that God does in a general sense, it most often refers, in a specific New Testament sense, to the election of sinners to become redeemed saints within the church. Divine election, in this particular regard, speaks of God's independent and predetermined choice of those whom He would save and place into the corporate body of Christ. God did not save certain sinners because they chose Him, but because He chose them.

But why did God do this? Why did He sovereignly determine, from eternity past, to save a segment of fallen humanity that would make up a community of the redeemed? In order to answer this question without wrongly interjecting our own preconceived notions, we must turn to the Word of God, for it is there that God has revealed His mind to us. Of course, as fallen human beings, we will never be able to fully comprehend the infinite wisdom of God in this regard (cf. Rom. 11:33-36). Nonetheless, the Scriptures give us several glimpses into the divine motivation behind election.

Why, then, did God choose to save sinners?

Divine Election and the Promise of God
The answer begins with the promise of God. In Titus 1:1-2 we read: "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." In these verses the apostle Paul succinctly defines the fullness of salvation and ties it directly to the eternal promise of God.

Salvation in its fullness consists of three primary parts--justification (the sinner's salvation at the moment of conversion from the penalty of sin through the substitutionary sacrifice of Christ), sanctification (the sinner's ongoing salvation from the power of sin in this life), and glorification (the sinner's ultimate, complete salvation from the presence of sin in the life to come). As a minister of the gospel, Paul emphasized each of these aspects in his ministry.

Because he understood justification, he preached the gospel "for the sake of the faith of God's elect," realizing that through the preaching of the truth, God would justify those whom He had chosen to save (cf. Rom. 10:14-15). Because he understood progressive sanctification, Paul sought to strengthen those who already had embraced the truth, edifying them through "their knowledge of the truth, which accords with godliness." And because he understood glorification, Paul passionately reminded those under his care about the "hope of eternal life"--the climactic consummation of their salvation in Christ.

Paul preached the gospel of Christ with great clarity so the elect could hear and believe. When they believed, he taught them the truth so they could become godly; and he also unfolded for them the hope of eternal life, which gave them the encouragement and motivation they needed for faithful living.

Having summarized salvation in three brief phrases, Paul ends verse 2 with these words: "which God, who never lies, promised before the ages began." The apostle's point is that the whole unfolding miracle of salvation, which culminates in eternal life, is based on the absolute promise of our trustworthy God. The fact that God cannot lie is self-evident as well as scripturally attested (cf. Num. 23:19; 1 Sam. 15:29; John 14:6, 17; 15:26). In fact, because God is the source and measure of all truth, it is, by definition, "impossible for God to lie" (Heb. 6:18). Just as the Devil speaks lies "'out of his own character, for he is a liar and the father of lies'" (John 8:44), so it is that whenever God speaks, He speaks the truth from His own nature, because He is the Father of truth.

This God of truth, who is the one true God, promised long ages ago that those whom He had chosen to be justified and sanctified in this life would certainly be glorified in the life to come. But the English phrase before the ages began does not simply refer to ancient human history. It is literally translated "before time began," and it means exactly that. To be sure, God reiterated His plan of salvation and eternal life to such godly men as Abraham, Moses, David, and the prophets, but the original promise was made and ratified in eternity past (cf. Eph. 1:4-5; Heb. 13:20). It was before time began that He chose those who would embrace the faith (Titus 1:1) and promised to save them for all eternity (1:2).

But to whom did God make this promise? If He made it before time began, then it could not have been made to any human being, or to any created being for that matter. Before the creation of time, nothing existed outside of God Himself. To whom, then, did He make this promise?

To be continued...

*****

FOU04_book_3d_web.jpg"Divine Immutability and the Doctrines of Grace" is the title of Dr. John MacArthur's Foreword to Dr. Steven J. Lawson's Foundations of Grace. This essay, reflecting on the unchanging nature of God and the glory of his sovereignty, is more than an introduction to Dr. Lawson's book--it is a theological tour de force in its own right. We are pleased to duplicate it here and are convinced that you will benefit from reading it.

Divine Immutability and the Doctrines of Grace (pt. 2)

John MacArthur

(Continued from Divine Immutability and the Doctrines of Grace Part 1)

What Is the Doctrine of Election?
The idea that God does what He wants, and that what He does is true and right because He does it, is foundational to our understanding of everything in Scripture, including the doctrine of election.

In the broad sense, election refers to the fact that God chooses (or elects) to do everything that He does in whatever way He sees fit. When He acts, He does so only because He willfully and independently chooses to act. According to His own nature, predetermined plan, and good pleasure, He decides to do whatever He desires, without pressure or constraint from any outside influence.

The Bible makes this point repeatedly. In the act of Creation, God made precisely what He wanted to create in the way He wanted to create it (cf. Gen. 1:31). And ever since Creation, He has sovereignly prescribed or permitted Foreword 9 everything in human history, in order that He might accomplish the redemptive plan that He previously had designed (cf. Isa. 25:1; 46:10; 55:11; Rom. 9:17; Eph. 3:8-11).

In the Old Testament, He chose a nation for Himself. Out of all the nations in the world, He selected Israel (Deut. 7:6; 14:2; Pss. 105:43; 135:4). He chose the Israelites not because they were better or more desirable than any other people, but simply because He decided to choose them. In the words of Richard Wolf, "How odd of God to choose the Jews." It might not have rhymed as well, but the same would have been true of any other people God might have selected. God chooses whomever He chooses for reasons that are wholly His.

The nation of Israel was not the only recipient in Scripture of God's elect- ing choice. In the New Testament, Jesus Christ is called "'My Chosen One'" (Luke 9:35). The holy angels also are referred to as "elect angels" (1 Tim. 5:21). And New Testament believers are called "God's chosen ones" (Col. 3:12; cf. 1 Cor. 1:27; 2 Thess. 2:13; 2 Tim. 2:10; Titus 1:1; 1 Peter 1:1; 2:9; 5:13; Rev. 17:14), meaning that the church is a community of those who were chosen, or "elect" (Eph. 1:4).

When Jesus told His disciples, "'You did not choose me, but I chose you'" (John 15:16), He was underscoring this truth. And the New Testament reiterates it in passage after passage. Acts 13:48b describes salvation in these words: "As many as were appointed to eternal life believed." Ephesians 1:4-6 notes that God "chose us in [Christ] before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. In love he predestined us for adoption through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace, with which he has blessed us in the Beloved." In his letters to the Thessalonians, Paul reminds his readers that he knew God's choice of them (1 Thess. 1:4) and that he was thankful for them "because God chose you as the firstfruits to be saved" (2 Thess. 2:13). The Word of God is clear: believers are those whom God chose for salvation from before the beginning.

The foreknowledge to which Peter refers (1 Peter 1:2) should not be con- fused with simple foresight. Some teach this view, contending that God, in eternity past, looked down the halls of history to see who would respond to His call and then elected the redeemed on the basis of their response. Such an explanation makes God's decision subject to man's decision, and gives man a level of sovereignty that belongs only to God. It makes God the One who is passively chosen rather than the One who actively chooses. And it misunderstands the way in which Peter uses the term foreknowledge. In 1 Peter 1:20, the apostle uses the verb form of that word, prognosis in the Greek, to refer to Christ. In that case, the concept of "foreknowledge" certainly includes the idea of a deliberate choice. It is reasonable, then, to conclude that the same is true when Peter applies prognosis to believers in other places (cf. 1 Peter 1:2).

The ninth chapter of Romans also reiterates the elective purposes of God. There, God's electing prerogative is clearly displayed in reference to His saving love for Jacob (and Jacob's descendants) as opposed to Esau (and Esau's lineage). God chose Jacob over Esau, not on the basis of anything Jacob or Esau had done, but according to His own free and uninfluenced sovereign purpose. To those who might protest, "That is unfair!" Paul simply asks, "Who are you, O man, to answer back to God?" (v. 20).

Many more Scripture passages could be added to this survey. Yet as straightforward as the Word of God is, people continually have difficulty accepting the doctrine of election. The reason, again, is that they allow their preconceived notions of how God should act (based on a human definition of fairness) to override the truth of His sovereignty as laid out in the Scriptures.

Frankly, the only reason to believe in election is because it is found explicitly in God's Word. No man and no committee of men originated this doctrine. It is like the doctrine of eternal punishment in that it conflicts with the dictates of the carnal mind. It is repugnant to the sentiments of the unregenerate heart. Like the doctrine of the Holy Trinity and the miraculous birth of our Savior, the truth of election, because it has been revealed by God, must be embraced with simple and unquestioning faith. If you have a Bible and you believe it, you have no option but to accept what it teaches.

The Word of God presents God as the controller and disposer of all creatures (Dan. 4:35; Isa. 45:7; Lam. 3:38), the Most High (Pss. 47:2; 83:18), the ruler of heaven and earth (Gen. 14:19; Isa. 37:16), and the One against whom none can stand (2 Chron. 20:6; Job 41:10; Isa. 43:13). He is the Almighty who works all things after the counsel of His will (Eph. 1:11; cf. Isa. 14:27; Rev. 19:6) and the heavenly Potter who shapes men according to His own good pleasure (Rom. 9:18-22). In short, He is the decider and determiner of every man's destiny, and the controller of every detail in each individual's life (Prov. 16:9; 19:21; 21:1; cf. Ex. 3:21-22; 14:8; Ezra 1:1; Dan. 1:9; James 4:15)--which is really just another way of saying, "He is God."

To be continued...

*****

FOU04_book_3d_web.jpg"Divine Immutability and the Doctrines of Grace" is the title of Dr. John MacArthur's Foreword to Dr. Steven J. Lawson's Foundations of Grace. This essay, reflecting on the unchanging nature of God and the glory of his sovereignty, is more than an introduction to Dr. Lawson's book--it is a theological tour de force in its own right. We are pleased to duplicate it here and are convinced that you will benefit from reading it.

Divine Immutability and the Doctrines of Grace (pt. 1)

John MacArthur

The Bible repeatedly and unapologetically underscores the fact that God does not change. In fact, He cannot change because He cannot improve on absolute perfection or decline in His eternally fixed nature. His person does not change: "'For I the Lord do not change'" (Mal. 3:6). His plans do not change: "The counsel of the Lord stands forever, the plans of his heart to all generations" (Ps. 33:11). His purpose does not change: "So when God desired to show more convincingly . . . the unchangeable character of his purpose, he guaranteed it with an oath" (Heb. 6:17). God does not change His mind: "'The Glory of Israel will not lie or have regret, for he is not a man, that he should have regret'" (1 Sam. 15:29); or His words: "The Holy One of Israel . . . does not call back his words" (Isa. 31:1-2); or His calling: "The gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable" (Rom. 11:29; cf. Heb. 13:8; James 1:17). There are absolutely no changes in God, no variations, and no surprises (cf. Ps. 102:27).

God does not increase or decrease. He does not improve or decline. He does not change due to some altered circumstances--there are no unforeseen emergencies to the One who is eternally all-knowing. His eternal purposes stand forever because He stands forever (Ps. 33:11). He does not react, He only acts--and He does so however He pleases (Ps. 115:3).

From a human perspective, of course, God sometimes appears to change His plans or His actions based on what people do. But this is not so from God's viewpoint. Because He knows and always has known the future perfectly, having planned it according to His unalterable decree, He always acts in the way that He planned to act from eternity past. While men do not know how God will act, and are sometimes astonished as they see His sovereign plans unfold, God is never surprised. He continues to work as He always has, according to His eternal purpose and good pleasure (cf. Ps. 33:10-12; Isa. 48:14; Dan. 4:35; Col. 1:19-20).

With respect to mankind, God predetermined to redeem a people for His own glory. Nothing can thwart that plan (John 10:29; Rom. 8:38-39). Perfect knowledge, perfect uninfluenced freedom, and perfect limitless power to accomplish all He perfectly willed--absolute holiness and moral perfection binding Him to be truthful and faithful to His Word--mean that what God set out to do before time began, He is doing and will complete after time is gone.

This sweeping, glorious intention of God has been revealed in the Bible and understood clearly through the history of the redeemed. The Word of God has disclosed it unmistakably, and since the completion of the canon of Scripture, all accurate interpreters of the Bible have believed and proclaimed the God-glorifying doctrine of sovereign, unchanging divine purpose. This truth, often called the doctrines of grace, began in the sovereign determination of God in eternity past.

God cannot change, His Word cannot change, and His purpose cannot change. His truth is the same because He is the Truth (cf. Ps. 119:160; John 17:17; Titus 1:2; Heb. 6:18). In contrast to the so-called Openness of God theology, which claims that God does not know the future and therefore must adapt to circumstances as they unfold, the Bible presents God as the all-knowing Sovereign of all events, past, present, and future. In the words of Isaiah 46:9b-10:

I am God, and there is no other;
I am God, and there is none like me,
declaring the end from the beginning
and from ancient times things not yet done,
saying, "My counsel shall stand,
and I will accomplish all my purpose."

Divine Justice and the Doctrine of Election
In spite of the clarity with which Scripture addresses this topic, many professing Christians today struggle with acceptance of God's sovereignty--especially when it comes to His electing work in salvation. Their most common protest, of course, is that the doctrine of election is unfair. But such an objection stems from a human idea of fairness rather than the objective, divine understanding of true justice. In order to appropriately address the issue of election, we must set aside all human considerations and focus on the nature of God and His righteous standard. Divine justice is where the discussion must begin.

What is divine justice? Simply stated, it is an essential attribute of God whereby He infinitely, perfectly, and independently does exactly what He wants to do when and how He wants to do it. Because He is the standard of justice, by very definition, whatever He does is inherently just. As William Perkins said, many years ago, "We must not think that God doeth a thing because it is good and right, but rather is the thing good and right because God willeth it and worketh it."

Therefore, God defines for us what justice is, because He is by nature just and righteous, and what He does reflects that nature. His free will--and nothing else--is behind His justice. This means that whatever He wills is just; and it is just, not because of any external standard of justice, but simply because He wills it.

Because the justice of God is an outflow of His character, it is not subject to fallen human assumptions of what justice should be. The Creator owes nothing to the creature, not even what He is graciously pleased to give. God does not act out of obligation and compulsion, but out of His own independent prerogative. That is what it means to be God. And because He is God, His freely determined actions are intrinsically right and perfect.

To say that election is unfair is not only inaccurate, it fails to recognize the very essence of true fairness. That which is fair, right, and just is that which God wills to do. Thus, if God wills to choose those whom He will save, it is inherently fair for Him to do so. We cannot impose our own ideas of fairness onto our understanding of God's working. Instead, we must go to the Scriptures to see how God Himself, in His perfect righteousness, decides to act.

To be continued...

*****

FOU04_book_3d_web.jpg"Divine Immutability and the Doctrines of Grace" is the title of Dr. John MacArthur's Foreword to Dr. Steven J. Lawson's Foundations of Grace. This essay, reflecting on the unchanging nature of God and the glory of his sovereignty, is more than an introduction to Dr. Lawson's book--it is a theological tour de force in its own right. We are pleased to duplicate it here and are convinced that you will benefit from reading it.

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