For I am the Lord, I do not change; Therefore you are not consumed, O sons of Jacob. (Malachi 3:6)
It is, indeed, by grace we are saved, and even the faith we have is a gift from God. Yet there seems to be a growing perception that, in Jesus, God changed His mind about sin and our attitude towards Him. As favoured children, we’re now exempt from the implications of sinful choices and have greater ‘licence’ because, in Christ, we are forgiven. Paul himself addressed this problem way back when, so it’s not a new perception. But it is a dangerous one, because it excludes the full reality of the utterly unchanging nature of God.
The immutability of God is a core concept in our faith because it sets Him apart from everything else in this universe. Every single thing, great or small, is governed by the certainty that, sooner or later, there will be change. If we set our faith aside for a moment, outside ofthe inevitablity of death, change is the only constant we have in life. People change, minds change, circumstances change, the weather changes… there is nothing that exists outside of this ‘law,’ except for God Himself. The world we live in and the way we live it is in direct contradiction to God and His essential nature, but His presence in it through our faith is what makes the difference.
It is this unchanging reality of God that in fact enables His creation to continue in the process of change. This universe is sustained by the will of God, and that will remains identical today as it was at the point of creation. While the world and everything in it is busily changing, moment by moment, it is contained within the immovable, unchanging reality of the Creator’s will. Part of the meaning of eternal is to include ‘unchangeable.’ God doesn’t simply ‘last forever.’ He will last but also not change forever.’ That is the I AM of God – the same, yesterday, today and tomorrow and into eternity. It’s not ‘I was’ or ‘I will be’ or ‘I might be.’ It’s I AM.
A popular phrase at the moment is that God is ‘unconditional love.’ Although based on truth, it’s a little misleading and muddies the waters of the unchanging nature of God a little so bears looking at. In one sense His love is indeed unconditional in that He welcomes all sinners. To God, there are no rungs on the sinner ladder. Prince or pauper, housewife or harlot, all have have sinned. The Word tells us that whoever calls on the name of the Lord will be saved. In that respect, His love is certainly unconditional. Jesus died for all, no matter who and what they are at the point of salvation.
The problem is that that the phrase ‘unconditional love’ is being stretched to accommodate all kinds of compromise by painting on a veneer of acceptibility. It sounds good to hear ‘God loves you just the way you are.’ In a world where people struggle with issues of abuse, condemntation, guilt and a chronic lack of self-worth, these words sound like balm to the broken. But they’re not actually true. They’re deception, and they deny the one reality of God that He Himself has declared eternal. It’s a tragedy that so many are being deceived in the name of God Himself, and set up for misunderstanding that can only bring a greater pain and disillusionment because it cannot be sustained.
The first issue is that there is no verse in the Bible that states that God loves us ‘just the way we are.’ Saying that would defeat the entire purpose of salvation and render the sacrifice of Christ utterly without value. If God loves us the way we are, why send Jesus? If He loves us the way we are, why do we need to be ‘in Christ,’ so that when God looks at us He sees the Beloved? If God loves us the way we are, why does the entire Bible establish a law of measurement of spiritual acceptability, and why does the New Testament focus on putting the ‘old man’ to death? If the ‘old man’ is loved just the way we are, why get rid of it?
The real truth is that the love of God transcends ‘unconditional.’ It defies adequate description, because it really is beyond full human comprehension. Would any of us sentence our firstborn to death to make a way for an adopted child who didn’t even know we existed? Yet that is the nature of God’s love. He loves us despite the way we are. The entire purpose of salvation is based on the fact that, on our own, all our righteousness is as filthy rags. We cannot hope to be worthy, acceptable, successful, or even make the attempt without Jesus. We are, without Jesus, the very antithesis of what God should love, but because He loved He made it possible that we be included.
The purpose of that love, however, is to restore us to Him. Repentence and redemption are fundamental to salvation, but that is simply a beginning. Being saved is simply the beginning of cycles of changed. God does not love us to save us and keep as ‘as we are.’ He saves us and immediately starts the process of transforming us into the image of His Son. He begins a process of changed that draws closer and closer to the only thing that is utterly and completely incapable of change – Himself.
It’s easy, when confronted by the stresses and pressures of an ever-changing, constantly fluid existence, to lose sight of the truth that we now live in an eternal kingdom. We are, as children of God and citizens of heaven, no longer locked into and bound by the world. On a physical level, we obviously are impacted by the natural ‘laws’ of the universe. God Himself put these in place. But part of the purpose of salvation is to teach us to live in the eternal. As His representatives on earth, He requires that we learn to live His identity on earth. It can be said – without exluding any of the limitless power inherent in the various characteristics of God – that His unchanging nature is a core facet of this identity.
In an ever-changing world, we are called be changed into the unchanging nature of God. This is part of the relevance of standing in faith. It means to grow in faith and knowledge of the Word, to be surrendered to and led by the Spirit, so that our faith remains unchanged. Our identity in Christ is, like Him, unchanging, even while we are being changing into His likeness.
Ignoring this truth is part of the danger of the ‘unconditional love’ theory. Unconditional love implies that we are now exempt from the unchanging nature of God. The God who hated sin in the Old Testament will now tolerate it because of grace, because He loves us just the way we are. The consequences of sin no longer apply to us. God may hate sin, and He may have instituted spiritual ramifications, but we’re ‘set apart’ because God loves us just the way we are. This error is the beginning of deception, and will lead us down the broad road to apostacy.
God cannot deny Himself, or who He is. What He hated then He still hates now. The spiritual laws that operated from the foundation of the world will still operate at its end. We need only to look at the history of God and His people to see that He chastises His own. The difference is that it is chastisement rather than punishment. He chastises to teach us and to change us. It is because of His love that He chastises as a father rather than as the almighty Judge of Heaven. It is because of His love for us in Christ Jesus that we are not consumed, not because He loves us as we are.
We love the idea that God is unchanging. It provides an anchor, a place of safety, a port in the storm. We remind ourselves of His immutability, and hang onto His promises in the assurance that, because He never changes, we can depend on Him. But, by and large, we exclude the uncomfortable bits. We gloss over the reality of sin and consequences with platitudes that are little more than misrepresentations of His Word, His nature and His character.
God is I AM. This means ‘unchanging,’ but it also means ‘complete.’ If we choose to have Him in our lives, it’s all of Him, not some of Him. He has given us Christ in us so that we can remain covered and protected in the Beloved, not because we need a friend. We cannot expect to hold on to the old man and reckon ourselves immune to the consequences. Like Israel, if we persist in sin and presumption, we will, sooner or later, have to face the consequences. By grace, our chastisement is for our benefit, but if we step outside the covering that is Christ, our ‘special status’ is null and void.
The Christian life should never be one of constant guilt and condemnation. The Word tells us that there is no condemnation for those in Christ Jesus. Error and deception are so dangerous because they seduce us out of Christ without us even realising it. Grace does not mean that God has changed His mind on certain issues. It means that, in His mercy, He made possible what for us is impossible, giving Himself as the price. Both mercy and grace imply the existence of the opposite, which is judgement and punishment. The I AM of God is eternal and unchanging.
Father, thank You for Your infinite grace and mercy. Thank You for loving us despite the way we are, for giving us Your Son to make the way back to You. Help us to surrender to Your transforming work in us, and help us to always see the I AM in You. Teach us Your ways, and keep us always in Jesus, safe in the knowledge of all that You are, and secure in the unchanging, eternal certainty of You.