Does God Change?

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Q. After the golden calf God was angry with the Israelites and wanted to destroy them. Moses pleaded for them and God changed His mind and spared them. However, my theology class taught that God is immutable and never changes. Who is correct?

A. Both are. Skeptics see this as an example of contradiction in the Bible, which therefore can’t be trusted. But they are wrong. The contradiction is only apparent, as the words are used in a different sense in the two cases. Let me elaborate.

The English word “immutable” translates the Greek word “ametathetos” which lexicon definition is “not transposed, not to be transferred; fixed, unalterable”. The adjective “immutable” and the noun “immutability” do not appear in newer translations of the Bible such as NASB, ESV or NIV, only older versions such as KJV or NKJV, in only two verses:

Heb 6:17-18 Thus God, determining to show more abundantly to the heirs of promise the immutability of His counsel, confirmed it by an oath, that by two immutable things, in which it is impossible for God to lie, we might have strong consolation, who have fled for refuge to lay hold of the hope set before us. (NKJV)

In context it means “immovable”, and therefore unalterable. The Oxford Dictionary defines “immutable” as “unchanging over time or unable to be changed”. When theology text books describe God as immutable, they base it on the following supporting scriptures:

Num 23:19 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? i.e. God always performs what He promised.
Job 23:13 But He is unique and who can turn Him? And what His soul desires, that He does. i.e. No one can persuade Him.
Ps 33:11 The counsel of the Lord stands forever, The plans of His heart from generation to generation. i.e. His plans are eternal.
Ps 102:27 But You are the same, And Your years will not come to an end. i.e. He does not change. He lasts forever.
Ecc 3:14 I know that everything God does will remain forever; there is nothing to add to it and there is nothing to take from it, for God has so worked that men should fear Him. i.e. His work is complete, perfect, and everlasting.
Mal 3:6 For I, the Lord, do not change; therefore you, O sons of Jacob, are not consumed. i.e. God does not change.
1 Co 2:7 but we speak God’s wisdom in a mystery, the hidden wisdom which God predestined before the ages to our glory i.e. God foreordained from eternity past.
Eph 3:11 This was in accordance with the eternal purpose which He carried out in Christ Jesus our Lord i.e. His purpose is eternal.
Heb 1:12 And like a mantle You will roll them up; Like a garment they will also be changed. But You are the same, And Your years will not come to an end.” i.e. God stays the same and does not change.
Heb 13:8 Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever. i.e. Jesus never changes.
Jas 1:17 Every good thing given and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shifting shadow. i.e. God does not change.

All of the above relate to His nature, His character, or His purpose, which never changes. Philosophically this must be so, as change occurs either for better or for worse. Since God is perfect, He cannot improve for the better. He can never learn anything to become better, as He is all-knowing. All His work is perfect; therefore He cannot do anything wrong to get worse. He is incapable of sin. He is forever true to His nature, which is perfection. So by definition God never changes. In this sense God is immutable.

So what does it mean when the Bible says “God changed His mind’?

(To be continued)

God’s Will (3 of 3)

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(Continued from yesterday)

So far we’ve talked about God’s will in general, for all people. What about His will for you and me in particular? How can we find out? I can think of 8-10 ways, but will limit myself to the most important five.

The first one is prayer. If I don’t know what you want, the best way to find out is to ask you. Similarly, if I don’t know God’s will in a particular issue, the best is to ask God directly in prayer.

Jas 1:5 But if any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all generously and without reproach, and it will be given to him.

Obviously, if our relationship is not good, you would not tell me. Similarly, if you want to know God’s will, you need to be in a good relationship with God.

Php 4:6 Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.
• 1 Thes 5:17 pray without ceasing

Do you pray about everything, or only those big things you can’t handle yourself? How often do you pray? Without ceasing?

Secondly, through Scripture. How would God answer your prayer? Often through His word – the Bible.

Ps 119:105 Your word is a lamp to my feet And a light to my path.

God would bring up verses you’ve read or studied before to guide you what route to take. But how can God bring verses up to memory if you’ve never studied the Bible? Often believers don’t know God’s will because they don’t know the Bible. Some Christians read 3 chapters a day and read through the entire Bible in about a year. That’s not bad but you don’t retain too much that way. A better approach is to read 7 chapters a day, but repeat it for the week. This way you remember not only what each chapter said, but also the flow. The Holy Spirit would remind you from what you put into your mind and heart which is the right way. Saturate yourself with God’s word, and you’ll never go wrong.

Thirdly, through godly counsel:

Prov 12:15 The way of a fool is right in his own eyes, but a wise man is he who listens to counsel.
• Prov 15:22 Without consultation, plans are frustrated, but with many counselors they succeed.

God leads us through the counsel of wise, trustworthy people. Usually they are older, more mature, and have nothing to gain or lose from our decision. Often they are not in our immediate family or our best friends. This way they are not motivated by selfish reasons, or emotionally attached. Often they want to think and pray about it before offering any advice.

Fourthly, God accomplishes His will through circumstances.

Php 1:12 Now I want you to know, brethren, that my circumstances have turned out for the greater progress of the gospel

Paul did not ask for his imprisonment, but through it all the guards heard about Christ, and encouraged others to testify without fear. So both favorable and unfavorable circumstances can be used to achieve God’s will.

A fifth principle is that God leads us into His will by giving us an inner assurance of peace.

Phil 4:6-7 Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all comprehension, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

When deciding between two or more alternatives that you have been praying about, sometimes one of the options will give you a greater peace. Often that option is God’s will.

Isa 32:17 And the work of righteousness will be peace, and the service of righteousness, quietness and confidence forever.

God made known some of His will for us. He desires for us to be saved, sanctified, sorrowful when we fail, willing to suffer for Christ’s sake, and thankful in everything. We can find out His will through prayer, studying the Bible, listening to godly counsel, discerning our circumstances, and following the peace that God gives.

Let me close by giving you this challenge:

Start small – you may think what can I do? Our small effort doesn’t matter. But it does! Start by finding out how God can use you to help others.
• Start here – wherever you are, whether in Canada, or China, start right there. God will lead you step by step. It is easy to steer a moving car.
Start now – don’t wait till you’re established in your career, or after you start your family. Don’t procrastinate. Start now.

Ask God to help you. He will.

God’s Will (2 of 3)

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(Continued from yesterday)

Yesterday we’ve explored the revealed will of God pertaining to His preceptive will and will of disposition, in particular concerning salvation. He does not wish for any to perish but for all to come to repentance. What else does the Bible tell us about His will?

* 1 Thes 4:3 For this is the will of God, your sanctification; that is, that you abstain from sexual immorality;

God wants us not only to be saved, but to be holy. He wants us to be pure. The basic meaning of holy is to be separated. Often we tend to follow the crowd, what the majority do. But God wants us not to walk as the Gentiles walk. Do not be like them. Do you follow the world, or do you separate yourself from their ways?

But what if we fail? Well, God provided for that too:

* 2 Co 7:9-10 I now rejoice, not that you were made sorrowful, but that you were made sorrowful to the point ofrepentance; for you were made sorrowful according to the will of God, so that you might not suffer loss in anything through us. For the sorrow that is according to the will of God produces a repentance without regret, leading to salvation, but the sorrow of the world produces death.

He made us sorrowful according to His will, so that we would repent and not suffer loss. Do not view only blessings as from God, for there is a purpose for sorrow as well.

And not only sorrow, but even suffering:

* 1 Pet 4:19 Therefore, those also who suffer according to the will of God shall entrust their souls to a faithful Creator in doing what is right.

Paul said, “Indeed, all who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will be persecuted (2 Tim 3:12)”. Peter added, when “you are reviled for the name of Christ, you are blessed … but if anyone suffers as a Christian, he is not to be ashamed, but is to glorify God in this name (1 Pet 1:14, 16)”. So, even suffering can be according to God’s will when we suffer for Christ’s sake to glorify His name.

One more God’s will for you. What should our attitude be in the midst of difficulties?

* 1 Thes 5:18 In everything give thanks; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.

When we are saved, sanctified, sorrowful, suffering, we ought to be thankful. Not complaining “why me”, but grateful that God chose us as His worthy vessel to glorify Him. It’s the character of a Spirit-filled Christian. Now, are you thankful, or ungrateful?

(To be continued)

God’s Will (1 of 3)

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Q. I’m going home after graduation, and want to get a job and then get married. That’s my will. What has God’s will got to do with me? What’s His will anyway?

A. God’s will is much larger than what you have painted it to be. Allow me to frame it in its wider sense before narrowing it down to you. Theologians have classified God’s will into several categories. First, there is the distinction between the secret & revealed will of God.

Deut 29:29 The secret things belong to the Lord our God, but the things revealed belong to us and to our sons forever, that we may observe all the words of this law.

Some things are secret and belong to God alone. There are mysteries which we don’t understand, because God never told us in the Bible. For example, no one knows the day or hour of the Second Coming of Christ.

Mt 24:36 But of that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but the Father alone.

Not the angels, not even the Son, only the Father knows. So there’s no point in trying to calculate what the Father chooses not to reveal. However, He revealed other things and these belong to us, so that we may do them.

Within God’s revealed will, there are several levels:
1. Decretive will,
2. Preceptive will, and
3. Will of disposition.

The highest level is called the decretive will. God decrees it, and it is done. An example is creation.

Gen 1:3 God said, “Let there be light”; and there was light.”

God said it and it was done. No questions asked. No if’s, or but’s about it. This will cannot be broken or disobeyed, because God is sovereign.

The next lower level, however, can be broken or disobeyed, and is called the preceptive will. This will is found in God’s Law. An example is the Ten Commandments (Ex 20:1-17). God said, “You shall have no other gods before me”; but people worship other gods. He said, “You shall not murder”; but people murder. So this will can be disobeyed, but there are consequences because God is just and must punish sin.

A third level is called God’s will of disposition. It expresses God’s attitude towards His people, what pleases and grieves God. An example is our salvation:

1 Tim 2:4 He desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.

It pleases God for men to know Him, but He does not force it on anyone.
He does not decree that everyone will be saved, whether they like it or not.

When we talk about knowing God’s will, we mean those that are:
• Revealed – because there’s no point in trying to find out something God never intended to tell us;
• His preceptive will – because this is what He told us to do; and
• His will of disposition – because this is what pleases Him.

So you see God’s will is not all about you – it is cosmic in scope. While He may not be in your plans, you are certainly in His, to which we will turn next.

(To be continued)

Is God Judgmental? (4 of 4)

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(Continued from yesterday)

The first reason God can’t lower His standard and accept sin is it doesn’t work. The second reason is that not only will it not work, it actually can’t be done. I’ll use light as an illustration. Darkness is the absence of light. They are opposites. When a light is lit, darkness flees. Even thought it may come from a small candle, no darkness has ever overcome lighter. Never has, never will.

Jn 1:5 The Light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not comprehend (overcome) it.
• 2 Co 6:14 for what partnership have righteousness and lawlessness, or what fellowship has light with darkness?
• 1 Jn 1:5 This is the message we have heard from Him and announce to you, that God is Light, and in Him there is no darkness at all.

God is Light and in Him is no darkness at all. His very nature as light makes accommodation to darkness impossible. They are mutually exclusive. Just as light cannot have fellowship with darkness, so our righteous God cannot have partnership with lawlessness i.e. sin. It cannot be done.

Often people who focus on “God is love” forgot that “God is just” too. Both are His attributes, among others. So although God is love and abundant in loving-kindness and forgives iniquity, He will by no means leave the guilty unpunished because He is just. The two go together because He cannot deny Himself (2 Tim 2:13):

Ex 34:7 who keeps loving-kindness for thousands, who forgives iniquity, transgression and sin; yet He will by no means leave the guilty unpunished, …
• Num 14:18 ‘The LORD is slow to anger and abundant in loving-kindness, forgiving iniquity and transgression; but He will by no means clear the guilty, …
• Nahum 1:3 The LORD is slow to anger and great in power, And the LORD will by no means leave the guilty unpunished. …

Let me close by summing up what we discussed. God is not judgmental because He is absolutely just and knows everything. He loves the people He created and gave them fair and reasonable requirements to establish a loving relationship, but they disobeyed and sinned. Because He is just He cannot and will not accept sin, and must punish the guilty. But because He is love He took the penalty upon Himself. All we have to do is to forgo trying to make it on our own, and put our faith in Christ who died for us. Unwilling to do so and still trusting in themselves, some turned the attack on God by labeling Him judgmental and intolerant. That, in essence, is the heart of the matter. It does not have to happen this way. Repent and believe in the God who loved you enough to die for you. then you’ll understand how gracious and merciful He is. Judgmental? Look into the mirror. Don’t go there. For your sake.

Is God Judgmental? (3 of 4)

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(Continued from yesterday)

Yesterday we saw that God’s people did not keep their covenant with God. Did He in His wrath strike them down right away? No, He was slow to anger and forbearing, giving people time to repent so they won’t perish:

Neh 9:17 They refused to listen, And did not remember Your wondrous deeds which You had performed among them; So they became stubborn and appointed a leader to return to their slavery in Egypt. But You are a God of forgiveness, Gracious and compassionate, Slow to anger and abounding in loving-kindness; And You did not forsake them. (Also Ex 34:6; Ps 103:8; Joel 2:13; Jonah 4:2)
• Rom 3:25 whom God displayed publicly as a propitiation in His blood through faith. This was to demonstrate His righteousness, because in the forbearance of God He passed over the sins previously committed;
• 2 Pet 3:9 The Lord is not slow about His promise, as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing for any to perish but for all to come to repentance.

But if He is so gracious and compassionate and abounding in loving-kindness, why can’t He lower His standards and just forgive people as they are? He can’t, for two reasons. First, it won’t work. Sin is lawlessness (1 Jn 3:4), any deviation from God’s law. Let me use cancer as an analogy. Cancer cells are cells that grow and divide at an unregulated, quick pace. They are a deviation from normality, just like sin. If you have cancer, you would want to get rid of it as quickly as possible. Now how much cancer cells would you tolerate to remain in your body without removing them by surgery, or killing them by radiation or chemotherapy? 10%? 5%? 1%? No, you want them completely eliminated, or you die.

The so-called “tolerant” believe that God is love and should cut people some slack. They think if God didn’t set the bar so high, they would make it on their own. Actually they have too high a view of themselves, and too low a view of God. For the sake of argument let’s just say God concedes to their request. What they don’t know is whatever concession God makes, that sin will kill them, just as that trace amount of cancer cells left behind will kill them. Tolerance to sin just doesn’t work.

Let’s use another illustration. You love your spouse and want him/her to be faithful to you. Would you tolerate your spouse to be 90% faithful? 95%? 99%? No, only 100% will suffice, anything less is adultery. It’s all or nothing.

(To be continued)

Is God Judgmental? (2 of 4)

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(Continued from yesterday)

Yesterday we saw that because God is absolutely just He is the only standard there is. So what does God require of man?

Deut 10:12-13 “Now, Israel, what does the LORD your God require from you, but
o to fear the LORD your God,
o to walk in all His ways and love Him, and
o to serve the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul, and
o to keep the LORD’S commandments and His statutes which I am commanding you today for your good?
• Micah 6:8 He has told you, O man, what is good; And what does the LORD require of you But
o to do justice,
o to love kindness, And
o to walk humbly with your God?

What God wanted was for Israel to have a loving relationship with Him, serving Him and keeping His commandments, and being just and kind to others. Now ask yourself, are these requirements onerous, or fair and reasonable? As Creator who gave His people everything, does He have the right to require these from them?

Why does God require such from man?

Lev 11:44-45 For I am the LORD your God. Consecrate yourselves therefore, and be holy, for I am holy. … For I am the LORD who brought you up from the land of Egypt to be your God; thus you shall be holy, for I am holy.’”
• 1 Pet 1:16 because it is written, “YOU SHALL BE HOLY, FOR I AM HOLY.”
• Mt 5:48 Therefore you are to be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.
• Lk 6:34 Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.

To be just, kind, holy, perfect, and merciful are God’s attributes. He required these for one reason – He loves us and wants the best for us, which is to be like Him.

What about the charge that God is harsh and does not cut any slack? He made a covenant with His people but they did not keep up their end of the deal – they sinned and disobeyed. God sent prophets to warn them to repent, but they killed and persecuted the prophets and kept on sinning:

Lk 11:49-51 For this reason also the wisdom of God said, ‘I will send to them prophets and apostles, and some of them they will kill and some they will persecute, so that the blood of all the prophets, shed since the foundation of the world, may be charged against this generation, from the blood of Abel to the blood of Zechariah, who was killed between the altar and the house of God; yes, I tell you, it shall be charged against this generation.’
• Acts 8:51-53 You men who are stiff-necked and uncircumcised in heart and ears are always resisting the Holy Spirit; you are doing just as your fathers did. Which one of the prophets did your fathers not persecute? They killed those who had previously announced the coming of the Righteous One, whose betrayers and murderers you have now become; you who received the law as ordained by angels, and yet did not keep it.”

(To be continued)