They tell us that the Bible is the Word of God—a lamp to our feet and a light to our path.
They tell us that if we read the Bible:
– we will find the knowledge of God in it
– and we will find His will for our lives.
We believe them.
And rightly so, because what they say is true.
We take our Bibles and start to read them.
We read steadily and thoughtfully,
– because we are really sincere about it,
– and because we really do want to know God.
But as we read, we get more and more puzzled.
We are fascinated by what we read,
but at the same time, we know that we are not being nourished by what we read.
Our reading is not helping us.
Our reading leaves us baffled, and actually somewhat depressed.
And we start wondering if our Bible reading is worth it after all.
Two Different Worlds
What is our trouble?
Well, basically it is this.
Our Bible reading takes us to the world of the middle East of the past—1000s of years ago. For all of us, that world is very new and foreign. At that time, the people were primitive, and unsophisticated. Their world was unmechanised and it was based on agriculture.
It is in that world that the action of the Bible story is played out.
In that world, we meet Abraham, and Moses, and David and the rest, and we watch God dealing with them.
We hear the prophets condemning idolatry and threatening judgment upon sin.
We see Jesus—the Man of Galilee—doing miracles, arguing with the Jews, dying for sinners, rising from death and ascending to heaven.
We read letters from Christian teachers like Paul, Peter, Jude, John, and James directed against some errors in the church. And we do not seem to notice these errors in today’s church.
It is all intensely interesting, but it all seems very far away.
It all belongs to that world, not to this world.
We feel that we are, so to speak, on the outside of the Bible world, looking in. We are mere spectators, and that is all.
Our unspoken thought is— “Yes, God did all that then,
and very wonderful it was for the people involved,
but how does it touch us now?
We don’t live in the same world.
How can the record of God’s words and deeds in Bible times—the record of his dealings with Abraham and Moses and David and the rest—help us, who have to live in the space age?”
We cannot see how the two worlds link up. And because of this, again and again we find ourselves feeling that the things we read about in the Bible do not apply to us.
Every now and then, we read in the Bible of incidents that are exciting—we can see that they are thrilling and glorious in themselves—but at the same time, we feel shut out and excluded, and we do not feel the connection. This can be very depressing. How can this problem be solved? (What is the problem? It is this: That the Bible reader feels so far away from the Bible world and is unable to relate to the events recorded)
Most Bible readers have known this feeling, but not everyone knows how to counter it.
Some Christians seem to settle for less:
They follow the Bible events from a distance.
They do believe the Bible record. And they can see that the Bible characters communicated intimately and directly with God.
but sadly, they do not look for—nor do they expect to have—such intimacy and direct dealing with God for themselves,
People who settle for this—and many people do—are actually confessing that they have failed to find a solution to this problem.
But how can this sense of remoteness from the biblical experience of God be overcome?
To solve this problem, the most crucial point is to recognise that the sense of remoteness is an illusion.
The reason for this illusion is that people are looking in the wrong place for the link between our situation and that of the various Bible characters .
It is true that in terms of space, time and culture, they and the historical period to which they belonged are a very long way away from us.
But the link between them and us is not found at that level.
The link is God himself.
For the God they had to deal with is the same God who we have to deal with.
We can sharpen the point by saying it again like this: “Exactly the same God.” Because God does not change in even the smallest detail.
So what is the truth on which we must dwell, if we have to remove this feeling of remoteness from the Biblical situation?
We have to dwell on the unchanging nature of God (or the truth of God’s immutability).
We won’t feel that there is an unbridgeable gulf between the position of men and women in Bible times, and the position of men and women in our times, if we remind ourselves that their God is exactly the same God as ours.
Not Two Different Gods
1. God does not change.
Let us elaborate on this thought.
God’s life does not ever change. He has always been alive.
Your throne was established long ago; You are from all eternity. (Ps 93:2)
But the LORD is the true God; He is the living God, the eternal King. (Jer 10:10),
Although they claimed to be wise, they became fools and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images made to look like a mortal human being and birds and animals and reptiles. (Rom 1:22-23),
He alone is immortal and dwells in unapproachable light. (1 Tim 6:16).
Before the mountains were born or you brought forth the earth and the world, from everlasting to everlasting You are God. (Ps 90:2).
Even they (earth and heaven) will perish, but You endure;
And all of them will wear out like a garment;
Like clothing You will change them and they will be changed.
But You are the same,
And Your years will not come to an end. (Ps 102:26-27).
I am the first, and I am the last. (Is 48:12).
Created things have a beginning and an ending, but this is not how it is with their Creator.
Children ask “Who made God?”
The answer to this question is simply: “God did not need to be made, for He was always there.”
God exists forever, and He is always the same.
He does not grow older.
His life does not wax or wane—increase or decrease—like the moon.
He does not gain new powers nor lose those that He once had.
He does not mature or develop.
He does not get stronger, or weaker, or wiser, as time goes by.
“He cannot change for the better, for He is already perfect; and being perfect, He cannot change for the worse.” [A. W. Pink]
What is the main difference between the Creator and His creatures?
The first and fundamental difference between the Creator and His creatures is that God can never change, whereas creatures change by nature.
|The Creator||His Creatures|
|God is immutable (unchanging)||Creatures are mutable (changing)|
|This means that He can never stop being what He is||This means that by nature they change|
We blossom and flourish as leaves on the tree,
And wither and perish-but naught changeth Thee.
[From the hymn ‘Immortal invisible God only wise’]
That is the kind of power He has. Nothing can change Him. The Bible describes His life as indestructible.
Jesus has become a priest not on the basis of a regulation to do with His ancestry but on the basis of the power of an indestructible life. (Heb 7:16)
2. God’s character does not change.
Characters of people can change. Strain, or shock, or a lobotomy (a kind of brain surgery), can alter the character of a person, but nothing can alter the character of God.
During a person’s lifetime, their tastes and outlook and temper may change in a big way:
– a kind, calm person can become bitter and bad-tempered.
– a friendly person can become cynical (distrustful of people) and callous (heartless).
But nothing of this sort happens to the Creator.
He never becomes less truthful, or less merciful, or less just, or less good than He used to be.
The character of God is today, and always will be, exactly what it was in Bible times.
This is a good time to learn from the two occasions when God disclosed His name. And we see both of these in the book of Exodus.
God’s revealed name is, of course, more than a label—
– It is a revelation of what He is in relation to us.
Occasion 1 (Exodus 3)
God announced to Moses that His name was “I AM WHO I AM.”
“Yahweh” (Jehovah, “the LORD”) is in actually a shortened form of “I AM WHO I AM,” and you can see it in Vs 15.
Moses said to God, “Suppose I go to the Israelites and say to them, ‘The God of your fathers has sent me to you,’ and they ask me, ‘What is His name?’ Then what shall I tell them?”
God said to Moses, “I am who I am. This is what you are to say to the Israelites: ‘I am has sent me to you.’”
God also said to Moses,
“Say to the Israelites, ‘The LORD (Yahweh), the God of your fathers—the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob—has sent me to you.’
“This is My name forever,
the name you shall call Me
from generation to generation.” (Ex 3:13-15)
This name is not a description of God,
Actually the name is simply a declaration of God’s self-existence and His eternal changelessness.
It is a reminder to mankind that He has life in Himself, and that what He is now, He is eternally.
Occasion 2 (Exodus 34)
In Exodus 34, when God proclaims His name—the LORD—to Moses, the focus is different.
This time, God lists the different facets of His holy character—compassionate, gracious, slow to anger, . . .
Then the Lord came down in the cloud and stood there with him and proclaimed His name, the LORD.
And He passed in front of Moses, proclaiming,
“The LORD (Yahweh), the LORD (Yahweh),
the compassionate and gracious God,
slow to anger,
abounding in love and faithfulness,
maintaining love to thousands, and
forgiving wickedness, rebellion and sin.
Yet He does not leave the guilty unpunished;
He punishes the children and their children for the sin of the parents to the third and fourth generation.”(Ex 34:5-7)
The proclamations of God’s name on these two occasions supplement each other.
– The proclamation in Exodus 3 tells us that that God was forever what He was at that moment 3000 years ago.
– The proclamation in Exodus 34, tells us what God is like.
So put together, we know that God’s moral character is forever. It is changeless. He is not like human beings who change in their character.
See what James, writes about God, when writing about God’s character (about His goodness and holiness, His generosity to men and His hostility to sin).
Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change. (Jas 1:17)
3. God’s truth does not change.
People sometimes say things that they do not really mean.
– simply because they do not know their own mind.
– or because although they may mean it at the time, their views change afterwards.
As a result, people often find that they can no longer stand behind things that they said in the past.
All of us sometimes have to take back our words, because they do not express what we think anymore.
Sometimes we have to eat our words when we are proved wrong by hard facts.
The words of human beings are unstable things—but not so the words of God.
God’s words stand forever—they remain as valid expressions of His mind and thought.
No circumstances prompt Him to recall them.
No changes in His own thinking require Him to amend them.
“All flesh is grass. . . The grass withers. . . But the word of our God will stand for ever” (Is 40:6-8).
Similarly, the psalmist says,
“Your word, O LORD, is eternal; it stands firm in the heavens . . . All your commands are true . . . You established them to last forever” (Ps 119:89,151-52).
The word translated true in the last verse carries with it the idea of stability.
So, when we read our Bibles, we need to remember that God still stands behind everything He has said to New Testament believers—
– all the promises,
– and demands,
– and statements of purpose,
– and words of warning.
All of these things are not relics of a bygone age,
They are in fact an eternally valid revelation of the mind of God—toward His people in all generations—so long as this world lasts.
“The Scripture cannot be broken” (Jesus’ own words Jn 10:35). .
Nothing can annul God’s eternal truth!
4. God’s ways do not change.
He still continues to act toward sinful men and women in the way that He does in the Bible story.
He still shows His freedom and lordship by not treating all sinners the same. He discriminates between them—
– He causes some to hear the gospel while others do not hear it,
– He moves some of those who hear it to repentance while leaving others in their unbelief.
In this way, He teaches His saints
– that He owes mercy to no one
– and that it is entirely because of His grace that they come to Him,
– and that it is not at all through their own effort that they have found life.
He still blesses those on whom He sets His love.
– In this way He humbles them, so that all the glory may be His alone.
He still hates the sins of His people.
In order to wean their hearts from the habit of compromising with sin and being disobedient—God uses all kinds of heartaches and difficulties in their lives.
He still seeks the fellowship of His people, and sends them both sorrows and joys in order to detach their love from other things and attach it to Himself.
He still teaches believers to value His promised gifts by making them wait for those gifts, and by forcing them to pray persistently for them, before He gives them the gifts.
This is what we read about how God deals with His people in the Scripture record,
and this is how He deals with God’s people still.
– His aims and principles of action remain consistent
– He does not at any time act out of character.
Our ways, we know, are pathetically inconstant—but not God’s.
5. God’s purposes do not change.
Repenting means revising one’s decision and changing one’s plan of action.
God never does this.
God never needs to do this.
He does not need to—because His plans are made on the basis of a complete knowledge and control, which extend to all things past, present and future, so that there can be no sudden emergencies or unexpected developments to take Him by surprise.
“He who is the Glory of Israel does not lie or change His mind, for He is not a man, that He should change His mind” (Samuel’s words in 1 Sam 15:29).
“God is not a man, that He should lie, nor a son of man, that He should change His mind. Does He speak and then not act? Does He promise and not fulfill?” (Balaam’s words in Num 23:19).
“One of two things causes a man to change His mind and reverse His plans: want of foresight to anticipate everything, or lack of foresight to execute them. But as God is both omniscient and omnipotent there is never any need for Him to revise his decrees.” (A. W. Pink)
“The plans of the LORD stand firm forever, the purposes of His heart through all generations” (Ps 33:11)
What God does in time, He planned from eternity.
And all that He planned in eternity He carries out in time.
And all that God has committed Himself to doing in His word, will get done without fail.
In the letter to the Hebrews, we read about God’s unchangeable purpose of bringing believers into their promised inheritance.
We also read about how God confirmed this to Abraham with an unchangeable oath.
Now, Abraham is a good example of a believer, so we know that God assures us also with these two unchangeable (immutable) things—
-His unchangeable oath1 to confirm His unchangeable purpose2.
“So when God desired to show more convincingly to the heirs of the promise the unchangeable character of his purpose, he guaranteed it with an oath, so that by two unchangeable things, in which it is impossible for God to lie, we who have fled for refuge might have strong encouragement to hold fast to the hope set before us.” (Heb 6:17-18)
So it is with all God’s announced intentions. They do not change. No part of His eternal plan changes.
It is true that there is a group of texts (quoted below) which speak of God as repenting or relenting.
All these scriptures refer to times when God reverses the way He has previously treated certain groups of people, after 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 a part of His eternal plan.
If God begins to deal with a person in a new way, it does not mean that He has changed his eternal purpose.
And the Lord regretted that he had made man on the earth, and it grieved him to his heart. So the Lord said, “I will blot out man whom I have created from the face of the land, man and animals and creeping things and birds of the heavens, for I am sorry that I have made them.” (Gen 6:6-7)
“I regret that I have made Saul king, for he has turned back from following me and has not performed my commandments.” (1 Sam 15:11)
And when the angel stretched out his hand toward Jerusalem to destroy it, the Lord relented from the calamity and said to the angel who was working destruction among the people, “It is enough; now stay your hand.” And the angel of the Lord was by the threshing floor of Araunah the Jebusite. (2 Sam 24:16)
When God saw what they did, how they turned from their evil way, God relented of the disaster that he had said he would do to them, and he did not do it. (Jon 3:10)
“. . . Return to the Lord your God, for he is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love; and He relents over disaster. Who knows whether he will not turn and relent, and leave a blessing behind him . . .” (Joel 2:13-14)
6. God’s Son does not change.
Jesus Christ is still the same and His touch still has its ancient power.
Jesus Christ is “the same yesterday and today and forever” (Heb 13:8)
It still true that He is able to completely save those who come to God through Him.
“Consequently, he is able to save to the uttermost those who draw near to God through him, since he always lives to make intercession for them.” (Heb 7:25)
He never changes. This fact is a great consolation for all God’s people.
We Are to Be Like Them
Where is the sense of distance and difference, then, between us and Bible-time believers?
It is not there—all difference and distance is excluded.
On what grounds is it excluded?
On the grounds that God does not change.
These things listed below are essentially the same for us as they were for believers in Bible times:
– Fellowship with God
– Trust in His word
– Living by faith
– Standing on the promises of God
This thought brings comfort as we enter into the confusions that each day brings to us.
– When so many things are changing around us,
– When life seems so uncertain in this nuclear age,
At such a time, it is so comforting to know that—
God and His Christ remain the same—almighty to save!
But the thought brings a challenge too—a challenge that makes us search our hearts.
The challenge is this—If our God is the same as the God of New Testament believers,
– how come, we are satisfied with enjoying a much lower level of communion with God than those believers, and
– how come, we are satisfied with having a much lower standard of Christian conduct than those believers?
If God is the same, this is not an challenge that any one of us can ignore or avoid.