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Immutability

Renewing Your Mind / R.C. Sproul
The Truth Network Radio
June 13, 2022 12:01 am

Immutability

Renewing Your Mind / R.C. Sproul

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June 13, 2022 12:01 am

Whether we perceive it or not, we are always changing. But our Redeemer is the same yesterday, today, and forever. Today, R.C. Sproul considers the security and stability we have in our immutable God.

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Coming up today on Renewing Your Mind... Today and all this week on Renewing Your Mind, we are reaching back into the early days of Ligonier Ministries to hear lessons that we haven't aired here on Renewing Your Mind before, and there's a reason we're doing this. We want to highlight the support of a very special group of people. We call them ministry partners, those who come alongside us and pray for us and give on a monthly basis. Our president and CEO, Chris Larson, recently joined me here in the studio to record a special greeting to our ministry partners. It's good to go back and remind ourselves of why we do what we do and why our ministry partners are such a critical part of it.

Here's a portion of what Chris shared. We're reminded of Ligonier's outreach to every age and stage of the Christian life. That's really what we're doing, what Dr. Sproul did for all the decades of his ministry, and it's really what we continue to do, seeking by God's grace to be faithful to that mission that's been given to us.

To introduce more and more people to the holiness of God, because it really helps us to understand who we are and our need for a Savior, and we can never fully explore the depths of God's riches and mercy through His word. And so we're pushing out that teaching every day through Ligonier Ministries, and we're so thankful for our ministry partners. We know you are praying that the Lord would take the message as it goes forth, that it would fall on good soil and bear good fruit. There are so many millions more people that we need to reach, indeed billions, and so that's what we're engaged in here at Ligonier Ministries. That's right, and one of the pillars of what we teach here is theology. Dr. Sproul's message today will help us understand that God never changes, and I hope you'll stay with us for the end of the program today, because I'll be joined here by my colleague Nathan W. Bingham to talk about this very special week of programs.

But right now, here's R.C. The concept of God's immutability simply has reference to the fact that there is no change in the nature and personality of God Himself. There are no mutations to God.

There is no growth from immaturity to maturity or from imperfection to perfection. There is a consistency in God and a constancy that is characteristic of the infinite. When we say that God is immutable, we say He is not changeable, to point out that way in which God is different from humanity. We are saying He is not like us in the way in which we undergo change in terms of generation and decay, growth, and all the rest. Concretely, the Bible uses other kinds of words in preference really over such technical terms as immutable, phrases like we read in James, for example, that there's no shadow of turning in God. Let me just read that passage to you from James 1.17. This is from the New American Standard Bible. Every good thing bestowed and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shifting shadow.

Now, this idea of a shifting shadow or shadow of turning connotes that which is less than straightforward, less than open and honest, but something that's a little bit shady, so to speak. There's none of that in God. God is perfectly consistent in all that He is and in all that He does with Himself, with His holiness, with His righteousness. Now, it's this principle of consistency that, practically speaking, is at the heart of the doctrine of the immutability of God. And the word I think that is most frequently used in biblical terms to describe this is not a description of ontology or metaphysics, but it's a description of a relationship here where it speaks of God's faithfulness, His fidelity.

That's what I mean by consistency. In fact, the fundamental difference between the creature and the Creator that we run into in Scripture again and again and again is at this point. Man is the infidel. Man is the one who is unfaithful. Man is the one who violates the covenant. He is characterized by covenant breaking. Over and over and over and over again, man fails to keep his word.

He participates in untruth, in falsehood, in deviation, in falling from his commitment. But God abides in fidelity. He keeps the faith, so to speak. He keeps His promise to His people.

He doesn't lie. And we see this, of course, most characteristically in the person of Christ. He is the one who is covenant keeper. He is the one who remains faithful, consistent, etc.

I'd like to again point to another passage in Scripture, to Hebrews 6, which of course is one of the most somber and serious warnings against the falling away, against infidelity. But that is followed then by the contrast that is found in God Himself. For when God made the promise to Abraham, since he could swear by no one greater, He swore by Himself, saying, I will surely bless you, and I will surely multiply you. And thus, having patiently waited, He obtained the promise. For men swear by one greater than themselves, and with them an oath given as confirmation is an end of every dispute. In the same way, God, desiring even more to show the heirs of the promise, the unchangeableness of His purpose, interposed with an oath, in order that by two unchangeable things in which it is impossible for God to lie, we may have strong encouragement, we who have fled for refuge in laying hold of the hope set before us, this hope we have as an anchor of the soul, a hope both sure and steadfast, and one which enters within the veil. Now, the whole point of this is that the confidence of the Christian, practically speaking, rests not in the context of the vicissitudes of nature or the tenuous character of human commitments, of human covenant keeping, because again, that's characterized by the feature of infidelity and a lack of consistency. But rather, the confidence of the Christian community rests in the fact that God has taken an oath for His people, swearing not by something outside of Himself, not by the moon and the stars which themselves undergo generation and decay, themselves, you know, depend upon something else for their permanence and their consistency, and all the rest, their stability. But God swears by Himself, by His unchangeableness, you see, by His consistency that He will perform what He has vowed.

Then the author goes on to say that we have as the basis of our hope, as an anchor, that which gives stability, that which gives concrete assurance to the Christian. In other words, the idea of God's immutability is of interest to the covenant community, not simply in terms of an abstract metaphysic, but it's of interest to us because the one who has sworn to us is the one who is not noted for changing his mind. He does not act impetuously, arbitrarily. He does not relate to us in an unsure or unstable way. But what God says, He does. Now that's, as I say, of supreme importance because we have a Creator, we have a Lord who is consistent in His government over us, and He's not going to command us to do something and then turn around and change His mind and leave us in confusion.

There's a consistency in His rule, a consistency which gives us a sense of security, a sense of stability. Now the philosophical problem that does come up with the question of immutability is the question as to whether or not immutability implies necessarily a static deity, a deity who's paralyzed, as it were, in the context of being. If you go back to the classical problem in ancient philosophy between the question of being and becoming, of ultimate reality, is the ultimate reference point or the fixed point of the universe that which is in a state of immutability, that which does not undergo change, generation decay, deterioration, and all the rest? You know, the philosophers say we have to find something to make sense out of all the things that are in the phenomenal world, and one thing that we discover in all things in this world is that they are in a state of becoming. Now, becoming, say for example for Heraclitus in ancient Greece, becoming is the chief characteristic of existence from the term exasteri, meaning literally, ex, out of, tostare, to stand.

Exasteri literally means to stand out of something. And what the term existence means, particularly for the existentialist, is something exists as it stands out of pure being. It's not on the level of absolute immutable, unchangeable being, but it's in this process of change. It's not nothing. It's something, but it's not pure being. So to exist is to stand out of being and to stand out of non-being as sort of having one foot in being and one foot in non-being.

It's neither here nor there. It's neither absolute nor is it nothing. Existence is caught in between there, always moving, you see, either moving in the direction of being or in the direction of non-being, nothingness.

And it's that movement that is at the heart of the whole concept of dread and anxiety in modern existentialism. Now, the Greeks tried to solve that by postulating some kind of ultimate reality that would be pure being. Remember Heraclitus, who some call now the father of modern existentialists, made the statement that the only thing that is permanent in the universe is change.

You can't step in the same river twice. Everything, everything is in a state of becoming. The only thing that's ultimate is becoming itself. Okay, that's the creed of existentialism. But over against Heraclitus was Parmenides, who argued that whatever is, is.

Don't laugh, he's famous for that. But his point was for anything to be, it must be in a state of being, not just becoming. It has to be something. It can't be just potential.

It has to be actual. So for him, ultimate reality was pure being. Now, pure being means, now grab this, here's the problem. Pure being means being with no becoming in it. Pure being means being without any becoming. Now, pure being, to the Greek, would be pure actuality. No potential, see, because potential presupposes the ability to change, to move, to become. There's none of that in the concept of pure being. So in Aristotle's concept of God, we have God being defined in terms of what? What Aristotle calls pure form, which is a pure being, being within itself, no becoming, pure actuality, actually everything, potentially nothing. Pure potentiality would be what?

Potentially anything, but actually nothing. Now, in Aristotle's thinking, in terms of God's being pure being, what was God's primary, in fact, only activity? What did God do in Aristotle's system? Did God come down and enter into the affairs of men? Was he busily engaged in hearing the prayers and the petitions of his creatures and acting in accordance with those in response? Was he involved in judgment? Was he involved in redemption? Was he involved in incarnation?

What did he do? He contemplated his own perfections. Right. He contemplated himself. In fact, his definition of him was pure thought, thinking itself. Because, for that God to relate or to be involved, in fact, for that God to do anything, the word do implies action.

Action implies motion. Aristotle's God is unmoved. He's an unmoved mover, not in the sense of actively moving upon things, but simply staying there, contemplating himself and having some kind of natural attractive force that moved things toward him. But this God himself was totally inert.

He's the unmoved mover, the do-nothing king who reigns but doesn't rule because he's in a state of pure being. And if you take that univocally, that can only mean static existence, no room for action. It's precisely that kind of a situation that the Christian theologian is trying to avoid when he's talking about immutability. The immutability on the one hand points to the consistency and the constancy of God in his relationship to us, but we are not allowed to draw that kind of a univocal inference from the concept of immutability that therefore God is static, disengaged, uninvolved, unrelated to his creation.

No, no, no, no. In fact, the concrete expression of God in the Old Testament is the God who goes before his people, who is intimately involved with his people. He's preeminently a God of action, and his primary activity is that of redemption. And so I just want to warn you that when we talk about the immutability of God, we don't mean by that the univocal metaphysical description of God as pure being in the Aristotelian sense. Our God is not a God who is plagued by some kind of ontological paralysis that makes him totally unable to work. Nevertheless, the Bible itself continues to speak in terms of God's unchangeableness. Malachi, for example, tells us God says, "'For I, Yahweh, change not.'"

Again, this has reference not to an ontological situation, but to a relational posture towards us. Now, the one other question that I'd like to deal with in terms of immutability, because it's a classic problem, is even in light of this concrete relationship of constancy and fidelity that immutability points to in our understanding of God, we still have to deal with the question of God's repentance. Here we have the Scriptures telling us that God doesn't change, that He abides in a constant state, consistent relationship to us, and then turn around and read in the Old Testament that God repents.

Now, how do we deal with that? Does this mean that God becomes sorry for His sins and offers sacrifices to Himself for His own transgressions? Or does this mean that God simply makes an about face, corrects an earlier action, improves upon it?

What does it mean? Repented Him that He even made man. Really, here again, we have to be aware of the kind of language that is used. We have, first of all, an anthropomorphic statement being used, repentance. It is projecting upon God a human attitude, a human feeling, and a human response.

But it also involves a change of perspective that is frequent in biblical writings. You recall when we talked in terms of the use of the word good in Scripture, that there is a certain sense in which the word good is used two different ways in the Bible, with reference to two different standards. There's a sense in which the term righteous is used relativistically on a horizontal level so that the Bible will speak of such and such as being a righteous man. That is, compared to other men, He is righteous. And yet there's an absolute sense in which men, when they are judged by the total and ultimate standard of God's righteousness, then the judgment is a universal judgment against all men, and that judgment being what? No man is righteous.

And from that perspective, there is no talk of righteousness of men. Now, it's the same kind of a thing when you're dealing with this business of the repentance of God. If you consider God's plan and God's activity from the perspective of eternity in terms of His own hidden counsel, in terms of His sovereign will, there can be no talk philosophically of God's changing His mind, can there? Yet biblical writers, responding from their perspective, from the temporal perspective, speak of God changing His course of action.

I think that's exactly how you have to understand these kinds of things, and it's, as I said before, common. From man's perspective, man sees a change. What he is describing, frankly, is God's relationship to the covenant community as they repent, or as they change their course of action. There's a certain sense in which God is even being consistent here and consistent to Himself, that when the people change to more unrighteousness, God will consistently deal with them in a particular kind of way.

When the people change and repent of their sins, God then will spare them from an impending judgment. All the way through the Bible, we have the descriptions of God in human categories, and then added on to that, the corrective saying, God is not a man, you see. His ways are not our ways.

Don't confuse analogical language with univocal language. And so I want to leave the business of God's repentance simply in terms of a human description, projection upon God, human feelings, human attributes, and human emotions. But those terms have to be understood in light of the more absolute descriptions of God's essence. Let me just give you another illustration of the kind of thing I'm talking about hermeneutically. When we look at the Scripture, we have to understand the difference between narrative passages and didactic passages. And when we fail to make that distinction is when we get ourselves into all kinds of theological hot water and all kinds of contradictions.

And of course, the basic rule here of hermeneutics, as I told you before, is that the narrative is to be interpreted by the didactic, not the didactic, by the narrative. Abraham and Isaac on Mount Moriah, what does God say to Abraham after Isaac is laid upon the altar? What does God say?

Now I know, you see, that you love me and you're faithful to me and all of that business. Now we could infer from that narrative plainly what? God learns things, huh? He didn't know an ideal what Abraham was going to do. You see God up there in heaven praying to Himself, you see, with a theological wish. I hope Abraham comes through. But God Himself is at the mercy of the vicissitudes in the fortuitous circumstances of time, and He doesn't know what's going to happen tomorrow.

But He's sure rooting for Abraham. Well, that's not what that text is all about. That text, if it's going to teach us something, it teaches about the issue of obedience. It's not designed to be a revelation of the nature of God.

And we learned abundantly elsewhere in Scripture through numerous passages something about God's knowledge in a didactic sense where the point of the writing is not to give us a narration, but actually tell us something specifically about the knowledge of God. That's Dr. R.C. Sproul with a message that we have not heard for many, many years here on Renewing Your Mind.

R.C. taught literally thousands of messages in his 50-plus years of ministry, and we've set aside this entire week to bring you several of these rarely heard gems from the archives. I'm pleased to be joined here in the studio by my colleague Nathan W. Bingham. Nathan, as you know, we're sharing a week of these very special programs because we want to highlight the importance of our ministry partner program here at Ligonier. That's right, Lee. It's a great privilege to be in the studio with you and have this opportunity to talk to our listeners.

You're right, Lee. Our ministry partners are such a special group of people, and they're not just special because of the community that they join. They're linking arms with tens of thousands of other like-minded Christians, and yes, they receive benefits as being part of this ministry partner program, early access or exclusive access to messages like they heard today. They receive TableTalk magazine discounts to come to Ligonier conferences and special events just for ministry partners, but they're special because of the way that they propel this ministry forward. It allows us to make bold, great commission outreach decisions to lean forward as we see the way that the Lord is blessing the work of this ministry. And so we're grateful for every one of our ministry partners, and as I said, it's their financial support, but also because of the way they pray and sustain the outreach of Ligonier Ministries. We wanted you to hear from one of our ministry partners. His name is Skip, and he told us that the church that he grew up in used Ligonier materials for Bible studies and Sunday school classes.

And now he and his wife regularly use Ligonier resources in their own family, in their own home. I asked him why he prioritizes giving to Ligonier every month, and here's what Skip had to say. And I think what Ligonier does is they've got a great strategy in place for how they're going to continue to grow Christ's kingdom, not only here but across the world. And I think that between the curriculum, the conferences, the trips, the books, the people that Ligonier has in place, they've really got a strategy and a game plan for how to do that and to really continue to grow Christ's kingdom. And Nathan, as we hear Skip's enthusiasm, we hear that from so many of our ministry partners, don't we?

Absolutely, Lee. It's a great privilege with the opportunities that we both have to travel with Ligonier and speak to ministry partners face to face and hear a similar testimony, just like we hear from Skip. The teaching of Dr. Sproul and our teaching fellows, the Lord has used it to impact their lives and they want to see that change and transformation, that renewed mind happening for others.

And so they joyfully support Ligonier Ministries month in and month out. We invite you to join this very special group of people, our ministry partners. If you'd like to join us, simply mention it to my colleague when you call us at 800-435-4343. If you prefer, you can sign up online by going to our website, renewingyourmind.org. And on behalf of all of my colleagues here at Ligonier Ministries, including Nathan W. Bingham, thank you for being with us today. We hope you'll join us again for another special edition of Renewing Your Mind.
Whisper: medium.en / 2023-04-05 22:53:08 / 2023-04-05 23:02:36 / 9

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