God is Immutable
“Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change.” – James 1:17
The truth of God’s immutable nature, a truth stated plainly by James near the beginning of his epistle, is foundational to the entirety of the Christian religion, to the Gospel message, and to our very understanding of Who God is. God as Creator, something which James immediately highlights in verse 18, is only possible because in His creation of all existence, an existence born out of and sustained by His divine being, He is never diminished or weakened by His sustaining act. God as divine Judge is only possible because His judgments will never change, His standards will never move. God as sovereign Savior is only possible because His choice to elect and save a portion of sinful humanity can never be shaken or cast aside. He will never decide that His chosen ones are just too bad, worse than He expected, and thus change His mind. God’s sovereign decrees are eternal, not simply because He has perfect knowledge of all things, but because He never changes. We see immediately then how His divine perfections are perfectly harmonious, His immutability being in concert with His omniscience (perfect knowledge) and eternality (God is not bound by time). Of course in His simplicity, this must be so, as He is not composed of parts as we are. The truth of God is infinitely deep and dizzyingly complex, yet James is also helpful in our realization that these deep truths are immensely practical in the life of a believer.
Consider how James opens his epistle: “Count it joy when you face trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces endurance. The believer’s ability to consider the hardships of life a good thing is not only brought about by the effects they have within us – endurance – but also because God is immutable. He Who began a good work in you will bring it to completion. If God could change, then we can have no confidence in His ability to use our trials for good in our lives.
Consider what James says in 1:5-6: “If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him. But let him ask in faith, with no doubting, for the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea that is driven and tossed by the wind.” The believer’s confidence that God will supply the wisdom we need when we need it is born from God as a good giver of gifts to us, something which James says in verse 17 is born out of God’s immutable nature. Notice also how James highlights the inclination of natural man to change. The contrast is stark: natural humanity changes, and thus is tossed around with every wind of doctrine or every doubt that comes our way. But this is not so with our immutable God, Who is never affected by external forces (He is impassible). The believer should mirror the unchanging character of our God and Savior. Doubt is not something that should characterize us because it is something that can never characterize God.
Consider how James fleshes this out in 1:19: “Know this, my beloved brothers: let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger, for the anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God.” A sure-fire way to bring doubt and change into your life is to react swiftly and thoughtlessly to everything that comes along your path. The mark of a measured man is to wait and evaluate all the necessary information before making a decision. Be slow to react but quick to listen. Unrighteous anger is the result of our passible natures, our inability to know and wisely evaluate the entirety of a given situation we find ourselves in. We hear one piece of information and fly off the handle without gathering all the evidence. Yet God displays righteous anger because He knows everything and thus can never be moved by any new information. He doesn’t change.
Consider also why James highlights the works of a believer as important evidence of faith. When God makes a claim, it is the truth and always will be the truth. But this is not so with sinful humanity. We make claims and professions which we often go back on for any number of reasons. How can anyone know that someone’s claim to faith in Christ is a real thing? James gives us that answer: because genuine faith is always accompanied by a change in one’s life, by godly works. It’s a beautiful irony how God takes our mutable nature and works it for our good and His glory. Yet in so doing it also serves to highlight that Creator/creature distinction. We change, and there are times when that is bad (doubting) and times when that is a good (sanctification). But God does not change, and thus all of reality and all our Salvation is perfectly upheld. Might I encourage you to ponder anew the glorious immutable character of our God and the vast and wonderful implications this has for us as His beloved children.
Keith Kauffman attended University of Maryland (B.S.) and Capital Bible Seminary(M.Div.). Keith currently works at the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, MD, working in the Laboratory of Parasitic Diseases studying the immune response to Tuberculosis. Keith serves as an elder at Greenbelt Baptist Church.