Has God changed His mind about what He expects from people? Some think He has, or should. It’s the 21st century, they say. Those notions of morality are old-fashioned and need an update. Others think the change already happened and God doesn’t expect anything from you under the new covenant. You’re saved by grace and that’s it; no action required.
Neither of these ideas accurately reflects the picture God gives us in scripture. And while the idea of God brushing some rules under the rug can be a nice one if you plan to break those rules, it sets up a chilling precedent. Do you really want to serve a God who will change what’s expected of you or how He defines morality? If we can’t count on God to stay self-consistent we can’t trust Him and we’d have no hope to anchor our souls. Honestly, I find the idea of a God who changes the rules far more upsetting than that of a God who consistently expects certain things of His people.
God Wants You To Live
Thankfully, God reveals Himself in the Bible as reliable and consistent. That doesn’t mean He’s always predictable — He’s far too much for our minds to put Him in neat little boxes. But He will always act according to His character, keep His promises, and uphold His laws.
For when God made a promise to Abraham, since he could swear by no one greater, he swore by himself, saying, “Surely blessing I will bless you, and multiplying I will multiply you.” Thus, having patiently endured, he obtained the promise. For men indeed swear by a greater one, and in every dispute of theirs the oath is final for confirmation. In this way God, being determined to show more abundantly to the heirs of the promise the immutability of his counsel, interposed with an oath; that by two immutable things, in which it is impossible for God to lie, we may have a strong encouragement, who have fled for refuge to take hold of the hope set before us. (Heb. 6:13-18, WEB)
God has given both His promise and His oath that He will not change how He relates to those who flee to Him for refuge. This gives us hope which acts “as an anchor of the soul, a hope both sure and steadfast” (Heb. 6:19). We get to imitate “those who through faith and perseverance inherited the promises” (Heb. 6:12) because God assures us the promises aren’t going away.
Our Lord won’t pull the rug out from under your feet, play games with you, or change the rules. He wants you to live forever as part of His family. There’s no way He’s going to sabotage you by saying one thing and then doing or expecting another.
He Always Balances Mercy and Justice
When we talk about God as unchanging, we also have to look at the times when He did change His mind. It seems like a contradiction. Take, for example, the case of King Saul. God tells the prophet Samuel, “It grieves me that I have set up Saul to be king; for he has turned back from following me and has not performed my commandments” (1 Sam. 15;11, WEB). A short while later, Samuel tells Saul that “Yahweh has torn the kingdom of Israel from you. … Also the strength of Israel will not lie nor repent; for he is not a man that he should repent” (1 Sam. 15:29, WEB).
“Grieves” and “repent” are both translated from the same Hebrew word: nacham (H5162). The basic meaning is to sigh or to be sorry. It also means repent or regret. So we have in the same chapter God telling Samuel that He nacham something, then Samuel saying Yahweh does not nacham. What’s going on?
The pattern that I see looking at this subject is that God changes His mind about whether/when to punish transgression (see Ex. 32:14; 1 Chr. 21:15; Joel 2:13-14), but not about what His laws are. He’s full of mercy and compassion, but that doesn’t negate His justice. And in the case of Saul, God expressed nacham in the sense of sadness that Saul did wrong, but He also wouldn’t nacham in the sense of relenting from His purpose to put a more Godly king in place. That’s why the Bible translation I quoted uses different English words to translate nacham — the meaning is slightly different based on context.
He Will Not Alter His Promises
The Lord can be sorry about things. He can change His mind about when/whether to punish a sin. But He does not change in the things that make Him reliable.
For I, Yahweh, don’t change; therefore you, sons of Jacob, are not consumed. From the days of your fathers you have turned aside from my ordinances, and have not kept them. Return to me, and I will return to you,” says Yahweh of Armies. (Mal. 3:6-7, WEB)
“Change” is a different word than “repent” or “grieve.” It’s shanah (H8138), which means to repeat, do again, double, or alter. God will never pretend to want one thing, then changing it for another. He doesn’t alter His plan, covenant, and laws (Ps. 89.34).
It’s so important to understand that Jesus didn’t come to start a new religion. He came as the next step in God’s plan, initiating a new covenant which all the other covenants pointed to and showing us how God has always wanted to be worshiped. He filled God’s laws to the fullest extent and made it possible for us to follow those laws from the heart while in a transformational relationship with Him and His father.
I think we should see God’s consistency as comforting, not confining. Because the Lord does not change, we can still look into His Bible for guidelines on how to live in relationship with Him and other people. We can have faith that there’s a system of morality higher than any we’ve come up with on our own. We can still count on Him to show mercy while also upholding His laws. And we can still claim the promises He’s made to His people.