These links between immutability, promises, and the Christian life are basic, but far from superficial. Probing the relevant doctrinal connections yields valuable insights about the nature of God and how we live in Him. This essay is then an exercise in peering under the surface of doctrinal connections that we usually take for granted.
There is a fundamental link between God’s immutability, God’s promises, and the Christian life. Being immutable, God is unchanging. Promises coming from an unchanging God can be relied upon with a confidence, which would be otherwise less assured. To the extent that the Christian life is one of faith–dependence upon God’s covenant promises – God’s immutability breathes a joyful certainty to every believer. These links between immutability, promises, and the Christian life are basic, but far from superficial. Probing the relevant doctrinal connections yields valuable insights about the nature of God and how we live in Him. This essay is then an exercise in peering under the surface of doctrinal connections that we usually take for granted.
Doctrinal Location and Proportion
The first step towards better appreciating the doctrinal connections before us, is to correctly locate them. Charles Spurgeon linked God’s immutability and promises: “If I thought that the notes of the bank of England could not be cashed next week, I should decline to take them; and if I thought that God’s promises would never be fulfilled—if I thought that God would see it right to alter some word in his promises—farewell Scriptures! I want immutable things!” (Spurgeon, Sermon 1).
Systematic theology is concerned with discerning the fitting connections between, and proportions of, doctrines. Theology is the study of God and all things in relation to Him. God’s immutability is part of Theology Proper in that it describes something of God’s inner being. God exists in absolute freedom and “anything that is changeable must not be thought of God” (Augustine, The Trinity, 8:3). God does not need anything. He is before all things and over all things. God is perfect and was immutable prior to creation (to the extent that our language can gesture to such a state of eternity). Immutability occupies a prime place in our doctrinal investigation in that God occupies the most honored place in all theological reflection. Sadly, God is not always granted the seat of honor in our minds that he ought to hold – and rectifying that should be a key goal of our theological labors. We take a meaningful step in that direction when we turn the eye of faith to gaze on the immutable God, through the lens of his covenant promises. When we do so, we find that the loving plenitude of God’s immutable being is more delightfully revealed to us, and our Christian living is enlivened.
The covenant promises of God belong to the loci of theology known as soteriology–the doctrines of salvation. Soteriology concerns God’s works of grace in electing, redeeming, restoring, and renewing sinful creatures. The knowledge of God as he is in himself ought to greatly occupy our thoughts and worship–to our loss it often does not. The knowledge of God as our saviour more obviously brings itself to our conscious attention. The death and resurrection of the Son impresses itself upon us to the extent that we are conscious of our sin, suffering, spiritual attack, and mortality. We need salvation, so we allow the doctrines of salvation to fill our spiritual vision. The problem with this is that soteriology is a derivative doctrine. Salvation is required due to sin, and it proceeds from the immutable God.
Soteriology all too easily usurps the place in our theological framework that ought to be occupied by God himself. When a derivative doctrine such as soteriology occupies too large a place in our outlook, the resultant doctrine tends to be asked to carry freight it cannot bear. Instead of allowing more fundamental doctrines such as the doctrine of God to enliven, empower, and enrich soteriology, we try to sustain the overly expanded doctrine by repetition of mantras or ever more nuanced distinctions within it. That which expands beyond its fitting location becomes stretched, brittle, and dry.
Our efforts then to provide fitting location and proportion to God’s promises as part of the derivative doctrines of salvation, are aimed at sustaining and enriching them with the appropriate doctrinal resources.
The Christian life is an application of soteriology that depends upon other important doctrines–in particular anthropology. This is the subsection of the doctrine of creation that concerns the nature of people. Given that, the doctrine of the Christian life involves consideration of both God’s works of salvation, and the human reception of them. When we see the Christian life is a subsection of soteriology that intersects with anthropology, we realize two things. First, that the Christian life must be viewed as a response to God’s saving works; Second, that it is in the Christian life that we see the fruit of the theological resources deployed in the loci on which it depends. Our doctrine of God resources our doctrines of salvation, and both empower the Christian life.