In his 4th century homily on Hebrews, John Chrysostom had this to say of Hebrews 13:8.
“In these words, ‘Jesus Christ the same yesterday and today and forever:’ yesterday means all the time that is past: today, the present: forever, the endless which is to come. That is to say: You have heard of a High Priest, but not a High Priest who fails. He is always the same.”
John Chrysostom, Homilies on the Epistle to the Hebrews, 13:8-9.
John captures the writers’ meaning in these words: our Lord, Jesus Christ, is unchanging now and for all time. He is constant. He is good, loving, sovereign and faithful. Always. He is always the same.
John recognised this in the fourth century, a time of growth and excitement among the Early Church. The Emperor Constantine had legalised the faith, and his endorsement of Christianity was leading many to convert to belief in Christ. On the flip side, heresies like the Arians of North Africa were spreading fast, and posed huge challenges to the faithful Church.
This was a time of great change, but John recognised that the one thing that didn’t change was his God. The Bible is clear that our God does not change, indeed, in the book of Malachi, God Himself tells his people that He is as He is.
“For I, the Lord, do not change.”
Our God does not change, this is a clear Scriptural truth, and one recognised by the teachers and preachers of the Early Church. But what does that mean for us? A good friend of mine challenged me on this the other day. She and a friend have been reading None Like Him by Jen Wilkins (thoroughly recommend), and Jen challenges her readers by asking why it is we are so willing to ascribe this unchangingness to people. “Oh he’ll never change, it’s just how he is.” “I’d love her to come to faith, but she’ll never change her ways.” Sound familiar?
I’m certainly guilty of thinking like that. But the Bible doesn’t tell us that. In fact, it tells us the complete opposite. The Bible tells us that we can change, and it calls us to do so.
Jesus’ mission was to call people to repentance.
“The time has come,” he said. “The kingdom of God has come near. Repent and believe the good news!”
Whilst Peter’s sermon at Pentecost leads him to exhort his onlookers:
“Repent, then, and turn to God, so that your sins may be wiped out, that times of refreshing may come from the Lord.”
Scripture calls for repentance, the Christian life is quite literally about changing your ways. Our God may be unchanging, but in His merciful grace, we are not.
Clement of Alexandria, the second century author (find out more about him here), wrote his Exhortation to the Greeks in the 190s AD to beg the pagan Greeks of the Roman Empire to accept salvation. In true pastor/preacher style, Clement admits he’s gone on a while (12 books in fact!) as he closes the work.
“I have run on too long… as is natural when one is inviting men to the greatest of good things – salvation.”
Clement of Alexandria, Exhortation, 12.
The message of the Gospel is an exhortation to salvation. It is a call to change. To repent. To quite literally turn from the sinful life to a life lived for God’s glory. It’s a call for change before an unchanging God.
So when we think of change, there are three things to remember. One amazing truth, and two wonderful challenges.
- God is wonderfully unchanging. That means He is always who He says He is. He is a loving father, a Holy God, and a wonderful saviour. For more on who God is and what he is like, check out this blog by The Gospel Coalition.
- If God is unchanging but we are not: don’t label anyone as unredeemable. The Gospel is so powerful that as the old hymn goes, “the vilest offender who truly believes, that moment from Jesus a pardon receives.” God’s Gospel is powerful to change hearts and minds, pray big prayers for our unbelieving friends and family, and thank God for the wonderful change He has worked and is working in your own heart.
- If people are changeable: don’t lie to yourself about sin. This is a hard truth, but the phrase “oh, it’s just how I am” or “It’s just a character flaw, I’ll never change” is a fundamental untruth. Only God never changes. We must face up to sin, and fight it. Confident that in God’s goodness we will defeat it, and if not in this life, then there is a promise of a perfect sinless life to come. This same truth applies for people we know as well. We cannot accuse someone of always being this or that, but we can challenge them on unrepentant sin, because in God’s goodness repentance can happen, and grace is on offer for the sinner who comes anew to the foot of the cross.
God is wonderfully unchanging. Christ is the same yesterday, today and forever. People change. People can come to the Gospel. Pray for that change. Pray for that Gospel change.