A Question about God’s Difference in Character

Question: “We say that God is unchanging, but there is enough difference in character between the OT and NT that it spawned a different sect of Christianity: Gnosticism. Why is God so different between eras? Do include today when compared to the time of Jesus.”

The immutability (unchanging character) of God is affirmed throughout the old and new testaments, without this aspect of God’s nature, there could be no true faith in Him, for then we would not know whether He will change course or not; how could His words of promise be trusted? His unchanging character is linked to every other aspect of His nature, such as His holiness and goodness (that has never and will never change), even His omniscience (all-knowing) is tied to his immutability, for no new information would ever reach his ear that would change who He is or what He has promised mankind, for from before the foundation of the world He already knew all things. Here are a few scriptures that declare the unchanging character of God from the OT to the NT:

Numbers 23:19  “God is not a man, that He should lie, Nor a son of man, that He should repent. Has He said, and will He not do? Or has He spoken, and will He not make it good?”

Malachi 3:6  “For I am the LORD, I do not change…”

Titus 1:2  “in hope of eternal life which God, who cannot lie, promised before time began”

Hebrews 6:17-18  “Thus God, determining to show more abundantly to the heirs of promise the immutability of His counsel, confirmed it by an oath,  (18)  that by two immutable things, in which it is impossible for God to lie, we might have strong consolation, who have fled for refuge to lay hold of the hope set before us.”

James 1:17  “Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and comes down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow of turning.”

Today, the idea is quite popular that God’s character has changed over time, especially from the way He was during the old testament era to the way He is in the new testament times. The scriptures do not teach this, but I can understand why some take this position. God worked differently with His people and His nation in the days of the old covenant than the way He has worked from the beginning of the law of Christ; this the scriptures readily admit. Hebrews 1:1-2 explained that God used “various ways” to speak to men in times past, so what changed? The arrival of the Son. Also consider how God dealt with the nation of Israel in a physical manner, because they were a physical kingdom, but now, Jesus has declared that His kingdom is not a physical, earthly kingdom: “Jesus answered, ‘My kingdom is not of this world. If My kingdom were of this world, My servants would fight, so that I should not be delivered to the Jews; but now My kingdom is not from here.’” (John 18:36). Jesus also stated that His kingdom cannot be observed by eyesight and that it was something that could reside within the soul: “The kingdom of God does not come with observation; nor will they say, ‘See here!’ or ‘See there!’ For indeed, the kingdom of God is within you.” (Luke 17:20-21). This kingdom, according to scripture, arrived in the 1st Century and true believers have entered ever since (Mark 9:1, Colossians 1:12-14). So, how does this affect our subject matter? Much in every way! How God dealt with the physical kingdom in the old testament is apparent to the physical eye, but how God deals with those in the spiritual Kingdom of His Son will appear quite different. It seems to me that this is one aspect that has led to the view that God is more lenient today because they cannot readily see the judgments of God. The second aspect is the argument that because of the grace of Christ, God is now much less severe. The new testament says the opposite of these views; God even made known that His severity against sin has remained intact (He did not change), this is apparent in the deaths of Ananias and Sapphira at the beginning of the kingdom’s history (Acts 5:1-11). The same thing happened at the beginning of the Israelite kingdom with Nadab and Abihu (Leviticus 10:1-3).

In Romans 11:22, Paul says, “Therefore consider the goodness and severity of God: on those who fell, severity; but toward you, goodness, if you continue in His goodness. Otherwise you also will be cut off.” See how Paul identifies two aspects of God’s character, His goodness and His severity. Nothing has changed throughout time, these aspects God reported to Moses a long time ago (Exodus 34:6-7). Here, Paul shows that God’s goodness toward the believers in Christ would become severe and punishable if the believers were to turn away from what is right.

Perhaps the greatest text on this subject is Hebrews 2:1-3, “Therefore we must give the more earnest heed to the things we have heard, lest we drift away.  (2)  For if the word spoken through angels proved steadfast, and every transgression and disobedience received a just reward,  (3)  how shall we escape if we neglect so great a salvation, which at the first began to be spoken by the Lord, and was confirmed to us by those who heard Him” The Hebrew writer argues that today we have an even greater responsibility to follow Christ in truth, because, if the word spoken through Angels (that’s the Law of Moses) justly dealt to every sin and disobedience, then “how shall we escape if we neglect so great a salvation”? God’s character has not changed, He has always held man responsible with the information given to man at whatever time in history; now, we are in a time of completed revelation of God’s word, and we have a greater and fuller knowledge than some who came before the 1st Century times, but that just means that we also have greater responsibility (Acts 17:30).

Hebrews 13:8 declares that “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever.” Our God has not changed, and this is why we can have full faith in Him. As to the questioner’s mention of Gnosticism, I am unfamiliar with the idea that a proposed character change in God led to the Gnostic sect (if I understood the question correctly). But, like every false path that men have taken, their actions do not change who God is; they will still be judged according to the words of Christ no matter how much they rejected it in their lives (John 12:47-48). The disciples in the 1st Century earnestly rejected the Gnostic doctrines, such as the teaching that Christ had not come in the flesh (1 John 4:2-3), and such false teachers will receive a stricter judgment (James 3:1). From the beginning of the world to our time, God remains the same, and man will be judged according to the word of law that has proceeded from the mouth of God. This is a part of His immutable nature, to do good to the law abider and be severe to the lawbreaker.

Article by Tanner Campbell.