The New Testament re-affirms what the Old Testament teaches on the unchanging nature and character of God. Hebrews 13:8 says, “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, and today, and forever.”  And James 1:17 declares that with the Father there is no “variation or shadow due to change.” 

We saw in the previous post that the OT Scriptures make a separation between God’s character and His course of action.  His character never changes, but His plans and attitudes toward people are always subject to change.  In the Hebrew mindset, God’s righteousness, His goodness and His mercy are not diminished simply because He changes His mind about a plan or a person.

This perspective carries over into the New Testament as well.  In fact, it is a foundation of New Testament theology that the Father changed His mind about humanity as a result of Jesus’ death on the cross.  J.I. Packer puts it this way: “by undergoing the cross Jesus expiated our sins, propitiated our Maker, turned God’s “no” to us into a “yes,” and so saved us.” (Christian Theology Reader, 376)   The idea that the Father’s attitude towards us changed as a result of the cross echoes throughout Ephesians 2.  Paul says to his readers that they were previously “separated from Christ, alienated from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world” (vs 12).  But now through Jesus they had “access in one Spirit to the Father” (vs 18).  They were “no longer strangers and aliens” but now “fellow citizens” of Israel (vs 19).

The idea of salvation in the New Testament is thus premised on the possibility that God can change His mind.  Before the death of Christ on the Cross, all of humanity was hopeless because the “No” of God loomed over all families of the earth.  But because of Christ’s obedience, the fundamental relationship between God and humanity has changed. Salvation is now open to everyone. God’s “No” can be turned into a “Yes” when we respond with faith and repentance to His demonstration of love.

Thus we see that God’s thoughts and attitudes toward people can change. I will clarify that God's love for all people never changes. He loves the world and wants all to be saved. But in the same way we as humans grieve separation from people whom we love, or feel angry toward people who have offended us, God experiences pain over each person who has not been reconciled to Him through Christ.  This grief turns to joy when a person comes to salvation.

In the examples of the Atonement and personal salvation we see that God can change His mind, attitude, or course of action.  The historical instances are much more prevalent in the Old Testament, but the New Testament still upholds the idea that God experiences change. As Christian theology took shape over the early centuries of the church, however, the understanding that God can experience change came under threat.  Many church fathers had a worldview that had been shaped by Greek philosophy, which denied the possibility that God could change in any way whatsoever. 

In the next posts, we’ll look at how the Greeks thought, and then explore how their thought influenced Christian doctrine.