We’re going to finish up Ezekiel 18 today, and I feel like I need to apologize a little bit for going back to that chapter because I think you get it already, so I don’t want to be just an echo. But I do need to finish the chapter because the good part is saved till the end. So we need to finish this incredible eighteenth chapter of Ezekiel. And we’re looking at this chapter under the subject of “Social Justice and the Gospel,” trying to get an understanding of how we are to think about this emphasis on social justice, which is all over our culture these days, and how it fits in with our understanding of the biblical gospel.
And what Ezekiel wants us to know is that sinners need to be concerned about one thing, and that is death, because this chapter is a warning from God to every sinner of the impending reality of eternal death. Its summary is basically given in one sentence, “The person who sins will die,” not just physically, but spiritually and eternally. That is stated clearly at the end of verse 4 and the beginning of verse 20. This chapter is about individual responsibility, individual sin, individual accountability to God, individual repentance, individual forgiveness, and the gift of eternal life.
It’s hard for this evangelical church these days to lead to where the gospel leads. We want to influence people, we want to reach people, and we want to bring them to the knowledge of Christ. We want them to receive salvation, and escape hell and enter heaven. But there is a reluctance to acknowledge where the gospel begins, and that is with an indictment of every human being as a sinner headed for everlasting punishment; that is what Scripture says.
We are all dead in trespasses and sins, Ephesians 2 says, and as such, we are children of wrath. We are, in fact, the walking dead, headed for judgment. And the Bible looks deeply into the human condition and it tells us that every part of us is sinful, wicked, and corrupt. The heart is evil, Jeremiah 17:9 says, “The heart is deceitful above all things and desperately wicked; who can know it?” Even our self-understanding incapable of grasping how wretched our own hearts are.
Not only is the heart evil, but the mind is corrupt. Ephesians 4 says, “The mind is futile,” – or empty – “it is darkened in its understanding, it is excluded from the life of God, and it is ignorant, and it is hard-hearted and given over to sin.” So we are sinful, as we read in Romans 3, we are sinful in every aspect. Our heart is evil, our mind is corrupt. As a result of that, our will is wicked.
Same chapter, Ephesians 4, describes the will as “callous, given over to sensuality for the practice of every kind of impurity with greediness.” In other words, there’s an eagerness, a greediness in plunging ourselves into willful sin. And then, of course, the body is evil. We are in our body slaves to sin, Paul says in the book of Romans, and he also says that our body is the body of death. It’s the body of death.
The thought and the conduct of every human being is sinful. That is the necessary starting point for the gospel, that’s where the gospel has to begin, “The wages of sin is death.” The person that sins will die, not merely a physical death, but an eternal death.
Modern pragmatic worldly kind of approach to church and Christianity is very reluctant to give that part of the gospel because it’s so offensive. Sinners will fight to defend their goodness. If there’s anything that’s at the head of all the sins that characterize human beings the first one would be pride. Pride is the primary sin because pride is the beginning point of how we preserve ourselves and live with ourselves; and so sinners tend to think themselves good and not evil. They see some bad in their bad, but they see no bad in their good. And so, sinners are defensive about their goodness.
This has always been the case. In fact, sinners are prone to blame someone else. That’s the default position for every sinner, “If there’s something wrong with me, somebody else did something to me. I’m a victim of somebody else’s sin.” This is how it was in the garden when God confronted Eve, and she blamed the serpent, and then Adam blamed her, and they both ultimately blamed God because it was God who created the serpent and God who created Eve.
This is the default position for all sinners. They don’t want to accept the full responsibility for their wretchedness. They don’t fully understand their wretchedness. They certainly don’t want to believe that they are alienated from the life of God, ignorant in their understanding, and headed for eternal hell. They don’t want the truth.
But that’s where the gospel begins, and confronting sinners about their sinfulness is the most distinctively Christian doctrine. All other views of man grant him some goodness. All other religions believe that somehow there’s enough goodness in human beings to earn favor with God, that corruption of man is the most contrary Christian doctrine. It is contrary to all normal human thinking. Man will exhaust himself to protect his sense of goodness and nobility.
It is also the most paradoxical doctrine because people do some humanly good things, philanthropic things – acts of kindness, acts of sacrifice. But that is not good before God, because even a good thing on its face, if it’s not done for the glory of God is fraught with evil.
The corruption of man is the most minimized Christian doctrine because it is the most offensive Christian doctrine. And so as I’ve been saying in this series, sinners universally reject the biblical diagnosis of their condition. And because it’s such a resisted doctrine, Christians will set it aside, ignore it, soft-peddle it. They don’t want to be offensive.
The standard defense for proud sinners is they’re not going to accept that biblical diagnosis of themselves, it’s always been that way. If they’re going to blame their circumstances they’re going to blame the influences around them – the family, the people in the culture, people in previous cultures, and ultimately they’re going to blame God: “If there is one God and God is the Creator of the world and He is the architect of history and He is the one who oversees every single issue in every single life in history, as the Bible says He is, then God ought to get the blame for what’s wrong in this world and what’s wrong in my life.”
Now that brings us to this current social justice frenzy that we have in our culture; it’s the most recent and popular trend for guilty sinners to get together collectively and blame someone else for what’s wrong in their lives, and even to blame God. They identify themselves happily as victims. Everybody, as I’ve been saying, is rushing to find a victim category, because if you’re not a victim of something you really don’t have anything to say in the discourse of our society. You need to be a victim of something. Somebody else had to do something to you to wound you in such a way that has caused damage in your life. And that is what is defining. People are defining themselves by what was done to them rather than what they are in the eyes of God. As Christians and faithful preachers of the gospel, we cannot let believing sinners fixate on what has been done to them. They’ve got to get beyond that to what’s going on inside of them.
Now look, I want you to understand this very clearly. There are real victims in the world for sure. Throughout all of human history there have been people who have been treated unjustly, unfairly, mercilessly, brutally, unkindly. There are millions of people who have died simply because somebody wanted to wipe out or obliterate a tribe of people or an ethnic group. There are millions of people who have died in battles and conflicts. There are people who have died in criminal activities. There are people who have been abused by cultures in society still going on in the world today. We read almost every day about more people being massacred here or there in the world.
There are victims in the world. In fact, all of us are, to one degree or another, victims. We are all victims of Adam’s sin, because in Adam we all died. We all feel the weight of that fallenness that came from his sin. And we are victims of previous generations in the fact that they have led the culture to where it is today. And it’s not where it should be, it’s a dangerous place to be in this world, because the culture is so corrupt, so vile, so wicked, so evil, and so ubiquitous, and so visible, and so ever-present. We are victims of the present culture, the present corruption in the media that relentlessly pours in front of us the string of wretched evil images.
I’m not saying we aren’t victims. And there are people who’ve been abused and treated unlovingly and unkindly, and sometimes groups of people, sometimes individuals of people. Of course, there are victims in this world. It’s a fallen world; there’s never going to be a right kind of government that’s going to be perfectly just until our Lord sets up His kingdom. Christians then, as Christians, are called by God to do everything we can in our power to bring justice to people who have been treated unjustly, to bring compassionate love to people who have been treated without mercy. This is what it means to be a Christian.
We are in this world to demonstrate the love of God. When God sent His Son into the world and wanted to put His power on display He didn’t have Jesus fly around like some kind of human helicopter, or do tricks that couldn’t be explained by any other than a supernatural explanation. No. To put His supernatural power on display He had Jesus banish illness from the land of Israel, wipe it out essentially. Why? Because He was demonstrating not only divine power, but divine compassion. That is the heart of God. God has compassion for all who suffer in the world. And as believers we carry that compassion to the world around us. It’s our responsibility, we already saw that. Go back to chapter 18, verse 5.
As those who are righteous to practice justice and righteousness, it’s our responsibility to not defile a neighbor’s wife and not to oppress someone, verse 7, not to commit robbery, to give bread to the hungry and cover the naked with clothing, and not lend money on interest or charge usury. It’s our responsibility to keep our hands from iniquity and to execute true justice between man and man. This is part of walking in God’s statues and ordinances, dealing faithfully, dealing with integrity as righteous people who really live because God has given us life.
What Christians do in the world is to bring justice. The Old Testament says, “Do justly, and love kindness.” Of course, we want to do everything we can to relieve the suffering of people, whatever that suffering might mean. But our message, our message is the gospel, and the gospel message will not let the sinner think that because we are sympathetic with his sins, we are sympathetic with his suffering, we are sympathetic with the injustice that’s been brought upon this person or that, that God therefore is so sympathetic that He will overlook their sin. That is not true. That is not true. It’s not true for God and it can’t be true for us. Like God, we want to be sympathetic, we want to be kind, we want to be compassionate, we want to be loving in relieving people of the treatment that is unfair and unjust and unkind. But at the same time, we must recognize that just as God will not be merciful to them with regard to their sin, we must as well confront them with the inevitable consequences of their transgressions.
So I’m not arguing that people aren’t victims; they are, we all are to one degree or another, because it’s a fallen world. And I’m not arguing that we don’t have a responsibility to be kind, we do; and to give mercy and justice and love and compassion, even sacrificially, doing good to all men. What I’m saying is that while we show sympathy – and even God shows a measure of sympathy – don’t think for a moment that that is going to be transferred over to how God deals with a sinner who doesn’t repent and come to Him for forgiveness. Our message to the sinner is, “I want to do what I can to relieve your suffering, if that’s possible; but I’m much more concerned about the eternal suffering that is awaiting you. And God will not be merciful to you unless you have come to Him to receive forgiveness of sins. That only happens through the gospel through the Lord Jesus Christ.”
So while so many evangelicals are happy to show sympathy and kindness toward those who feel like they are victims, there are many real victims and there are a lot of artificial victims; but while we want to show them kindness we have to remember God will show no mercy to any sinner who rejects Him and rejects His gospel and rejects His Son. And sooner or later in our acts of mercy we need to address the issue of sin and death and eternal judgment in hell. Whatever your circumstances are, whether you have lived above the fray, whether you have lived in prosperity and wealth, or whether you have lived in poverty and deprivation, the issue is the sins that you commit, the alienation of your entire being from God is going to send you to hell forever, unless you believe in the Lord Jesus Christ and are forgiven through faith in Him.
There’s just a reluctance in this climate today to confront the reality of that. There’s an eagerness to rush in to everybody who says they’re a victim and show them mercy and sympathy. Sometimes that’s the right thing to do, but never the main thing to do. So that’s why we’re looking at Ezekiel 18, because Ezekiel is not going to let sinners think that God is going to deal with them lightly or unjustly with regard to their sin. The soul, the person who sins will die, die the death that is a divine sentence by God, an eternal death.
Now Ezekiel is a judgment preacher in this chapter, as we have seen, so let’s go back just briefly. Ezekiel is preaching to captives in Babylon. The first two deportations to the Babylonian captivity have taken place. He is preaching to the captives; he is warning them about their sin. And they were very, very adept at doing what all sinners do. They were proclaiming their innocence, they were not sinful. In fact, they had developed a kind of proverb – a meme I said last time.
In verse 2, “The fathers eat the sour grapes, the children’s teeth are set on edge.” Here’s what they were saying: “We’re suffering. We’ve been taken out of our land, the land of Israel. We’re in this pagan land with these unclean Gentiles. We are suffering as slaves in a foreign land. But we’re suffering for something our fathers did. Our fathers ate the sour grapes, and our teeth are set on edge. That generation did the sinning, we get the punishment.” That was their claim. And that is just an illustration of how sinners will always do everything they can to push away the sense of responsibility that they should acknowledge in order to protect their own sense of goodness and innocence.
“As I live,” – says the Lord in verse 3 – “you are surely not going to use this proverb in Israel anymore.” And it was being used back in Israel, as Jeremiah notes and quotes the same proverb, being kind of the byword for those who hadn’t yet been taken into captivity. “Stop saying that. Stop saying that.”
Nobody suffers for somebody else’s sin, no one. You can’t come before God and say, “I was a victim of somebody else. I was a victim of what somebody did to me.” That may be true on a human level; that is not going to be true on a divine level. “All souls are Mine, all persons are Mine as individuals. The soul who sins, the person who sins will die.” That is the beginning of this chapter. We call that the sinner’s delusion that he is innocent and he’s suffering for what somebody else did; and then God’s truth that’s not true, the soul who sins receives the judgment.
So we saw the sinner’s delusion and God’s truth. Then we saw the sinner’s delusion defended when God’s truth was illustrated in verses 5 to 20 – I won’t go through it. Remember there were three illustration. There was a righteous person, and then there was an unrighteous son, and then there was a righteous grandson. And the righteous person, the first person, righteous, did deeds of righteousness – didn’t worship idols, didn’t commit adultery, didn’t abuse the poor, clothed the naked, gave good to the hungry, did all the right things, because he was righteous.
His son is evil, wicked, vile, and does all the things his father didn’t do. God says, “The righteous man will live. The unrighteous son will die, and his blood will be on his own head.” That’s what it says in verse 13. He’s going to suffer consequences for his own sin. In other words, the righteousness of his father didn’t protect him. You got that?
The righteousness of the father did not protect the son. And then the third picture of the grandson, the next generation, is a son who didn’t do what his evil father did, but did what his righteous grandfather did. And it goes on to say that he will live, he will live, verse 17, whereas his evil father will die for his iniquity, verse 18.
So here you have this very simple sequence. You have a righteous father, you have an unrighteous son, and a righteous grandson. The righteousness of the father doesn’t protect the evil son – listen to this – and the evil of the son is not passed on to the next generation, the grandson. Each person stands on his own. The righteous will live and the unrighteous will die. No child is protected by the righteousness of his father, and no child is punished for the sins of his father or any ancestors. This is the sinner’s delusion, and he clings to it.
Psalm 19:12 says, “Who can discern his own faults? Who can discern his own faults?” People can’t see themselves for who they are, they’re deluded. “Who can know this deceitful human heart?” Jeremiah 17. But know this: you will not gain any righteousness before God from a righteous parent, nor will you be punished for any sin from an unrighteous person. That’s the principle and that’s the principle illustrated.
So you see God’s truth; each person stands before God on his own. The sinner’s delusion is that he’s suffering for somebody else’s sins. God gives him an illustration specifically of this truth; the sinner will not accept it. Go down to verse 19, “Yet you say, ‘Why should the son not bear the punishment for the father’s iniquity?’” This is sarcasm. This is mockery of God. “Why shouldn’t it be this way? This is the kind of God You are; somebody sins and You punish somebody else. You’re capricious, You’re whimsical, You get some kind of pleasure out of vengeance.”
They would not acknowledge their own sin. Yes, their forefathers had sinned. Yes, the sins of their forefathers had led to this. But they were no different than their forefathers, they were no better than them, and none of them would ever be brought before God to be judged by any sins other than their own. And so, we come to the statement again: “When the son has practiced justice and righteousness” – verse 19 – “and observed all My statues and done them, he shall surely live. The person who sins will die. The son will not bear the punishment for the father’s iniquity, nor will the father bear the punishment for the son’s iniquity; the righteousness of the righteous will be upon himself, and the wickedness of the wicked will be upon himself.”
Everyone is treated as an individual. Now again, I get it; we’re all influenced by the evil around us, and that affects the world in which we have to live. But when it comes to judgment our judgment is going to be predicated only on our own lives.
The passage ends, starting in verse 21, with God’s truth offered and the sinner’s delusion retained. One more cycle here, as Ezekiel tries to communicate his message that they can’t blame prior generations or others for their troubles. They’re going to have to be right before God because He judges them as individuals. So he goes back to this and we see God’s truth offered. Now this is like an invitation. This is very direct, and the sinner’s delusion is retained, and you’ll see that sinners fight hard not to accept the biblical diagnosis of their sinfulness.
Verse 21, “But if the wicked man turns from all his sins which he has committed and observes all My statutes and practices justice and righteousness, he shall surely live; he shall not die. All his transgressions which he has committed will not be remembered against him; because of his righteousness which he has practiced, he will live.”
Now I remind you of this. This is not to say we’re saved by works, it is to say we’re judged by works. Listen carefully: we’re saved by grace through faith, we are judged by works. We are judged by works; we know that, that’s clear throughout all of Scripture. You’ll be judged by God by your works, because your works are the evidence of your nature. And if your works are unrighteous, then that’s the evidence of your unrighteous nature. And if your works are righteous, that’s the evidence of your righteous nature.
So again, we are saved not by works, we are saved by grace through faith; we are judged by works which manifest the reality of that salvation. When there is a person who his works are just and righteous, he will live, he will live. And this is what God delights in, verse 23: “Do I have any pleasure in the death of the wicked,” declares the Lord God, “rather than that he should turn from his ways and live?”
This is the heart of God. God doesn’t get satisfaction in vengeance. God is not some unfeeling deist; God, some god of the deist fabrication who is completely indifferent. God doesn’t have any pleasure in the death of the wicked, He has pleasure in the death of the saints, Psalm 116:15. He has no pleasure in the death of the wicked. But sin will be punished. It’s God’s desire that you live, that you turn from your ways and live. This is the Christian message.
Okay, life’s been hard, life’s been tough, it can be that way. And it’s extremely tough for lots of people, far tougher than it is for us in this culture in many ways. I get that, it’s a hard world to live in. But we get too preoccupied with that, and then we get into the social gospel and all we want to do is relieve people’s suffering. And why is that so easy to do? Because there’s no confrontation about sin in that. You can just do all of that you want and the sinners will love you to death. But as soon as you go beyond that and point them in the direction of their own internal wretchedness and the coming death and judgment of God, you have become their enemy.
The Christian message is hopelessly lost if people get caught up in social issues. We need to talk about divine justice and we need to talk about divine reconciliation with God. And I fear because it’s been historically proven that once the church starts going in a direction of relieving people’s suffering it never comes back, because the unbelieving world will fully embrace you.
The sufferers will fully embrace you if you just show up to relieve their suffering. If you then say to them, “You’re going to die and spend eternity in hell. Turn from your sins, confess your guilt, don’t blame anybody else for the wretchedness of your own soul. Certainly don’t blame God who is absolutely holy, seek His righteousness, seek to know Him, seek to obey His holy law, and He will give you eternal life; but you must turn from your sins,” that’s the message that the sinner does not want to hear. And it’s easy to just not give it. You can be a hero. As soon as you introduce that the relationship immediately changes.
Now Ezekiel is working hard on these people, so he has a little more to say, verse 24, “When a righteous man turns from his righteousness, commits iniquity and does according to all the abominations that a wicked man does, will he live?” This pictures someone who starts out with some kind of righteous behavior, maybe like a Pharisee, a legalistic person, an outwardly religious person, somebody who does good things, that does moral things. He starts out that way, but evidently his heart has never been changed, because he begins to live a life of iniquity and does according to all the abominations that a wicked man does. Will he live? Will he live? “All his righteous deeds which he has done will not be remembered for his treachery which he has committed and his sin which he’s committed; for them he will die.”
Here’s the point: superficial kind of goodness, kind of fixing up your life and maybe trying to do good and be a good person and be a moral person, that’s a short-term human effort, will not last. And eventually when that begins to collapse under the sheer weight of your own sinfulness and you begin to behave like an evil man doing the abominations that wicked people do, will you live? No, because that proves to be a superficial human righteousness.
“All his righteous deeds which he has done” – verse 24 – “will not be remembered for his treachery,” so mark it. People think that their good deeds, if they outweigh their bad deeds, that the good deeds will cancel out the bad deeds and God will accept them. No. If you live righteously for a while and then live sinfully, the righteous deeds will not be remembered. They’re not going to show up to cancel out your evil deeds. There are certainly not going to be enough of them to go into a treasury of merit, as the Roman Catholic Church says, because you’ve got more righteousness than you need, so it’s there like a bank for people who don’t have enough to cash in on. No.
If your righteousness is the filthy rags kind, the superficial kind, none of it will be remember because of your sin that you’ve committed; and the sin which you have committed will bring about death. If righteousness is the real thing, it’s an imputed righteousness from God that lasts, that’s permanent. Any temporary righteousness is human and it’s superficial. It cannot last, it does not save, and it doesn’t accumulate for you any kind of goodness that can cancel out your sin. Past sins are not remembered against those who truly repent; and past good deeds are not remembered by those who live sinful lives.
Your righteousness, if it is to be granted life, has to be permanent righteousness, not a fabricated human effort at being good, but the righteousness that comes from God. The impenitent sinner’s good deeds are useless against his sins. His goodness does not pile up any kind of merit for him.
The message is this: again, you’re going to be judged, you’re going to be judged by a life of true righteousness that continued and remained to the end, or you’re going to be judged by a life of sin that manifested itself to the end. You’re going to be judged on those two things.
Again, we’re saved by grace through faith, but we’re going to be judged by our life works. The person who is righteous, God says, will live. The person who has been made righteous by God will live because he did righteous deeds; the person who sins will die because those sins manifest the wretchedness of his own nature.
What Ezekiel is saying is you need to repent. You need to turn. You need to observe God’s law, practice God’s law. He’s offering salvation, forgiveness, mercy, grace. And what is the response? The sinner’s delusion defended, verse 25. This is how they respond: “Yet you say, ‘The way of the Lord is not right.’” They’re still refusing to accept the fact that God judges them for their own sin, and they are wanting to hold on to the notion that they’re good people being punished for something their forefathers did. So they continue to reject the issue of their own sinfulness.
Look, simply stated: whatever you’ve suffered in this life, whatever it is, it’s short of what you deserve, right, if you’re still alive, because you deserve death; you’re still alive. Whatever you’re suffering, it is a measure of mercy. It is God’s mercy in action that we are not consumed, Scripture says.
But these sinners – typical of sinners – don’t want to accept their sinfulness, and so they say, “The way of the Lord is not right.” Typical sinner, you give them the gospel, you tell them the truth about their sinfulness, “That’s not right; I’m not interested in a God like that.” That’s a respected statement on the part of a believer because he honors God. That’s a rejected statement on the part of an unbeliever because he would have to admit that he was, in fact, something other than he has convinced himself he is.
“The way of the Lord is not right.” The exiled sufferers see God’s way as unjust. “He has forsaken us. He is punishing us for the sins of our fathers. Why would we look to Him for anything? He’s unjust.” This is the sinner’s stubborn blasphemy.
Jeremiah chapter 5, just one verse there, verse 3, “O Lord, do not Your eyes look for truth? You have smitten them, but they did not weaken; You have consumed them, but they refused to take correction. They have made their faces harder than rock; they have refused to repent.”
No matter what God does to them – and Jeremiah’s speaking to the Jews who felt the Babylonian captivity even though they haven’t yet been taken out of their land – and no matter what God does, no matter what God brings, their refusal to repent is maintained. That is the sinner’s stubborn attitude of self-protection.
On the other hand, what Ezekiel is saying is, “If you would cry out to God, if you would cry out to God whose compassions fail not,” Lamentations 3:22. “Cry out to God, O house of Israel, cry out to God. Is My way not right? Is it not your ways that are not right?” You’ve got to acknowledge your sin. God is right, you are wrong. God is righteous, you are sinful. “Is My way not right?”
Nehemiah 9:33 says, “You are just in all that has come upon us; for You have dealt faithfully, but we have acted wickedly.” That’s the sinner at the point that he needs to be. Let me read it again, Nehemiah 9:33, “You are just in all that has come upon us; for You have dealt faithfully, but we have acted wickedly.” That’s where the sinner has to be. The sinner has to come to the point where he says, “My ways are wrong and your ways are right.” They’re not there, because the sinner hates that reality.
So Ezekiel doesn’t give up, he goes through it again, verse 26, “When a righteous man turns away from his righteousness, commits iniquity and dies because of it, for his iniquity which he has committed he will die. Again, when a wicked man turns away from his wickedness which he has committed and practices justice and righteousness, he will save his life.”
Wickedness leads to death, righteousness leads to life, just that simple, “Because he considered and turned away from all his transgressions which he had committed, he shall surely live; he shall not die.” That’s it. You have a choice. You have a choice: you can hold on to your sin and die, you can let go of your sin, come to God and live.
Even after such a careful, thoughtful, impassioned word from God, the hard-headed, hard-hearted victims reject the truth and defend their delusion. Again, verse 29, “But the house of Israel says, ‘The way of the Lord is not right.’– to which God answers – “Are My ways not right, O house of Israel? Is it not your ways that are not right?”
Here is God Himself, through the prophet Ezekiel, pleading with these people to recognize that they’re the sinners, not God. They’re wrong, not God. God is right. They’re dealing with an unjust God in their minds to protect their own sense of goodness. Ezekiel is very patient; very, very patient with them, cycling back through these things over and over, and getting exactly the same resistance. Reminiscent of Isaiah, isn’t it, Isaiah 6, “Go preach and nobody’s going to listen.” It’s reminiscent of Jeremiah. Jeremiah preached, the people didn’t listen; they threw him in a pit.
The faithful preacher is a genuine watchman. The faithful preacher calls for all sinners to reject their natural, corrupt perspective of believing in their own goodness and blaspheming God. The faithful preacher cries out to people to stop, repent, acknowledge the holiness of God, turn from your sin, obey His law, and live eternally.
They are no better than their ancestors; we know it now, don’t we? Full of pride, full of self-righteousness; and accusing God of injustice is blasphemy. All people of kinds, whether they’re privileged or underprivileged, the message is the same: “Repent and seek the righteousness of God. Cry out for forgiveness for your sins.” Yes, life is hard, but it’s just for here and now. Death leads to eternity either in hell or heaven. Turn.
Verse 30, “Therefore I will judge you, O house of Israel, each according to his conduct.” “You’re not going to be able to blame anyone when you face the judgment of God, no one,” declares the Lord God. “So repent and turn away from all your transgressions, so that iniquity may not become a stumbling block to you.”
Chapter 44, verse 12, it’s a stumbling block of iniquity; and the iniquity is pride and self-righteousness and the unwillingness to confess and repent of sin. “So you’ve got this massive barrier, this massive barrier of your own wretched, corrupt sinfulness. Your heart is corrupt, your mind is corrupt, your will is corrupt, your body is corrupt. You live in the corruption, and you don’t understand this corruption. I’m telling you, repent and turn from all your transgressions, so that iniquity may not become the barrier. Don’t hold on to your sin. At the top of the list of your sins is the delusion that you’re good.”
Verse 31, another invitation, another offer: “Cast away from you all your transgressions which you have committed and make yourselves a new heart and a new spirit! For why will you die, O house of Israel?” This is the heart of God crying out, “Repent, repent. Turn away from your transgressions. Cast away all your transgressions. Make yourself a new heart and a new spirit. Why will you die?”
Verse 32, “I have no pleasure in the death of anyone who dies,” declares the Lord God. “Therefore, repent and live.” That’s a great invitation, isn’t it? “Repent and live,” from the very mouth of God. “Repent and live.”
This is not new, this is really an echo of Deuteronomy chapter 30 when the children of Israel were about to enter into the Promised Land. Listen to what they were told: “See, I have set before you” – Deuteronomy 30:15 – “today life and prosperity, and death and adversity; in that I command you today to love the Lord your God, to walk in His ways and keep His commandments and His statues and His judgments, that you may live and multiply, and that the Lord your God may bless you in the land you’re about to enter to possess it. But if your heart turns away and you will not obey, but are drawn away and worship other gods and serve them, I declare to you today that you shall surely perish. You will not prolong your days in the land where you are crossing the Jordan to enter and possess it. I call heaven and earth to witness against you today, that I have set before you life and death, the blessing and the curse. So choose life in order that you may life, you and your descendants, by loving the Lord you God, by obeying His voice, by holding fast to Him; for this is your life.” Another indication given to the children of Israel on the brink of going into the Promised Land. “Choose life, repent and live, and love God, and obey God.”
And at this point I know what you’re saying. You’re saying to yourself, “How can a sinner do that? How can he do that? How can he all of a sudden repent? How can he all of a sudden believe in God? How can he all of a sudden believe in the Lord Jesus Christ whom Ezekiel hadn’t yet seen? How can he make himself a new heart? How can he make himself a new spirit? How is this possible for a nonbeliever to do?”
It’s not possible. On his own he can't believe. On his own he can’t repent. On his own he can’t see the truth. On his own he can’t make a new heart and a new spirit. And that is exactly where God wants to put the sinner in the situation where he’s desperate, because he knows what he needs, and he has no power in himself to achieve it.
God commands sinners to stop complaining about their life situations and start worrying about their sin and their eternity. Repent. How can you do this on your own? You can’t. Make yourself a new heart and a new spirit, how is that possible? And the answer is you can’t do any of these things on your own. But the sinner coming to this level of desperation will find that God is at work in his heart, and God will do what the sinner cannot do.
Listen to Ezekiel 11:19, “And I will give them one heart, and put a new spirit within them, I will. And I will take the heart of stone out of their flesh and give them a heart of flesh, that they may walk in My statutes and keep My ordinances and do them. Then they will be My people, and I shall be their God. But as for those whose hearts go after their detestable things and abominations, I’ll bring their conduct down on their heads,” declares the Lord God.
The sinner can’t do it, so God says, “I’ll do it. I will do it. I will give him a new spirit; I will give him a new heart.” In the beautiful language of Ezekiel 36, listen to verse 25: “I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you will be clean; I will cleanse you from all your filthiness and all your idols. I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you. I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. I will put My Spirit within in and cause you to walk in My statutes, and you will be careful to observe My ordinances.”
The sinner is driven to the end of himself and has no power to do what he’s commanded to do; and it’s at that point in the sinner’s favor and in the sinner’s relief that God steps in and does what the sinner can never do. You don’t have to plead with God to do it, it’s what He desires to do. “He has no pleasure” – verse 23 – “in the death of the wicked.” He says it again in verse 32, “I have no pleasure in the death of anyone who dies.” “Come to Me, repent and live.” This is the gospel message that we must preach to everyone.
Social justice has no cross, it has no empty tomb, it has no forgiveness, it has no Savior, and it offers no heaven; but the gospel does. That is the gospel. Let’s pray.
Father, we thank You again for helping us. You have helped us greatly with this passage. You have helped us to grasp it, to understand it, to embrace it. You’ve helped us to believe it. Now help us to proclaim its truths.
Ezekiel didn’t know about the Lord Jesus, he didn’t know about the cross; but it was the Lord Jesus in His death on the cross that made it possible for God to be just and the justifier of those who believe in Him. It was the sacrifice of Christ that took your punishment for our sins. He bore in His body our sins on the cross, He was punished in our place. He is the one who makes it possible for you to make us a new heart, a new spirit, to impute righteousness to us, to justify us, and to renew us, give us new life, new birth, so that we can do righteous deeds, think righteous thoughts.
I pray, Lord, that sinners here might come the end of themselves and in desperation know that what they’ve been commanded to do they cannot do, cry out for mercy from You. You can grant repentance, You can grant understanding, You will grant faith, and You do give a new heart and a new spirit, a new birth, a new life, eternal life. Do that, Lord, even on behalf of those who hear this message even now.
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