Judgment Principles

Ezekiel 18

Alan Lewis
Elon, North Carolina
November 2017

Last time we were in Ezekiel, we did an introduction to Ezekiel 18.  Ezekiel is a depressing book.  It a book about judgment but this chapter that has a message of HOPE. It is also a chapter that sounds very much like THE GOSPEL.  We saw many elements of the gospel in this chapter.

The problem was SIN.  Ezekiel says that “the soul that sins, it will die” That sounds very much like “the wages of sin is death” (18:4).  The punishment for sin was DEATH.  The solution was REPENTANCE.

He tells them to “Repent! Turn away from all your offenses; then sin will not be your downfall.” (18:30 NIV).  He tells them in this chapter to “turn and live” (18:32). That is a message that is repeated in the NT.  Jesus said, “Unless you repent, you will perish” (Luke 13:3).

In order to get saved, they need a NEW HEART and a NEW SPIRIT (18:31).  That sounds like the NT. At salvation, we become a new creation.  The chapter shows us the heart of God.  He wants people to be saved.  He does not desire the death of anyone.  There is a passionate appeal in this chapter, which almost sounds like an ALTAR CALL.  God tells people to “turn and live” (18:32).  He says, “Why will you die?” (18:31)

If you like apologetics, you will like this chapter. Apologetics deals with defending the faith.  In this chapter, there is a criticism of God (18:19-32).  It is a common criticism that people still have today.  They think that God is unfair.  he allows all kinds of evil to take place in the world.

They think that God is unfair.  He allows all kind of evil to take place in the world.  Two times He says “It is not me who is unjust.  It is you who are unjust” (18:25, 29).  God compared his justice with their injustice.

Today, we are going to finish the chapter.  Ezekiel is the prophet of personal responsibility.  This is a chapter that emphasizes personal responsibility.  We will be looking at some powerful principles that still apply to us today.  They are either clearly stated or implied in the chapter.

Six Incredible Principles

1. The Blame Principle

The blame principle says that people who blame other people are often guilty themselves.  That is exactly what we see here.  Sometimes we blame ourselves for something someone else has done but most of the time we blame others for something that we have done.

The Jews expressed this criticism in the form of a proverb, the sour grapes proverb. ‘The fathers have eaten sour grapes, and the children’s teeth are set on edge’? (18:2). The fathers ate the sour grapes but it is the children who feel the effects from those sour grapes.  The fathers sinned but the children are suffering. They said that it is not their fault all of these bad things are happening to them.  It was their ancestor’s fault.

Let’s bring this principle home today.  We live in a society that encourages blame.  We are encouraged to blame other people for your problems and make scapegoats out of them.  No one wants to take responsibility.  No one wants to ever admit they made a mistake or did something wrong.

We live in a culture of blame.  We blame our parents.  “I am the way I am because my parents messed me up.”  We blame our genes.  “I can’t help it.  I was born that way.  I cannot change.” We blame our family history. ” I come from a long line of criminals.  I am Irish. I have a generational curse on me.”

Politicians love to blame other people for their problems.  Obama came into office and blamed everything on Bush and the worst economy since the Great Depression.

Hillary lost the last election blamed it on WikiLeaks, Jim Comey, the Russians, and sexist voters.  Blame is so much a part of our society that people even try to blame the victim.  These days, criminals even blame the victim of crime.  Rapists will blame the woman for their crime.

It is so much a part of humanity that it goes back to the first man and woman on the planet.  When the first humans sinned and God confronted them, Adam blamed Eve and Eve blamed the serpent.  The serpent was the only one who did not blame anyone.

What was God’s answer to the blame excuse?  God said that they were not innocent.  Their generation was wicked.  We have seen that in the book already.  People were worshipping idols in the Temple.  Religious leaders were involved in it.  This was not just something previous generations did. The answer to this problem is to take responsibility for your own actions.

2. The Accountability Principle

The accountability principle says that all of us are accountable before God for what we do.  One day, we will all given an account.  One day, every preacher will give an account.  When we stand before God, we are only going to be held accountable for what we do.

We will not be held accountable for what our father or mother did.  We will not be held accountable for what our son or daughter did.  We will not be held accountable for what our husband or wife did.  All of us will be accountable for our own actions and our own actions alone.

II Corinthians 5:10 says, “For we must ALL appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may receive what is due for what HE has done in the body, whether good or evil”  (ESV).

This principle is for Christians today.  Ezekiel gives three examples of this truth.  He gives three case studies (18:5-18).  They last three generations.  They deal with a righteous father (18:5-9), a wicked son (18:10-13) and a righteous grandson (18:14-18).  Some say that it is an allusion to three OT kings: Josiah, Manasseh and Hezekiah.

Why is that example important?  Josiah was a righteous man.  He had a wicked son, Manasseh.  You can raise kids right, and do all the right things and they can still turn out rotten.  Good parents can have bad kids, because they have something called free will.  Cain and Abel had the same parents.

One child was good and one was bad.  One was a child of God and one was a child of the Devil.  One was a murderer and one was a martyr.  God does not hold us accountable for how our kids turn out.  He does hold us accountable for how we raise them.  Sue Klebold is not accountable for what her son did.  God will hold Dylan Klebold for what he did at Columbine. The Bible describes someone who was a terrible parent.  It was Eli the priest.

What if you grew up with terrible parents?  Hezekiah had a completely rotten father named Manasseh. We are affected by your environment but God still holds you accountable for our actions.  If you grow up in an abusive environment, it does not give you a right to abuse others.  God does not give people a pass and let them off of the hook, because they had bad parents.

3. The Divine Justice Principle

The divine justice principle says that any time we criticize God and think that He is not fair or that He has done something wrong, we are the ones at fault.  God’s ways are perfect.  It is man’s ways that are not.

Yet ye say, The way of the Lord is not equal. Hear now, O house of Israel; Is not my way equal? are not YOUR WAYS unequal? (18:25 ESV)

God said that His thoughts are not our thoughts.  We say that God is unfair.  God turns it around and says that we are the ones WE are unfair. Lots of people have things they want to tell God when they stand before Him.  They want to give Him a piece of their mind.

When the unsaved all stand before God they are guilty and speechless (Romans 3:19).  Some believers who want to criticize God when they stand before Him will also be speechless.  That was what happened to Job.  Instead of criticizing God, he repented in dust and ashes (Job 42:6).

4. The Retribution Principle

The retribution principle says that God punishes the guilty, not the innocent.  This is a very important principle.  People always worry that God will send the wrong people to hell. What about the people who have never heard the message?

Whatever God does will be right.  It will be fair.  It will be just.  As Abraham said, Will not the Judge of all the earth do right?” (Genesis 18:25 NIV).  We see that principle in Ezekiel 18.  The soul who sins shall die (18:4 ESV).  He says it twice in this chapter (18:4, 20). The soul who sins dies.  The one who does not sin does not die.

This verse is explained a little more later on in the chapter.  Ezekiel 18:20 says, “The soul who sins shall die. The son shall not suffer for the iniquity of the father, nor the father suffer for the iniquity of the son. The righteousness of the righteous shall be upon himself, and the wickedness of the wicked shall be upon himself” (ESV)

The Law of Moses said the same thing.  Deuteronomy 24:16 says “Fathers shall not be put to death because of their children, nor shall children be put to death because of their fathers. Each one shall be put to death for his own sin” (ESV).

God’s judgment is always fair.  It is not arbitrary.  It is not capricious. If you come from a completely rotten family, God does not hold that against you.  He judges each person individually based on their works.  That is a principle in the OT.  It is a principle in the NT.

God judged Israel BY WORKS.  “Therefore I will judge you, O house of Israel, EVER ONE according to HIS WAYS, declares the Lord God. Repent and turn from all your transgressions, lest iniquity be your ruin. (Ezekiel 18:30 ESV)

Now the end is upon you, and I will send my anger upon you; I will judge you ACCORDING TO YOUR WAYS, and I will punish you for all your abominations. (Ezekiel 7:3 ESV)

He will judge the unsaved BY WORKS. And I saw the dead, great and small, standing before the throne, and books were opened. Then another book was opened, which is the book of life. And the dead were judged by what was written in the books, ACCORDING TO WHAT THEY HAD DONE.  And the sea gave up the dead who were in it, Death and Hades gave up the dead who were in them, and they were judged, each one of them, ACCORDING TO WHAT THEY HAD DONE. (Revelation 20:12-13 ESV)

The church will also be judged BY WORKS.  Paul says to Christians, “For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may receive what is due for what he has done in the body, whether good or evil” (I Corinthians 5:10 ESV)

Theological Implications of Ezekiel 18:4

The soul that sinneth, it shall die” is a really important verse. It raises some very interesting questions.  Some of these questions deal with deep theological truths.  Let’s lok at three of them.

1) Does Ezekiel 18:4 teach annihiliationism?

Does it teach the doctrine of the annihilation of the soul?  Jehovah’s Witnesses use it to prove that souls can die, because it says “THE SOUL that sinneth, it will die.” After death, we all cease to exist.  Are they right?

It sounds right but there is one big problem. The word soul here means PERSON.  When he says “the soul who sins will die,” he means that “the person who sins will die.”  Sometimes the word “soul” in the Bible means something that is inside you.  Jesus said, “And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul” (Matthew 10:28).  Obviously, the body and the soul are not the same thing.

I Thessalonians 5:23 talks about your whole “spirit and soul and body” being preserved blameless unto the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. Sometimes, it just means person.  It just means person in the OT.  Genesis 2:7 says that Adam became a living soul.  He did NOT receive a soul.  He BECAME a soul (nephesh).  The NT says the same thing.

Sometimes the word “soul” in the Bible means something that is inside you. Jesus said, “And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul” (Matthew 10:28). Obviously, the body and the soul are not the same thing.

I Thessalonians 5:23 talks about your whole “spirit and soul and body” being preserved blameless unto the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. Sometimes, it just means person.  It just means person in the OT.  Genesis 2:7 says that Adam became a living soul.  He did NOT receive a soul.  He BECAME a soul (nephesh).  The NT says the same thing.

Romans 13:1 says, “Let every soul (ψυχή) be subject unto the higher powers.”  That means “Let every person be subject to the higher powers.”  Acts 2:43 says that “fear came on every soul (ψυχή) and many signs and wonders were done by the apostles.”  That means fear came on every person.

I Peter 3:20 talks about Noah building an ark and says that “eight souls (ψυχή) were saved by water.”  That means eight persons were saved by the ark.  Ezekiel 18:4 is NOT teaching the annihilation of the soul.

It just says that the person who sins will die.  It is not saying that when you die, your soul dies.  It is saying that when you sin, YOU die (not the immaterial part of you).  “The soul who sins will die” just means that “the person who sins will die.”

We know that from the first part of the verse. God says that all souls are His. He is not saying that he only owns part of us (the immaterial part).  He says that he owns ALL of us.  We are His property.  He created us.

2) Does Ezekiel 18:4 refute substitutionary atonement?

Jews use this verse against Christianity.  Ezekiel 18:4 says that the soul who sins dies. The death penalty only falls on the sinner, so how do you explain the atonement?  The one who did not sin died for the souls who did sin.  Is this objection valid?  How could Jesus die for our sins in light of Ezekiel 18:4?

There’s a big difference between dying BECAUSE of another man’s sins and dying FOR another man’s sins (as a sacrifice for sin). The concept of blood sacrifices for sin is all throughout the OT (Passover Lamb). The OT predicted one hundred years before Ezekiel that the Messiah would die for sins.  There is evidence for this concept, even in the Jewish OT.

But he was pierced FOR OUR TRANSGRESSIONS; he was crushed FOR OUR INIQUITIES; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his wounds we are healed. (Isaiah 53:5 ESV)

The Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all. (Isaiah 53:6 ESV)

By his knowledge shall the righteous one, my servant, make many to be accounted righteous, and HE SHALL BEAR THEIR INIQUITIES. (Isaiah 53:11 ESV)

3) Does Ezekiel 18:4 refute the doctrine of original sin?

Original sin teaches that we suffer because of what Adam did. We are all born with a sin nature, because of what Adam did.  Adam was the federal head of the race.  What he did affected us.  We see that in Romans 5 and I Corinthians 15.

Romans 5:18 says that “one trespass led to condemnation for all men” (ESV).  I Corinthians 15:21-22 says, “For as by a man came death, by a man has come also the resurrection of the dead. 22 For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive.” (ESV).

Does Ezekiel 18:4 prove that original sin is a false doctrine?  No. Ezekiel is not a systematic theologian.  He is not dealing with Adam.  Original sin is taught elsewhere in Scripture.

Is it unfair? We cannot criticize Adam because we sin every day of our own free will.  No one forces us to sin.  If you think it is unfair for us to suffer because of what Adam did, it is equally unfair for Jesus to suffer because of what we did.

5. The Forgiveness Principle

The forgiveness principle says that no matter what you have done in the past, no matter what sin you have committed or how many you have committed, you can be forgiven IF you repent.  It is a conditional promise.  It only happens if a person repents and this promise is still true today.

But if a wicked person turns away from all his sins that he has committed and keeps all my statutes and does what is just and right, he shall SURELY live; he shall not die. NONE of the transgressions that he has committed shall be remembered against him; for the righteousness that he has done he shall live.” (Ezekiel 18:21-22 ESV).

What does this tell us?  It tells us that people can change.  The cycle of sin can be broken?  It can be broken in yourself and in your family.  You are not doomed to live with your family’s sins.  God also says that change can take place, even if your ancestors are wicked.

You may come from a long line of criminals.  You may come from a family of witches.  Your past is irrelevant.  There is no generational curse.  God says that people can change, despite their past and despite their family’s past.

It also tells us that there is hope.  No matter how bad you have screwed up in the past, God can give you a second chance. This was not just a NT teaching.  We see it clearly in the OT.  Isaiah says “Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red as crimson, they shall be like wool” (1:18 NIV).

6. The Apostasy Principle

The apostasy principle says that total and final rejection of Christ and the path of righteousness results in death.  After seeing an incredible PROMISE in this chapter, we now see an incredible WARNING.

But when a righteous person turns away from his righteousness and does injustice and does the same abominations that the wicked person does, shall he live? None of the righteous deeds that he has done shall be remembered; for the treachery of which he is guilty and the sin he has committed, for them he shall die. (18:24 ESV).

Does this mean that you can lose your salvation?  Some use this verse to teach that doctrine.  Here a righteous person changes and becomes wicked and commits evil and it results in death but the death he is talking about is physical death.  The words “life” and “death” occur more than twenty-eight times in the chapter. They refer to physical death and physical life.  Ezekiel is not talking about salvation or eternal life.

And to this people you shall say: ‘Thus says the Lord: Behold, I set before you the way of life and the way of death. He who stays in this city shall die by the sword, by famine, and by pestilence, but he who goes out and surrenders to the Chaldeans who are besieging you shall live and shall have his life as a prize of war. (Jeremiah 21:8-9 ESV)

15“See, I have set before you today life and good, death and evil. 16 If you obey the commandments of the Lord your God that I command you today, by loving the Lord your God, by walking in his ways, and by keeping his commandments and his statutes and his rules, then you shall live and multiply, and the Lord your God will bless you in the land that you are entering to take possession of it.

17 But if your heart turns away, and you will not hear, but are drawn away to worship other gods and serve them, 18 I declare to you today, that you shall surely perish. You shall not live long in the land that you are going over the Jordan to enter and possess.

19 I call heaven and earth to witness against you today, that I have set before you life and death, blessing and curse. Therefore choose life, that you and your offspring may live, 20 loving the Lord your God, obeying his voice and holding fast to him, for he is your life and length of days, that you may dwell in the land that the Lord swore to your fathers, to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob, to give them. (Deuteronomy 30:15-20 ESV)

Ezekiel is talking about physical life but there is a sense in which it is applies to salvation.  When a person makes a profession of faith and turns from his righteousness and commits apostasy, that person will not be saved. His righteous deeds will not be remembered.

We are not talking about a righteous person who falls into one sin but a person who completely gives up his faith and becomes wicked.  That describes many professing people who say, “I used to believe in God.  I used to go to church and believe in Jesus but now I think it is all hogwash.”

The NT is clear that such people will not be saved (Hebrews 3:1-14; 6:4-6; 10:26-39).  Jesus said that “the one who endures to the end will be saved” (Matthew 24:13).


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