The Soul Who Sins Will Die

Ezekiel 18:4

God’s word teaches us that we are individually accountable before Him: “For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may be recompensed for his deeds in the body, according to what he has done, whether good or bad” (2 Corinthians 5:10). This passage shows us that judgment is certain. We “must” stand before Christ in judgment. This is not something that could happen but something that will happen. Reward or punishment will be meted out to “each one…according to what he has done.” When we stand before the judgment seat of Christ, we will stand there and be judged alone. We will not have any family, friends, or church to lean upon. We are accountable as individuals and will be judged as individuals.

An Old Testament passage that discusses this idea is Ezekiel 18. It is true that the law has changed and that we are no longer governed by the Old Testament (Hebrews 8:8-13). However, even though the law may be different, our responsibility before God in judgment is not. Therefore this passage presents helpful points for us to consider today. It also provides a good outline for our study.

Each Person Is Accountable for His Own Sin (Ezekiel 18:1-4)

The book of Ezekiel contains several revelations by God to the prophet to teach certain lessons to the people. The revelation here was designed to refute the false notion that was reflected in or resulted from a proverb the people were using: “The fathers eat sour grapes, but the children’s teeth are set on edge” (Ezekiel 18:2). As far as I can tell, the origins of the proverb are unknown. But we know from the context of this chapter that at the time Ezekiel prophesied the Israelites used this proverb to teach that the guilt of sin was passed down from the fathers. At times we may suffer consequences from the sins of others. But nowhere do we see in Scriptures that we may suffer guilt from others’ sins. “The soul who sins will die” (Ezekiel 18:4). If we are lost, we will have no one to blame but ourselves. We are each individually accountable before God.

We Must Be Righteous to Be Accepted by God (Ezekiel 18:5-9)

The next section of verses describes the type of person who will be saved by God. In order to be accepted by God, we must be righteous. Some ask the question: Are we righteous because we do good or do we do good because we are righteous? To answer one way would lead one to focus on doing good works. Answering the other way would lead one to focus on a proper attitude. This passage teaches both. We are righteous because we do good works: “If he walks in My statutes and My ordinances so as to deal faithfully – he is righteous” (Ezekiel 18:9). Also, we do good as a result of being righteous: “If a man is righteous and practices justice and righteousness…” (Ezekiel 18:5). If we are obedient to God, we are righteous. If we are righteous, we will be obedient to God. These verses teach us that we must be righteous to be accepted by God.

Righteousness and Unrighteousness Are Not Passed from One to Another (Ezekiel 18:10-20)

The next point we see in this chapter is that neither righteousness nor unrighteousness are passed from one person to another. Two scenarios are given to show this point. First, we see the righteous man described first (Ezekiel 18:5-9) has a wicked son (Ezekiel 18:10-13). Although he could have looked to the example of his father, he chose to commit “all these abominations.” As a result, he would be destroyed because of his sin (Ezekiel 18:18). The righteousness of his father would not save him. “His blood will be on his own head” (Ezekiel 18:13).

Then the wicked man has a righteous son (Ezekiel 18:14-17). Despite the evil influences of his father, God said this man “executes My ordinances, and walks in My statutes.” He “observed all his father’s sins” and made the choice to not follow in his evil ways (Ezekiel 18:14). Because he rejected the unrighteous ways of his father and followed after God’s commands, “he will not die for his father’s iniquity, he will surely live” (Ezekiel 18:17).

God anticipated the response of the Israelites to this teaching. Their question would be this: “Why should the son not bear the punishment for the father’s iniquity?” (Ezekiel 18:19). Their thought was that the innocent person would have to face punishment for the sins of others. This is one of the erroneous ideas of Calvinism. The Calvinist believes that when Adam sinned in the beginning, the guilt of that sin was passed to all men. It may be true that the consequences of Adam’s sin are experienced by all men (physical death), but the guilt of his sin is not (spiritual death). The Calvinist believes that the guilt of sin is passed on through the generations. He believes that man is born depraved because of the guilt of Adam’s sin. One passage they attempt to use to defend this idea is Romans 5:12-21. But the passage says the reason that “death spread to all men” was “because all sinned,” not because they were simply a descendent of Adam. We will stand accountable for our own sins, not the sins of others. We will also be justified for our righteousness, not the righteousness of others.

This thought is summarized in Ezekiel 18:20 – “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.

Hope: The Wicked Can Repent (Ezekiel 18:21-23)

While this chapter shows the lamentable state of the wicked, there is a message of hope. It is possible for the wicked to escape punishment. But what is required for the wicked to be saved? God said if he “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” (Ezekiel 18:21). To avoid the Lord’s punishment, the wicked must repent and observe all of God’s statutes. The result of this repentance will be that “all his transgressions which he has committed will not be remembered against him” (Ezekiel 18:22). God’s desire is that all will be saved. He does not take “pleasure in the death of the wicked” (Ezekiel 18:23). Peter stated this principle in the New Testament when he said God “is patient toward you, not wishing for any to perish but for all to come to repentance” (2 Peter 3:9). There is hope for the wicked if they will repent of their sin and turn to the Lord.

Warning: The Righteous Can Fall Away (Ezekiel 18:24-26)

There is also a warning given to the righteous. That warning is that it is possible for a child of God to fall from grace. “But when a righteous man turns away from his righteousness, commits iniquity and does according to all the abominations that a wicked man does, 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 has committed; for them he will die” (Ezekiel 18:24). The Calvinist would argue with this point as well. One of the tenets of Calvinism is the “perseverance of the saints.” This is the belief that once one is saved, it is impossible for him to then be lost. However, this passage teaches that when the righteous man goes off and commits the sins of the wicked man, he will be lost. Peter warned the Christians to whom he wrote, “Be on your guard so that you are not carried away by the error of unprincipled men and fall from your own steadfastness” (2 Peter 3:17). Paul spoke of those who had “fallen from grace” (Galatians 5:4). It is possible for a child of God to live in such a way so as to be lost. So the warning here is for us to remain diligent and faithful in our service to God. If we leave His paths and go into sin, we will be lost because of that sin (Ezekiel 18:26).

Invitation (Ezekiel 18:27-32)

This chapter closes with God inviting His people to faithful service. There is a reminder that salvation is open to all, even those who have acted wickedly in the past (Ezekiel 18:27). He spoke of one who “considered and turned away from his wickedness” and as a result “shall surely live” (Ezekiel 18:28). Our salvation is a serious matter and requires our careful consideration and examination of our lives according to God’s word. He told them not to reject the counsel of God (Ezekiel 18:29) but to repent and turn to the Lord (Ezekiel 18:30-31).

Finally He reminded them of His desire to save them: “‘For I have no pleasure in the death of anyone who dies,’ declares the Lord God. ‘Therefore, repent and live’” (Ezekiel 18:32). The Lord wants to save you today. But He will only do so if you meet His conditions. While the law has changed since the time of Ezekiel (Hebrews 8:8-13), the principle of salvation has not. God saves us by his grace when we comply with His conditions. Under the new covenant, people were told to believe in Christ, repent of their sins, and be baptized into Him (Mark 16:16; Acts 2:38; Galatians 3:27). Once they had their sins washed away in baptism, they were to continue in faithful service (Hebrews 3:12; 4:11; Revelation 2:10).

To those who have not met these conditions, “Why do you delay? Get up and be baptized, and wash away your sins” (Acts 22:16).

To those who have done this, remain true to the Lord. Continue in faithful service and you will receive the great reward of an eternal home in heaven. “For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 6:23).

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