*This transcript was originally published at GTY.org.
I don’t like battles particularly, especially battles with other Christians; but they seem to be necessary for the protection of the truth. The apostle Paul warned the Ephesian elders that of their own selves men would rise up to lead people astray. The church has suffered through the centuries attacks from the outside from unbelievers, but the most devastating attacks have always come from the inside. And in all the years of my life, now many, many years in ministry, it seems as though there has never been a time when we aren’t engaged in some battle for protecting the truth, clarifying the truth, a battle waged as a kind of civil war, even inside the church. In fact, not just in my lifetime, but there’s really never been an era in all of church history when the gospel was not under assault, under attack usually from within the church.
The truth is that we would expect that, because the gospel is the only way of salvation. It is the gospel that delivers men out of the kingdom of darkness into the kingdom of God’s dear Son. And naturally, Satan, as the prince of the power of the air, as the ruler of the kingdom of darkness, wants to hang onto all that he possesses; and so he wages endless war against the gospel. Now sometimes there are direct attacks against the gospel; but the more formidable ones and the more subtle ones are those that seem innocent enough and they come generally from the inside of the church.
The apostle Paul, as you remember in our study of Galatians, was very clear in saying that if anybody preaches another gospel, if anybody alters the gospel, let him be damned, and he repeats that twice. And Jude reminds that we have to earnestly contend for the faith once for all delivered to the saints. Paul comes to the end of his life and says, “I have fought the good fight.” He said to the Corinthians there’s a wide open door, and there are many adversaries.
Proclaiming, protecting, and defending the gospel is the duty of every preacher and every Christian believer. The gospel is under assault at all times. The current dangerous attack, as I pointed out last time, has the potential to do more damage than any other attack on the gospel I’ve seen in my lifetime. It is the return of an old enemy, an old enemy that basically decimated churches across Europe, across America, and even around the world. The old form of this enemy would take us back to the early twentieth century here in the United States. It would take us back even earlier into Europe.
We sung a hymn this morning written by Martin Luther, obviously a force that brought about the great Reformation and drew the church in the sixteenth century out of a thousand years of Roman Catholic darkness by rediscovering and reaffirming the gospel. Churches developed and flourished in the early years of the Reformation, but it wasn’t long before great state churches, great denominations across Europe began to be assaulted and attacked by what was then social concerns, social concerns that eventually became known as the social gospel.
The same thing happened in the early twentieth century in the United States as the major denominations in this country began to collapse and die. This corrupted gospel, this social gospel has taken down entire churches, entire denominations, with all their schools, all their pastors, and all their people into, essentially, the darkness of death. Tens of thousands of churches are nothing but rock piles across Europe and even across America. And here it comes again, another version of this social gospel, and people are embracing it without critical thought, without biblical discernment; and we’re about to relive another disaster of epic proportions.
Sadly, many evangelicals have welcomed it back as if it were a needy friend. The enemy has seduced this current generation to follow him down the very same track, the same sinkhole all over again.
If you don’t know history you don’t learn much from history, of course. This time it isn’t called the social gospel, it’s called social justice. And like last time and every time, it is predicated on some legitimate issues in society that elicit concern and compassion and a desire for justice. These are legitimate concerns society. The advocates of social justice have a right to be concerned about inequities in society. They should demonstrate compassion, concern, and care for people who suffer and are treated unfairly, unjustly. But the effort now is to make this an essential part of the gospel, or in some cases to replace the gospel with this preoccupation with social justice. As I tried to make clear last time, the problem with tying social justice to the gospel is the same problem with tying the social gospel to the gospel.
Now the social gospel, the previous form, going back into the early twentieth century in America and the end of the nineteenth century, the previous form even in Europe was there were people suffering, there were people who were poor, there were people who were needy, and the church needed to take care of that. They needed to do social work; and eventually the social work replaced the gospel. Well, this is another form of that. We are being caught up in what is socially needed in our society. We don’t deny there are social needs. I wouldn’t deny for a moment that there are inequities, they’re all over the place in a fallen world. But the question is, “Is it part of the gospel?”
History would tell us that when it begins to make inroads into the church it doesn’t stop until the gospel has completely disappeared. The problem with social just being part of the gospel is it does not belong there, and did does severe harm to genuine gospel efforts. I’ll say that again: it does severe harm to genuine gospel efforts. And you say, “Why?” and I’m going to try to help you to understand that from Ezekiel 18 again this morning.
Social justice is this idea – just for a definition. Certain groups of people due to race or gender or sexual preference or economic status or personal choices, personal ideology, have been and still are abused by our society. That calls for a realignment in our society because that’s unjust. So we need social justice. We need to adjust our society so that people of all races, all genders, all sexual preferences, and all economic status, and all personal ideologies are all treated equally. In particular, there is a concern for those that are weak, those that have been and still are oppressed by those in power.
We understand all of those social inequities do exist, they’ve always existed. Even our Lord Jesus said, “The poor you’ll always have with you.” It is the nature of life in a fallen world that it’s never going to be perfect, as I wrote in a blog article a few weeks ago. No government will ever dispense justice perfectly, it’s not possible in a fallen world. There will be difficulties, there will be challenges. “As sparks fly upward, so man is born unto trouble,” says the Bible. You’ll never be in a perfect world, a just world, a righteous world, until Christ comes and sets up His kingdom. But what is happening is this understanding of the dispossessed or the oppressed or those who have been treated in some ways unjustly because of one of these things that we mention are now being defined as a kind of victim class. They are victims of societal injustice.
And the victim class keeps growing larger and larger and larger. Every time I turn around there’s a new class of victims. The latest one that I’ve heard is what’s called Christian privilege. If you are a Christian you are a part of a privileged class that has been for centuries oppressing non-Christians. Non-Christians have become victims then of Christians.
This is a new victim class. Anyone who is offended by someone’s words or someone’s looks or someone’s actions or someone’s clothing or someone’s opinion can designate that offence as a microaggression, and they can claim that they’re being victimized by that microaggression, victimized by offensive words, which become labeled as hate speech. This dominates university campuses in a massive way. They whole culture is rushing into victim status. Everybody wants to find victim status in some way, because only victims are empowered in the culture, only victims have moral authority. If you’re not a victim you have no moral authority. So everybody’s got to find a victim status.
Am I surprised at this? Not at all, not in the least. It is the most natural thing for sinners to designate themselves as victims. This is the default position of all fallen human beings. It’s the most natural thing for us to do, blame someone else for our condition, blame someone else for our issues, blame someone else for our troubles. This is exactly what happened in the very beginning.
If you go back to Genesis chapter 3, mentioned this last week, I’ll just reiterate it. The Lord confronts Eve who sinned. And what does Eve say? “The serpent deceived me, and I ate. Not me, a talking snake deceived me, and I ate.” And the man, when God confronted him, Genesis 3:12, “The woman You gave me to be with me, she gave me from the tree, and I ate.”
Only two people existed, both of them blamed someone else. It wasn’t either of them, it was really God. “God, I don’t know anything about creation, but You made a talking snake; it’s Your fault. And then You made a woman, and that’s Your fault.” This is the sinner’s default position. Sinners most naturally blame someone else, and ultimately blame their circumstances. And since God is the sovereign over all of history, they blame God.
People believe that they are good, but other people mess them up. You have to be a victim, because sinners need to pass blame off, because it has a superficial way of salving their guilty conscience. So they hold tightly to the deception that they are good, but someone bad influenced them, or some bad group influenced them, or some oppressive race, or all men, or all heterosexual people, or all rich people, or whatever.
Here’s the problem with letting sinners think that way. You’re aiding and abetting their disavowal of their sinfulness. This is why it assaults the gospel, because that’s the entry point of the gospel. You don’t come to the gospel until you have come to the full realization that you are the reason you have problems, that you are who you are, the race you are, the gender you are, and even the economic status you are, because God providentially put you there. And the reason you have problems there is because not only are there sinners all around you, but you’re a sinner of equal guilt.
The problem with letting people redefine themselves as victims is they disavow responsibility for their own sins. People don’t come to true salvation. I say that again: they don’t come to true salvation until they realize that salvation is about being delivered from their sins.
Now I understand that this generation of evangelicals has truncated the gospel in really serious ways by saying, “The gospel is designed to make you happy,” or, “The gospel is designed to make you feel better about yourself,” or, “The gospel is designed to give you purpose in your life.” No, the gospel is designed to save you from your sins, which will put you in hell forever. That’s what the gospel is designed to do. It is not designed to tweak your life and make you more successful or more prosperous; that is a lie. It is designed to rescue you from hell and to take you to heavenly glory.
If we justify the idea that people are victims and then doubly justify their bitterness and anger over being victims, we are allowing them to push their sin away onto someone else. To do that is to agree with the sinner’s deluded comfort, that he or she is a victim, “Somebody did something to me,” or, “Some group did something to me,” or, “The government did something to me,” or, “My school did something to me,” or, “The world did something to me.” I’ve heard it so many times. “If that is true, and I’m not responsible for my sin, and God rules the worlds, then God got me in this mess. And why would I ever go to that God to get me out of it when He got me into it? If God is at all responsible for the mess that I’m in, then why would I go to Him? He’s already demonstrated His injustice. Why would I look to Him as a Savior?”
So conceding to sinners that they are victims is a very dangerous thing to do. And I’m not saying that they aren’t, in a human sense, fighting in a very tough, fallen world; we all are. But when it comes down to sin, each of us is personally responsible for our sins and the complicated mess that they make out of our lives. The conversion of sinners depends on their recognition that they are not victims of someone else and they are not victims of an indifferent or hostile God. When you concede to sinners that they are victims of other people’s wrongs you put up a barrier to the necessary full responsibility for sin that drives the broken sinner to God for deliverance from sin and death and hell. The gospel doesn’t open up until the sinner takes full responsibility for his sin; that is where the gospel begins.
Now we began to see last week, Ezekiel’s message is critical to our understanding of this issue. He was a judgment preacher, and the foundation of his message is the fact of personal sin and personal guilt. He preaches about accountability, he preaches about guilt, he preaches about punishment, he preaches about death, and particularly does so in chapter 18. So look now at chapter 18. This is an evangelistic message. This is a gospel message. This is like the Old Testament gospel.
It is true, as I said last time, that our lives are affected by the sins of others. Yes, that’s true; Adam sinned and we all fell into death. Yes, our forefathers sinned certain sins and left us certain characteristic corruptions in our society. Yes, we are living in a vile culture right now and it has its external effect on us. But their collective sins, though they create corruption, they are not the cause of our judgment. God does not punish any sinner for someone else’s sins, not Adam’s or anybody else’s.
Here’s the point. We will all pay for our own sins, and it’s time for the church to make that clear to this society, as to every society. As long as sinners are allowed to blame someone else for their life conditions, they are cut off from the gospel starting point; and all sinners do that naturally. So here we have a message that they will love.
Look, the world liked it when we changed the style of the church to give them what they wanted stylistically. And now they want us to change the substance of the church, the message of the church, to give them what they want; and what they always want more than anything else is for us to acknowledge that they are all victims, when God defines them as perpetrators, criminals, culprits. The church has to preach the bad news, “You are not a victim, you are a willful sinner.” The church cannot create this victim status and move from that to the gospel, it will cause them to have to preach a superficial gospel to attract those people.
All sinners deserve death; all sinners will die. Spiritually they’re dead already; physically they will die and they will live in hell in a kind of living eternal death. In order to escape that, by the gospel to be saved, the sinner must be overwhelmed with the sin of his own heart, repent, seek mercy from God before it is too late; and when death comes, it is too late. We cannot fix society, it is fallen. We cannot fix the world. But we must warn sinners; that’s why the church exists.
Now here in chapter 18, the point, the main point you see at the end of verse 4: “The soul who sins will die.” The soul who sins will die; that is our message.
Here in Ezekiel 18 we’re going to see the impenitent, proud sinners claiming they are innocent, claiming they are being punished by God for some other person’s sins, namely a previous generation. They are going to want to transfer their guilt to someone else. They are so good at this that they have hardened their hearts. They are delusional in their minds, and their delusion has set them against God. They are fighting for the false comfort of blaming someone else. And Ezekiel’s trying to get the message across that God will not accept their pushing off the blame or their victim status. And in this great gospel sermon, Ezekiel strips away their false protective covering.
Now just a word about the context. Judah the southern kingdom has been taken into captivity through deportation 605, 597, 586. The third deportation 586 along with the destruction of Jerusalem and the temple hasn’t happened yet. But Ezekiel and his wife went in the second deportation by the Babylonians. They are now, as it were, slaves in Babylon. It is there that Ezekiel prophesies to the captives, to the exiles, and he warns them about the judgment of God on their own sins, because they think that God is punishing them for sins their father, their previous generations committed. That’s the setting. And rather than look at their own sins, they’re angry at God, they’re blaming God, they’re accusing God. “Our fathers sinned, and we suffer. Our fathers are guilty, and we’re getting punished. We’re victims of somebody else’s sin.” So Ezekiel unleashes a powerful, divinely-inspired warning that God judges every person individually based on his own life.
Now I’m going to break this into three sections, we’ll see how far we go. Number One: Sinners delusion and God’s reality. Number One point: Sinners delusion and God’s reality, or God’s truth. Verses 1 to 4: “Then the word of the Lord came to me, saying, ‘What do you mean by using this proverb concerning the land of Israel, saying, “The fathers eat the sour grapes, but the children’s teeth are set on edge”? As I live,’ declares the Lord God, ‘you are surely not going to use this proverb in Israel anymore. Behold, every soul is Mine, literally; the soul of the father as well as the soul of the son is Mine. The soul who sins will die.’”
Now I want you to look at those opening verses. “Then the word of the Lord came to me, saying,” – now this is characteristic of Ezekiel. This is repeated again and again, and again, and again, starting back with his call in chapter 3. He says in verse 4, “Then He said to me, ‘Son of man, go to the house of Israel, speak with My words to them.’” So we know what’s coming in the prophecy of Ezekiel is from the very mouth of God.
Down in verse 16 of chapter 3, “At the end of seven days the word of the Lord came to me, saying.” Over in verse 27, the end of the chapter, “But when I speak to you, I will open your mouth” – says God – “and you will say to them, ‘Thus says the Lord God.’” And that’s how the flow of the book goes.
Chapter 6, verse 1, the Lord speaks. Chapter 7, verse 1, the Lord speaks. Chapter 11, verse 14, the Lord speaks; 12:1, 13:1, 14:2, 15:1, 16:1, 17:1, 18:1 all begin with the same statement: “The word of the Lord came. The word of the Lord came.”
So we’re hearing from heaven. And God speaks a question: “What do you mean by using this proverb concerning the land of Israel? What are you intending to accomplish with this?” Not, “What do you mean by what it says, but what do you mean by using it? What do you mean by saying, ‘The fathers eat the sour grapes, but the children’s teeth are set on edge’?” You know what He’s saying, “You’re attacking Me. You’re attacking Me.” Think about it. “You are attacking Me with your proverb. Do you really mean to attack Me?”
“The fathers eat the sour grapes, but the children’s teeth are set on edge” That’s a proverb. Today we would say it’s a meme. It’s repeated so often it becomes a byword, it becomes a belief. And it was their belief: “The fathers eat the sour grapes, the children’s teeth are set on edge.” Unripe grapes could cause your teeth to set on edge. It’s a sour, sour taste. It could even be related to the term “teeth on edge” to a toothache. “The fathers eat the grapes and we get the toothache.”
What is that supposed to say? It’s their way of saying, “We’re suffering for something another generation did. We have all this problem because of what happened a hundred years ago, two hundred years ago, thirty years ago, fifty years ago, whatever.”
The tone is cynical, definitely cynical. It is sarcastic. The tone of this meme or this proverb is fatalistic. It is a kind of deterministic, fatalistic mantra. It accuses God of cruel injustice. There’s a kind of inevitability in this. “Yeah. Well, what could we do about it? The fathers ate the sour grapes and our teeth are set on edge.”
And by the way, it wasn’t just the exiles who were saying this. Jeremiah the prophet was still back in the land of Judah when Ezekiel was in Babylon. Jeremiah was still back in Judah, and Jeremiah was also preaching to the people who were still in Judah. Listen to what he says, Jeremiah 31:29, “In those days they will not say again, ‘The fathers have eaten sour grapes, and the children’s teeth are set on edge.’” They were saying it back in Judah as well as in Babylon. “But” – says Jeremiah, verse 30 – “everyone will die for his own iniquity; each man who eats the sour grapes, his teeth will be set on edge.”
“It’s not true; stop saying that.” It is a cynical way of mocking God and His system of judgment. He punishes people for sins they didn’t commit. One generation is judged for the iniquities of a previous generation.
By the way, not just true in Babylon among the exiles or in Judah among those still there, it was a common notion in pagan religion. The Jews had been so involved in idolatry that they had picked up pagan fatalism. It was a part of common ancient Middle Eastern paganism, fourteenth century document, fourteenth century B.C. about a Hittite king, and the Hittite king was complaining to the god of storms. And this is a quote: “My father sinned and transgressed against the word of the storm god, my lord. But I have not sinned. My father’s sin has fallen on me.” End quote. That is from pagan religion.
The Jews in their attachment to idolatry had picked up pagan theology, and they saw God as this indifferent kind of force, this immovable kind of unfeeling object that they were stuck with, a pernicious, heretical delusion that made them treat God with cynicism. They had become victims. Like the pagans all thought, “We’re just victimized by these unfeeling deities.” They accused God of being unjust, vengeful, caring only about retaliation without regard for the persons He was retaliating against.
Lamentations 5 – and you should read the book of Lamentations if you think you’re mistreated. Read the whole book of Lamentations and you’ll feel like you have never been mistreated the way Jeremiah was. Lamentations 5:7, “Our fathers sinned, and are no more; it is we who have borne their iniquities and guilt.” I mean, this was common idea. Write it down, put it on a post-it; it’s how the life in this world goes. Somebody else sins, fatalistically, deterministically we are victims. God just wants vengeance, and He takes it on whoever’s around. John Calvin said this: “We desire to throw off the blame as far from ourselves as we possibly can.”
That this is a direct act against God, that this is a direct attack against God, the holy, righteous God is clear. If you go down to verse 25 – getting ahead of ourselves, but I want you to see it – this is what they say to God, “The way of the Lord is not right.” Verse 29, “The house of Israel says, ‘The way of the Lord is not right.’” There’s no question who they blame.
“If God is the Creator, as Christians say, and if God is sovereign over everything, as Christians say and as the Bible says, if God is the author of history, if everything that happens in history is within the sovereign purpose of God, then God is to be blamed for my trouble. Don’t tell me God is good; look at this messed up world. Why would I go to that God for deliverance or salvation? I’m a victim of that God already.”
So the delusion is that hard troubles are the fault of past generations. But beyond that, ‘They’re God’s fault; and doubly His fault, He let them happen. And now He’s punishing us for what somebody else did. This is not a God that I want to go to to find peace and joy and comfort.” As long as people feel they have been victimized by history and you tell them God is the sovereign over history, you’ve put them in a position to not want to go near the God they need. So the delusion is to pass your guilt onto someone else and feel you’re just inevitably under some inexorable divine law from a God who doesn’t even care about you.
Proverbs 19:3 says, “The foolishness of man ruins his way. The foolishness of man ruins his way, and his heart rages against God.” Did you get that? Proverbs 19:3, “The foolishness of man ruins his way, and his heart rages against God.” That’s the sinner’s default position. And if you acknowledge the sinner’s rage against God as some noble thing that deserves your attention and your compassion, you have stopped Him from the progress toward the door of the gospel.
Another illustration of this, and you will recall it, is back in Exodus 32. This is so typical it’s almost humorous. Moses comes back down the mountain, and Aaron has led the people while he was gone to get the law; and they’ve made a golden calf, right? So Moses comes near the camp, verse 19, he sees the golden calf and dancing. His anger burns. He threw the tablets from his hands, the tablets on which written the Ten Commandments, shattered them at the foot of the mountain; took the calf which they had made, burned it with fire, ground it to powder, scattered it over the surface of the water and made the sons of Israel drink it. Wow, pretty dramatic.
And then Moses said to Aaron, “What did this people do to you, that you have brought such great sin upon them? What in the world, Aaron?” Aaron said, “Do not let the anger of my lord burn; you know the people yourself, that they are prone to evil. For they said to me, ‘Make a god for us who will go before us; for this Moses, the man who brought us up from the land of Egypt, we do not know what has become of him.” I said to them, “Well, whoever has any gold, let them tear it off, peel it off.” So they gave it to me, and I threw it into the fire, and out came this calf.” Really?
That is the default position, “Don’t blame me, I just threw some gold and out came this calf.” People will do that, and do that, and do that, and do that. And if you buy into that as an evangelical Christian or as a preacher of the gospel, if you let people get away with blaming someone else, you have caused them to become angry with God, because God if He is sovereign has gotten them into this situation, and you have made it impossible for them to want to go to the God they’re angry with to receive grace and help when they need it; and He’s the only source.
So, verse 3, “As I live,” declares the Lord God, “you are surely not going to use this proverb in Israel anymore. No more blaspheming My name. No more misrepresenting Me. As I life,” – that is a decisive oath, that is God swearing by Himself. “I swear on My own life. I am absolutely determined to stop the common accusations thrown against Me. Stop accusing Me,” declares the Lord. “You are not going to use this proverb in Israel anymore.”
Sinners are not victims of an unjust sovereign God. They’re not victims of an indifferent God. They’re not victims of another generation. They’re not victims of God as if God had tampered with genetics or God had fiddled around with history to make them who they are, turn them into victims. But again, that’s always where sinners want to go. You can’t let them go there. When you let them go there, they’re off the hook and God becomes the enemy. They will ruin their own lives and rage against God.
God will not tolerate the delusion that disavows personal responsibility and personal guilt. None of us is innocent, none of us. We all deserve what? Death. We all should be dead. You say you have troubles; you should be dead. And it is because – listen to this – of His mercies that we are not consumed. Lamentations 3:22 in the King James, “It is because of His mercies that we are not consumed.” Great are His compassions.
So that’s the sinner’s delusion. Here’s God’s reality in verse 4: “Behold, all souls are Mine.” Literally, “Every soul is Mine, every person is Mine. The person of the Father as well as the person of the Son is Mine. The soul who sins will die.”
“Behold,” – this is exclamation – “every soul is Mine. I know every human being.” Listen, “Every human being belongs to Me, they are My possession. No one is a victim of fate. No one is a victim of some inexorable cosmic laws. No one is treated unfairly. No one is treated unjustly. No one is ignored. No one is outside My knowledge, My possession.”
Every single human being belongs to God, every soul, every father, every son. Every person belongs to God. Every person is known by God. Every person will be treated by God according to his own life. And the soul that sins will die.
No one is a random victim of historical sins. No one is a random victim of genetics. God didn’t make you a man, but you’re a woman in your head, so you need to be transgender. God didn’t miss with you. If you’re a woman, you’re a woman. If you’re a man, you’re a man. If you’re Asian, you’re an Asian. If you’re Hispanic, you’re Hispanic by God’s design. If you’re European, by God’s design. If you’re African American it’s by God’s design. It’s all wonderful; it’s all God’s design. He made you exactly the way He wanted you to be to fit into His purposes for history.
You belong to Him, and all you need to know is this: if you sin and die in your sins, you’re going to perish forever in hell. We all die because we all sin. That is the ultimate argument no one can deny. But people say, “Well, I don’t believe in sin.” The Bible says, “The wages of sin is death.”
If you die, you sinned; plenty of proof. We all die. We all sin. “The soul that sins will die.” We all die because we all sin, and we receive judgment for our own transgressions. Whatever your racial identity, whatever your gender – and that’s pretty simple, there are only two – whatever your economic status, whatever your social challenges, be thankful you’re not dead and judged. And recognize your own wretchedness and the danger you are in; and you’re headed for a just punishment because you have violated the law of a Holy God. You are a perpetrator, you are a criminal, you committed crimes against the one true God to whom you belong. You are a rebel sinner rejecting your Creator and your only Savior. Stop blaming others; face your own sin. No more delusion that you’re a victim. Stop saying that. God says, “No more will you say that. The soul who sins will die. No one to blame but you.”
So that’s the first point: sinners delusion God reality. Point Two – and we’ll just kind of get into this: God’s reality illustrated and the sinner’s delusion defended. Now going a little deeper, God gives Ezekiel illustrations to show exactly what he means, and then we see how the sinner’s delusion will be defended against God’s clear illustrations.
Sinners, by the way, not easily convinced that they are responsible, that they are guilty, not easily convinced. They will fight to the death to blame somebody else. But the Lord gives Ezekiel a three-part illustration. And it’s kind of an interesting illustration. It starts with a grandfather, and then a father, and then a son; so three generations. It’s reminiscent actually of three kings of Judah who follow this pattern: Hezekiah, Manasseh, and Josiah. So they may have been in the back of the mind of God or the mind of Ezekiel even.
All right, so we start out with God judges every person for his own sin, and here’s how he illustrates that very, very dramatically. And I want to make one footnote here and see how far we get. One’s judgment – listen carefully now – one’s judgment before God will be on the basis of conduct. Okay? Listen carefully, because all of us will be judged according to our works.
You say, “Well I didn’t think you were saved by works.” You aren’t saved by works, you’re judged by works. What’s the difference? If you’re saved your works will manifest your salvation. God has ordained that you walk in good works, right, Ephesians 2:10. So you’re going to be judged by your works, Romans 2 says that. Romans 2:5 to 11 lays out specifically that we will be judged by our works.
God is keeping a record of our works. God is keeping a record of all the works of the unsaved, the unconverted, and the unbelievers, and they’ll be judged by their works, which is the manifestation of their unconverted nature. We’re going to be judged by our works, which are the evidences of our conversion, of our transformation, of our regeneration. So don’t be taken off guard when you see so much here that defines a righteous person by his works.
How else can you know a righteous person, right? “By their fruits you shall” – what? – “you shall know them.” This is how you know regenerated people, righteous people, because of their conduct.
So we’re going to meet a righteous grandfather, verses 5 to 9, a righteous grandfather. “If a man is righteous,” – I love that statement – “if a man is righteous and, consequently, practices justice and righteousness.” You cannot practice or do justice and righteousness unless you’re righteous, right? So the assumption is we’re talking about a righteous man.
How was a man in the Old Testament righteous? How did someone become righteous? Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness. By faith in God, the righteousness of God was imputed to him, credited to him. So he is a righteous man, and therefore practices justice and righteousness. A righteous man does what is just, does what is righteous.
By the way, those two things, justice and righteousness, are together nine times in this chapter. He is righteous by faith and divine imputation; and as a result, he lives a righteous life. Righteous people practice justice and righteousness. And God gives Ezekiel eleven ways that it shows up, eleven ways. Follow in verse 6.
The first pair have to do with idolatry: “Does not eat at the mountain shrines or lift up his eyes to the idols of the house of Israel.” Now eating at the mountain shrines and lifting up your eyes to the idols of the house of Israel was just idolatry. Mountain shrines were set up to worship false gods. There was only one mountain to worship God and that was Mount Moriah, right, in Jerusalem. There was only one shrine or one altar to worship God, and that was the temple in Jerusalem. There was only one place to make sacrifices and that was in Jerusalem.
But the Jews had set up idols all over the place on all kinds of mountains as they were engulfed in paganism. And to lift up your eyes, that phrase “to lift up your eyes to the idols” means to look to them for your help. The way you lift up your eyes to heaven you’re symbolically looking to help from God. There were those people who would lift up their eyes to idols, looking for idols to help them; and they were making sacrifices at mountain shrines designed to be worship to idols. The word “idol,” by the way, comes from a Hebrew word that relates to the word “excrement.” That was God’s word for an idol.
There’s only one place to worship, only one God to worship, only one place to sacrifice. You don’t do that if you’re righteous, you only go to the place where God says to worship Him, and you worship Him in the way He wants to be worshiped. So a righteous man does not involve himself in false religion.
Second pair, “He is pure in his sexual life.” It says he does not defile his neighbor’s wife. That is adultery. He does not commit adultery. And then this, “or approach a woman, any woman, during her menstrual period.” And this even includes a wife. You can read about it in Leviticus 15, Leviticus 18, Leviticus 20.
There’s some interesting discussion about not having a relationship with a woman during a menstrual period and quite interesting literature from Jewish doctors in the past. They have written extensively on the fact that this act would increase the possibility of infection; and some of them would say it could even lead to cervical cancer. It had a similar preventative quality to it that circumcision did, which also caused cervical cancers to be minimal among Jewish woman. And in a day before antibiotics, before any way to deal with infections, this was a way to protect the women. This was a way for husbands to lovingly care for women, protect their wives. So this righteous man follows the law of God in the moral sense, and even in the sense of even caring for his own wife.
This righteous person, in verse 7, “does not oppress anyone.” This is now social virtues of love and mercy, compassion, generosity. “He doesn’t oppress anyone, but restores to the debtor his pledge.” When you borrowed money from somebody, you’d give that person from whom you borrowed the money something as a pledge.
And I can tell you what they did in the ancient time. They used jewelry, sometimes perfume. They used tools. They didn’t use money because if they had money they wouldn’t give them money to borrow money. They actually gave them livestock. So you took somebody’s jewelry or tools or livestock, you took something precious to them. A righteous man, once the money had been paid back, would give back what the debtor gave him as a pledge. He wouldn’t hold that. That was an honorable thing to do.
“He doesn’t commit robbery, gives his bread to the hungry, covers the naked with clothing.” You can see here that this kind of life, the life of a righteous man, does address social issues, right? These are all social issues. It addresses social issues absolutely. They are avoiding adultery. They give the highest level of care. They don’t oppress anyone ever. They restore to the debtor his pledge. They don’t commit robbery. They give bread to the hungry, cover the naked with clothing. This is what a righteous person does. This is the result of salvation. This is the result of the gospel changing a life.
Job 31: Job’s friends who said nothing for seven days, and then opened their mouths and all wisdom went out. They were smarter when they were silent. They accused Job of all kinds of things. And so, Job defends himself. Listen to how he defends himself, Job 31:16, “If I have kept the poor from their desire, or caused the eyes of the widow to fail, or have eaten my morel alone,” – not shared a meal – “or the orphan has not shared it, if I have seen anyone perish for lack of clothing, or that the needy had no covering, if his loins have not thanked me, if he has not been warmed with the fleece of my sheep, if I have lifted my hand against the orphan, because I saw I had support in the get, let my shoulder fall from the socket, and my arm be broken off at the elbow. For calamity from God is a terror to me.”
Job defends his righteousness in those kinds of deeds that he did on behalf of people who were suffering. Yes, of course, we care for people in that way. Yes, of course, we reach out in love, feed the poor, clothe those who are naked. Of course, we do that.
Verse 8, “If he does not lend money on interest.” It was forbidden in the Old Testament law to loan money to a fellow Jew and charge interest. If he was desperate enough to need the money you didn’t charge a Jew interest. You didn’t take increase, that’s usury, that’s an undue amount of interest.
If somebody lives that kind of life, he is a righteous person and he is meeting all those needs of needy people. That’s what righteous people do. And it’s summed up in verse 9: “If he walks in My statutes and My ordinance so as to deal faithfully – he is righteous and will surely live,” declares the Lord God. How obvious is that?
Summing up the conduct of the righteous man, he says, “He walks in My statutes and My ordinances. He deals faithfully.” That means he has integrity dealing justly and righteously with all according to God’s Word. Why does he do this? Because he is righteous, verse 9. “He is righteous,” – his conduct proves it – and shall surely live.” He will escape divine judgment. He will live in God’s blessing on earth in the eternal kingdom.
Now you notice what our Lord has told Ezekiel; and what Ezekiel’s telling us is that this man will live because of his righteousness, that righteousness manifesting the righteousness that God had granted to him by faith. So this man is judged on his own life. Every person is judged on his own life. This man is not anything other than accountable to God for his own life. He came to God; he cried out to God; he sought God in his sin. He was declared righteous by faith, and he lives a righteous life.
The plot thickens in verse 10 because he gives birth to a violent son. And we’ll find out about that next time.
Father, again we are so blessed. Your Word is light. It is truth. It is joy. It is light. Thank You for all that You have given us in Christ. We possess eternal life; we rejoice in that with grateful hearts.
I pray that You’ll work in every life here, those that are still blaming someone else for their transgressions. Deliver them from that, Lord. Bring them to the full awareness that they stand guilty before You, and they will be judged forever without mercy if they reject the gospel, the forgiveness that You offer those who repent and put their trust in the Lord Jesus Christ. Work a work of salvation in hearts even now, we pray in Christ’s name. Amen.