Does the title of this article sound familiar to you? It comes from the eighteenth chapter of the Book of Ezekiel. Ezekiel was a prophet of the Lord whose mission was to declare God’s word to those Jews that were taken into captivity by the Babylonians (Ezekiel 1:1-3; 3:15).
Some of those captives charged God with misconduct, saying, “The way of the Lord is not fair” (Ezekiel 18:25,29). Why would they say such? They evidently thought that it was unfair for them to be sent into captivity when the brunt of the sins that caused Judah’s fall had been committed by their parents and others. “Why should we have to pay for what others did?” That seems to have been their mentality.
It is in that context that we find God’s clear declaration: “The soul who sins shall die” (18:4,20). While we will not quote the entire chapter, we do want to look at some different circumstances that develop in life and God’s description of certain individuals and their choices. We will do this by looking at statements which all begin with this thought: “If a man . . .”
If a man is just – What does it mean to be “just?” Hear God: “But if a man is just and does what is lawful and right” (Ezekiel 18:5). So, a “just” person is one that does what is lawful and right in God’s sight. There is more: “If he has walked in my statutes and kept my judgments faithfully – He is just; He shall surely live says the Lord” (18:9). Again, a just person, though he is not sinless, lives a life that is characterized by faithfully keeping God’s instructions. In 18:24 we read of a “righteous” man. In fact, the word “just” in 18:5 and 18:9 is from the same Hebrew word from which the word “righteous” is translated in 18:24 – being “righteous” and being “just” are one and the same.
If a righteous man has a son that commits abomination – What if the just/righteous person that God has just described (18:5-9) has a son that chooses to rebel against God? “If he begets a son who is a robber or a shedder of blood . . . or committed abominations . . . Shall he then live? He shall not live! If he has done any of these abominations, He shall surely die; His blood shall be upon him” (18:10-13). What should we conclude from these truths?
Number one, just because a person has a righteous father, that does not automatically make him righteous, too. The reality is, a spiritually wholesome, righteous environment does not always produce righteous offspring. In the same way that environment can be overturned, so can habits, both for good or bad.
Second, an unjust son cannot hide from God behind the righteous life of his father. Daddy’s faithfulness to God cannot keep his son out of hell if the son chooses a course of rebellion against God. Remember, God said a son that chooses a lifestyle in which he commits abomination, “He shall surely die.” And, third, the son is responsible for his own choices. Yes, it is true that the instruction and example of parents go a long way in influencing the decisions of their offspring, but the offspring are accountable to God for their own choices. It is called personal accountability.
If an unrighteous man has a son that walks in the ways of Jehovah – This is the reverse of the scenario we just considered. “If, however, he begets a son who sees all the sins which his father has done, and considers but does not do likewise . . . But has executed my judgments and walked in my statutes – He shall not die for the iniquity of his father; He shall surely live!” (18:14,17). So, if dad is a rebel, “. . . he shall die for his iniquity” (18:18). However, at the same time, the righteous son, who has enough sense not to follow his father’s deadly path, he shall live.
If a man sins – This is the climax, so to speak, of Ezekiel 18’s instruction. “The soul who sins shall die. The son shall not bear the guilt of the father, nor the father bear the guilt of the son. The righteousness of the righteous shall be upon himself, and the wickedness of the wicked shall be upon himself” (18:20). Yes, a father’s attitude, speech, and behavior can rub off on his son, and vice verse. But, at the end of the day, each person is responsible for his/her own choices. In God’s sight, no one has the right to do these three things: (1) blame others (including close family members) for his sinful choices; (2) claim the faithfulness of others as his own; (3) transfer his just standing with God to the spiritual “account” of others.
If a wicked man turns from his sins – “But if a wicked man turns from all his sins which he has committed, keeps all my statutes, and does what is lawful and right, he shall surely live; he shall not die” (18:21). You know what this means, right? It is possible for an evildoer to come to his senses and quit living in sin. Such a person passes from death to life (James 5:19,20). So, what is important is how a person finishes the race of life, correct? Did you note that when one really turns from his sins, he turns from “all” those sins? (18:21). God’s will is for sinners to “repent and turn from all” transgressions (18:30).
If a righteous man turns from his righteousness – Again, this is the opposite of the case that we just examined. What does the Lord say about this fellow? It is not good news: “But when a righteous man turns away from his righteousness and commits iniquity . . . All the righteousness which he has done shall not be remembered; because of the unfaithfulness of which he is guilty and the sin which he has committed, because of them he shall die” (18:24). Our standing in the sight of Jehovah is not based on our past conduct, but rather on where we are right now in our spiritual lives. That is a spiritual principle we see frequently in the new covenant as well (1 Corinthians 6:9-11; Galatians 5:7).
If a man dies – “For I have no pleasure in the death of one who dies, says the Lord God. Therefore turn and live” (18:32). God is grieved, not glad, when people choose a life of sin. He wants no one to perish, but desires for all to repent (2 Peter 3:9). Think on these things.
— Roger D. Campbell
TRUTH is published monthly by the Klang church of Christ in order to help educate, edify, encourage, and equip the saints of God.