Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Ezekiel 33: The Righteous and Wicked

Yesterday's post looked at one aspect of God's message to Israel in Ezekiel 33. But this chapter is deep enough that it's worth spending more time in it.
And you, son of man, say to your people, The righteousness of the righteous shall not deliver him when he transgresses, and as for the wickedness of the wicked, he shall not fall by it when he turns from his wickedness, and the righteous shall not be able to live by his righteousness when he sins. Though I say to the righteous that he shall surely live, yet if he trusts in his righteousness and does injustice, none of his righteous deeds shall be remembered, but in his injustice that he has done he shall die. (Ezekiel 33:12-13 ESV)
The primary message from these verses is that God does not judge on the basis of a moral scale. "The righteousness of the righteous shall not deliver him when he transgresses." The sum of good deeds compared to the transgression does not cover up or clear away the deserved punishment. We cannot say to God, "But look at all the good things I've done!" For when we have a heart of sin, all of our righteous deeds are like a "polluted garment" (Isa 64:6). We have nothing to offer except used maxi-pads.

That leaves each person in a Romans 3:23 and Romans 6:23 state. But the fall is not the end of the story; God does not simply abandon us to our transgression. "As for the wickedness of the wicked, he shall not fall by it when he turns from his wickedness." This is a most incredible and surprising sentence to come immediately after condemning the "righteous". If a wicked person repents, their wickedness will not be counted against them.

How can a person know if they are righteous or wicked, especially in God's eyes? Even these two verses in Ezekiel give clues. The problem with the "righteous" person is that he trusts in his righteousness. He considers himself good enough and reveals that his trust is not in God but his own works. Examining the other side of this, two things can be said about the wicked person. First, he's called a wicked person. There is an acknowledgement or confession of shortcoming and unrighteousness. After that, the wicked man finds justification in repentance, and the implication is that his trust is not in his good works, but something outside of himself. So it can be seen that it's a matter of the heart: what's the understanding and direction a person stands in? Does he believe himself to be a righteous man doing good for God and man (but is in reality walking in transgression), or is there a understanding of base wickedness followed by a turning away from self (and toward God)?

God's gospel message has always been the same. The gospel is fulfilled in Jesus Christ, but the Israelites who trusted in God as their Redeemer found salvation in the Savior.

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