Ezekiel 18:21-23 (NIV)
21 “But if a wicked man turns away from all the sins he has committed and keeps all my decrees and does what is just and right, he will surely live; he will not die.
22 None of the offenses he has committed will be remembered against him. Because of the righteous things he has done, he will live.
23 Do I take any pleasure in the death of the wicked? declares the Sovereign LORD. Rather, am I not pleased when they turn from their ways and live?
24 “But if a righteous man turns from his righteousness and commits sin and does the same detestable things the wicked man does, will he live? None of the righteous things he has done will be remembered. Because of the unfaithfulness he is guilty of and because of the sins he has committed, he will die.
25 “Yet you say, ‘The way of the Lord is not just.’ Hear, O house of Israel: Is my way unjust? Is it not your ways that are unjust?
26 If a righteous man turns from his righteousness and commits sin, he will die for it; because of the sin he has committed he will die.
27 But if a wicked man turns away from the wickedness he has committed and does what is just and right, he will save his life.
28 Because he considers all the offenses he has committed and turns away from them, he will surely live; he will not die.
29 Yet the house of Israel says, ‘The way of the Lord is not just.’ Are my ways unjust, O house of Israel? Is it not your ways that are unjust?
30 “Therefore, O house of Israel, I will judge you, each one according to his ways, declares the Sovereign LORD. Repent! Turn away from all your offenses; then sin will not be your downfall.
31 Rid yourselves of all the offenses you have committed, and get a new heart and a new spirit. Why will you die, O house of Israel?
32 For I take no pleasure in the death of anyone, declares the Sovereign LORD. Repent and live!
On verses 21-32: When you read these verses, at first you might find a reason for some humanistic hope, thinking, “Okay, so if I clean up my entire act, turn away from my sins and keep God’s decrees, doing what is just and right, I will have eternal life.” But if you really consciously try to keep all of God’s decrees, you’ll find that there is absolutely no way that you can do it. No matter how hard we try, there is no way we can turn away from “all the sins” we have committed (v21) and keep “all” of God’s decrees (v21), for nobody’s perfect. As much as God does not want us to die and be separated from Him eternally, and as much as we don’t want that either, there is no way we could ever be free of sin by our own strength. What we need is a Saviour who can do what we ourselves can’t do. Praise God for Jesus Christ who lived the perfect life on our behalf and suffered death on the cross for our sins, so that through Jesus Christ we can have eternal life.
These verses also show us repeatedly God’s heart, that while God is just and in His justice needs to punish sin, God takes no pleasure in punishing or destroying anyone for their sin. As verse 32 says, “For I take no pleasure in the death of anyone, declares the Sovereign LORD. Repent and live!” (v32, see also verse 23). Rather God delights in giving people a new start with “a new heart and a new spirit” (v31).
It delights God to see sinners turning from their sin and living righteously. While we can’t do this in our own strength, through faith in Jesus Christ and what He has done on the cross, we are forgiven, made new and given a new heart and a new spirit. That new spirit is God’s Holy Spirit by whom we can live a new life that pleases God.
Praise God! What we couldn’t do, Jesus did for us, and what we can’t do now, the Holy Spirit can do through us.
Heavenly Father, I praise You for being a just and perfect God who does not delight in the death of sinners. I realize today that I could never earn eternal life with You through my effort, good works or willpower. But thank You that You made a way for me when You sent Your Son Jesus Christ. Thank You that through Jesus I am forgiven, made new and given a new heart and a new spirit. In Jesus’ name, AMEN!