Sunday, June 10, 2007

The Righteous Shall Live

None of the transgressions that the has committed shall be remembered against him; for the righteousness that he has done he shall live.
Ezekiel 18:22
But when a righteous person turns away from his righteousness and does injustice ... None of the righteous deeds that he has done shall be remembered; for the treachery of which he is guilty and the sin he has committed, for them he shall die.
Ezekiel 18:24
The righteous shall live. The unrighteous shall die. It seems like an easy enough concept. For "whatever one sows, that will he also reap (Galatians 6:7)." Sowing righteousness reaps life. Sowing unrighteousness, or wickedness, reaps death. And it is our own doing. "For the righteousness that he has done he shall live (Ezekiel 18:22, italics my own)." And for "the sin he has committed, for them he shall die (Ezekiel 18:24, italics my own)."

But there is a problem. "None is righteous, no not one (Romans 3:10)." Paul here quotes the psalmist (Psalm 14:1-3, 53:1-3) in declaring the universal truth that no man is righteous. There is no man or woman conceived by two human parents who is not corrupt, who is naturally inclined to do that which is good (Psalm 14:1). The infinitely wise God knew this perfectly well when He instructed His people through the prophet Ezekiel that by their righteous they would live (18:22). God, knowing that no child of man is inherently righteous, was then either playing cruel games with His people in telling them to be something that they could never be or there was another sense in which He defined their righteousness than an inherent inclination to do good deeds.

Looking at the context of these verses in chapter eighteen of Ezekiel makes it clear that the latter is the case. In verse 22, the righteousness done by a person, by which he will live, is set against the backdrop of the transgressions that he has committed. We know this because God makes it clear that these transgressions will not "be remembered against him (18:22)." Though there is unrighteousness that he has done by which he should be condemned, it will not be counted but only the righteous deeds that he has done will be counted as the basis by which he will live. So we see that righteousness performed by a man is necessary if he is to live.

But then God sets this hypothetical man who turns from unrighteousness to righteousness against another hypothetical man who turns from righteousness to unrighteousness. This man too, just like the former, has righteous as well as unrighteous deeds that he has performed. And the difference between the two men is that, whereas the first man has his unrighteous deeds forgotten and only his righteous deeds remembered, the second has his righteous deeds forgotten and only his unrighteous deeds remembered! His unrighteous deeds that he has done will be counted as the basis by which he will die.

So then we must ask, if both men commit righteous deeds but only one lives, are righteous deeds themselves performed by a man the basis by which he lives? There is no way we can answer yes to this question because if it were so then it would surely follow that both men would live since they both perform righteous deeds, but that is not what the Scriptures say.

So what, then, is truly the basis by which a man will eternally live and not die if not the righteous deeds that he himself performs?

What will make a man turn from deeds of unrighteousness to deeds of righteousness?

What will keep a man from choosing to turn from deeds of righteousness to deeds of unrighteousness?

These are questions that we must ponder carefully and diligently. For the answers we arrive at are of eternal consequence.

Almighty Father in heaven, thank You that You are a God who has made Yourself known to us. You have made Yourself known to us primarily through Your Word and You have told us that You do not change. So grant that we would be a people who know You as You really are. May we love truth because we love You and so seek to be a people who know as much truth as is possible in this life about Your character, Your ways, and Your dealings with man by giving ourselves to unceasing, diligent study of Your Word. We don't want to be deceived and led astray so we plead with You to forbid that this would happen. But instead, by sovereign grace, would You please open our eyes to see things as they really are, to see You as You really are, and not just leave us to our own ideas of what seems to be. You alone are wise, Father, and we are foolish. So glorify Yourself in giving us the wisdom that You alone possess because the Giver gets the glory. May it always be so. In Jesus' name, Amen.

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