A Series of Answers to Common Questions
Christians often claim that God demands perfect obedience to his Law otherwise a person cannot be saved. However, passages like Ezekiel 18:21-22 prove the exact opposite, that God doesnt expect us to follow the Law perfectly, but expects us to commit sin. Ezekiel 18 also shows that all that a person must do is confess and repent and God will forgive us. Doesnt this prove that God doesnt require perfect obedience or the death of his Son in order for people to be saved and forgiven?
If God doesnt require perfect obedience then the obvious question is why does he require repentance? In other words, why would repentance be necessary if God didnt expect his people to perfectly carry out his instructions? If anything, doesnt the need for repentance prove that God expects man to live in perfect obedience?
This brings us to our next point. The Holy Bible does demand perfect observance of the Law just as the following verses prove:
"When Abram was ninety-nine years old the LORD appeared to Abram and said to him, ‘I am God Almighty; walk before me, and be blameless,’" Genesis 17:1
"You shall be blameless before the LORD your God," Deuteronomy 18:13
"O LORD, who shall sojourn in your tent? Who shall dwell on your holy hill? He who walks blamelessly and does what is right and speaks truth in his heart;" Psalm 15:1-2
"You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect." Matthew 5:48
The Holy Bible further says that man must love God wholeheartedly, completely, and unconditionally:
"You SHALL love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might." Deuteronomy 6:5
The above text doesnt say that a person should try to love him completely, but that s/he must love him with his/her entire being. This is something that no human being, apart from the blessed Lord Jesus Christ, can ever say they have done.
God also demands that believers be holy as he is holy, something that no human can say he has achieved (with the exception of Christ of course):
"For I am the LORD your God. Consecrate yourselves therefore, and be holy, for I am holy. You shall not defile yourselves with any swarming thing that crawls on the ground. For I am the LORD who brought you up out of the land of Egypt to be your God. You shall therefore be holy, for I am holy." Leviticus 11:44-45
The above examples make it abundantly clear that God demands perfect obedience and complete holiness.
With the foregoing in mind, we can now turn to the passages in Ezekiel in order to more fully understand the point that the inspired prophet was making:
"At the end of seven days the word of the LORD came to me: Son of man, I have made you a watchman for the house of Israel; so hear the word I speak and give them warning from me. When I say to a wicked man, "You will SURELY die," and you do not warn him or speak out to dissuade him from his evil ways in order to save his life, that wicked man will die for his sin, and I will hold you accountable for his blood. But if you do warn the wicked man and he does not TURN from his wickedness or from his evil ways, he will die for his sin; but you will have saved yourself." Ezekiel 3:16-19
"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. None of the offenses he has committed will be remembered against him. Because of the righteous things he has done, he will live. 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? 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. Because he considers all the offenses he has committed and TURNS away from them, he will surely live; he will not die. 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? 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. 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? For I take no pleasure in the death of anyone, declares the Sovereign LORD. REPENT and live!" Ezekiel 18:21-23, 27-32
"For every living soul belongs to me, the father as well as the sonboth alike belong to me. The soul who sins is the one who will die The soul who sins is the one who will die. The son will not share the guilt of the father, nor will the father share the guilt of the son. The righteousness of the righteous man will be credited to him, and the wickedness of the wicked will be charged against him 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. 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? 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." Ezekiel 18:4, 20, 24-26
The readers can see the repeated emphasis on turning or repenting from wickedness in order to avoid death, which agrees precisely with the message of the Lord Jesus and the NT writers:
"After John was put in prison, Jesus went into Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God. The time has come, he said. The kingdom of God is near. Repent and believe the good news!" Mark 1:14-15
"He told them, This is what is written: The Christ will suffer and rise from the dead on the third day, and repentance and forgiveness of sins will be preached in his name to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem." Luke 24:46-47
"When the people heard this, they were cut to the heart and said to Peter and the other apostles, Brothers, what shall we do? Peter replied, Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit." Acts 2:37-38
"When God raised up his servant, he sent him first to you to bless you by turning each of you from your wicked ways." Acts 3:26
"God exalted him to his own right hand as Prince and Savior that he might give repentance and forgiveness of sins to Israel." Acts 5:31
"When they heard this, they had no further objections and praised God, saying, So then, God has granted even the Gentiles repentance unto life." Acts 11:18
"In the past God overlooked such ignorance, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent. For he has set a day when he will judge the world with justice by the man he has appointed. He has given proof of this to all men by raising him from the dead." Acts 17:30-31
"And the Lord's servant must not quarrel; instead, he must be kind to everyone, able to teach, not resentful. Those who oppose him he must gently instruct, in the hope that God will grant them repentance leading them to a knowledge of the truth, and that they will come to their senses and escape from the trap of the devil, who has taken them captive to do his will." 2 Timothy 2:24-26
These references also repeat the fact that anyone who breaks Gods commands will surely die, and since everyone sins this means that everyone must die:
"When they sin against youfor there is no one who does not sinand you become angry with them and give them over to the enemy, who takes them captive to his own land, far away or near;" 1 Kings 8:46
"If you, O LORD, kept a record of sins, O Lord, who could stand?" Psalm 130:3
"Do not bring your servant into judgment, for no one living is righteous before you." Psalm 143:2
"There is not a righteous man on earth who does what is right and never sins." Ecclesiastes 7:20
What this demonstrates is that God must have a basis to forgive any individual who decides to turn from his/her wickedness. Otherwise, if God merely forgives without punishing the wicked for their failure to comply with his wishes, even though he said he would do so, he would cease to be perfectly holy and just. It would also show that God doesnt do as he says, that he doesnt act upon his words, and therefore is unreliable.
Ezekiel himself testifies that Gods wrath must be appeased, that it must be completely spent or poured out upon the wicked:
"Thus says the Lord GOD: This is Jerusalem. I have set her in the center of the nations, with countries all around her. And she has rebelled against my rules by doing wickedness more than the nations, and against my statutes more than the countries all around her; for they have rejected my rules and have not walked in my statutes. Therefore thus says the Lord GOD: Because you are more turbulent than the nations that are all around you, and have not walked in my statutes or obeyed my rules, and have not even acted according to the rules of the nations that are all around you, therefore thus says the Lord GOD: Behold, I, even I, am against you. And I will execute judgments in your midst in the sight of the nations. And because of all your abominations I will do with you what I have never yet done, and the like of which I will never do again. Therefore fathers shall eat their sons in your midst, and sons shall eat their fathers. And I will execute judgments on you, and any of you who survive I will scatter to all the winds. Therefore, as I live, declares the Lord GOD, surely, because you have defiled my sanctuary with all your detestable things and with all your abominations, therefore I will withdraw. My eye will not spare, and I will have no pity. A third part of you shall die of pestilence and be consumed with famine in your midst; a third part shall fall by the sword all around you; and a third part I will scatter to all the winds and will unsheathe the sword after them. Thus shall my anger spend itself, and I will vent my fury upon them and satisfy myself. And they shall know that I am the LORD--that I have spoken in my jealousy--when I spend my fury upon them. Moreover, I will make you a desolation and an object of reproach among the nations all around you and in the sight of all who pass by. You shall be a reproach and a taunt, a warning and a horror, to the nations all around you, when I execute judgments on you in anger and fury, and with furious rebukes--I am the LORD, I have spoken--" Ezekiel 5:5-15; cf. 6:12, Ezekiel 7:1-19
"Therefore I will act in wrath. My eye will not spare, nor will I have pity. And though they cry in my ears with a loud voice, I will not hear them." Ezekiel 8:18
"And while they were striking, and I was left alone, I fell upon my face, and cried, Ah, Lord GOD! Will you destroy all the remnant of Israel in the outpouring of your wrath on Jerusalem? Then he said to me, The guilt of the house of Israel and Judah is exceedingly great. The land is full of blood, and the city full of injustice. For they say, "The LORD has forsaken the land, and the LORD does not see." As for me, my eye will not spare, nor will I have pity; I will bring their deeds upon their heads." Ezekiel 9:8-10
"On account of your unclean lewdness, because I would have cleansed you and you were not cleansed from your uncleanness, you shall not be cleansed anymore till I have satisfied my fury upon you. I am the LORD. I have spoken; it shall come to pass; I will do it. I will not go back; I will not spare; I will not relent; according to your ways and your deeds you will be judged, declares the Lord GOD." Ezekiel 24:13-14
Thus, God cannot simply forgive the wicked without demanding that they die as a consequence of their sins since this would compromise his justice and holiness.
Ezekiel goes on to show us how God can forgive repentant sinners who deserve to die without having to compromise his justice. God does this through vicarious atonement! Here are the instructions that God gave concerning the restoration of the Temple and priesthood, both of which center around the need of sacrificial offerings for the forgiveness of sin:
"These are the measurements of the altar in long cubits, that cubit being a cubit and a handbreadth: Its gutter is a cubit deep and a cubit wide, with a rim of one span around the edge. And this is the height of the altar: From the gutter on the ground up to the lower ledge it is two cubits high and a cubit wide, and from the smaller ledge up to the larger ledge it is four cubits high and a cubit wide. The altar hearth is four cubits high, and four horns project upward from the hearth. The altar hearth is square, twelve cubits long and twelve cubits wide. The upper ledge also is square, fourteen cubits long and fourteen cubits wide, with a rim of half a cubit and a gutter of a cubit all around. The steps of the altar face east. Then he said to me, Son of man, this is what the Sovereign LORD says: These will be the regulations for sacrificing burnt offerings and sprinkling blood upon the altar when it is built: You are to give a young bull as a sin offering to the priests, who are Levites, of the family of Zadok, who come near to minister before me, declares the Sovereign LORD. You are to take some of its blood and put it on the four horns of the altar and on the four corners of the upper ledge and all around the rim, and so purify the altar and make atonement for it. You are to take the bull for the sin offering and burn it in the designated part of the temple area outside the sanctuary. On the second day you are to offer a male goat without defect for a sin offering, and the altar is to be purified as it was purified with the bull. When you have finished purifying it, you are to offer a young bull and a ram from the flock, both without defect. You are to offer them before the LORD, and the priests are to sprinkle salt on them and sacrifice them as a burnt offering to the LORD. For seven days you are to provide a male goat daily for a sin offering; you are also to provide a young bull and a ram from the flock, both without defect. For seven days they are to make atonement for the altar and cleanse it; thus they will dedicate it. At the end of these days, from the eighth day on, the priests are to present your burnt offerings and fellowship offerings on the altar. THEN I WILL ACCEPT YOU, declares the Sovereign LORD." Ezekiel 43:13-27
"But the priests, who are Levites and descendants of Zadok and who faithfully carried out the duties of my sanctuary when the Israelites went astray from me, are to come near to minister before me; they are to stand before me to offer sacrifices of fat and blood, declares the Sovereign LORD. They alone are to enter my sanctuary; they alone are to come near my table to minister before me and perform my service On the day he goes into the inner court of the sanctuary to minister in the sanctuary, he is to offer a sin offering for himself, declares the Sovereign LORD." Ezekiel 44:15-16, 27
"It will be the duty of the prince to provide the burnt offerings, grain offerings and drink offerings at the festivals, the New Moons and the Sabbathsat all the appointed feasts of the house of Israel. He will provide the sin offerings, grain offerings, burnt offerings and fellowship offerings to make atonement for the house of Israel. This is what the Sovereign LORD says: In the first month on the first day you are to take a young bull without defect and purify the sanctuary. The priest is to take some of the blood of the sin offering and put it on the doorposts of the temple, on the four corners of the upper ledge of the altar and on the gateposts of the inner court. You are to do the same on the seventh day of the month for anyone who sins unintentionally or through ignorance; so you are to make atonement for the temple. In the first month on the fourteenth day you are to observe the Passover, a feast lasting seven days, during which you shall eat bread made without yeast. On that day the prince is to provide a bull as a sin offering for himself and for all the people of the land. Every day during the seven days of the Feast he is to provide seven bulls and seven rams without defect as a burnt offering to the LORD, and a male goat for a sin offering. He is to provide as a grain offering an ephah for each bull and an ephah for each ram, along with a hin of oil for each ephah. During the seven days of the Feast, which begins in the seventh month on the fifteenth day, he is to make the same provision for sin offerings, burnt offerings, grain offerings and oil." Ezekiel 45:17-25
These references show that God accepts the repentant sinner on the basis of blood atonement. God basically punishes the sins of the repentant by substitutionary sacrifice, by permitting an animal to die in the place of the guilty. In this way God is able to forgive sinners while upholding the just requirements of his own Law which demands that the wicked die for their sin.
This also demonstrates the thorough inadequacy of a persons righteousness, that such righteous acts were/are not sufficient to sustain an individual forever. After all, if such righteousness was/is adequate then there would be no need for sacrificial atonement. The fact that God prescribed sacrifices for sin conclusively shows that the righteous were/are not saved on the grounds of their personal righteousness since this couldnt satisfy Gods perfect justice. These individuals were/are saved on the basis of Gods gracious provision of atonement, which provided a means by which God could overlook the imperfections and sins of a person who sought to live in obedience to Gods Law.
But even these sacrifices could only provide a temporary covering of sin, which explains why they had to be offered over and over again. Yet what these sacrifices did was point to the one sacrifice that could take away sin completely, specifically the Lord Jesus death on the cross:
"just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many." Matthew 20:28
"This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins." Matthew 26:28
"The next day John saw Jesus coming toward him and said, Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!" John 1:29
"for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus. God presented him as a sacrifice of atonement, through faith in his blood. He did this to demonstrate his justice, because in his forbearance he had left the sins committed beforehand unpunished" Romans 3:23-25
"For there is one God and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom for all menthe testimony given in its proper time."1 Timothy 2:5-6
"while we wait for the blessed hopethe glorious appearing of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us to redeem us from all wickedness and to purify for himself a people that are his very own, eager to do what is good." Titus 2:13-14
"This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins." 1 John 4:9-10
"The point of what we are saying is this: We do have such a high priest, who sat down at the right hand of the throne of the Majesty in heaven, and who serves in the sanctuary, the true tabernacle set up by the Lord, not by man. Every high priest is appointed to offer both gifts and sacrifices, and so it was necessary for this one also to have something to offer. If he were on earth, he would not be a priest, for there are already men who offer the gifts prescribed by the law. They serve at a sanctuary that is a copy and shadow of what is in heaven. This is why Moses was warned when he was about to build the tabernacle: See to it that you make everything according to the pattern shown you on the mountain. But the ministry Jesus has received is as superior to theirs as the covenant of which he is mediator is superior to the old one, and it is founded on better promises." Hebrews 8:1-6
"When Christ came as high priest of the good things that are already here, he went through the greater and more perfect tabernacle that is not man-made, that is to say, not a part of this creation. He did not enter by means of the blood of goats and calves; but he entered the Most Holy Place once for all by his own blood, having obtained eternal redemption. The blood of goats and bulls and the ashes of a heifer sprinkled on those who are ceremonially unclean sanctify them so that they are outwardly clean. How much more, then, will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself unblemished to God, cleanse our consciences from acts that lead to death, so that we may serve the living God! For this reason Christ is the mediator of a new covenant, that those who are called may receive the promised eternal inheritancenow that he has died as a ransom to set them free from the sins committed under the first covenant." Hebrews 9:11-15
"The law is only a shadow of the good things that are comingnot the realities themselves. For this reason it can never, by the same sacrifices repeated endlessly year after year, make perfect those who draw near to worship. If it could, would they not have stopped being offered? For the worshipers would have been cleansed once for all, and would no longer have felt guilty for their sins. But those sacrifices are an annual reminder of sins, because it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins And by that will, we have been made holy through the sacrifice of the body of Jesus Christ once for all. Day after day every priest stands and performs his religious duties; again and again he offers the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins. But when this priest had offered for all time one sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God. Since that time he waits for his enemies to be made his footstool, because by one sacrifice he has made perfect forever those who are being made holy." Hebrews 10:1-4, 10-14
To conclude, a careful examination of both the immediate and greater contexts of Ezekiel 18:21-22 doesnt refute the Christian assertion that God demands perfect obedience but rather establishes it. And since no one is able to meet this demand of God everyone must therefore turn to the risen Lord Jesus for his or her salvation since he alone has done what no one else could ever do: fulfilling all of Gods demands and appeasing his wrath completely through his perfect life and death, thereby procuring eternal redemption for all who would love, trust and obey him:
"But we see Jesus, who was made a little lower than the angels, now crowned with glory and honor because he suffered death, so that by the grace of God he might taste death for everyone. In bringing many sons to glory, it was fitting that God, for whom and through whom everything exists, should make the author of their salvation perfect through suffering. Both the one who makes men holy and those who are made holy are of the same family. So Jesus is not ashamed to call them brothers Since the children have flesh and blood, he too shared in their humanity so that by his death he might destroy him who holds the power of deaththat is, the devil and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by their fear of death. For surely it is not angels he helps, but Abraham's descendants. For this reason he had to be made like his brothers in every way, in order that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in service to God, and that he might make atonement for the sins of the people. Because he himself suffered when he was tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted." Hebrews 2:9-11, 14-18
"Although he was a son, he learned obedience from what he suffered and, once made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him." Hebrews 5:8-9
Come risen Lord Jesus, come. We love and praise you for the great salvation that you have wrought for us:
"and from Jesus Christ, who is the faithful witness, the firstborn from the dead, and the ruler of the kings of the earth. To him who loves us and has freed us from our sins by his blood, and has made us to be a kingdom and priests to serve his God and Fatherto him be glory and power for ever and ever! Amen." Revelation 1:5-6
A Series of Answers to Common Questions
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