Ezekiel 18:31-32 Rid yourselves of all the offences 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!
These verses make two things clear: Firstly, God is serious about rescuing lost mankind from the consequences of sin; and secondly, he requires US to be serious about repentance if we want to participate in the salvation he freely offers to all. The depth of feeling in his question, ‘Why will you die, O house of Israel?’, is reflected throughout the whole Bible in its spelling out of the plan of salvation and its continual pointing to God’s compassion and ‘loving kindness-and-tender mercy’ (his ‘ches-ed’), but it is seen most clearly in the New Testament where we see the realisation of the plan of salvation in the Coming of God-the-Son among us, as one of us, and his willingness to die for our sin, taking our place of condemnation on the cross. We see it in the weeping of Jesus over Jerusalem: “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you were not willing!” (Luke 13:34). God’s justice, while inevitable, is never administered without compassion.
Secondly, God is serious about SIN! In this chapter, Ezekiel is dealing with Man’s attempt to absolve his guilt by blaming his sinful behaviour on his genetic make-up and/or his circumstances – sadly, things haven’t changed much in two and a half millennia! God will have none of this line of thinking; every man, although he has inherited Adam’s fallen nature – and some of us may have a harder battle with particular sins because of genetic weaknesses -, nevertheless, we will ALL die for our OWN sin (cf Romans 5:12). This, of course, is really BAD news! But God’s urgent plea to EVERY human being is, ‘Repent and live!’ – not with a superficial, ‘Sorry’, that produces no real change in behaviour, but a repentance that requires the getting of ‘a new heart and a new spirit’ (cf Ezekiel 36:24-32).
We run the risk today of making the same pair of mistakes that Israel made and which Ezekiel was called upon to speak so strongly against: finding an excuse for our sin in our genes and/or environment, and misconstruing God’s saving grace by being satisfied with insincere repentance (see The Vanishing Conscience, by John MacArthur Jnr.).
– Peter Barnes