By Mike Willis
In Ezekiel’s day, shortly before the Babylonian Captivity in 587 B.C., the Jews explained their political difficulties by this proverb: “The fathers have eaten sour grapes, and the children’s teeth are set on edge” (Ezek. 18:2). The adage blamed their sufferings on others, namely their fathers. To refute this concept, Ezekiel described the following situations:
1. The case of a righteous man (Ezek. 18:5-9). Ezekiel described a righteous man who conscientiously obeyed the Lord’s law. This man shall not suffer death; rather, “he is just, he shall surely live, saith the Lord God” (Ezek. 18:9).
2. The wicked son of a righteous man (Ezek. 18:10-13). Ezekiel then described the wicked son of this righteous man who became a robber, shedder of blood, and such like things. Despite the fact that his father was a righteous man, “he shall not live: he hath done all these abominations; he shall surely die; his blood shall be upon him” (Ezek. 18:13).
3. The righteous son of a wicked man (Ezek. 18:14-18). The prophet then described the righteous son of this wicked man who, seeing his father’s wickedness, turned away from it in repentance toward God. The prophet said, “When the son hath done that which is lawful and right, and hath kept all my statutes, and hath done them, he shall surely live” (Ezek. 8:19).
4. The righteous man who turns to commit wickedness (Ezek. 18:24). When the righteous man forsakes his obedience to turn aside to sin, “all this righteousness that he hath done shall not be mentioned: in his trespass that he hath trespassed, and in his sin that he hath sinned, in them shall he die.”
The principle of moral responsibility by which God judges the world is this: “The soul that sinneth, it shall die. The son shall not bear the iniquity of the father, neither shall the father bear the iniquity of the son: the righteousness of the righteous shall be upon him, and the wickedness of the wicked shall be upon him” (Ezek 18:20).
Personal Responsibility For Sin
Many of our social science professionals try to excuse wicked conduct. When two young men brutally slay their parents, the lawyers’ defense is what they went through in their youth. When a young mother drives her infants into a lake that they might drown, her defense is that she was molested as a child. Almost any deviant behavior experienced during youth is sufficient to release one from moral responsibility for the most horrible crimes committed as an adult.
The newspaper tells the story of two teenagers from upper middle class homes whose fornication led to the birth of a child out of wedlock. The boyfriend “discards” (a morally neutral word to describe infanticide or baby murder) the baby, but the press portrays the parents as “victims” of the situation!
Ezekiel would remind us that every man is person- ally responsible for his own behavior. The fact that one’s father is wicked does not destroy the son’s ability to be a righteous man (see Ezek. 18:14-18). Furthermore, the son of the wicked is responsible to God for obedience to the same law as is the son born to the righteous man. Why should one judge the decision of the ungodly man’s son to live righteously to be more difficult than the decision of the righteous man’s son to live wickedly? Is the Devil easier to understand and obey than is the Lord? Nevertheless, all kinds of unrighteous behavior are being excused on the grounds that how one acts in adulthood is determined by fate based on the kind of parental upbringing that one has. Whatever became of free will?
Bad Habits Can Be Conquered
In an age that is learning that nearly every kind of sinful conduct is addictive, making the guilty sinner somehow less responsible for his sin, we need to be reminded that sinners can break out of the mold of their sin. Ezekiel wrote, “But if the wicked turn away from all their sins that they have committed and keep all my statutes and do what is lawful and right, they shall surely live; they shall not die” (Ezek. 18:21).The wicked obviously can turn away from all of their sins and keep God’s commandments. The merciful and forgiving God is willing to forgive their transgressions and receive them into his fellowship. Were this not true, none of us could be saved.
Sin’s Guilt Is Not Inherited
A fundamental thesis of Calvinism is refuted by Ezekiel 18:20, that is the teaching of inherited depravity. Sin’s guilt is not transferred from one person to another. Ezekiel 18:20 states this principle of divine judgment, “The soul that sin- neth, it shall die. The son shall not bear the iniquity of the father, neither shall the father bear the iniquity of the son: the righteousness of the righteous shall be upon him, and the wickedness of the wicked shall be upon him.” Cain and Abel did not inherit the guilt of Adam’s transgressions. They were not born morally depraved because of Adam’s sin. They were not born in a state of condemnation because their father sinned. And neither did any other of Adam’s descendants inherit the guilt of his transgression.
Past Good Works Do Not Keep One Saved
Sometimes brethren write as if the past good deeds that one did somehow keep a person from suffering the guilt of his transgressions when he sins against God. Ezekiel wrote, “But when the righteous turneth away from his righteousness, and committeth iniquity, and doeth according to all the abominations that the wicked man doeth, shall he live? All his righteousness that he hath done shall not be mentioned: in his trespass that he hath trespassed, and in his sin that he hath sinned, in them shall he die” (Ezek. 18:24). The good deeds that Peter had done did not keep him saved when he played the hypocrite at Antioch. His hypocrisy caused him to “stand condemned” (Gal. 2:11). He was personally responsible for his sins. They were not automatically forgiven because of his past good works, his good intentions, or his general good character.
We need a good dose of teaching about personal responsibility. Teaching about moral responsibility will emphasize free will and what man must do to be saved by the grace of God. Any teaching that states that one can be saved while continuing in the practice of his sin is contrary to divine revelation.