Since we published the last two issues of Open Face, we have had a couple of people who asked to be removed from our mailing list. While we know that any important issue will always cause polarization and strong feelings, yet I must admit that it dampens my spirit a little when I find that Christians – and especially those who claim to be seeking for reformation and revival – either outrightly deny the plain teachings of the Bible or misinterpret its teachings so badly that they make it seem to contradict itself. Too many people simply find a verse which seems to support their long-held ideas and cling to that verse, refusing to look at, consider or believe the multitude of other verses which plainly indicate that their understanding of the subject is faulty.
On the other hand though, it has been very encouraging to find that more people have asked to be added to the mailing list than the number who have asked to be removed. That seems to indicate that more people have found the newsletter helpful than those who have thought it to be harmful. Nevertheless, I wish to briefly deal with a passage which seems to be a major issue with those who have disagreed with us. The passage is Ezekiel 18:20. It says,
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)
Before examining this statement from Ezekiel, Let us first of all look at some biblical ideas, which I want to ask us to consider. They are not all saying the same thing but they are all biblical.
1. The soul that sinneth, it shall die. (Ezek. 18:20)
2. The soul that believeth not, it shall die. (Mark 16:16; John 3:18)
3. The soul that doeth righteousness shall live. (Ezek. 18:22)
4. All our righteousnesses are as filthy rags. (Isa. 64:6)
5. Only by faith can we receive life, not by works. (Eph. 2:8,9)
6. No man can be saved by doing righteousness, only by believing. (Rom. 3:28)
(a) Which of these statements are true? (b) Do any of these statements contradict the other? (c) Can all the statements be true? (d) How is it possible to harmonize all of these statements? Let us bear these questions and points in mind as we continue.
We have continued to emphasize Paul's teaching that all humanity was condemned when Adam was condemned (Rom. 5:18) and that all men were made sinners by what Adam did (Rom. 5:12,18,19). Please notice that we stated EXACTLY what the verses say. Stop and read them for yourselves. That is what they say. All men were condemned and became sinners because of what Adam did. We may not all agree with what the verses say and we may suggest that Paul did not mean that we should take his words literally, but we cannot deny that this is what they do actually say.
The old vs the new
Does Ezekiel contradict Paul? Ezekiel seems to say, “we cannot die for another person's sin,” while Paul says, we all die because of Adam's sin. Let us consider a few factors as we seek an answer to this question.
First of all, the covenant under which Ezekiel lived was the old covenant. Let me explain why this is important. The Old Testament, to a large degree is filled with experiences and teachings which are illustrations of salvation, but which do not actually deal with eternal salvation themselves. Here is what Paul said about the concept of salvation under the law:
For Moses describeth the righteousness which is of the law, That the man which doeth those things shall live by them. (Rom 10:5)
This was correct doctrine under the old covenant, but not under the new. Paul contrasted this sharply with the eternal principle of true salvation:
... if thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and shalt believe in thine heart that God hath raised him from the dead, thou shalt be saved. (Rom 10:9)
Let us consider for a moment. If, under the old covenant a man obeyed strictly the outward requirements of the law (as Paul did and as the rich young ruler did – Phil. 3:6; Matt. 19:17-20), what could he expect on the basis of his behaviour? According to the law he would be blessed with prosperity, rest from his enemies and long life (Leviticus 26:1-17). It did not matter if he was inwardly corrupt as long as he outwardly obeyed, for the law could not condemn a person for what he did not actually do, and so by obeying the strict instructions of the law, he became entitled to these blessings. Please notice that these blessings did not have to do with eternal salvation, but with temporal prosperity. Salvation from enemies, rest in a peaceful environment, the necessities of life provided in abundance, but not necessarily eternal life. The conditions of eternal life were always different. This was always only by faith in Christ, whether in the old or New Testament times. The system of the Old Testament was type and symbol. We must remember that.
Under the old covenant Moses lost his temporal “heaven.” He was prevented from entering the land of rest and promise by one single sin. In type, he lost his inheritance, and could not make it into the promised land, but in terms of eternal salvation which is purely by faith, all his sins could not keep him away from it. He was taken to heaven long before the rest of us because eternal salvation is not on the basis of our works, but on the basis of Christ's righteousness, received by faith.
The Context of Ezekiel's statement
Ezekiel is speaking of this temporal death when he says, “the soul that sinneth, it shall die.” He is not looking at the issue of eternal life and eternal death, but is speaking strictly in the context of the disasters which frequently came upon disobedient Israel. The king would sin and all the people would suffer. One man would do wrong and his children would die for it (Achan was one such example – Joshua 7:24). Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael and Azariah were all, evidently godly and obedient young men, yet they suffered the consequences of other peoples' apostasy. Notice that this had become so frequent that the people had made a proverb concerning it. They would say, “The fathers have eaten sour grapes, and the children's teeth are set on edge.” Jer 31:28-30 explains the meaning and the context of this statement better than does the similar passage in Ezekiel 18. Here is what it says:
And it shall come to pass, that like as I have watched over them, to pluck up, and to break down, and to throw down, and to destroy, and to afflict; so will I watch over them, to build, and to plant, saith the LORD. (29) In those days they shall say no more, The fathers have eaten a sour grape, and the children's teeth are set on edge. (30) But every one shall die for his own iniquity: every man that eateth the sour grape, his teeth shall be set on edge. (Jer 31:28-30)
What God was saying was, “the man who does not obey the law is the one upon whom I will bring the disaster (just like it happened in the case of Moses. He alone suffered for his sin). The one who sins is the one who will die (not like it happened to Achan's children. They suffered for their father's sin).” This has nothing to do with eternal salvation. If it did, it would totally contradict the key principle of the gospel. Notice what it says in this same passage in Ezekiel 18. Whenever we quote verse 20 we should also be careful to quote the last part of verse 22. It says,
“… in his righteousness that he hath done he shall live.” (Ezek. 18:22)
This teaches that the basis on which a man receives life is his own righteousness!! Surely this cannot be true of eternal life!! This is only true of temporal life in Old Testament times. It is Christ's righteousness alone which can give us eternal life, not our own righteousness which we have done. Is this the truth? Let us consider this carefully. The Bible cautions us that we should rightly divide the word of truth. Just picking up a verse of Scripture in isolation and quoting it does not mean that we have settled a question. We must be careful that we understand the meaning and the intent of the verse properly in the context in which it is used.
Many people are fond of quoting the verse in Isaiah 45:7 which says, “I make peace and create evil.” They insist on the basis of this verse that God is the One who created evil and that therefore He is to be blamed for all the pain, suffering and wickedness in the world. However, a careful examination of the passage, in context will lead the honest searcher to a different conclusion.
So there are two perspectives on the issue of sin and blame. In the type, or the Old Testament system, or “under the law,” the conditions on which God granted blessings, long life and security was obedience to His law. It was righteous living as defined by the law which brought temporal blessings. Many times people sinned by this standard and their children suffered the consequences. We already mentioned Achan, Daniel and his friends etc. In fact the second commandment states that God visits, “the iniquity of the fathers upon the children to the third and fourth generation of them that hate,” Him.
It is in this context that God declares in Ezekiel 18 that He is no longer going to operate on this principle. From that time forward, each man would die for his own sin, not for those of another. Likewise the “righteous” man would live for his own righteousness (not because of the righteousness of another). In Ezekiel 14:14,20 God declared that even if Noah, Daniel and Job were in the land they would not be able, by their righteous living, to prevent the disasters which God would bring upon it. They would be able to deliver only their own souls by their own righteousness. Again, we see clearly that this was not referring to eternal salvation, but to preservation from the disasters which would come upon disobedient Israel.
“The soul that sinneth, it shall die,” is often quoted as evidence to deny the truth that all men die because of Adam's sin, but we cannot fairly use this verse to prove such a point? Surely the careful and honest reader can see that this passage in Ezekiel is not dealing with the issues of eternal death and eternal life. On the question of eternal salvation the facts are plainly laid out in the New Testament and they are:
a. All men die because of Adam's sin (1 Cor. 15:22)
b. Man's personal sins add to that condemnation.
c. No man's righteousness can save Him.
d. Man's observance of the law cannot produce righteousness and therefore cannot bring life to him.
e. Only the righteousness of Christ can save any man.
These facts are true for every single human being. It matters not whether he is one day old or a hundred years old. It matters not whether he has committed a million sins or none at all. If there is any human being for whom this is not true, then evidently, Christ need not have died for such a person. It would mean that there is salvation outside of Christ. However, even a baby who is one day old cannot be saved outside of Christ. If Christ had not provided a way of deliverance for humanity, even the baby who is one day old would have had no hope, regardless of whether or not he had committed one single act of sin. If he had died in that state (outside of Christ's provision) then that would have been the end. He would have gone to the grave and there would never have been a resurrection for him. The fact that he had not personally transgressed the law could not have saved him. Adam's sin would have condemned him, like all other humans, to a death which would have been eternal.
These are the plain facts. Denying them will not enable us to understand the word of God better and ultimately, such denial will rob us of the blessings which are inherent in the truth. Let all who are expecting true revival and reformation stand faithfully for the truth in its pure and unadulterated form, without adding human bias.