God holds each of us accountable for our behaviour, yet he also makes a way for new hearts and spirits through Jesus today. In fact, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation – the old has gone and the new has come. The ball is in our court to respond to God today…
1 The word of the Lord came to me: 2 “What do you people mean by quoting this proverb about the land of Israel:
“‘The parents eat sour grapes,
and the children’s teeth are set on edge’?
3 “As surely as I live, declares the Sovereign Lord, you will no longer quote this proverb in Israel.
19 “Yet you ask, ‘Why does the son not share the guilt of his father?’ Since the son has done what is just and right and has been careful to keep all my decrees, he will surely live. 20 The one who sins is the one who will die. The child will not share the guilt of the parent, nor will the parent share the guilt of the child. The righteousness of the righteous will be credited to them, and the wickedness of the wicked will be charged against them.
25 “Yet you say, ‘The way of the Lord is not just.’ Hear, you Israelites: Is my way unjust? Is it not your ways that are unjust? 26 If a righteous person turns from their righteousness and commits sin, they will die for it; because of the sin they have committed they will die. 27 But if a wicked person turns away from the wickedness they have committed and does what is just and right, they will save their life. 28 Because they consider all the offenses they have committed and turn away from them, that person will surely live; they will not die.
30 Repent! Turn away from all your offenses; then sin will not be your downfall. 31 Rid yourselves of all the offenses you have committed, and get a new heart and a new spirit. Why will you die, people of Israel? 32 For I take no pleasure in the death of anyone, declares the Sovereign Lord. Repent and live!
Ezekiel 18:1-3, 19-20, 25-28, 30-32
The people of Israel oft-quoted the idea from the Law of Moses that children would be held responsible for the sins of the parents (to the third and fourth generation according to Numbers 14:18). The concept of inter-generational curse is not optimistic for those who come from checkered pasts. We want to have an opportunity to make our own way and live our own lives, with consequences reflecting our own decisions and not the decisions of our ancestors.
We’re in luck today. God corrected this misunderstanding in Ezekiel 18 by explaining that each person has his own relationship with God, and each individual’s actions are their own responsibility. God holds us individually accountable for what we do. This should give us the comfort we seek, no? Depends on your behaviour, doesn’t it?
Some people were not happy with that idea, thinking that God is unjust by not working according to the people’s interpretation of the Law. It seems that the personal responsibility for one’s actions was not welcomed by the people of the time. God was clear, however, that if a righteous person turns from righteousness to wickedness, he will be held accountable for his evil ways. And if a wicked person turns his life around, he will save his own life by changing his ways.
Which brings me back to you and me. How are we living? If God held us accountable today for our actions and behaviour, regardless of what family we come from or what friends we run with or what groups we are a part of, what would be the outcome? God has the answer for us, regardless of what we think of ourselves. Repent and live! Turn from wickedness, wherever it is in our lives, and live unto God.
Notice that he promises a new heart and a new spirit in verse 31. This is foreshadowing of the work of Jesus, who provided for the newness of life described here. Since God sent Jesus into the world to be the sacrifice for our sin, we don’t have to rely on our own righteousness before God. Turning away from our sin is good, yet only Jesus can pay for our sin before God. On the cross, Jesus paid that penalty for each of us, making it possible for us to have new life. In fact, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation (2Corinthians 5:17). The old has gone and the new has come.
God holds each of us accountable for our actions and behaviour, yet he also makes a way for new hearts and spirits through Jesus today.