If a wicked man turns from all his sins which he has committed, keeps all My statutes, and does what is lawful and right, he shall surely live; he shall not die. None of the transgressions which he has committed shall be remembered against him; because of the righteousness which he has done, he shall live. Do I have any pleasure at all that the wicked should die?” says the Lord GOD, “and not that he should turn from his ways and live?
“But when a righteous man turns away from his righteousness and commits iniquity, and does according to all the abominations that the wicked man does, shall he live? All the righteousness which he has done shall not be remembered; because of the unfaithfulness of which he is guilty and the sin which he has committed, because of them he shall die.
“Yet you say, ‘The way of the Lord is not fair.’ Hear now, O house of Israel, is it not My way which is fair, and your ways which are not fair? When a righteous man turns away from his righteousness, commits iniquity, and dies in it, it is because of the iniquity which he has done that he dies. Again, when a wicked man turns away from the wickedness which he committed, and does what is lawful and right, he preserves himself alive. Because he considers and turns away from all the transgressions which he committed, he shall surely live; he shall not die. Yet the house of Israel says, ‘The way of the Lord is not fair.’ O house of Israel, is it not My ways which are fair, and your ways which are not fair?
“Therefore I will judge you, O house of Israel, every one according to his ways,” says the Lord GOD. “Repent, and turn from all your transgressions, so that iniquity will not be your ruin. Cast away from you all the transgressions which you have committed, and get yourselves a new heart and a new spirit. For why should you die, O house of Israel? For I have no pleasure in the death of one who dies,” says the Lord GOD. “Therefore turn and live!”
Ezekiel 1 tells us that Ezekiel was a priest and was taken captive during the Babylonian exile. At this point in Ezekiel, God is answering a false proverb common among the Israelites living in exile,
‘The fathers have eaten sour grapes,
And the children’s teeth are set on edge’? (Ezek 18:2)
The Israelite captives had a victim mentality. They were complaining that their hardship was judgment for the sins of previous generations. But God is rebuking their way of thinking and teaching them about how His righteousness works.
Israel believed that if they were “good” people—if they mostly obeyed the outward rules and regulations that God gave Israel through Moses—then God would look the other way when they practiced idolatry or fornication or other sins. But God was very clear that even the most upstanding citizen, if they sinned, they were guilty and deserved death. And even the most wretched sinner, if they repented, God was willing to forgive them and let them live.
It’s easy think the same way those Israelites were thinking. Have you ever thought, “I’m mostly a good person. I’m not as bad as that person over there. So God will excuse me when I do just this little bad thing.” Well, You can be the most upstanding citizen, obeying all the laws of the land and treating people with kindness. But you watch that show you know you shouldn’t, or you just have to have that car in your neighbor’s driveway, or you give in to drugs, alcohol, food, or other addictions.
God is clear that the righteous person who turns from righteousness and commits sin is guilty and deserves death. God is also clear that the sinner who repents and turns to God will find life. God doesn’t weight our righteousness and sin. There’s no balancing scale for the good and bad things we do. That’s ancient Egyptian mythology. That’s not biblical Christianity.
And that’s why Jesus came and died for us. Every one of us has sinned (Rom 3:23) and deserves death (Rom 6:23). But God loves us so much that He sent His Son, Jesus Christ, who willingly died on the cross, shedding his own blood as a sin-offering to cover our sins once-for-all, so that everyone who believes in Him will have eternal life (John 3:15–16).
But how can we be sure that Jesus’s death was sufficient to cover our sins? How do we know that He is God the Son and not just some well-meaning, first-century charismatic magician with delusions of grandeur? Because Jesus rose from the dead, appeared to hundreds of eye-witnesses, ascended to heaven, and now lives in the presence of the Father, offering intercession for us (1 Cor 15:3–7; Rom 8:34).
This is why we celebrate communion, or the Lord’s Supper—to remember the death of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, and celebrate the free gift of salvation God gave us through Him.